Hopefully you are enjoying these warm, wonderful days.
As the hectic schedule of school ending gave way to the hectic start to summer – and we threw ourselves into get our town’s finances in order, grants committee up and running, moved our many redevelopment projects forward, and rebooted our township’s master plan, I wanted to provide a Summer 2019 Mayor’s Corner. Here’s on update on what’s been going on the last few months:
I am proud of the progress we have made in keeping our promise of fiscal responsibility. Safeguards have been put in place to prevent contracts from spiraling out of control, we have kept a watchful eye on spending, and shared service agreements with Union County have led to significant cost savings.
These new policies have allowed us to better track where, and how, we spend money, while ensuring Township services are not adversely affected. I am truly grateful to our incredible staff, particularly our excellent new CFO, Eugenia Poulos, for working hard to make this possible.
Yet, it will come as no surprise that the Township’s infrastructure has been rapidly aging. We are looking for out-of-the-box ideas to help fund these projects, in addition to grants and local aid sources. The Council will consider the final adoption of our capital ordinances at our August meeting, allowing the commencement of several important projects:
- Repave Cornell Avenue and Saw Mill, to utilize a grant the Township received
- Micro-paving program to help preserve the life of roads that have been paved in the last 5 years
- Drainage improvement at Dell Lane and Riverbend Road
- Design of road resurfacing and new curbing at Briarwood East & West, Fay Place, Fawn Circle and Ridgewood Place
- Drainage improvements on Cedar Green Lane, Pine Grove Road, Plainfield Avenue, Fern Place, Oakland Street, Cornell Avenue, Deepdale Drive
- Sidewalks, curbs, path and crosswalk improvements from Plainfield Avenue from Park Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue Plainfield to Park and Columbia Avenue
- New ladder truck for the Fire Department
Additionally, the Council introduced an additional ordinance utilizing the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Bank (NJEIB) on July 23rd. This program, under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), allows municipalities to borrow 50% of project funds for 0% interest. Additionally, while the project is being constructed, the state charges 0% interest. This will allow the Township to do more with our tax dollars and make the much-needed improvements to our crumbling roads, pipes and sewers.
One of our greatest challenges is drainage in the Orchard Terrace, Mercier Place, Emerson Lane and Old Farm Road area. Not only is this neighborhood impacted by surging water with the extreme wet weather, all neighborhoods downhill suffer the impact of the water not being captured and directed, which leads to erosion to our roads and deforestation. The Township Engineer has begun an extensive study to mitigate and correct this problem. That study will lead to a design of a better drainage system, which will then be followed by construction.
Additionally, the Township hired a financial planner who permanently financed our debt, taking advantage of the low rates, and saved $2.5 million in interest and underwriter’s discount. The Mayor’s Recycling Task Force continues to work arduously to explore ideas that can reduce our recycling budget line item. Our cost increased a whopping 142% in 2019. Our Grants Committee held their first meeting, and has already started applying for additional grant dollars, ensuring that the Township remains on track. I am working with the Library Board, advocating for Berkeley Heights on the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act grant application, which is anticipated to be due out in early 2020. These funds, if the Township is eligible, will help to offset some of the cost to construct and outfit the new library. Berkeley Heights deserves its fair share from Trenton.
As always, I welcome your thoughts on how Berkeley Heights government can do better, by emailing me at email@example.com, calling Town Hall at 908-464-2700 ext. 2116, or direct conversation at the many events I go to around town.
Angie Devanney, Mayor