February 28th Council Meeting Update
Last night we had a Town Council Meeting. Here are the highlights.
We passed an increase to our existing bond to pay for affordable housing that will be built at the corner of Linn Drive and Bloomfield Avenue by $1.25 million, for a total bond of $8 million. The increase was to pay for demolition costs of the Cameco factory, some environmental remediation of the site, and other associated closing costs to transfer this property to the affordable housing developer (PIHRL), which should occur later this year. As I stated last night, building these 95 units of affordable housing was not without costs to the Township. However, if the Township had not taken this direction to build a 100% development, we would have needed to allow for the development of over 500 "market rate" additional units, which would have been devastating to our school system. Instead of an $8 million dollar bond we would be discussing far greater costs to expand the schools to accommodate the families that moved into those housing units.
Overall, while this project was put into motion before I was elected and joined the Council, I am very excited for it to be built. Affordable housing does need to be built in every community, and this project is going to add greatly to Verona. If you would like to see the detailed plans, feel free to check them out here: https://www.veronanj.org/planningboarddocuments.
The other big vote that occurred last night was the Council's decision to renew the contract with Montclair for public health services. I want to thank all of the residents who spoke up at our last Council meeting and this one and sent emails. Our new Township Manager, Joe D'Arco, did recommend that we renew this shared service with Montclair. Verona is limited in which local municipality we could contract with for health services by state law. We are only allowed to contract with towns that provide health services that are directly contiguous, which is only two communities for Verona: West Orange and Montclair. Mr. D'Arco recommended renewing with Montclair but significantly increasing the oversight of the relationship. It is because of this increased managerial oversight that I was comfortable renewing services.
He discussed some changes that were in direct response to the feedback we received from the public and from his knowledge as a Public Health Officer. Montclair Health will now be sending him consolidated monthly reporting on the services they are providing to Verona. They will also be communicating on Health Education events in advance so that they can be appropriately promoted to Verona residents, and some of these events will be hosted in Verona. The Council will now receive a copy of all reports. The manager also confirmed that the cost of $86K for 2022 for services is actually quite reasonable. It would be significantly much more expensive for Verona to establish and run our own department of health. Mr. D'Arco will also be making sure that the public has clearer information on where they should go should they have a question or feedback on services provided by Montclair Health. Should we feel that we do need to make a change in the future, we can do so along as we follow the contract termination procedure, which is giving 6 months notice.
Last night we also approved, for the first time, to contract with a firm that provides grant writing services (Millennium Strategies). Mr. D'Arco has extensive success using this firm in applying for and receiving grants to pay for Township projects both big and small. I am excited to see if this firm is successful in increasing the number of grants that Verona receives for our projects.
For residents that live near 271 Grove Avenue I want to point out that we approved an agreement to allow for groundwater monitoring on Township property due to suspected environmental contamination from 271 Grove Avenue. The full agreement on this matter with Windward Consulting can be reviewed as part of the agenda documents (it was the third resolution of the consent agenda).
The Council also passed a resolution last night, at my request, to support New Jersey State Senate bill S-330, which would restore the full allocation energy tax receipts back to local municipalities. Beginning in 2002, the NJ State Legislature and multiple governors of both parties started a policy where some of the energy tax receipts that the State collects on behalf of municipalities were not given to local governments and instead was used to balance the State's budget. The total amount diverted since this practice began now totals $14 billion, and Verona's total estimate of what was diverted is $13.6 million. $1.2 million was diverted from our revenues last year alone, which is a lot considering our total budget is $23 million. The Township Council last night signed on to a League of Municipalities Resolution to urge the Senate to quickly pass S-330, which will restore the municipalities' full energy tax receipts over a five year period which will be used to provide property tax relief to residents. I hope that the Senate does quickly act, as we need these funds to continue to provide our high level of services to residents while at the same time mitigate tax increases.
Some other highlights from the meeting. Our Township Manager applied for special permitting to do some cleaning of the Peckman River and repair of the banks. The deadline is very close to get this special permit - I will speak more of this project if we are successful in receiving it.
We introduced an ordinance to extended our participation is the government energy aggregation program through 2025. A hearing on this ordinance will be at our next meeting.
After a very lengthy closed session where we discussed a variety of matters we came out of closed session to appoint members of the Multicultural Inclusion and Accessibility Advisory Committee for this year (all terms end on 12/31). We received 11 applications for 6 spots and everyone who applied was really fantastic. I want to echo what Mayor Roman said at the meeting - we encourage everyone who applied, and the public, to participate in the public meetings for this new advisory committee. The first one of which will be on March 23rd at 7 pm (location and Zoom link will be circulated before the meeting). I will be the Council Liaison for this committee for this calendar year.
Those are the highlights. If you have any feedback for the Council, please do so by sending it here: https://www.veronanj.org/council.