WEST ORANGE, NJ – Last week, Mayor Robert Parisi held the third of four 90-minute informal community meetings at Gregory School. The final meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. at Liberty Middle School. As with all of the meetings, attendees were encouraged to ask questions and openly discuss a wide range of topics.
The meeting began with Parisi telling the audience that he would not be making any speeches, and that instead he would be answering questions.
Mt. Fuji Corner Update
The first topic to be discussed was about what was happening with the corner property where Mt. Fuji was once located. The resident who asked about the property remarked that the area looked “horrible.”
Parisi said that the owners were about to make an application for a convenience store/gas station to the Zoning Board. Many residents stated that they were not in favor of this option. The mayor said that this would be a hard variance to get, which is why there aren’t more convenience store/gas stations in West Orange.
“My hope is that if this application fails, the owners will come back with a different idea,” Parisi said.
Bad Sewage Smell on Luddington Street
Next up, West Orange resident, Mrs. Evans, presented the issue of a “horrendous” sewage smell on Luddington Street. She reminded the Mayor of their meeting three weeks prior about the same issue.
Evans said that she had already spent over $2K hiring professionals to get to the bottom of the issue. She then added that the woman from the water company even said that she could not stand to even stand in the Evans’ garage because of the smell.
“I cannot have people or even my grandchildren over,” Evans said. “When people drop me off or pick me up, they tell me to hurry up and get in or out of the car because it smells so badly. We cannot even open the widows, sit in the backyard or enjoy our property. We pay way too many taxes for this.”
“I appreciate you hearing us and meeting with us Mr. Mayor, but we have an issue and it has not come to an end,” said Evans. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Parisi said, “I understand your frustration and want you to know that since we met three weeks ago, we have had a company working almost fulltime on this issue. We are doing our own tests. We have already rebuilt some manhole casings to help the situation and have ordered some filters for the manhole system, which should be here any day.”
He added, “The problem is the overall design of the system and its velocity when it gets to your area of town. We have ordered things to help, but you came to us three weeks ago and we are not done yet. We are going to inspect all of the homes by your house and may have to connect you all to a different water system to solve the problem. I have been to your home and I get it. We just need a little more time.”
A resident then asked why the school system is eating up more than 60 percent of the budget.
Parisi explained, “The tax dollars are broken down by state, county and town with 61 percent going to school taxes.”
“It is simple math,” he continued. “There are 11 buildings and a lot of children and teachers. When you have so many kids to educate and state mandates to meet, it can be costly.”
It was then stated that it takes $24K, per pupil, to get through school, per year.
The resident said, “Man, you could go to Princeton for that.”
The audience then burst into laughter.
Editor's Note: According to the West Orange Board of Education website the average per pupil cost is identified at $15,933.)
“My daughter is a senior and my son is a sophomore and we are pleased with the West Orange school system,” concluded Mayor Parisi.
Shop West Orange Property Tax Rewards Card Program
Residents also had questions on the Shop West Orange Property Tax Rewards Card Program, which is being launched on November 1.
“I think it is a neat idea,” said the Mayor. “You have a pin number on your card that you register with your block and lot number, and if you shop at a participating business, the discount gets attributed to the tax bill.”
Mayor Parisi suggested that residents sign up for cards at http://www.westorange.org/ where they should click on the link for Shop Local Cards. He also said residents could call 973-325-4100 to request that a card be mailed out.
Residents also wondered what the town was doing to educate residents on Affordable Healthcare.
Councilwoman Susan McCarthy said that she had just spoken with someone about doing a symposium at senior centers and possibly for the Chamber.
Mayor Parisi also indicated that there would also be information placed on the West Orange Township website.
Update on Crime
A few residents shared stories on recent crimes and asked the Mayor and police, who were on hand at the meeting, what was being doing about the crime in West Orange.
“Crime in West Orange is down,” said Mayor Parisi. “There were a few related home robberies where the police had an idea of the culprit. They caught him and there haven’t been any others since.”
Mayor Parisi also said, “A lot of criminals have been caught.” He added, “It is important to know that as troubling as these crimes are, we live in a volatile world. They will continue to happen and we will continue to catch the guilty parties.”
“The West Orange police are diligent and make a lot of arrests,” said Mayor Parisi.
The Mayor also expressed frustration with the criminal system in that people are not always kept long enough. He said they are released quickly and commit crimes again and again each time they are released.
