WEST ORANGE, NJ - A 90-minute meeting with township residents and Mayor Robert Parisi at Pleasantdale School touched on a wide range of questions and topics. The meeting at Pleasantdale was the second of four community meetings set up by the mayor to encourage the community to discuss issues of concern or interest.
The issue of crime came up, and the mayor, along with Chief of Police James Abbott, reviewed current crime statistics and initiatives to address them. Crime has decreased, although armed armed robberies and burglaries have seen an uptick over the past months, and the mayor and police chief discussed directed patrols and the newly installed security cameras.
At its peak, the WOPD had 119 officers; currently there are 96, with two in training in the Police Academy. Three new hires are now on the road. The same number of officers are patrolling as before.
Parisi described factors to consider regarding crime. One in particular was the easy accessibility of the township via approximately 17 access ramps to 280. The other was the increase of serious crime in other towns, like Livingston, and other surrounding Essex County towns in addition to West Orange.
Residents raised the question of Community Watches, and Abbott promised to work with them to set up meetings with Sgt. John Morella of the Community Services Unit to facilitate that. Parisi noted his start in politics began when the Eagle Rock Civic Association was formed as a response to concern over crime.
The question of Prism Capital Partners and the redevelopment of the Edison Battery Factory arose. The Mayor reminded residents that Prism is the owner of the property, and though they pay their taxes late, they do pay them and pay interest on them as well. He reminded residents that Prism has already invested 50 million dollars into the property. He reiterated that the bond monies approved by the town council were "costs that any town would provide" for infrastructure improvements and support during a building project, and that the town would be paid back. Parisi said he has been a supporter of downtown redevelopment, not only because it makes good business sense for the town, but because that is where he grew up.
When questioned about the municipal tax increase, the mayor defended the increase by describing a few of the advantages of living in West Orange and what taxpayers get in value:
Five jitney buses that provide free assistance to seniors and transport commuters to and fro the train stations. South Orange charges $1 one way and Livingston has one senior bus run on a volunteer basis.
South Orange charges for trash removal quarterly and separate from the tax bill. West Orange provides inclusive trash removal and single stream curbside recycling.
West Orange has a full time Fire Department that also provides 60 percent of township EMS Services. Livingston has no fire department.
West Orange has had a 1.5 percent municipal tax increase in the past four years. Roseland, who has lost a lot of its commercial income over the past four years, has raised their taxes by 25 percent.
Though the township municipal budget and school district budget are separate, Parisi noted that state tax structure required property taxes to cover school district budgets, and with a student population of close to 6,900 students, an approximate 11 percent special education population and an extremely diverse, non-homogeneous population, costs would continue to rise.
Parents at Pleasantdale School thanked the Mayor for working with the school in the execution of the "Kiss and Go" lane for drop-offs but expressed their concerns that without a police presence there, not all parents were complying with the rules. The Mayor said he would work with the school and the police department to have a presence there at least once a week and look into their concerns.
Lastly, a discussion of shared services ensued. Mayor Parisi detailed the township's efforts to look into shared fire department services with Orange. It was determined that Orange would benefit, and West Orange would bear the brunt of the effort, ultimately costing West Orange fire and EMS coverage.
The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 24 at Gregory School, beginning at 7 p.m.