MONTCLAIR, NJ – Fourth Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville hosted a community meeting Tuesday to discuss issues affecting the 4th Ward and the greater Montclair community. In a room of about 50 people, many issues were presented and discussed by the residents. Also in the audience were Mayor Jackson, Deputy Mayor Russo, Councilor Schlager and Dr. Willis from the planning board among other community leaders.
Baskerville opened the meeting by welcoming the CEO of HackensackUMC Mountainside Hospital, John Fromhold, to address the crowd. Baskerville then told the residents, "I wanted you all to hear what some of the additions will be and how that will help us as a community and also have an opportunity to raise any concerns and questions you have so that they could be addressed early on."
Presentation by HackensackUMC Mountainside
Fromhold, who has been associated with the hospital since 2007, became CEO of the hospital in 2012. Under his leadership, the official HackensackUMC Mountainside website boasts, "...the hospital has emerged from an uncertain future to one of the most fiscally stable in the state." The website adds, “It also distinguished itself among facilities of comparable size through the addition of services that address timely health concerns and state-of-the art upgrades including a da Vinci robotic surgery program, hyperbaric oxygen chambers for wound care, an inpatient Geriatric Psychiatry program, expanded Women’s Health services and an electronic records management system.”
Fromhold opened his presentation by quizzing the audience to see how many people had been born at the hospital in its 123 year history. Attendees were surprised when almost half of the room raised their hands. “Hospital and healthcare system has changed dramatically and it’s all driven by costs.”
“Mountainside was a freestanding hospital until 2012 when it became HackensackUMC Mountainside.” Fromhold continued, “Being part of something bigger is very important.”
Among the expansions and changes that Fromhold mentioned, was the expanded parking for employees and visitors. The hospital has already purchased 6 houses from residents that will eventually be turned into parking. Fromhold added that the acquired property is in Montclair and there are also plans for expanding the hospital to accommodate more doctors.
He further expressed that since the hospital wanted to attract and hire more doctors, then doing so would require them to relocate the existing nursing school to an off-campus building. “We have to develop a model that attracts more high-quality high-end doctors," Fromhold added.
“An investment in Mountainside is an investment in the future of Montclair,” expressed Fromhold. “When you employ doctors, they need office space. Currently, there is one doctor employed by the hospital, by end of the year, there will be 26. A year from now, there should be double the amount.” The existing nursing building would then be turned into office space for doctors and staff that they intend to bring in.
Although most of the hospital is located in Glen Ridge, Fromhold expressed that the expansion into Montclair could eventually bring revenue into Montclair, as well. Fromhold said, “We have more staff that are officing on our campus than ever before.” The benefit of the expansion is that HackensackUMC Mountainside is now able to attract more high quality specialists to the area.
Fromhold closed his presentation by taking questions from the audience that included inquiries about what percentage of the hospital sits in Montclair. Residents learned that since the majority of the hospital is in Glen Ridge, revenue currently goes to Glen Ridge.
Presentation by Gray Russell, Sustainability Officer
Montclair Township sustainability officer, Gray Russell presented on the township's Waterwise campaign. "Montclair is embarking on a comprehensive water conservation program," Russell told the group. "We are pleased to embark on a water conservation program to reduce the water usage in this community throughout Montclair. The reasons are economic benefits, also environmental benefits and also public health benefits." "Americans use about 70 gallons per person per day."
Russell expressed that part of what they do is supply information to residents and offer suggestions for conserving water.
Attendees were encouraged to "Lay off the lawn all summer long" and consider smart watering of plants are ways that Russell suggested to conserve water. Public service announcements and mailings will go out. Replacing fixtures with low flow faucets, toilets and showerheads are also ways to use less water, Russell informed residents. He stated that the town is also looking into obtaining state and federal rebates to offer to residents who participate.
He discussed the new rain barrel initiative and encouraged residents to begin to conserve water. Russell expressed that the rain barrels that generally sell for $150 at home improvement stores will be offered to residents at a discounted cost of $36 per barrel.
Deputy Mayor Robert Russo shared his experience from his visit to Californina in July. He added to the discussion, "If we can get everybody to save 20% like Jerry Brown in Califonia, that would save a lot wouldn't it?" Russell agreed with Russo.
Lastly, Russell informed the residents that the goal is to extend the Waterwise programs into the schools once the school year begins.
Presentation by the Montclair Police Department
At the close of Russell's presentation, residents raised concerns about people collecting recyclables before the township picks them up. Two residents pulled out their cell phones and circulated pictures around the room of alleged business owners collecting cans for personal gain. Russell informed residents that a ton of cans is about a hundred dollars worth of revenue to the town. When residents called for the individuals to be arrested or given harsh penalty, Sgt. Williams told residents that, although a crime, it is more of a code enforcement matter.
Sgt. Tyrone Williams and the community service officers presented on community-related issues policing issues in the 4th ward. Among the topics discussed were issues concerning people asking for money near train station, crime and making anonymous calls. The officers told the residents that if they see something, then say something. Some residents were concerned about the level of anonymity when calls are made to the police department. There was a suggestion and subsequent discussion about creating an anonymous call hotline. There was no closure to that issue, but the officers told residents that they would speak with their colleagues at the department regarding allowing residents to make anonymous calls without hassle.
Presentation by William Scott on the Planning Board
William Scott arose next to present information obtained from the planning board meetings. He also spoke of the master plan and informed residents that they needed to attend the next planning board meeting to have their concerns heard before the planning board votes. The next planning board meeting will take place on August 11. The proposed plan for the MC Hotel and the Montclair Loft Partners plan to convert the former DMV building into a commercial space are items proposed for the August 11 agenda.
Scott also informed attendees that the Master Plan will be discussed at the August 25th meeting.
During the open discussion portion of the meeting, many residents expressed concerns about the issues presented. Among the topics discussed two items raised considerable concern among the attendees: The PILOT and the possibility of recyclables being collected by business owners and other individuals instead of the town. Seniors spoke of the need for affordable housing in town, while other residents were concerned learning that developers may be getting tax breaks. Several residents felt that Montclair did not need to enter into that type of agreement with developers since the community is desireable.
The mood of the room shifted to that of concern among many when residents began to openly express that developers who enter into a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) arrangement with the town are coming into the community, creating high-rises, paying minimal or no taxes and then turning the town into a more urban landscape. Multiple residents further expressed that they didn't think that Montclair needed to enter into arrangementsof the sort. Residents were then encouraged by other residents to express their concerns at the next planning board meeting.