MILLBURN, NJ - Two resolutions discussed and approved at the Millburn Township Committee meeting on Dec. 4 cancelled two capital account fund balances that were originally earmarked for Complete Streets.
Resolutions 18-263 and 18-264 as worded called for the cancellation of a sum total of $5,868,107 marked for capital improvements for the Complete Streets project. At the beginning of the meeting, committeewoman Diane Eglow motioned for an open public session with regard to both ordinances.
Committeewoman Jackie Lieberberg joined Eglow in her criticism of the resolutions, and said that the money should be left on the table for the next iteration of the committee to use.
"I respectfully disagree with those that believe it is prudent for Millburn to retire these bonds pertaining to the Complete Streets plan," Lieberberg said. "First, let us remember what the mission statement of Complete Streets was. A comprehensive capital improvement strategy to address pedestrian safety, vehicular circulation and the economic vitality in our downtown. Rather than walking away from what has been done, as township committee members, I believe we have an obligation to our constituents to improve upon what has been created in the most fiscally responsible manner."
Lieberberg added that she would not be in favor of ripping up the previously completed construction and starting over. She said that she would be in favor of exploring any and all alternatives. She stated that she was not in favor of a cancellation of the funds. Committeewoman Eglow also voiced support for holding onto the money.
In response to the concerns raised by committee members Lieberberg and Eglow over the cancellation of the project, mayor Cheryl Burstein said given what she has seen as a lack of movement from the township committee in drawing up continued plans for the Complete Streets project, it would be unwise to leave the money ready and available.
"I have actually given this a lot of thought," Burstein said. "And I understand and I hope that we move forward with a completed project, whatever it may be. But there is no project on the drawing board right now. And I am very concerned, from what I've heard over the past two years that this money is simply going to be used to rip up what's there. I understand that you're saying you're not going to do it, but I don't know that and I don't trust that."
During the recent municipal election, the Complete Streets was a notable campaign topic. Residents who supported the project stated that the goals of project were met, pedestrian safety is higher and that the downtown area is more attractive. Critics of the project claim that the project has financially hurt downtown merchants and speed-calming efforts have led to heavy traffic.
Burstein added, "If you want to spend money, and if we as a committee, the five of us who will be on this committee net year, decide what we're going to do, how we're going to do it, what we consider is appropriate, then we will then gather the funds necessary to do that. We as a committee should own what we do."
No plans on how to spend the capital funds have been submitted for formal discussion.
After committee discussion on the ordinances, the floor was opened to public comment. Residents came forward to express their opinions on both ordinances.
Opinions in the public session ranged from positive and negative reactions to the Complete Streets project funding. Many residents got up to say that they felt it was "underhanded" for the outgoing majority who support the project to remove the money before the incoming majority is opposed to it has a chance to look at it and make a decision. Others agreed that until a formal plan was in place, monies should be cancelled as 2.5% interest rate is currently being assessed on nearly half of the capital funds.
TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills reached out to Millburn Township Business Administrator Alex McDonald for detailed financial information with regard to interest rates being paid and received by the township. TAPinto was informed that it is forthcoming.
One of the people who spoke during the public session was incoming township committeewoman Tara Prupis. Speaking in favor of holding onto the money, Prupis said that contrary to what her platform may have been perceived as during the election, a full teardown of Complete Streets Phase I is not in her plans.
"I do not advocate ripping anything up," Prupis said. "As one elected official to another and to another I can assure you that that is not my plan. Please do not take away these monies. We are going to work as a committee starting in January, and we are going to do good for this town together."
After public comment, the resolutions were voted on. Both passed by a three to two margin, with Mayor Burstein and committee members Levy and Rosenberg voting yes, and committee members Lieberberg and Eglow voting no.