CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Borough Council introduced the 2017 municipal budget at its regular meeting on Monday night. It provides for a $33.87 annual increase for an average assessed home of $670,694. 

Council member James Lonergan asked the public to look at the budget online and provide feedback. It is scheduled to be adopted April 27.

Longergan also noted that the borough earned a Triple-A rating from Moody’s, and council member James Collander called that achievement “remarkable” for a small town. Borough administrator Robert Falzarano added that Moody’s took note of the fact that “we measure ourselves against what we predicted, and also that we built up our reserves.”

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The only discussion item on the agenda was a brief presentation by Rob Walton, of JCP&L, who described upcoming tree trimming in the borough. He said the utility will be trimming trees “on the Academy substation circuit” in the northeast section of the borough in May. Streets cited included North Passaic Avenue. Trees will also be trimmed in the industrial portion of the borough near River Road.

During public comment, Fran Drew of Inwood Road cited electric companies in other parts of the country that have put wires underground, making tree trimming unnecessary. Two examples she gave were Anaheim, Calif. and Fort Collins, Colo., where she said the electric utility put wires underground for 70,000 houses with no cost to residents. 

“The electric company found they would save a million dollars a year in tree trimming and another million dollars a year in maintenance,” she said.

Drew  also noted there were no storm-related outages in seven years. “If they can do it, why can’t Jersey Central do it? Jersey Central and the electric companies in the state of New Jersey have to start thinking about green energy.”  Another specific suggestion she had for the utilities is to install solar farms along the transmission lines.

Drew also noted that she lives five houses away from Lafayette Avenue, and she is very concerned about the sidewalks proposed there, which will require cutting down many trees.

“I read the Chatham Township Shade Tree Ordinance, and basically it says to save trees, but they seem to have a disregard for that,” she said.  She also questioned the need for the sidewalk. “No one has ever been hurt on that section of road,” she noted, and having a sidewalk on both sides of the street could bring unintended problems. “The tendency for kids walking on both sides to run across the street to see their friends increases,” she said.

But since the area in question is primarily in the township, she feels there is little she can do even though “it’s my neighborhood that’s going to be ruined.” She showed a picture of one tree in particular that she described as a 150-year-old Scarlett Oak that she believes is at least partially in the Borough.

“I think they cannot do this (take it down) without your permission,” she said, asking the council to look into it.

Council president Victoria Fife reported that the planning board will have a draft of the Post Office Plaza Planning Study at its April 5 meeting, 7:30 p.m., which will be an opportunity for the public to ask questions and give input.

“The initial study answers the question, ‘Is the area in need of redevelopment?’ If the answer is yes, we move forward from there,” she said. Fife noted that this redevelopment is not being done through eminent domain; it’s a non-condemnation approach.

Fife also reported that the clock in Reasoner Park is coming down temporarily. Jeff Davis of Specialized Auto Craft in Chatham is refurbishing the clock, which should be back in place before Fishawack on June 10.

Mayor Bruce Harris reported that the borough is in talks with NJ Transit regarding repairs to the Fairmount Avenue overpass. NJ transit officials have inspected the area, and the borough is waiting for their assessment. He also noted there is an upcoming conference call with the state to discuss traffic management ideas using new technology. He also said that the Chatham Borough train station restaurant has stalled because the successful bidder was “having a hard time getting NJ Transit to negotiate the final details.”

On a 5-1 vote, the council passed a first reading of an ordinance to exceed the municipal budget appropriation limits and establish a cap bank. Council member Peter Hoffman voted no, as he said he did last year, because “I’m a believer in a hard and fast two percent cap.”

Council member Collander countered that he voted yes because he was on council during the recession when it was difficult to put a budget together “and frankly we needed the flexibility.” By unanimous vote, the council also passed a first reading of an ordinance to require creditors in foreclosure actions to maintain and repair the exterior of vacant and abandoned residential properties.

The borough is currently looking for a volunteer for the Board of Health and for Spring Clean-Up on May 6, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The borough’s governing body also proclaimed April as Autism Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion month, and will observe April 3-9 as National Public Health Week.

The next borough council meeting will be held on a Tuesday, April 11, because of Passover.