SUMMIT, NJ - The presentation of the 2019 Municipal Budget by City Administrator Michael Rogers took center stage at the Summit Common Council’s March 19 meeting, with the governing body reviewing a proposed municipal operating budget pegged $51,984,799, which represents a 1.19% increase over 2018.

The capital budget is $16,755,500, up 232.5% over 2018, which Rogers pointed out is due to the inclusion of costs for a new City firehouse. The combined budgets total $68,740,299, a 21.85% increase over last year. Work on the budget has been under way since last August. It will have its public hearing at the April 23 Council meeting and will presumably be adopted then.

The estimated municipal tax rate increase associated with the municipal operating budget is 1.00%, or under $0.01.

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Rogers listed the budget’s chief goals:

  • Demonstrate fiscal responsibility and sound financial management, including maintaining Summit’s AAA credit bond rating

  • Expand the use of technology to create opportunity and increase customer convenience

  • Maintain and upgrade critical City assets and infrastructure, and promote safety. This encompasses the new Community Center, finalizing the new firehouse plans, and erecting the Free Market building.

  • Increase emphasis on smart planning and redevelopment, including the Broad Street West area

  • Build community connectedness and expand communications

  • Leverage the talent, ideas, and creativity of Summit’s municipal workforce

  • Offer innovative solutions to ongoing municipal challenges

  • Improve customer service and accessibility

In addition to the operating budget, the Sewer Utility Fund’s operating budget is $4,313,287, up 12.03%, while its capital budget of $412,500 is down 77.99%, for a combined total of $4,734,787, down 17.87% from 2018, while the Parking Services Utility Fund operating budget is $3,954,555, up 11.09%, and its capital budget is $100,000, even with last year, for a total of $4,054,555, an increase of 10.78%.

Altogether, the 2019 budget of $77,529,641 represents a 17.76% increase over 2018.  However, Rogers noted, if the expenses for the new firehouse and the acquisition of 7 Cedar Street, both essential parts of the Broad Street West redevelopment, the budget would actually be down 2.5% from last year’s. Additionally, the Cedar Street property will remain on the tax rolls.

The proposed Broad Street West Redevelopment Plan can be accessed by visiting cityofsummit.org. It will be formally introduced at the April 2 Council meeting.

On the plus side, Summit’s tax base, $3,143,119,824, is up $9.8 million from 2018. The average residential net assessed valuation is $417,500. Based on that, the estimated 2019 total tax bill will be $18,482.73, an increase of $413.73, or 2.29%.

Summit's effective tax rate is the lowest in Union County (Roselle’s is the highest).

Estimated property tax levies include municipal taxes of $26,792,506 (19.25% of the total); local schools, $70,102,247 (50.38%); county, $38,723,185, and county open space, $1,127,530 (together, 28.62%); and public library, $2,440,785 (1.75%); for a total of $139,186,253, up 2.43% over last year. Rogers noted the property tax levy is $1,615,581 below the maximum tax levy amount allowable of $28,408,428.

Appropriations break down thus: general government, $1,536,286; finance, $1,247,615; public safety, $11,323,101; community services, $7,200,546; community programs, $1,191,610; board of health, $443,045; municipal court, $399,300; utilities, $1,121,000; insurance, $3,739,774; statutory expenditures, $4,270,720; library maintenance; $2,440,785; grants, $144,315; interlocal agreements, $1,232,049; capital improvements, $735,275; municipal debt service, $4,002,104; school debt service, $5,265,023; deferred charges and reserves, $405,000; and reserve for uncollected taxes, $5,287,251.

The capital budget includes fire, $11,989,500; police, $146,000; MVEC joint dispatch, $200,000; DCS, $2,810,000; DCP, $60,000; administration/clerk, $1,550,000; parking services, $100,000; and sewer, $421,500. The bulk of the fire department’s budget, $11,800,000, is earmarked for the new firehouse. This year will see the bidding phase and next year, construction, with an approximate 18-month build time.

The budget presentation can be viewed at cityofsummit.org/DocumentCenter/View/3141/2019-Budget-presentation-FINAL.

Following the budget presentation, Council President David Naidu thanked everyone involved in its creation for their hard work, and for creating a budget that is “thinking about what happens not just this year but many years down the road, and sets us up for that.”

Council Member at Large Beth Little, chair of the Finance Committee, echoed Naidu’s thanks, highlighting the “care and responsibility” each department took with budget considerations. Matt Gould, Ward 1 council member, asked about increasing ratables. Rogers answered that while 83% of the tax base is residential, there has been considerable growth and property improvement in both the residential and commercial sectors. Rogers characterized a major goal of the Broad Street redevelopment as “municipal tax revenues.”

Ward One Council Member Mike McTernan noted, “It’s expensive to live in New Jersey. It’s easy to provide services, but it’s not easy to provide services and do it in a fiscally responsible way. Consistently, the municipality has been able to keep its tax rate below the two percent cap for the last 10 years. It’s not easy, but it’s very important if you want to keep affordability where it needs to be. I wish all areas of our local government would look at it the same way.”

Naidu encouraged all residents to review the budget and share their comments at the April 23 council meeting.

Ordinances and Resolutions

Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox introduced an ordinance authorizing an agreement between Summit and the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition. This five-year agreement would allow the construction, maintenance, and operation of a shelter to hold up to 36 bicycles at the train station, replacing the current bike lockers. This ordinance will be heard at the April 2 council meeting.

