DENVILLE, NJ – As is tradition, Denville Mayor Thomas Andes delivered a “State of the Municipality” address at the Denville Township Council's annual reorganization meeting held Jan. 1 at the Denville Township Municipal Building.
The following is the complete, unedited text of that speech:
Thank you. Thank you for joining us today. I hope everyone had a Happy Holiday Season and I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Thank you to Father Rich for providing the invocation, and Anna Staltari for a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem for today’s ceremony. Thank you to Steven Ward, Kathy Bowditch, Kara Deloreto, Margaret Kurdyla and Suzanne Walsh for making sure everything is picture perfect for today’s ceremony.
I would like to offer my congratulations to returning Councilmen and our new Council President John Murphy along with our newly elected Council Members Angie Cote and Harry Fahrer. I would like to welcome our new Municipal Clerk, Tara Pettoni to our team. I am confident that you will all serve the people of Denville well.
A very sincere thank you to our recently retired Councilwomen Stephanie Lyden and Nancy Witte for their many years of dedicated service to our community. It was a pleasure working with both of you. A special thank you to you both for agreeing to stay involved as volunteers.
I would like to offer my congratulations to Denville’s favorite son, Councilman Brian Bergen, who is also Assemblyman-elect for the 25th District. Today is Brian’s last Council meeting, as he will be sworn in on January 14th as our Assemblyman. We are very fortunate to have a State Assemblyman from our very own community. I am sure Brian will do a great job representing our community’s interests in Trenton.
Thank you to the citizens of Denville for once again entrusting our Town into my care. I am truly humbled by your confidence. Most importantly, thank you to my wife Sharon, my Mom Mary, and my entire family for their constant patience, support, understanding and the sacrifices that they make which enable me to serve as Mayor.
We have a great team of elected and appointed officials working together, a staff of dedicated and hardworking employees and department heads led by our Administrator Steven Ward; we further have a tremendous number of amazing volunteers. Through the collaborative efforts of all of these individuals, Denville is able to offer an incredible amount of quality services, programs and events far greater than most communities.
I would like to recognize two of those amazing volunteers. Business forced them to relocate to Denville and for the past 30 years they gave of themselves and are two of the many great volunteers that make our town such a very special place. Bob and Donna Ott please join me at the podium.
Presentation of Proclamation & Key to the City
The Cardinal Points of this Administration have and will remain constant: Proactive Flood Mitigation, Downtown Economic Development, Upgrading our Infrastructure, Public Health and Safety and lastly Senior, Recreational and Social Programs. We continue to make strides in each of these areas and continue to do so in a cost effective manner in order to keep our property taxes stable.
You will see two recurring themes in this address: First, a reassurance that Denville Township is well managed and takes advantage of grant opportunities when presented. Second, the bureaucracy of the State of New Jersey and the Federal Government that sometimes serve as a great source of funding and opportunity are also the sources of great frustration, delays and in some cases, such as with affordable housing, have continued to cost the Township and its taxpayers considerable time and money.
In 2012 & 2013 the Township Council approved funding to perform a preliminary flood mitigation study. This was prepared by and submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late-2014 for review in a program that had pre-approved flood mitigation funding.
In October 2016 we received formal notification, that by partnering with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to perform a more comprehensive and in-depth flood mitigation feasibility study at the cost of over $1.2 million for the Township of Denville.
The Army Corps provided us with a timeline that unfortunately they have not lived up to. Apparently, these delays were a result of reorganizations at both the Army Corps and Federal Government. No matter how frustrating, we have to remain focused and patient as the long-term benefit may be immense.
The Federal Government can inject the kind of money into flood mitigation infrastructure that we simply are not capable of with local source funding.
In December 2018, Township Officials met with 13 Army Corps members to discuss the project.
On the positive side, we were informed the $1.2 million study was still fully-funded and the pre-approved money has been increased to $10 million of federal funds and $5 million of State funds.
However, we also learned the process for these infrastructure funds is competitive and based upon the return on the value of the property that is being protected against the total expense of the flood mitigation project.
There have been two recent project status conferences in November and December 2019 with the study seemingly moving forward. According to the Army Corps, the new timeline for the report to be completed will be late-2020. I have learned to expect it to be later than promised; however, all recent indications show it seems to be back on track. This is a very exciting proposition and puts the Township in a great position to have the Federal Government potentially fund some of the most comprehensive flood mitigation improvements in the history of our community.
