SUMMIT, NJ - First Ward Councilman Robert Rubino was unanimously elected president of the Summit Common Council on Tuesday as the governing body reorganized for 2014.
Councilman-at-Large Gregory Drummond, who won election to a second term in November, was the unanimous choice for council president pro tem. In the event that Rubino is unable to attend a meeting or perform other functions as council president, Drummond will take the reins. He also will pinch-hit for Mayor Ellen Dickson if she is required to be absent.
Tuesday's meeting began with an invocation by Rev. Dr. Denison D. Harrield, Jr., pastor of Summit's Wallace Chapel.
Dickson then swore in newly elected council members Sandra Lizza of the Second Ward and Mike McTernan of the First Ward.
Drummond took his oath of office privately prior to Tuesday night's session.
In assuming the council president's chair, Rubino thanked his fellow council members for the faith and trust they had placed in him as council president pro tem last year and as their presiding officer this year.
He also said his achievements would not have been possible without the help of his wife Susan, his children, his many friends and the people of the Hilltop City.
The new council president also paid tribute to his predecessor Richard Madden, who chaired the governing body in 2012 and 2013. He said Madden, who was not at Tuesday's session due to illness, brought improved discourse to the council and better communications with Union County through his personal contacts with members of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Rubino acknowledged Freeholders Alexander Mirabella, Bruce Bergen and Vernell Wright, who were in the audience at the council organization session.
He also cited attendees former Mayor Frank Lehr and former council president Henry Ogden, as well as State Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. and Nancy Munoz of Summit and Jon Bramnick, members of the state Assembly, and Summit Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker and Board of Education president Gloria Ron-Fornes.
As is customary in Summit, Rubino presented their council chairs to outgoing members Dave Bomgaars and Thomas Getzendanner.
Waxing poetic, the new council president cited verses he had written citing Bomgaars as “Gentleman Dave” for his spiffy attire and his leadership of the council finance committee, resulting in tax increases of 0.2 and 0.4 percent.
Bomgaars, in accepting the honor, praised the council members who served during his tenure for bringing about the renovation of the DeForest Avenue shopper parking lots, forging the development of the Franklin Place condominiums and stabilizing taxes.
He also cited the leadership of city administrator Chris Cotter, especially as head of the Summit emergency management team, and the contributions of Police Chief Robert Weck, Fire Chief Joseph Houck, community services director Beth Kinney, community programs director Judith Leblein Josephs and parking agency manager Rita McNany.
Although Getzendanner was unable to attend Tuesday's session, Rubino praised him for bringing a new sense of fiscal conservatism to the city, for his vast knowledge of city ordinances, his attendance at meetings at every level, for bringing a comprehensive one-page tax summary to the council and for his “heart” for all things Summit.
In making his council committee assignments, Rubino named Drummond to chair buildings and grounds, assisted by Second Ward Councilman Patrick Hurley; McTernan as chair of finance and personnel with Madden on the committee; First Ward Councilman Albert Dill, Jr, heading up general services assisted by Lizza; Madden chairing the law committee assisted by Drummond; Hurley on Public Safety backed up by Dill, and Lizza chairing public works with McTernan assisting.
Madden will serve as liaison to the freeholders, the New Jersey League of Municipalities and corporate relations, while Rubino and the mayor will be liaisons to federal and state officials.
In her state of the city address, Dickson cited Summit as a “very successful and giving community,” which has faced some challenges but is building from a strong foundation and, she said, its people have the ability to make the city even better.
Much of the city's success, she added, is due to the hard work of the city department heads. Among city achievements, she noted:
End of an era of financial turmoil with Tuesday's issuance of $9.6 million in bonds at 2.49 percent for 14 years with a AAA rating by all three major credit agencies.
An “upward bias” by Standard & Poors in its rating because of the potential development of the 88-acres Merck campus in Summit. The mayor added the property is being marketed by Jones Lang Lasall, and “if a single buyer cannot be found the planning board is ready to evaluate the needs of the owner and the city as conditions warrant.”
Investment by Summit property owners of more than $56 million in total construction value into their homes in 2013.
In response to Hurricane Sandy, development, by community services, of an online interactive management tool for the city's signs, trees, and utility pools as well as a major tree removal and maintenance project.
