WEST ORANGE, NJ - The Annual West Orange Chamber of Commerce Breakfast was held Wednesday morning, January 23, 2013 at The Manor. Over 230 members of the West Orange community, including Fire, Police, Emergency Services, Public Schools, Businesses, organizations, Township employees, family, and friends, came out to hear Mayor Robert Parisi deliver his State of the Township Address and recognize several residents.
Susan McCartney, Vice-President of the WOCC, welcomed guests and spoke of how West Orange was applying for status as a 'Green Town'. Part of the requirement is to 'shop, eat, and buy locally.' She asked Chamber members to stand, introduce themselves and their businesses. She acknowledged a delegation of visitors from China that were in attendance, and introduced Paul Petigrow, new President of the WOCC. Petigrow presented a plaque to Tekeste Gebremicael, outgoing President. He then introduced Mayor Parisi.
Parisi began by acknowledging and honoring several seniors from West Orange High School that have achieved outstanding GPAs and SAT scores. Additionally, these students participate in sports, student government, Honor Societies, and community outreach. Renee Chalom was named as the Valedictorian for the Class of 2013. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
The Mayor began his speech by discussing the conflicts and challenges of balancing value and services v. costs and taxes. He reflected on the 150th Anniversary of West Orange in 2012, and thanked the Town Council and Employees for their hard work, including employee's tireless efforts during Hurricane Sandy. He recognized outgoing President of the Downtown West Orange Alliance, Denise Esposito, and named Nick Allegrino, Township Communications Manager, as the Employee of the Year. Marie DeMaio, Principal of Washington School, who was recently honored for 50 years of education in West Orange, was named Citizen of the Year.
Parisi went on to note that West Orange was the only community in Essex County that had a 0% tax increase for the past three years. (Livingston, 5%; Roseland, 24%; Verona, 16%, Maplewood/South Orange, 5%; Montclair, 18%, to name a few). Spending levels were reduced to 2008 levels. He wanted to make clear that local Government should be a partner, and not a burden, in the lives of its residents.
The Mayor then announced a new initiative for 2013, the "Shop West Orange Card" which would provide which would not only provide discounts to residents, but as points accrued, a deduction would be taken off homeowner's property tax bills. (The card will also be available to renters, and more information will follow as it becomes available.)
Improved technology within the police department and the installation of surveillance cameras in key spots in town will help to control crime, which saw an 18% drop overall in West Orange in 2012.
The township entered into a consortium with other Essex County townships to help reduce electric and energy costs. It is hoped that will reduce residents' electric bills by 10%.
Touching upon the issue of Prism and redevelopment on the Main Street corridor, Parisi smiled, and commented that no other singular topic has generated so much emotion, whether hope, anger, or 'lawsuits'. He said that what most developers considered 'valueless' property was now on the verge of breaking ground and that Prism has already spent $50 million on readying the property since 2006.
He discussed the savings in employee benefits and contracts; the work of the township to seek out grants (e.g., the FEMA grant that allows the town to hire 10 new firefighters and cover their salaries for two years).
Lastly, he spoke of the efforts the township is making to improve infrastructure, upgrade, and repair facilities used by the residents. He mentioned the downtown rescaping project, sewer improvements near Mayfair Drive and Mountain Drive; returf of WOHS Lincoln Field, lights at WOHS Soriano Stadium, and a new concession stand; a new little kids' water play area at the Ginny Duenkel pool; the design of a walking park on the Ridgeway property; and Vincent Pond repairs at Degnan Park.
Parisi ended his speech by saying "This is our life…here, now…we are forever connected in time, at this moment…business owners, residents, moms and dads, daughters and sons…we work and we play with West Orange as the backdrop to our homes, our families and the special memories they create. Surrounded by beautiful settings, state of the art facilities and encouraged by the people, contributing in many different ways to the fabric of this community. We are inspired by students that amaze us…teachers that educate us and employees that care for us.
Criticism will not solve our problems, dissention will not encourage solutions and we should never wait for government to take the lead in our lives. Each of us has an obligation, to take care of our families, our neighborhoods and neighbors. We cannot blame government for litter on our streets or crime in our neighborhoods and we should never wait for government to pick us up when we stumble. I have been honored to serve in local government and honored to be your Mayor…but each of us has a role, an obligation to protect what we know and love, as our hometown…not to point fingers, but to take action, not to make excuses but to take responsibility. We are surrounded with all the opportunities we could hope for from life and regardless of the challenges, regardless of the frustration, there is much among us to celebrate.
This is our life…we live as neighbors; we live as friends….we live as partners in this wonderful community of West Orange. Celebrate with me…"
For the complete text of the Mayor's speech, go to http://westorange.org/DocumentCenter/View/838.