Government

Mayor Pronounces Somerville “Strong, Promising and The Talk of the State” at Annual Reorganization Meeting

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Somerville Town Crier David Lang brings the Reorganization meeting to order. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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(l-r) Council members Jane Kobuta, Dennis Sullivan, Steve Peter, president; Mayor Brian Gallagher, council members Jason Kraska, Thompson Mitchell and Granville Brady. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Superior Court Judge Robert Wilson administers the oath of office to Councilwoman Jane Kobuta as grandson Demetrius, her son Butch and daughter-in-law Sally look on. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Superior Court Judge Robert Wilson administers the oath of office to Councilman Granville Brady. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Former Councilman Ken Utter was honored by Mayor Brian Gallagher and the Somerville Borough Council as Citizen of the Year. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Somerville Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka, left, congratulates Fred Picchiello after taking the oath as Rescue Squad chief. Looking on are wife Joanna, daughter Tara and Councilman Thompson Mitchell. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka, left, administers the oath of office to Jason Kerestes, deputy chief of EMS and Michael Lapotasky, deputy chief of rescue. Credits: Rod Hirsch
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SOMERVILLE, NJ – Trumpeting a familiar theme, Mayor Brian Gallagher pronounced the state of the borough as strong, promising and “the talk of state” at the annual Jan. 1 reorganization meeting.

Superior Court Judge Robert Wilson, a former member of the borough council, presided at the swearing in ceremonies for Councilwoman Jane Kobuta and Councilman Granville Brady.

Kobuta and Brady, both Democrats, joined with their council colleagues to unanimously re-elect Steve Peter council president. The other Democrat council members are Dennis Sullivan and Thompson Mitchell. Jason Kraska is the lone Republican council member.

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Gallagher, a Republican, also presented the “Citizen of the Year” award to former councilman Ken Utter.

Frederick Picchiello took the oath of office as chief of the borough first aid squad; Jason Kerestes was sworn in as deputy chief of EMS and Michael Lapotasky was sworn in as deputy chief of the rescue squad by Kevin Sluka, borough clerk.

Council members were appointed as liaisons to dozens of borough committees, with dozens of residents appointed and re-appointed to boards and committees, from the Planning and Zoning boards to the Downtown Somerville Alliance, Board of Health, Library Board of Trustees, Recreation Committee, Enivonmental Commission, Block Grant Committee, Emergency Management, Landfill Redevelopment, Television Committee and others.

The audience included members of the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Assemblymen Jack Ciattarelli and Andrew Zwicker..

Much of the mayor’s speech focused on the ongoing redevelopment of the borough, including a “local spend” proposal that would require builders to use local tradesman on their projects. (The full text of the speech can be found at the end of this story).

“I will also demand that in any future redevelopment agreement the Borough enters into, that it must contain a requirement for a local spend percentage for both Somerville and Somerset County,” Gallagher said.

“What does that mean? It means that a defined percentage of any redevelopment project must be spent by the developer using local electricians, local plumbers, local carpenters, local painters, local carpet installers, local furniture suppliers and the list goes on,” he continued.

“That means that as Somerville sees additional investment in our community, Somerville and Somerset County people will have a guaranteed opportunity to provide their craftsmanship, expertise, and knowledge on these projects. Local investment, local professionals, local labor and local opportunity. That is good business all around,” the mayor added.

Here’s the full text of the mayor’s speech.

“Citizens, honored guests, Borough employees, fire department, rescue squad, police personnel, and Somerville Borough Council.....Good Afternoon and Happy New Year! 

“The State of Our Borough continues to be strong, promising, and the talk of the State on how to create success. Real economic growth doesn’t take place in the halls of Trenton or in bailouts of big business, it takes place on Main Street...and Main Street Somerville will continue to lead that charge here in New Jersey. 

“There is an atmosphere of great optimism, economic excitement and civic pride.  We have created an environment that encourages redevelopment in our downtown and underdeveloped areas, encourages reinvestment by our residents in their homes and neighborhoods, a refocus on Somerville as the economic, social, recreational, historic and residential center of Somerset County and the central New Jersey Region, a focused effort to preserve and protect our neighborhoods, and an empowerment of our citizens to be active, and be part of the future of their Borough.

“To get to this point, many strategic decisions have been made by this and other councils, all with the realization that we are neighbors first trying to make our Borough a better place, regardless of politics, for the long term betterment of our Borough. That is good government and I thank the council for sharing this vision. 

“We have seen great success this past year including Infrastructure Improvements on North Cadillac Drive, Bell Avenue and South Street.