Meanwhile our Township Engineer, John Ruschke will continue to recommend projects that are affordable and achievable which we can fund ourselves. Last year the Council appropriated funding for a state-of-the-art Flap Valve for the Rockaway River. The Township submitted a permit application to the NJDEP and we just received the necessary approvals to order and install the flap valve.
In 2019, we appropriated dedicated monies to remove large fallen trees in difficult to reach areas to assist our River & Streams Committee in their stewardship of our rivers. It will be my recommendation as part of the 2020 budget to continue with the funding of this very effective program.
The Township continues to maintain the FEMA CRS rating of 6, as a result of the flood mitigation initiatives the Township has undertaken during the last eight years. This rating qualifies all property owners in Denville who are required to have flood insurance for an automatic 20% discount.
Of course, none of these measures will stop flooding if Mother Nature sends extremely heavy rains; however, each measure will help to prevent flooding in lesser storms and reduce the level of flooding. A belief I hold dear and that I often convey when discussing flood mitigation to residents or our professionals is that one of the lessons Hurricane Irene taught us is that 1 inch of water can make the difference on whether or not a home is lost.
In my 2018 address, I reported the Township received a $615,000 Federal Government grant for Phase III of the downtown streetscape improvements, which encompassed 1st Avenue and the 1st Avenue parking lot. We had hoped work would begin in late-2018. This is a Federal grant administrated by the State which means there are two sets of bureaucratic standards that we must adhere to before approvals were obtained.
Believe it or not our streetscape plans that clearly did not impact any fish or wildlife was under review on the State’s Fish and Wildlife’s Conservation desk for almost two months. The contract award was on the Town Council’s agenda 1 year ago today and expected to start in the spring.
As seems to be a continued theme, there was another layer of State and Federal approvals and signatures required before the contractor was permitted to proceed forward.
Thankfully, the project began this past fall and is nearing completion. There will be a punch list that will need to be completed in the Spring 2020. As part of the 2020 budget, I will ask the Township council for funding to resurface the 1st Avenue Parking lot this year.
Our Beautification Committee seems to outdo themselves year after year by planting magnificent floral displays throughout our Downtown and Community. They will have an increased area to work with around the First Avenue Parking Lot. I can hardly wait to see the stunning displays of colorful plants and flowers they have planned for the corner garden and planter that will line the wall next Spring.
Most likely, because construction on the 1st Avenue streetscape had not started, our grant application for $750,000 to extend the streetscape to Diamond Spring Road between Broadway and First Avenue was not approved. However, we will apply again once the grant application cycle is open, which is anticipated to be in mid-2020.
We replaced and relocated all of the trees on Diamond Spring Road between Broadway and 1st Avenue this past fall as part of downtown improvement plans. It is our goal to continue the streetscape project throughout the entire Downtown to include Diamond Spring Road, East and West Main Street, Bloomfield Avenue, Center Street, Second Avenue and Righter Avenue.
Continuing with downtown enhancements, in early 2019 Outfront Media proposed the removal of the 3 old billboards on Bloomfield Avenue with a new double-sided electronic signboard along Rt-46 in the Bloomfield Avenue parking lot. As part of our meetings with Outfront Media, they agreed to replicate our streetlamps poles and include a welcome to Downtown Denville Sign on the open end of the sign. Additionally, the sign can be utilized for Amber Alerts or other emergency messaging in addition to a total of 90 minutes of intermittent messaging each day to promote our downtown or advertise other Township functions, events or information.
The Downtown Business Improvement District applied for a $25,000 grant from the State of New Jersey that they matched with their funding. The project, which is nearing completion, will create stairs into the Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot and help to create additional parking where the 3 old billboards once stood. Obviously, Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lots are and will be getting our attention. I will be asking the Council for the funding to increase the parking in the Upper Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot in 2020 and to pave the lot in the upcoming years.
The Downtown Business Improvement District lead by their Executive Director Ryan Gleason has proven to be the business partner we hoped for. Our Downtown is thriving and Ryan is beginning to market our Downtown and has elevated our promotional events.
The creation of the BID and the streetscape projects makes for a very exciting opportunity for our community. It gives our downtown the chance to rise to the next level while retaining its charm and appeal. If our downtown does not continue to evolve, it may lose its competitiveness to other area downtowns or shopping centers.
