NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Borough Council carried on the discussion on fees for services again at its Monday, April 3 meeting. The discussion began in February, continued on March 13 and will be further discussed at the next council meeting. The council also voted to partially refund a field rent.
At the February meeting the council had requested more information regarding the reasons for fee hikes and a comparison of the fee structure in the surrounding communities. The council had received some of the requested information prior to the March meeting, where the fee discussion continued.
After viewing the information Councilman Michael Gennaro said he is still not comfortable with the proposed 1900 percent fee increase, from $50 to $1000, for a single-family home sewer connection. He acknowledged that the $1000 fee is in “the middle” bracket when comparing fees in neighboring towns. However, “we have not adequately defined what constitutes residential property and what constitutes commercial property,” he said.
Construction Official Keith Lynch came to the April 3 meeting to answer some questions Gennaro had posed. He explained that the sewer connection fee increase "was a starting point.” It is a new fee that was “missing” from the existing ordinance. The fee is meant only for those who are “buying” into the sewer system. This would apply to subdivisions and new homes. “It is not going to amount to a lot of money either way,” Lynch said.
Lynch told the council that the new multi-dwelling development, consisting of 20 units, on Marion Avenue will be charged a single-home sewer connection fee per unit. On the other hand, the Lantern Hill development has one sewer connection and the development was charged a commercial sewer connection fee based on flow calculations.
Gennaro agreed that commercial units and multi-dwelling constructions should be charged differently than single-family homes. He also pointed out that the borough sewer system may not be able to handle large new developments with its current capacity.
Gennaro has also expressed his concern regarding other suggested fee hikes, such as construction application and inspection fees as well as the zoning and planning board fees. He noted that there are two philosophies when considering new developments and home improvements. One is to “pay as you go” – meaning, an applicant pays all expenses his or her application process will incur. The other thinking is that home owners should not be burdened with expensive administrative fees while they are improving their properties. The upgraded homes add value to the town and administrative costs can be covered by added ratables. “It is to the town’s benefit to encourage development,” he said.
Gennaro said he is not objecting fee increases, but would prefer to do it gradually over several years. Mayor Al Morgan agreed. He explained that the borough has “run into problems” before when increasing fees, such as parking, although the fees have not been raised for multiple years. He asked the borough administrator to make a note that all fees be checked and revised, if needed, every two years to keep up with inflation.
The council had discussed its refund policies at the Feb. 15 meeting. The discussion was prompted by a refund request by David Snyder, who had rented a borough field to run a for-profit Monday through Friday soccer camp last year. However, at the start of the camp the field was not mowed. Snyder explained that the coaches were not able to run drills on the foot long grass during the camp, which was described as a “technical” soccer camp. “The camp wasn’t what it could have been,” Snyder said. The grass was cut prior to the last day of the camp.
Councilman Robert Robinson had suggested that the issue be brought to the attention of the Community Activities Advisory Committee (CAAB). At the April 3 meeting Robinson reported the CAAB’s recommendation regarding the refund. According to Robinson the CAAB members had expressed varied views from no refund to 100 percent refund. Finally, CAAB came to the conclusion that 40 percent or a two day field rent of $540 should be refunded to Snyder.
The council members discussed the issue with many pointing out that Snyder did not incur any financial loss despite the unsatisfactory field condition. It was the campers who did not receive the experience they or their parents paid for. Some council members were in favor of the refund. “You rent the field with the expectations that it is maintained properly,” Councilman Robert Munoz said. Councilman Jim Madden added that based on last year’s experience the campers may not return to future camps.
Madden motioned a roll call vote. Councilmen Madden, Munoz and Robinson voted in favor of the refund while Gennaro, Armand Galluccio and Council President Gary Kapner voted against it. It was left to Mayor Al Morgan to break the tie. Morgan acknowledged that Snyder had not suffered financially, but voted for the refund as he did not want to vote against the advisory volunteer board's recommendation.