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Thumbs Up: Somerville Votes Yes on Tax Rate, Parking, Public Safety

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The Somerville Borough Council will vote on revised parking fees and regulations at its April 2 meeting. Credits: Rod Hirsch/Tapinto file photo
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SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Borough Council introduced the 2018 municipal budget at Monday night’s meeting which  reflects a 1.88 percent increase over the 2017 budget, and translates to a $45.88 annual increase in local property taxes.

The council also gave final approval to a bond ordinance that appropriates $1.5 million to purchase property for construction of an emergency services complex, and introduced an ordinance further revising the borough’s parking rates and regulations.

The 1.77-acre tract is at the corner of Gaston Avenue and West Cliff Street where the Gaston Avenue bakery was located before closing five years ago; there are two other vacant buildings on the property.

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A public hearing on the new tax rate will be held April 16 at Police Headquarters, 24 So. Bridge St.

The increase is  based on the average assessed value of $271,000 for a home in the borough, according to Granville Brady, council president.

That equates to an increase of less than $4 per month; the increase does not include the school and Somerset County portion of the annual tax bill to be paid by homeowners.

The Borough’s controversial parking fees are set to undergo another revision, with hourly parking reduced from 75 to 50 cents in municipal lots 1,2,4 and 6, according to an ordinance introduced on first reading.

A public hearing and final vote on the revisions will take place at the next Borough Council meeting April 2.

The $1 hourly rate for parking on Main Street will remain the same, according Councilwoman Jane Kobuta, council liason to a committee created by Mayor Ellen Brain comprised of downtown merchants.

The ordinance reads, in part, “Enforcement hours in all parking lots and street meters with exception to Veterans Memorial Drive is from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Enforcement shall be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Main Street between Memorial Day and Labor Day and free holiday parking on Saturday from Thanksgiving day to New Year’s day in all lots.

“All lot rates shall be amended to 50 cent an hour for unlimited parking time restrictions and street rates are $1 per hour up to three hours with the exception of Veterans Memorial Drive and Division Street.”

The reduced hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day are intended to accommodate the Classic Cruizers car owners who drive in to town Friday nights to display their classic, vintage, and collectible automobiles along Main Street, according to Brain. Parking on Sunday will continue to be free.

Merchants have complained that the parking fees are bad for business.

Brain, a Republican, was appointed by the 6 Democratic members of the Borough Council to a temporary term of nine months in January; she listed parking as one of her top priorities, announcing the creation of an ad hoc committee earlier this month that includes members of merchant groups and downtown property owners.

Representatives of the Downtown Somerville Alliance and Business Owner on Main had met and agreed on the tentative plan, according to Kobuta.

The Borough introduced new parking fees and regulations in late 2016, the first time it had done so in 30 years, according to former Mayor Brian Gallagher, who resigned his position in January after his election to the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Four months later, in February, 2017, the new regulations were tweaked for the first time, with the council voting to extend time limits on the Main Street meters from two to three hours, and eliminating time limits in the municipal lots.

There are 1,100 parking meters and pay stations in the borough, according to Kevin Sluka, borough clerk.

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