Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano delivered his “State of the Town” address at a special meeting that he called on Friday, February 7th. His speech was filled with doom and gloom which he blamed on everybody but himself. He blamed the Zoning Board, He blamed the Township Council, He blamed the previous administration … He was setting us up for a huge increase in taxes that he will propose in the 2020 budget that he will claim no responsibility for … we made him do it.
In a Mayor’s first term, he inherits many things that he has no control over and so he can blame everything that is not right on the previous Council and Administration. He is, in essence, on his honeymoon. In the Mayor’s second year, that budget is his, he is accountable to the community for Tax increases, Services to the community, and Employee morale. In the Mayor’s third year, we are way past hearing that the Mayor is “digging out of a financial mess that he inherited”.
First, let’s address the Mayor’s criticism of the Zoning Board. He correctly points out that the Township Council appoints all members of the Zoning Board. He fails to mention that he appoints all members of the Planning Board (except me). He claims that the Zoning Board approves too many applications … he insultingly calls them the “Board of Yes”. He has proudly recommended that the Township Council pass a “Development Accountability Ordinance” that would allow any resident to ask the Council to overturn a decision of the Zoning Board. The Mayor’s recommendation is wrong on so many levels.
First of all, the Zoning Board and the Planning Board are, by law, autonomous bodies. The Mayor and Council cannot interfere with any application that is before them. Both bodies have the benefit of an Attorney, a Planner, and an Engineer to assure that an applicant’s application is sound and assure that the Boards operate within the Land Use Laws and the Township Ordinances. Both Boards consist of Township Residents who are volunteers and who want what is best for our Township.
Although the Mayor is a member of the Planning Board, he does not attend any of their meetings. He instead, has delegated his responsibility to another. He therefore, has no idea how many applications are approved. Since I have served on the Planning Board for most of the past twenty-five years, I can inform him that the percentages of applications approved by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board are similar (by my estimation). By the way, for the twelve years that Mimi Letts was Mayor, she never missed a Planning Board meeting.
Bottom Line, the Mayor’s recommendation is foolish and his ordinance should be defeated.
Now let’s address the “Financial Mess” that the Mayor refers to. First of all, the hiring practices of this mayor are outrageous. Additional staff, new political patronage positions at outrageous salaries ... some of which have no job descriptions. In the Mayor’s first year, I calculated $550,000 dollars in Salary, Pension and Benefit costs for those positions that I felt were unnecessary.
This Mayor has been critical of the previous Mayor for using surpluses generated by the Sewer Treatment Plant and the Water Department Utilities although he has done the same thing. There is a major difference between what James Barberio did and what Michael Soriano has done. Jamie only took the surplus that could be replenished in the following year. Jamie never allowed the Utility Fund Balance to fall below that critical amount. Michael Soriano has disregarded that Fund Balance to the point that we will need an increase in sewer and water fees.
This Mayor has also been critical of the Township Council for cutting his budget. He is also blaming us for his future tax increases. The bottom line here is Fund Balance for the Current budget and the Utility budgets is the Mayor’s responsibility. When the Township Council cuts some expense items in the budget to lower taxes, those expense items do not affect the Fund Balance.
For many years prior to Mayor Soriano, Parsippany enjoyed many accolades from Money Magazine and others touting Parsippany as the best place to live in New Jersey and 13th in the Nation. We also enjoyed a very good bond rating. What we hear now is gloom and doom mixed with large tax increases. What has changed? We got a new Mayor.