October has proven to be a busy season. As the leaves change from shades of green to yellow, red and orange, our Township is abuzz with activity and planning for the future of Berkeley Heights.
Finally getting plans off the books and into the field, we hired our engineer to conduct a drainage study of the Orchard Lane, Emerson Lane, Mercier Place, Cedar Green Lane, Deepdale area, to figure out exactly how we can improve drainage in that area. This will not only assist with those specific neighborhoods, but the areas downhill from this section of town such as Oakland Street, Kings Court, Arden Court, Cornell and Saw Mill. Stormwater run-off deteriorates our roads, properties, green spaces and damages the environment.
Reconstructing our infrastructure – not simply just repaving our roads – is a long-term investment we need to make in order to get to the root of the problems; we can’t continue to just put band-aids on them.
So, this year, we approved engineering and roads contracts to reconstruct important secondary roadways such as Cornell and Saw Mill. Weather permitting, work will begin shortly on Rutgers and Hamilton; and we are pleased to announce that the Township has the funds to include Princeton, as well. We were able to fund these roads by identifying and reallocating unneeded money from another project we budgeted for this year. In addition, we are paving Briarwood East/West, Fay Place, and Ridgewood Place this year, while retrofitting storm basins to comply with NJ Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Drainage improvements will also soon begin on Cedar Green Lane, Pine Grove Road, Scott Avenue and some surrounding roads; Riverbend and Dell Lane drainage improvements are also ongoing, while we are reconstructing the portion of Lawrence Drive near Balmoral and addressing underlying drainage issues that were causing the road to “erupt.” In addition, our shared service is paying off as, jointly, the County and Township were able to pave Woodruff Avenue and reconstructed a dangerous portion of Park Avenue.
To minimize the coop paving deficiencies of prior years for large-scale projects, we hired a firm to properly design, manage and supervise these road projects full-time. This minimizes deficiencies relating to milling, paving, drainage and grading that often occur with coops and provides for continued on-site coordination with our residents. What’s more, by utilizing the local public contracts law bidding process, the township is protected via submission of contractor performance and maintenance bonds, ensuring quality craftmanship of the work. Quality control and quality assurance is of the utmost importance. We are also ensuring that any necessary grant reimbursements due to the township relative to those projects are received.
Instead of just milling and paving, our township professionals are engineering plans, where needed, that include adding larger pipes under the roadway to accept more storm water; repairing our collapsing storm water basins; tying in homeowners’ sump pump pipes that were dumping water onto the street, causing frozen puddles during the winter that chipped away at the asphalt. Fully engineered road projects will also include adequate drainage considerations, profiling and grading, curbing as required, and other vital elements.
Paving vs reconstructing -- why is this an important difference? We need to plan for the future. We cannot just spend taxpayer money on short-term solutions. When we invest in our underlying infrastructure to ensure it lasts longer.
The 15-year road program established a few years ago can provide a blueprint for paving, however, we have to be nimble. For example, that program did not plan for Rutgers to be paved until 2022, or Hamilton and Princeton to be paved until at least 2024. Those roads clearly cannot wait that long to be repaired, so we are beginning those repairs this year. We have to adjust that plan as infrastructure needs require.
So why did many of these projects not begin until later this year? In 2014, the Township Council passed a 5-year ordinance which funded a road paving program; that ordinance and the money with it “ran out” at the end of 2018. Therefore, before we could pave any roads in 2019, we had to wait until funds were available in the 2019 budget. Those funds were not available until August – the budget was adopted July 23, then we had the estoppel period and the money was available in August. Included in our 2019 capital budget program were specific road projects, funded for specific amounts. Also included in the budget was funding for various road improvements – including road micro-surfacing and sign acquisition and installation – as needed.
Community Benefits Funds, Solar & More
Balancing revenue with services, the Council also voted to introduce a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) for the property formerly known as Berkeley Florist. This agreement was part of our affordable housing settlement. In a PILOT agreement, 95% of the taxes are paid to the municipality and 5% are paid to the County. Once this project is built, these funds will help to pay to offset the debt service on the municipal complex. Additionally, 1% of the PILOT will be dedicated to a Community Benefit Fund for projects, services, or programs that help Berkeley Heights plan for its growing population. This fund can pay for parks, recreation, senior citizens programs, infrastructure and more as we plan for our future.
We have also begun to create a future with renewable energy, at our last Council meeting in October, we will discuss moving forward with a solar canopy program at the municipal complex. I am extremely excited about this project, as I have been working toward this goal since before my inauguration! Estimates project the Township can save approximately $25,000 in year one and up to $1.5 million on utility bills over the life of the project. As an added bonus to our employees and commuters who use the lot, solar will also help to protect cars from rain, snow and sun. Best of all, we are taking steps to plan for the future of our environment, Township AND planet.
Other great things are happening, too—like our new Economic Development Committee that will help to launch SHOP BH!, a property tax reward program that encourages residents to shop and use local services. Our Historic Preservation Committee is getting up and running, and thanks to the recently created Grants Committee, the Township was awarded a $85,000 from the County to get started! The Senior Citizen’s Advisory Board kicked off this week advising me on health, wellness and social programs needed within our community at our inaugural meeting.
It's an exciting time to live in Berkeley Heights. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns, (908) 464-2700 or email@example.com.