Upgrading of the northern quadrant of the Village Green through a partnership with the Summit Area Development Corp. and repairing of many of the city's crosswalks in coordination with Summit Downtown, Inc.
Also in response to recent weather events, FEMA funds coming to Summit for $378,000 for Hurricane Sandy and $482,000 for the October snowstorm. She also noted the city received $468,000 in 2012 for Hurricane Irene and a total of $155,000 in insurance settlements was received for Hurricane Sand.
The hard work of the department of public works garbage and trash division during Tuesday's historic freeze, along with the continuing excellence of the police department and its institution of community policing in bringing foot, bike and walking patrols to the downtown.
Replacement of a 25-year-old fire department fire engine with a soon-arriving new one and planning for replacement of the city's fire headquarters, parts of which are more than 100 years old.
Naming of community programs assistant Mark Ozorowski as Professional of the Year by the New Jersey Parks and Recreation Association as well as selection of Screen on the Green as Event of the Year and the website being named Electronic Media of the Year.
Dickson also said the downtown planning study will be an “important blueprint for action” for the planning board and council during 2014, and cited designation of Summit to Transit Oriented Development Status last year from the state with more grants possibly to follow.
Redesign of the three DeForest Avenue parking lots, she noted, attained second place for construction management projects in a statewide competitive evaluation by the New Jersey Society of Municipal Engineers.
The mayor also noted that Summit Downtown, Inc., the management body for the special improvement district, voted in favor of a new parking garage, adding that development of the former Bagel Chateau and Infiniti properties will create the need for additional parking.
On the education front, she thanked George Lucaci for his service on the school board and praised James Freeman, his replacement, for bringing a “fresh perspective.”
Dickson also noted the board of school estimate approved a $17 million spending plan that will bring about additions to Franklin and Jefferson Schools as well as improvements to the science labs and auditorium at the middle school.
In addition, she thanked the Summit Education Foundation, the Summit Boosters and the Summit Performing Arts parents for the funds they raised to be reinvested in the schools as well as all their volunteer efforts.
The mayor noted that full-day kindergarten was voted down, and one of the many reasons was the many pressures on the school budget because of the 2 percent cap as well as increased enrollment, state mandates and efforts to improve security.
In addition, she said, there are many full-day programs run by religious and charitable institutions in Summit that have “already given Summit a diverse flexible offering of kindergarten programs.”
She also noted by the Connection lost $250,000 in funding and had to lay off four employees when the city started a pilot tuition-based full-day kindergarten.
On more positive notes, Dickson noted Summit's affordable housing spending plan has been approved by COAH and the Hilltop City is one of the few communities with an approved plan
She also praised institution of the Summit Conservancy 501(c)(3) and its hope of support the Summit Free Market with a permanent structure at the transfer station and development of the Passaic River Trails Project along with other projects. Eagle Scout Liam Stewart has been working on the trails and built a bird viewing area.
In addition, the Summit YMCA received a grant to help establish the community garden, with Overlook Hospital donating the land. Lots should be allocated by lottery during this coming growing season, and the hope is additional locations will be found, the mayor said.
Efforts continue to bury electrical wires in the central business district, although this may not be cost-feasible.
On the down side, Dickson noted that, according to an analysis by Cotter of the Union County Board of Taxation's Abstract of Ratables, Summit residents pay the highest average property taxes at $16,423 per household and 10.5 percent of county taxes—second to Westfield.
However, Elizabeth, with six times the population of Summit, contributes 10.16 percent of the county taxes.
The mayor added that, since 2000, Summit's taxes to fund county services have more than doubled while inflation has gone up about 40 percent.
She decried double-digit county tax increases and called upon the freeholders to stick to the 2 percent spending cap. She said the county tax increases “potentially crowd out other very meaningful efforts and add to the already high cost of living in this area.”
In addition, in 2011, Summit residents paid $168 million in income taxes and received $4 million in state aid. In other words, for every $39 paid in state income taxes $1 is returned for local purposes. On a per capita basis, the state income tax equals $7,948 per resident, Dickson said.
Following Dickson's speech, she and Rubino handed out gifts to the volunteers who will be leaving boards in 2014 and announced appointments to a number of boards.