Eight years ago the Township implemented a new road paving policy. Although there have been some bumps in the road, in the long run it has proven to work well and has definitely been the fairest way to select roads for resurfacing based upon accepted engineering road rating principals. We are seeing the benefits of putting a 5-year moratorium on road opening permits to protect our freshly paved roads. You will note that NJ Natural Gas recently opened Franklin Road, 5 years after it was paved.
Previously they would have only been required to patch the road. During my first year as Mayor, an ordinance was proposed and adopted making those responsible for repaving what they damage. During the past years, we have developed a good working relationship with NJ Natural Gas and now coordinate road resurfacing and gas main installation to maximize the number of roads fully paved, curb-to-curb.
It seems the demands for paving continue to increase. We have been increasing the amount spent on road paving each year. Additionally, we are analyzing how each road should be addressed to ensure the greatest longevity once paving occurs.
After record rainfall in 2018, some of our more chronic drainage issues became an area of intense focus. Specifically, during rain events, where we have to bring DPW workers in after hours, to salt and sand these chronic locations to ensure pedestrian and motorist safety. As a result we created a prioritized drainage master plan in 2019 that will help us focus on appropriating funds for those chronic drainage issues that if not corrected could create unsafe driving, walking or biking conditions. Some are easy fixes, some are more costly and may take many years to correct. I will be asking the Council for funding to begin to address some of these issues.
NJDOT continues their quest to shut down the at-grade crossing at the Lackawanna Crossing. According to NJ Transit, at-grade crossings are a great liability and they have unilateral control over these crossings.
We are against closing the Lackawanna Avenue crossing and are fighting to keep it open. Resisting on the grounds it will disturb the traffic flow and have a delay in public safety response time. We have received support from the late Senator Tony Bucco and the current Senator Anthony Bucco and continue the fight.
NJDOT and NJ Transit may have the upper hand and if it seems inevitable that NJDOT and NJ Transit will close it, we will be prepared with a list of quality of life measure that have long been an issue to the local residents and will be prepared to negotiate the best possible outcome for our community.
Under the leadership of Chief Frank Perna, our Police Department has not skipped a beat in his first year at the helm. School Superintendent Steve Forte, our Police and the Township are all working in great cooperation, keeping our children’s safety first in mind. The Class 3 Officers have proven to be effective and popular with the school staff, students and parents. We have a Police Officer retiring next month and I am very happy that we will be sending a young man from Denville to the Police Academy in the next two weeks.
This afternoon our Volunteer Fire Department will be swearing in their officers and we are very fortunate to have a very experienced past Chief Jim Crothers returning as our Department Chief.
I would like to publicly thank Fire Chief Rick Yobs who honorably served as Department Chief for the past 2 years.
Our Shared Services Agreement with Morris County in the Health Department has been very successful. We share the County Health Director, Carlos Perez, who recently became a PHD in addition to nursing and public health education services. We also receive back up health inspections from the County. With the number of food establishments in Denville, this is an essential element of our Public Health program.
Our Senior Citizen clubs are going strong with record membership. This year the Recreation Committee will be celebrating its 20th anniversary of holding senior socials.
After 2 years of raising fund the Vamp Up Vets Field Committee raised the necessary funds to construct a new scoreboard and install new bleachers with an announcer booth at the new all-purpose turf field. I’d like to thank Laura Wagner, Linda Rodriguez, the PAL and the entire committee for their dedication to making these improvements a reality.
Due to the weather, last year the annual Romp in the Swamp Lacrosse Tournament held by Renegades Lacrosse was forced to be moved from the Pocono Fields to Cooper Road on very short notice. Once again, this incident highlights the number of our sport fields located within the flood plain. I will be asking the Council to fund the development of preliminary design alternatives by our Township Engineer for a field expansion at Veterans Field as part of the 2020 budget.
With respect to other recreational improvements, we are planning to convert Field #1 at Gardner Field from a designated 60ft baseball field to a convertible 40ft – 60ft baseball field. This will shift the bulk of the playing time in July from Field #2 to Field #1, which will mean the fence around Field #2, can come down, opening up the band stand and making it easier for the DPW around the 4th of July.
The Township Council appropriated funding in 2019 in partnership with the Denville Board of Education for the reconstruction of the Valleyview School fields. Due to the poor field conditions and layout, the school teams have not played on these fields for years and have played their home games at Gardner Field. By partnering, with the Board of Education, the school teams will play their games, finishing weekdays before 6pm and the Township will be permitted to schedule and use the fields during the evenings and weekends. This is another win/win for the Board and Township’s budgets but most of all for the Denville tax payer.