Three Finance resolutions, moved by Little, required roll call votes. The first introduced the 2019 municipal, parking, and sewer budgets as presented by Rogers and established an April 23 hearing date. The second did the same for the 2019 Special Improvement District budget. The SDI manages Downtown Summit activities and has an operating budget of about $386,000 primarily from assessments of downtown businesses and farmers market vendor fees. The third authorized the transfer of appropriations within the operating budget, the final “housekeeping” ordinance for the 2018 budget. All these resolutions passed unanimously.

Little also moved a resolution to certify the City’s budget compliance requirements. The Division of Local Government Services annually performs municipal budget reviews. For cities in sound fiscal condition, as Summit is, formal review is required only every three years. In years in between, such municipalities can self-certify their compliance. She bundled her last two resolutions, authorizing the annual license agreement with The Office of Summit, LLC, for sidewalk dining at its Office Tavern Grill and Piattino: A Neighborhood Bistro establishments.

Ward Two Council Member Stephen Bowman bundled a pair of Law & Labor resolutions extending sick leave with pay to a Division of Public Works employee and a Parking Services Agency employee. He also declared a vacancy for a Municipal Court judge, as Judge Donald P. Bogosian will be retiring on May 1 after 29 years. The City is working with New Providence and Berkeley Heights to find a replacement.

A single Community Programs & Parking Services resolution was moved by Ward 1 Council Member Matt Gould, authorizing the execution of a grant agreement with the Junior League of Summit. The Junior League is giving $5,000 to the Community Center, primarily to establish a second GRACE food pantry location there.

Ten Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions were moved by Fox. The first established the 2019 sanitary sewer fees. For residents, the fee is $271 per household, due June 15. This represents an increase of about $24 per household. Community Services Director Paul Cascais explained this is due largely to increased fees from the Joint Meeting, which is catching up on deferred maintenance. Additionally, Celgene’s east campus is no longer an “industrial” property; its office space is charged at the same rate as residences, resulting in a drop in revenue.

Resolutions awarded bids to JTG Construction of Newark for $534,020 for the Oakland Place and Linden Place improvement project, and to D’Onofrio & Sons of Hillside for landscaping services at 13 locations throughout Summit for 2019-20, in the amount of $158,050. Naidu suggested the City consider whether any of those locations can return to a natural state. Payments not to exceed $50,000 were authorized for Shade Tree Services Co. LLC of Towaco to provide seven hours a week of professional forester service. The contract is retroactive to January of this year and also reflects a decreased liability insurance requirement of $1 million. The amount, $10,000 over last year’s contract, provides for service to the zoning and planning boards.

Four resolutions were bundled, all authorizing purchases through cooperative purchasing systems -- dyed diesel fuel not to exceed $130,000, landscape treatment and fertilization services not to exceed $60,000, and unleaded gasoline not to exceed $145,000 from the Somerset County Cooperative Purchasing System; and bulk rock salt not to exceed $75,000 from the Union County Cooperative Purchasing System.

Also moved was a resolution to continue the popular parklet program providing landscaped seating in two metered spaces on Springfield Avenue. The adjacent property owners provide routine maintenance. McTernan questioned whether Summit could introduce another site. Cascais responded that two suggested locations were deemed unsuitable for various reasons. Gould encouraged his department to do even more to develop the usability of the City’s existing public areas. Finally, Fox moved a resolution increasing the height of the pillar, from 4’ to 5’7”, in the proposed monument honoring Summit’s two World War I Medal of Honor awardees. The monument was approved last October. The design was created pro bono by David Rosen of Rosen Kelly Conway Architecture & Design.

All these resolutions passed.

Public Comment

Gerard and Penelope Garcia, 32 Edison Drive, spoke once again during public comments. They expressed dismay that since their appearance at the March 5 meeting, describing a massive water incursion into their basement, no action had been taken by the City. Half a million gallons have gone through their sump pump over the past four months. Multiple experts they’ve contacted remain baffled as to possible sources. The Garcias cited a previous problem originating in a cracked water pipe at 28 Morris Avenue. One expert has suggested a dye test as an alternative to a camera inspection. They asked Council to commit to doing a dye test and a camera test by the end of the month, to let them know when this would happen, and to report the results to them.

A neighbor, who didn’t want to go on the record, was there to support them.

Naidu asked Cascais to commit to doing those tests this month. Cascais agreed, pointing out that the cause could also be an underground spring or stream. City solicitor Matthew Giacobbe pointed out that if the problem is not in the City’s infrastructure, Summit has no ability to force a third party to take action, although the homeowners can take legal action.

Naidu announced the upcoming Council on the Road listening session on March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Summit Free Public Library. He’ll be accompanied by Council members Vartan and Little.

Recently, Naidu, Radest and Little had hiked with counterparts from Chatham Borough. Chatham has implemented a trail system along the Passaic River, and would like to see Summit do the same. Chatham has planted 1,500 trees in this area. Naidu sees this a an amenity for residents, and said a first step will be cleaning the riverside area during the annual Earth Day clean-up. Admitting that the river has been separated from the community by buildings, he noted that when you walk down by the Passaic, “it is a beautiful river,” and it can be “very therapeutic and calming” there.