May 15th Meeting Recap
Updated: May 17
Last night we had one of our long marathon meetings, but a lot of great information was discussed in public.
For me, the headline from the meeting is that we passed the bond ordinance to acquire 217 and 225 Pompton Avenue for the purposes of a public safety building. I am so excited that we made this purchase and took the first step towards addressing the needs of our police department and other volunteer first responders. The next step is to start to work with the NJ DEP to determine how much of the land is buildable and draft designs for what could go in that space. I look forward to every step of this process, and welcome public participation as we discuss this future site.
Other key decisions that were made last night.
We voted to make the Multicultural Inclusion and Accessibility Advisory Committee permanent last night. I am thrilled that the Council made a permanent commitment to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion in our Township. The committee, which was set up a year ago on a temporary basis, as proven to be a huge asset to the Council in helping to develop events and policies that make our town more inclusive. I am excited to see what future recommendations this committee brings to the Council.
Another substantial decisions that was made last night is the introduction of two capital ordinances. The first was a $650K bond ordinance for a new ambulance and police SUVs. The ambulance is $400K and was previously authorized by the Council. $200K is for police SUV's, which my understanding will fund two to three vehicles.
The second ordinance that we advanced was a bond ordinance for $70K for the design of new pickleball and tennis courts. The cost of this design work is offset by a grant that we will receive from the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA). For users of the current tennis and pickleball courts, I highly encourage you to watch the Council exchange, which happened about 2 hrs and 38 minutes into the meeting (watch here). There were some questions raised by members of the Council on whether or not we should go forward with designing the courts and whether moving the courts from their current location to next to the pool parking lots is a good idea. I will expect a substantial conversation on this at our next meeting on June 12th when both proposed ordinances will be voted on.
We also spent time discussing a proposed invasive plant species trees ordinance and, after some back and forth, we went forward with introduction. Examples of invasive plant and trees include bamboo, Japanese knotweed, English/Boston Ivy, poison ivy, and Tree of Heaven. If this ordinances passes, it will define invasive species, ban the future planting of them, and then have requirements on how they need to be contained on a property owner's property. If they start to spread beyond property lines, then violations and penalties may occur. This ordinance was recommended to the Council by the Environmental Commission.
The Council also introduced an ordinance changing how we charge for electric vehicle charging fees. We are proposing eliminating the first free hour of parking. Instead, the proposal is to charge $1 per hour for any charging time, $5 if the electric vehicle has ceased charging and remains in the space for one hour, $30 if the vehicle remains in the space for two hours (post charging) and then $5 for every hour post that. We are doing this to incent car owners to move their cars post charging. Currently cars are being left in these spaces for significant amounts of time post charging.
For all of the ordinances proposed (bond for police/EMS, pickleball, invasive species, and electric vehicle charging stations), we will have a public hearing for each ordinance at our next meeting on June 12th. If you have feedback on any of these ordinances, I highly recommend emailing the entire Council here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.
Last night the Council also passed ordinances appropriation of $75K from water/sewer capital for the design phase of a water pump to elevate water pressures issues at the Claridge properties, $15K from the pool capital surplus fund to finish out the baby pool renovation (which we are assured is still on track to open on Memorial Day, thought it is coming down to the wire), and we designated 11 Cole Road as a landmark.
Under resolutions, we approved a transfer of ownership of our affordable housing property from an entity formed by PIRHL to Conifer Realty, which is a reflection of some change of ownership at PIRHL. We approved contracts for payroll services with Laracy Associates, our former CFO, for payroll services in the first half of this year after an employee left in our finance department. Other contracts approved were for American Sewer Service for drainage and sewer line services, Montana Construction Corp for TV camera inspection of water and sewer trunk lines, North Jersey Pump Controls for waste water treatment plant pump service, SMS Security System for systems and alarms, suburban sports group for recreation officials, and a service agreement with Equitable Life Insurance company for a 457 deferred compensation plan.
We also agreed, by resolution, to recognize Gun Violence Awareness Day and light the township buildings orange on Friday, June 2nd in recognition of the lives lost and impacted by gun violence. You may recall that last year this issue become controversial when Councilman Tamburro objected. This year we were able to unify on this issue and join landmarks throughout the country in lighting our buildings orange.
We also agreed to raise both the Pride Progress flag and Juneteenth flags in the month of June. We discussed in new business possibly amending our flag ordinance to reflect flags that we typically raise for special recognition throughout the year. We also discussed in new business our reorganization meeting, which we affirmed this year will be on Saturday, July 1st, at 12 noon.
Going back to the start of the meeting, we had a comprehensive update from two engineering firms that are doing work for the Township. The following is a brief summary.
At the start of the meeting, Boswell Engineering came in and gave an update on the many projects their team is working on.
For the new water pump for Claridge II, Boswell is mapping out the existing water system and will submit the project to the NJ DEP for funding in July.
Boswell is finalizing the permit application to the NJ DEP for the construction work for our emergency bank stabilization project.
The firm is assisting us with the engineering work for several road reconstruction projects, including close-out for Lynwood Road, Derwent (construction will start in late June), Ann/Cypress/Steven/Cypress (milling and paving before Memorial day), Balston/Windemere/Whitney (in design phase).
Boswell is also designing the ADA Ramp program for our 2023 CDBG project, which we awarded a construction contract to last night as part of our addendum.
Boswell is also making adjustments to the design of the Verona Community Center Playground, which as been stuck with delays for an extremely long period of time.
We also taped Boswell to do an evaluation of our wastewater treatment plant, which is just getting started.
They also did a safety evaluation of the Franklin Street bridge, and while it is safe for residents to use, they will be recommending improvements and repairs.
Jacobs Engineering gave an update on the design of a solution to remove the PFAS from our wells (35 minutes into the meeting). We discussed that the cost to build these systems for the wells will come in at over $5 million in total. The Township is applying for iBank loans for this work and is seeking federal funding. Both wells are on slightly different construction schedules due to an issue with Green Acres for the Fairview Avenue well and due to the fact that the Fairview Avenue well requires a new building to be built to house the equipment. The project time-line for Linn Drive well is be operational in summer 2024 and for the Fairview Avenue well the goal is operational by summer of 2025.
Our Police Chief Chris Kiernan then came in and gave a comprehensive review of the police department, which I recommend everyone watch. Overall, the department is experiencing an increase in calls and is above pre-pandemic levels of service. Traffic violations are up. DWI arrests are back to 2019 levels, though disturbingly they are seeing more arrests during the day. Gun permits continue to rise, with 305 permits being issued in 2022 - 60 to first time gun owners. The Chief highlighted safe storage through the Be SMART program, which is endorsed by the NJ State Police. The Chief also highlighted use of force statistics and the extensive training the department goes through every year. Our department is also very innovative, and I applaud them in being the leaders they are in West Essex and Essex County. It was a fantastic overview of the department.
Finally we also got a quick update from our DPW staff on how they are using GIS technology to map out our entire water system. This is necessary so that we can comply with state regulations, have a complete understanding of our water system, and plan for future improvements.
It was a lot, but our meeting last night reflects the shear magnitude of projects happening in the Township. For comments, please reach out to the entire Council here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.