September 26 Meeting Summary
Last night we had a Council meeting. Here are the highlights of what we discussed.
The most significant thing that happened in our meeting actually happened in New Business, where we finally had a conversation on the selection process for a Township Planner. We are looking to hire a Township Planner to help us make changes to our zoning code and develop a strategy for how we can revitalize our business community on Bloomfield and Pompton. I have been frustrated with how long it took to finally get to the moment, as we should have made this decision months ago. Regardless, last night we made a decision on how to proceed.
Unfortunately, we had a difference of opinion on which vendor to select. The Council majority (Tamburro, McEvoy, and Roman) went with H2M, the company that most recently worked on Verona's Master Plan. Councilwoman Holland and I thought that DMR should have been hired. As I stated last night, at our special Council meeting where the vendors presented (which you can watch here), I thought DMR gave a very strong presentation on how to strategically approach the downtown zoning project. It was so thoughtful that I was actually vibrating with excitement to get started. We have also received several excellent analyses from them in the past. The Council majority had different opinions on what they were looking for, so they will proceed with hiring H2M in this role.
Then we discussed a bit on what we should have them work on first, and we again had an interesting conversation that I encourage residents to watch around 1 hr 15 minutes into our meeting. I want to reiterate that we really should be addressing our business corridor first - as we need to get focused on improving our downtown and generating new tax revenue to offset the crushing financial burdens we are facing. Frankly I was a little surprised that not all of my colleagues are as focused on addressing this most pressing need first.
Moving on, last night we met Kevin O'Sullivan, who will be joining the Verona Team next week as our new Deputy Township Manager. We also voted to set the salary for that position at $145K. I was excited to officially meet Mr. O'Sullivan and look forward to working with him.
We also voted to authorize the spend ($50K) and we selected a firm (New Gen Strategies and Solutions) for a water and sewer rate study. I want to commend Councilwoman Holland for raising the issue with the Council that Verona has never actually conducted a proper water and sewer rate study. We need to really understand the financials behind our water and sewer utilities and this study is the first step in that vain. Councilwoman Holland's expertise and leadership on these maters is a great asset to our Council.
Last night we had some significant votes that involved a lot of money. We introduced officially two bond ordinances to pay for the PFAS remediation: $4 million for Linn Drive and $5 million for Fairview. We will have a second reading an vote on these ordinances at our next meeting. As a reminder of past discussions, these projects are being submitted under the infrastructure bank, and we hope that we will get some grants and loan forgiveness to offset the costs of producing safe drinking water.
We also passed a resolution to go out to bond sale for $12.19 million of our debt associated with the 2020 purchase of open space. As you may recall, we bought 25 acres of open space from a developer, both on Mt. Prospect and Commerce Court. The developer wanted to build hundreds of townhomes on this land. While protecting the land from high-density development was the right move, it was expensive. This is one reason the Council is asking voters this November to approve an increase of the levy from 2 cents to 3 cents for our Open Space Trust fund. To learn more about that, go here.
In terms of financial matters, a bit of good news. We got a big grant of $67K to purchase new turn out gear and a washing machine for our fire department! Since our volunteer fire department is growing, this new gear is very much needed. The Township will provide a $3K matching grant.
We did not end up having a conversation on the Everett Field renovation. We will see plans for the first time at our next Council meeting on October 16th. I encourage residents to attend to hear about the plans first hand. This will be the start of a long conversation on how we should invest in that space.
In new business, we discussed restructuring the Community Services department. We will be introducing an ordinance at the next meeting that clarifies the department structure. The Department of Community Services will be split into to divisions, Division of Health and Division of Recreation. There will be a Director of Health and Welfare and a Director of Recreation. The Township Manager will also appoint a Register of Vital Statistics. You can read the full proposed ordinance as part of our agenda. Any comments can be sent to the entire Council here: https://www.veronanj.org/council.
We also discussed in new business some resident complaints we have on the costs to get an engineering review of their projects. I have already been working with the Township Manager on this, and I re-iterated my position that we need very clear communications for residents at the start of their projects so that they understand the full cost before they get started.
We also passed resolutions to hire a law firm on a matter involving our waste water treatment plant and a resolution on an employment related matter.
Those are the highlights. Any questions or comments for the Council should be sent here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform.