Beautifully colored leaves on the trees quickly turned to colder temperatures and in a blink of an eye, a new year began!
In December, at the Township Council meeting, the governing body unanimously ratified a shared service agreement with the County of Union for emergency dispatch services. While the cost-saving measure not only demonstrates smart government, it also improves technology for the residents in Berkeley Heights while ensuring continued quality service.
When I visited the Union County Public Safety facilities in Westfield, I truly was in awe of the specialized facility and the individualized programming for each participating municipality. The County will now serve as Berkeley Heights’ 911 public safety answering point for dispatching Berkeley Heights emergency services, including Police, Fire and EMS. There is no doubt that our residents can expect the same quality of service and response time as they’ve experience in the past years. The Township has struggled to keep up with the fast-paced and ever-changing technology required to dispatch our men and women in public safety. Our Berkeley Heights Police Chief John DiPasquale spent many, many months thoroughly examining our options and I am confident that this is a beneficial policy shift for our Township.
The operating costs alone for our own local dispatch in 2020 would have been about $380,000. Capital costs to update our 911 systems and records management systems would be additional expenses. The shared service agreement with Union County is $150,000, creating a $230,000 savings in just operations for a single year. Further, additional savings of approximately of $100,000 can be eliminated in the municipal complex budget for antennas - some much-needed relief for the tight municipal complex budget.
New Shared Services Savings since 2019 to present
DPW SSA $120,000
Dispatch SSA $230,000
BOH SSA $17,000
Salt Dome $64,000 (revenue producing to offset debt)
In January 2019, I announced the Mayor’s Recycling Taskforce, which has had the Herculean task of narrowing down solutions to our recycling crisis with China. The Township continues to grapple with the 142% increase in our recycling costs due to a shift in acceptable levels of contaminates by China. It was time to take the next step. In December, I called together a Union County Mayor’s Recycling Roundtable meeting inviting all 21 towns. It was a spirited conversation; we discussed options for 2020 that may include a cooperative bid with municipalities like Cranford or Westfield, with recycling contracts all set to expire simultaneously with hauler Giordano at the end of this year. We have much more work to do-- but I have never been afraid of rolling up my sleeves and working hard!
More exciting news is the approval of the repurposing of the Union County Kids Recreation Grant funds dating back to 2005 in the amount of $110,152.60. Unspent or unused balances of grants accrued in the County coffers year-after-year. One of my primary goals of in 2019 was to lobby the Freeholder Board for approval to repurpose or reuse those funds to bolster our robust and growing recreation community. After much discussion with our recreation partners at the Recreation Commission PAL, BH Youth Soccer Club and Board of Education, we submitted a number of projects from shade structures to playground equipment. Kudos to all those who participated.
Other great work is being done by our Senior Advisory Board (SAB), which has met several times in the past few months. We are discussing ways to improve social connectedness, wellness, communication and expand recreation programs once the new municipal complex is open. We also anticipate a high-level lecture series in the Fall as a result of a newly formed partnership with Summit Medical Group. A tremendous collaboration has begun between our SAB volunteers, the Township and the Communications Committee. I want to personally thank the Communication Committee, which has worked hand-in-hand with the SAB to develop a paper calendar of community events that are of interest to our older population. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Wellness campaign is joining senior citizens with high school seniors to form a “teenior” group that can help our older residents learn technology to help keep them connected!
Our Economic Development Committee (EDC) has met twice and already begun the research on SHOP BH! - a property tax rewards program in which residents will receive a reduction in taxes just by shopping and/or using local services. We will report more on the program as we work with our wonderful and generous business community to make this a reality.
I am assembling a team to work with the County Parks & Recreation Department to develop trails along the Passaic River. From the Environmental & Recreation Commissions to the youth of the Township, we will create a group “#TrailTeam” that will help construct a walking trail from the Berkeley Heights/Long Hill border to the Passaic River Park. This project will be an outstanding addition to our passive recreation space, and an educational gem for our Township.
I look forward to a healthy and happy 2020 and continuing the work of fiscally and responsibly managing taxpayer dollars while looking for new ways to provide services. Next month I will provide a briefing on the 2020 budget. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com if I can assist you.
All the best,
Mayor Angie Devanney
Facebook page: @Mayor Angie Devanney