PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield’s City Council and its Citizen Budget Advisory Committee began reviewing the 2018 budget Monday with a look at the Department of Public Works & Urban Development.
The department, one of three mandated in the city’s special charter, includes Inspections, City Yard, Recreation, Planning, Building and Engineering divisions. Topics included flood zones, roadwork, illegal occupancies, park conditions, block associations and replacing paperwork with electronic records. PW&UD Director Oren K. Dabney Sr. described goals and fielded questions from the governing body and CBAC members.
On flood zones, Councilman Cory Storch said he was glad to see a budget element for a Community Rating System study and asked for a target date for completion. Finance Director Ron West said $125,000 was in the budget for consultants. CBAC member Elton Armady asked Dabney whether it was for one time or continuing, and Dabney said it would be ongoing “so we don’t put homes in a flood area.” A flood plain manager will monitor the process, he said.
Although many Plainfielders hope for a reduction in flood insurance, City Administrator Carlos Sanchez said a discount is not guaranteed. The state DEP will determine whether the municipality still has to invest money in flood plain management, he said.
On road improvements, a longtime concern in the city, Dabney said his department is working on a new schedule. (One was formulated years ago based on road conditions, then revised as some streets worsened.) Councilman Steve Hockaday said the street at Grant Avenue and South Second Street was “like cobblestones,” and Councilman Barry Goode said, “It’s a wreck.”
Goode said it’s very important to have a schedule, and for people to know when work will be done. Dabney promised to “notify everyone.”
On illegal occupancies, Dabney said the Inspections Division’s motto is “educate, warn and enforce.” Hockaday urged “self-policing by neighbors” and Dabney said he is trying to encourage formation of more neighborhood associations. Inspections Division Director Audrey Counts said her office as well as police and fire personnel go out to block associations.
Regarding parks, CBAC member Siddeeq El-Amin called Green Brook Park in the city’s West End “an orphan park,” citing the condition of its pond. Both Green Brook and Cedar Brook parks belong to Union County, and Dabney said he will bring El-Amin’s concern to the county’s attention. Councilwoman Diane Toliver thanked Public Works for a new walking trail in Milt Campbell Field, a city park, but said it serves a “limited amount of children.” Recreation Director Veronica Taylor said her division tried a children's lunch program there, but said, “They don’t come out.” She said the city’s first handicap-accessible field will be at Milt Campbell Field.
Storch advocated moving clerical workers to electronic recordkeeping, but Sanchez said the city is at an “implementation of software” phase, which includes “education of residents.” He used an example of kiosks at airports not being embraced.
Instead, he said, “What do you see? You see lines.”
Storch held out hope that “20-somethings” coming up in the city may have different expectations.
Budget talks resume at 7 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, April 18) in City Hall Library, with discussion of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services and conclude on Monday (April 23) with the Department of Public Affairs & Safety.
UPDATE: The City Clerk issued a revised schedule on April 18. Talks will resume on Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. with Public Affairs & Safety/Economic Development. Administration & Finance talks will take place on Wednesday, April 25.