NJ Department of Environmental Protection ordered the replacement of the Cook’s Pond Dam at James F. Dyer Park. In 2018, we funded the design and in 2019 we funded the $450,000 project out of the Township Open Space Trust Fund, with every intention of a fall construction. Despite the permit application being submitted in early summer, we were not able to proceed with the project as a different division of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has yet to issue our permit.
Morris County recently announced that Denville will be receiving $95,656 for phase #1 for the construction of Trail #6 Openaki to Denbrook. It will be going out to bid shortly and hopefully constructed this summer. We will be beginning the preparations for Phase #2 grant application in advance of the June 2020 deadline.
We recently were informed that we will receive $159,000 from Morris County Open Space Trust Fund towards the purchase of the 5.43 acre AMCHU property on the corner of Mary Avenue and Diamond Spring Road. We are in the process of settling on the final price and will be able to close on this property, which is contiguous with Muriel Hepner Park.
New Jersey Green Acres has just announced that our application for additional funding to our planning grant account has been approved for an additional $500,000. This is money we can use to match our local and County funds on future Open Space purchases. The funding is not property specific.
We are constantly on the search for the right parcel of open space to acquire. Every parcel the town purchases as open space cannot be built on and it provides our families a place to hike or play and our animals a place to live. It is a balance because every parcel of open space the town acquires prevents someone from sharing in tax burden. Every lot, house and building in town is a shareholder in our community. As I have said before, open space acquisition is a balance.
I would like to take a moment to thank our Social Service Director, Steve Dublanica and the Social Service Committee for all the great programs they run every single year. Each year they seem to outdo the last. I would like to thank all of the people who have donated food, toys, schools supplies and money.
Most of all I would like to thank the American Legion Post 390 who are so generous to every organization in need and lastly a very special thank you to the good people at the Book and Bargain Barn. What these folks do for our community is utterly amazing. Somehow they take used books, clothing and knickknacks and turn them into many tens of thousands of dollars every year and then donate it to various organizations and charitable entities to help our community.
I like to thank our Historical Society for the advances they have made on saving the 2 Room Union Hill Schoolhouse and congratulate the Ayes Knuth Foundation for their preservation efforts of the Farmhouse. This past September they were able to open the house and host the 10th Anniversary of Pathways to History Reception.
Our Library is meeting the needs of an ever changing society. The advances in technology, computers, classes and programs have the Library bursting at the seams. Many of the programs are held at the Town Hall Community Room because the Library’s meeting room is just too small.
Several years ago the State passed a referendum for funding Library expansions but has not established the rules on how to distribute this funding. Our Library Board is in the process of developing expansion plans. In doing so, I have asked them to develop these plans being mindful of the possible impact on our Community Gardens.
In 2010, Denville entered the Green Sustainability program earning the Bronze level and again in 2014. In 2017, Don Tidy and the Green Sustainability Committee took Denville to the Silver level.
It is very important that we take care of our planet and as a community we demonstrate to our children and grandchildren our commitment to do so. Earning the Silver level was no easy task, as demonstrated by only a handful of Towns statewide have achieved this certification. Gold may be a reach, but I am committed to ensuring we preserve our Silver certification. What level of certification we are able to achieve after silver will depend upon everyone’s cooperation with the Green Team.
At one point in time, recycling was very profitable. However, during recent years, the value of the recycled commodities has continued to decrease requiring the Township to pay a surcharge to dispose of many of the items. The Township recognized a trend in the decreased returns in recycling market, especially with single stream recycling, instituted by the Morris County MUA, due to the increased level of contamination of the recyclables when they are all mixed together.
Five years ago, we coordinated so that both our garbage and recycling contracts would expire at the same time. In 2019, we went out to bid with many different collection alternatives with the intent to pick the garbage and recycling plan that worked best for our community. One question I often receive is why don’t we go to once a week garbage pickup. The answer is simple. There is absolutely zero savings. It is the same price just less service. The 3 year plan with weekly dual stream recycling was the plan that ultimately was the most cost efficient for our community.
Please take note, of the curb side pickup schedule. Recycling will be picked up each Wednesdays.
One week Fiber: Paper and Cardboard and the next week Commingled Items: Plastic, Tin, Aluminum and Glass. Since today is Wednesday and a holiday, tomorrow will be the make-up day for our first day of dual stream recycling. Please note, tomorrow is a paper and cardboard product day. Next Wednesday will be commingled materials. A calendar is on our website, and will be in the upcoming Hub Times Newsletter, which should be delivered in the next two weeks or so. Additionally we will be sending out Nixle alerts during the month of January to remind residents.