“Our police are arresting the same people over and over again,” he added. “You should talk to the prosecutors and lobby for more serious repercussions,” said the Mayor.
Update on Police Substations
Next, Mayor Parisi addressed questions on the Police Substations. Residents wondered what happened to the CVS and Valley Street ones.
Mayor Parisi explained that the CVS one was privately funded. He said that the town could not make those who funded it themselves continue to do so.
He then said that the one on Valley was closed because there was a shortage of personnel. He also said that the building was leased and not owned by the town, and that the owner planned to sell it to the Council for $1.
The Mayor said he hoped the Council would take ownership and do what little environment cleanup was needed.
Town Administrator, Jack Sayers, added that the Valley St. substation is in fact still being manned until 6 pm when traffic leaves.
Later, a resident asked why it wasn’t manned later into the night.
The mayor explained that there are about nine or so people going to the academy soon, and that when they get out the police force will be larger. Once that happens, he said the town may be able to add police shifts at the substation. He also reiterated that the lack of a lease for the property is the other issue.
When questioned about the property tax increase, the Mayor defended it by describing a few of the advantages of living in West Orange and what taxpayers get in value, such as: leaf and trash removal and a fulltime fire department.
He explained that of the $72 million budget, $50 million is raised by taxes and the rest comes from grants and bills.
“If we need to hire a police officer or buy a new snow plow, we need to raise revenues,” he said.
A highlight of the night occurred when a young poised resident, named Howard, who was dressed in his troop uniform asked the Mayor if he had met Cory Booker.
“Mayor Booker is a good man,” said Mayor Parisi.
“You should be a senator,” he said to the boy.
Residents also asked about storm preparedness.
The Mayor said that the town learned a lot over the past few years and is more prepared. He also shared that West Orange now has 300 less trees to clean up after.
Abandoned Property Plans
The Mayor was asked if there was a plan in place for abandoned homes.
Mayor Parisi said the Council was aware of most of these homes and working with the banks. He told residents to tell him addresses of homes they were concerned about after the meeting.
“I believe we are all in this together,” said Mayor Parisi. “Call us and tell us when you think there are squatters, or a house seems abandoned…a nosy neighbor is always good,” he added.
The Mayor also said that while some banks were easier to work with than others—the town would for instance cut the grass of an abandoned home, if it could not get the bank to make the arrangements itself.
A resident remarked that the jitney should sit a little longer waiting for passengers. Another said that West Orange may need more jitneys because waiting longer is not always the answer—especially when the jitney is filled up.
“We are doing our best and can never be perfect,” said Mayor Parisi. “We want it to work for as many people as possible. We will review the schedules. We are also buying new jitneys to replace old ones after the holidays.”
Special Needs Jobs
One resident said she was a special needs resident that was having trouble getting a job. The Mayor told her he would help her.
The mayor said he hoped that the project would start in the next few months.
“The Council did the bond to support the infrastructure but is not releasing it until the developer puts its money in first,” he said.
Hazel Pick Up/Drop Off Flow Concerns
Anthony Minervino, the head of Hazel School’s PTA voiced his concern over the lack of pick-up and drop-off flow at Hazel School. He also complained about all of the leaves on the street as possible hazards to cars.
The Mayor said he would look into the issues.
Parking Issues on Hazel Ave.
Residents also vented about problems with parking on Hazel Ave., and some suspicious activity at a home where cars continued to park for a few minutes and leave, with others then parking and leaving continuously throughout the days and nights.
“I am pretty sure we will patrol Hazel Ave. quite heavily tonight,” said the mayor with a smile.
The audience laughed.
Energy Aggregation Project
The mayor was also asked about the Energy Aggregation Project and explained that it would enable residents to pool their resources. He said residents will have the option to opt out.
“This isn’t removing public service from the equation—they will still be the delivery supplier,” he said. “This affects one component on the bill. We have not gone to market to find suppliers yet. If it is not cheaper, we won’t do it.”
Rotting Guard Rails on Old Northfield and Rollinson
A resident expressed frustration over rotting guard rails and said she was having trouble getting them addressed. She asked that they be fixed or taken down.
Parisi said he would look into the issue.
As the meeting concluded, residents thanked the mayor for the meeting and some remained afterwards to speak privately with Parisi.
Members of the police force also met with a few of the residents who had raised crime-related issues at the meeting.