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  • Writer's pictureChristine McGrath

March 11th Meeting Summary

Updated: Mar 22

On Monday we had big Town Council meeting, where we made decisions that impacted every single Verona resident. Here are the highlights.


Our annual budget was introduced last night. The official numbers are $28.2 million for total general appropriations, minus $9.4 million in anticipated revenues. The mandatory minimum library tax is $1 million, so the amount raised by taxation will be $17.8 million. This represents a tax increase of 1.6%. All the documents can be found here: https://www.veronanj.org/budgetinfo . The Budget hearing will be April 8th at our meeting. Of course you can submit feedback to the Council anytime at https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.


We passed several ordinances related to new State rules for Stormwater Management to comply with new requirements. If you are adding to your property (patios, decks, extensions, driveways), you will really want to review these new rules.


We then passed new parking fee rates, finally brining our rates and collection days in line with surrounding communities. In addition, we have plans to replace our parking infrastructure so that we can more efficiently collect parking fees. Unfortunately, this is an example of two disturbing trends with our local government. One - we really have not kept up with raising our fees appropriately, which results in less revenue for the township. There are members of the Council that in the past have resisted raising fees, so now we are behind. Second, our parking infrastructure degraded to a point that collecting parking fees has been a challenge. A degrading infrastructure is a theme, unfortunately, in our municipality, and it shows a lack of strategic investment from past Councils.


Next up was a very big vote on water and sewer rates, with a very significant increase in the water rate for this year. This was around 1 hr 30 minutes into the meeting. We did vote unanimously to 5 years worth of rate increases for both water and sewer. Councilwoman Holland had fantastic remarks in the meeting where she concluded that these increases were the "cost of inaction". She pointed out that while we kept rates low for many years, our infrastructure was deteriorating and there was no strategic plan to address it. We now need to play catch up.


Moving on, we then increased pool fees, which was a split vote 4-1 (Councilwoman Holland voted against). As I stated in previous updates, the pool increases are significant. I have advocated for a more professional analysis to be done of the pool finances and capital planning so that we can have an outside set of eyes review our numbers. I successfully advocated this year, on behalf of pool users, assurances from the administration that bathroom cleanliness will be addressed, that new revenue streams will be considered, and for an increase of the age for "free" children from 1 year to 18 months. I want to thank the residents who sent us feedback on the pool rates before this vote occurred.


We passed a final ordinance changing the Chair of the Recreation Advisory Committee from a staff member to a volunteer. Thank you to all of our volunteers on that committee.


A capital ordinance for introduction on investing in a Rescue Squad special operations vehicle with a vote of 3-1, which I voted against. The Mayor abstained from the vote as he is a member of the Rescue Squad. I voted against introduction because I was not provided any information on this capital request in preparation of this meeting, and I do question why it is being fast tracked before other capital requests. The response from the Administration is that this is an "old" project. I will be asking our Administration for more information before we move forward. We have a lot of critical capital requests from all of our first responders and department heads, so every capital request is a tough decision.


We had a hugely important conversation on planning at our meeting. The Council received a report, which we requested, to determine if the entire stretch of Bloomfield Avenue could be determined officially as an Area of Need of Rehabilitation. Our planner came back and confirmed that yes, Bloomfield Avenue does meet the definition of being in Need of Rehabilitation. First, our housing stock along the roadway is more than 50 years old. In fact, 85% of housing stock meets that definition, some of which was built as far back as 1884! [After the publication of this post, the Council's Planner sent us a revised report indicating a mistake in the original analysis. 63% of our housing stock is more than 50 years old, not 85%. Even with the reduced percentage, Verona still classifies as an Area in Need of Rehabilitation. Added 3/22/24]


Second, our water and sewer infrastructure is over 50 years old. The sanitary sewer pump station was constructed in the 1920's and the watermain was constructed before the 1960's. Both are sited by our Engineer as in need of "substantial maintenance" and repair.


Based on these two criteria, the Council passed a resolution asking the Planning Board to review our request to deem the entire stretch of Bloomfield Avenue as an Area in Need of Rehabilitation. If they agree, this then opens up strategies for us to determine potential Areas in Need of Redevelopment and pass tax incentives to spur redevelopment and renovations to properties. The Council does need to make zoning fixes along the entire corridor to address zoning issues that were identified in our Master Plan. In my opinion, those zoning issues are holding back property re-investment in Verona.


I want to make a point here that we have really fallen behind in keeping up with the investment in our downtown and in Verona. This designation proves it! Again, our lack of action from previous Councils, which included some members of the current Council, is hurting us with increasing our ratables. Increasing ratables is the key to keeping tax increases moderated and allows us to income to invest in necessary projects, such as Everett Field and our first responder buildings.


We approved a resolution to increase the amount of the Green Acres grant for a new playground at Everett Field to $1.2 million. The State requested that we include the cost of the ADA bathroom in the project. If we get the grant, we would be required to contribute $304K to the cost of the playground, which includes now parking and bathroom enhancements. I hope we get this grant, which will really help to reduce costs associated with the Everett Field renovation.


There was a split vote on a resolution opposing Senate bill S-2347, which is legislation proposed to facilitate the zoning of a type of housing called "accessory dwelling units". Councilwoman Holland and I both voted against this resolution. I was a little confused why the Council Majority made this an issue. Typically, we only pass these sort of resolutions when the League of Municipalities asks us to, and they are not at that level of action yet. While I am not for this bill per se, I found many of the statements made in the resolution against the bill to be conjecture. I have not seen any research indicating any of the dire predictions laid out in this resolution's language. We actually had two very knowledgeable residents reach out to the Council on the benefits of ADU's, one of whom gave us actual data on how many of these units have been built in other NJ communities. The truth is not many units have been built in other towns (only 18 in Princeton and 2 in Maplewood). This seemed like an overreaction to a bill that is still in draft form.


In new business, I raised an issue about the process we are following to develop the plans for the new Emergency Services complex. I asked the Administration for a timeline of the different phases of the project and a summary of the meetings they are having with residents on the plans. I also asked for a neighborhood meeting to be scheduled soon to get feedback from those that live closest to the building. Just as a reminder the Council first saw the plans for the new building in December and has not had a substantial conversation in public on its design since.


Finally, as it's Women's History Month, I want to recognize the women who were honored at the 2nd Annual Verona Women of Impact Event on Sunday March 10th. Kristen Donohue, Kate Hartwyk, Sarina Rivera-Knoetig, Alison Mackey and myself were all nominated by others in the community for our achievements in our careers and in volunteerism in our community. The women who served on the panel with me are exceptional representatives of women leadership. Councilwoman Holland and I both recognized them at our meeting and congratulated them on all of their accomplishments.


Please send any feedback on our meeting (or any matter) to the entire Council here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.






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