ROXBURY, NJ – Is Port Morris the red-headed stepchild of Roxbury Township?
Several Port Morris residents seem to think so and they took time this week to tell the Roxbury Mayor and Council. They said municipal officials have ignored their complaints about abandoned or poorly maintained houses, unsightly derelict vehicles, roadside litter, overgrown grass, disheveled playing fields and other quality-of-life issues.
“You come into this Town Hall and you see a poster that says, ‘Let’s revitalize Landing,’” said Port Morris resident Lois Bredesen at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “How about revitalizing Port Morris?”
She said it seems other parts of Roxbury get more attention; that Port Morris is overlooked and that residents’ calls seeking enforcement apparent health code or fire code violations result in little action.
One of the complaints aired by Breseden at the meeting was that the bottom half of the “Welcome to Township of Roxbury” sign on Center Street was obscured by weeds and its base was strewn with "garbage." Roxbury Manager Christopher Raths pointed out that Center Street is a county road. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t get them to get the work done,” he added.
Mayor Jim Rilee assured the Port Morris contingent that he and his colleagues “care about every part of the township” but he noted Roxbury, not having a property maintenance ordinance, has limited power to dissuade property owners from being slobs.
It's an election year for four of the council members, and the assertions by the Port Morris contingent seemed to come at the right time. Not only were the people promised decisive action by some of the Republican incumbents seeking re-election, they also found themselves talking at length to Aaron Markworth, a Democrat hoping to replace Roxbury Councilman Fred Hall.
Raths said he can’t pursue action on these types of issues if he doesn’t know about them, so he urged people to call. “We can’t have eyes in every locale of the town, but … please reach out to me,” said the manager.
But Hall asserted the town does have the eyes Raths mentioned: public works crews, firefighters, police and others. “We shouldn’t have to hear this from the public at all,” he said.
In an interview Wednesday, Port Morris resident Frances D’Auria praised Raths. “He’s really helpful,” she said. “If you tell him something’s wrong, he gets right on it if he can.”
However, she said she always thought she was “supposed to go through the chain-of-command” instead of going right to the top. “When we didn’t get any help, we decided this is what we had to do (go to the council meeting)” she said.
D’Auria said she hopes the complaints will help restore Port Morris to the attractive, quaint community she remembers.
“I really feel like we are the forgotten town,” she said. “My husband was born and raised in Port Morris and I’ve been here about 38 years. It’s just amazing how it has changed. It was a very nice community. Now it’s just mostly rentals and there are many houses in foreclosure … You won’t ride through Succasunna and Ledgewood and see what you see in Port Morris.”
As for the grass-covered, litter-strewn “Welcome” signs at the hamlet’s front and back doors, it seems that squeaky wheels do get attention.
“I drove by at about 10 o’clock this morning and they were there with a big John Deere tractor” said D’Auria on Wednesday afternoon. “I saw them doing it this morning. Isn’t that something?”