MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Victor DeLuca, after being sworn in Sunday to his fifth term on the Maplewood Township Committee, was unanimously chosen by his colleagues to serve his seventh term as chairman of the committee and mayor.
Sunday’s 2012 reorganization meeting also saw India Larrier assume her seat for her first three-year term on the committee. Larrier won election in November to replace Fred R. Profeta Jr. Profeta, who chose not to run in 2011 after serving nine years on the governing body.
Kathleen M. Leventhal, who served as vice mayor last year, was unanimously elected at the reorganization session to serve as vice chair of the committee and deputy mayor.
Two Boy Scouts from Maplewood Troop 21 posted the colors at the meeting, Committee Member Marlon K. Brownlee led the salute to the flag, Erica Philpot sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America,” and the Rev. Manolo Punzalan of St. Joseph’s Church in Maplewood led the invocation and the benediction.
Following the reading of the Memorial List of Maplewood residents active in the community who died in 2011 by Township Clerk Elizabeth J. Fritzen, Cantor Meredith Greenberg of Temple Ner Tamid led a tribute and memorial prayer.
Rachel McDaniel, Larrier’s sister, then did a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
After he was sworn in to his new term on the committee DeLuca noted he and his wife Janey moved to Maplewood in 1994 and he ran for the governing body for the first time in 1997, winning a seat.
He added, “My enthusiasm for serving my community has never waivered. Government is not the enemy. Government can and should be a powerful, positive force in our society to work toward common goals and seek shared solutions to the challenges before us.”
In addition to thanking his wife for being his “sounding board, campaigning partner, chief critic and truth teller,” the mayor thanked his family and friends for their encouragement and support and Larrier for being a “terrific running mate,” noting “she will bring much to her position and her positive contributions to our decision making will make us a better township committee.”
He promised to continue focusing on controlling taxes and spending, sharing more services with other communities, keeping the township’s neighborhoods safe, preserving Maplewood’s quality of life and promoting responsible economic development.
DeLuca added he would continue to work with State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey to develop “a set of policy proposals that recognize the special challenges that inner ring suburbs face on educational funding, tax equity, transportation, affordable housing and sustainable development.
In his remarks as mayor, DeLuca noted Maplewood was established on Nov. 7, 1922, and the township would be celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
He added houses for sale in Maplewood are on the market for less than 70 days, and the average sale price was more than $486,000 in 2011, two percent higher than in 2010.
In an interesting note on the census, the mayor pointed out that the township lost only one person between the 2000 census and the 2010 census.
He added that in 2011 the Township Committee adopted a 2011 budget with no tax increase on the average homeowner and said the goal for 2012 is “to live within our means and keep within the two percent cap.”
The mayor also congratulated Township Administrator Joseph Manning for helping achieve contracts with township unions with salary increases of no more than two percent per year through 2015.
However, DeLuca had some negative words for state government.
He said, “Another year has passed without any real solutions from Trenton for the property tax crisis that affects the entire state. Governor (Chris) Christie points fingers at local government officials and public employees while failing to mention the tremendous cuts over the years in state aid to municipalities. In 2006, Maplewood received about $2.8 million in state aid, and five years later, in 2010, state aid totaled only $1.8 million. Our message to the governor and state legislature is that real tax reform is still needed and it is needed now.”
On the positive side, DeLuca cited the combination of $10 million in local funding and $6 million in state funding that went toward revitalization of Springfield Avenue.
He also praised:
- The committee’s passage of an ordinance allowing the raising of backyard chickens for egg gathering.
- Creation of the Maplewood Arts Council through the leadership of Committee Member Gerard W. Ryan.
- Leadership by Leventhal in helping establish a “river corridor” between Maplewood and South Orange to provide recreational and educational opportunities along the East Branch of the Rahway River.
- Sale and residential development of the former police station and possible redevelopment of the current post office site into a relocated and larger Kings Supermarket. A community meeting on discussions concerning the site is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7pm at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts.
- Decreases in crime in the township during the first 11 months of 2011, with a 15 percent drop in the eight major crime categories, a reduction of 46 percent in burglaries and a 9 percent decrease in robberies.
- Maplewood’s green initiatives, many of them initiated by Profeta. He cited the solar energy collectors on the roof of the residential building at the former police state and continuation of Maplewood Green Day, which will be held in April in Memorial Park.
- The first year of the Maplewood and South Orange municipal court and violation bureau, which resulted in one of the largest non-urban court systems in the state with more than 32,000 filings each year.
The mayor also noted construction will start in the spring on a mixed use two-story building on the corner of Springfield and Burnett Avenues; construction is expected to begin this summer on 124 apartments and eight townhomes on the site of the former Universal Chain factory on Burnet Avenue, and the Wyman Ford dealership on Springfield Avenue is scheduled to be sold and converted into a retail shop.
After her swearing-in, Larrier thanked her family, the Democratic campaign workers and DeLuca for their work on her campaign.
Referring to the murals on the walls of the governing body’s meeting room, she noted the Maplewood of today in many ways resembles the Maplewood depicted on the historic murals.
She said the township now, as in the past, is seen as a pleasant place in which friends and family gather for events. Currently those events include Maplewood First Night and many picnics and other gatherings on various holidays.
The committee member added the community remains a pleasant place to live because residents work to keep it that way.
Citing the tremendous tax burden of Maplewood residents, she said, “we must continue to assure our residents that their tax dollars are spent wisely to benefit all residents.”
Larrier pledged to continue working to share services with other communities.
She also said, contrary to some opinions, crime has decreased in the township. She promised to continue promoting the cooperation of Maplewood neighborhood associations with the township police to continue the crime decrease.
In conclusion, while acknowledging that members of the governing body may not always agree with each other and residents may not always agree with what the committee members do, Larrier said, “The true meaning of cooperation lies not with always agreeing but in realizing that we all want what is best for the community.”