The biggest obstacle facing our community is Affordable Housing. Before I give you an update. I think it will be beneficial to provide a brief background.
Since 1975, the NJ Supreme Court has determined that municipalities have an obligation to facilitate the building of affordable housing. Every 10 years each municipality is issued a number of affordable units they are obligated to provide the reasonable opportunity to be built.
There has been 3 other previous rounds that were administrated by the Council on Affordable Housing or COAH as it became known. Their decisions and the obligations placed on municipalities were much criticized. In an attempt to correct the process, Governor Christie refused to nominate members to COAH when their terms expired and ultimately COAH was dissolved.
The Fair Share Housing Center was been started to help people but they have clearly lost their focus and appears to be a lobby group funded by residential construction companies whose goal is simply to build as many residential units as they can. After Governor Christie basically dissolved COAH, the Fair Share Housing Center went to court demanding the courts intervene to enforce the Supreme Court’s Mt. Laurel decisions dating back to the 1970s. Ultimately the NJ Supreme Court sided with the Fair Share Housing Center and established a procedure for a judge in Superior Court to ultimately decide each Municipality’s affordable obligation for the period of 2015- 2025.
The Fair Share Housing Center is the municipality’s primary adversary in court. Through battles at the State-level and in legal battles impacting hundreds of municipalities, including Denville, they spent the better part of five years in court arguing the process at the State-level and then attempting to impose. There were more than 250 municipalities that joined together and hired a team of attorneys and planners to represent them during this process. Our Planning Board and Special Affordable Housing Attorney Ed Buzak was one of the lead attorneys.
Before this process began, Denville was preparing and even being proactive in anticipation of its prospective obligation. Besides entering this current round with a surplus of 33 affordable housing credits from prior rounds, we changed the zoning for rehabilitation and facilitated the construction of Estling Village and changed the zoning for redevelopment in the site of the former Redmond Press. In addition to the 33 unit surplus from prior rounds, the Estling Village and Redmond Press projects generated an additional 48 affordable credits based upon a 2 credit for 1 affordable unit rental bonus.
So today, I report for the third consecutive year, the Township remains embroiled in litigation that will ultimately determine our affordable housing obligation for the period of 2015 – 2025.
Incredibly, today marks the midpoint in the span before the next affordable housing cycle in 2025 and we still do not know our obligation.
The Fair Share Housing Center’s initial claim was that Denville’s obligation should be upwards of 1,700 new affordable units. With the 5 to 1 ratio of market rate to affordable units, 1,700 new affordable units would generate 8,500 total new housing units being constructed. To complicate the negotiations, we also have to deal with 6 builders who filed lawsuits with the courts against
us to be granted intervener status. In my opinion, the proposed 1,700 new affordable units and upwards of 8,500 total new housing units are simply not acceptable and quite frankly outrageous. The Township has assembled a team of talented legal and planning professionals who have been charged with bringing our ultimate affordable housing obligation as low as possible so that the character and financial stability of our community is not impacted.
The team has effectively chiseled away the vast majority of that demand. However, we are also cognizant that in order to avoid the court stripping the Township of its immunity from builders’ remedy lawsuits, wherein we would lose all local control and see thousands of units developed, we simply cannot just say no and must participate in the process. In fact, one of the intervening developers who is participating in the court proceedings against the Township has recently requested the judge revoke our immunity. The Judge denied the request and indicated the Township’s immunity from builders’ remedy lawsuits would remain intact as long as we continued to participate in the process in good faith.
So at this point, residents are encouraged to look at the Affordable Housing / COAH link on the Township website for the latest information. We will continue to fight for the best interest of our residents in the process for as long, as hard and most importantly as sensibly as we can with the end goal of coming to a final deal.
As I conclude my address, I respectfully request the Township Council grant advice and consent to the resolution of the Mayoral and Administrative appointments. Since becoming Mayor, I have been blessed to have a great team on the dais and on our staff. Over the next four years we have many plans and goals. We have a team up to the task of completing these projects, while keeping our tax rate low and remaining financially prudent.
We are very fortunate to have great people working together that continue to make Denville the finest place to live, work, raise a family and retire. Thank you and may God continue to send his blessings to the people of Denville and may God bless the United States of America.”
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