“The streets of Somerville continue to be the place to host a good run,  The Girls on the Run held 5 k races in June and November,  the 3K  Color-A-thon in early May, the Legal Run Around kicks off our Memorial Weekend events, and this year the Somerville Turkey Trot, led by Councilman Jason Kraska was a huge success with over 600 participants.

“The Bike Races, Jazz Fest, October Fest, Craft Beer Fest, Flag Day Festival all continue to attract folks from all over into Somerville.

“And 2017 will see the return of the Farmer’s Market!

“The Borough outsourced Janitorial Maintenance and Grass cutting enabling public works personnel to spend more time on the increasing infrastructure demands.

“A snow plowing contract was awarded last month to assist the public forces during heavy accumulations.

“Borough Hall moved all employees to direct pay deposit eliminating the need for paper checks and reducing time and costs.

“DPW purchased the “Herb Hall” slurry sealer to extend the life of roads.

“The Borough awarded a contract for a new fire truck.

“It is amazing the success this borough has seen in the face of statewide and national economic challenges. Yet there are those that for years insisted that these projects would never happen. And now that success for Somerville is being realized, those same folks will now critique the strategic investments we have made over the years in both people and infrastructure to get to this point...and will now argue that this is not good for Somerville.

“But what cannot be argued is the success these decisions have brought to Somerville, and how these decisions have set the stage for our future. Vision, determination, hard work and good people making smart decisions for the right reasons have created opportunity. 
And that opportunity extends into our schools, our arts and entertainment, our recreation programming, our historical efforts, our environmental efforts, and the list goes on.

“The strength of any structure is built upon its foundation, and for the past 12 years we have prepared a foundation that is now, and will continue, to reap benefit to our entire Borough for years to come, and now the many projects at our doorstep have created an opportunity to enhance our Borough physically, socially, and yes, economically.

“Main Street has seen investment and renovation of old buildings brought back
to life. Building owners are stripping off the false facades of 1970‘s renewal and bringing these structures back to the life they knew.....and empty and underutilized lots, vacant for years, are now graced with buildings that have character and compliment, not detract, from our main street facades. Our Main Street is now more than ever, a regional destination for dining and shopping, and continues to change and grow with evolving market trends.

“Division Street is nationally recognized as one of the best pedestrian “spaces” in the country.
We have the stores, the restaurants, art shows, the Tour of Somerville, the Jazz Fest, and great people.  Somerville is truly downtown Somerset County and the center of the universe.

“Somerville is accomplishing what very few municipalities in this country can do....in the midst of a fully built out downtown, we are now creating our very own Central Park on the Landfill. After more than 20 years of litigation, and then 10 years of planning, redevelopment within the landfill area commenced in 2016 with the receipt of $8 million in State funding, along with almost $1 million Somerset County Open Space Funding, to remediate the Green Seam.

“With the Green Seam open space project underway and the proposed redevelopment of the NJT property adjacent to the station; the council has asked the Planning Board to review the Redevelopment Plan and conduct public meetings to define what uses for the remaining portions of the area will be the best uses for the residents of the Borough. 

“All of this has taken place because of a shift in attitude, policy and style of governing. Open Government empowers people as not just a part of process, but the drivers of the process. People realize that they may not be completely satisfied with the outcomes, but being a part of the process, and
knowing that their opinions and convictions not only were listened to, but were considered and acted upon; 2017 will be an active year. The council and Planning Board will be tasked with many items to deliberate and provide direction for including:

“Parking - The Borough Council this past year implemented a new parking plan which shifted our parking into a business model which prioritized parking and raised rates and enforcement times. The goal very simply...to take the cost of all parking lot operations away from the Somerville taxpayer, who was subsidizing every person who parked in our lots, and shift that cost to the users of the lot so the taxpayer didn’t have to subsidize the lots anymore. The parking committee has already begun to address some of the issues that are arising from this change, and are working with the business owners and residents to make modification recommendations to the Council.

“Redevelopment Plans - While we have seen great success in our overall redevelopment plans, it is smart to re-assess some of these plans in the wake of new and emerging market trends, and the impacts current redevelopment will have on our Borough. The Planning Board has already begun to map out an aggressive agenda of evaluating the redevelopment plans for a number of these areas, and will make their recommendations to the Council.

“Fire House - I can say with confidence that the council has agreed that steps will be taken this year to aggressively pursue and acquire a piece of property to locate this long overdue solution to our long term emergency services needs.

“Local Re-Investment - I will also demand that in any future redevelopment agreement the Borough enters into, that it must contain a requirement for a local spend percentage for both Somerville and Somerset County. What does that mean? It means that a defined percentage of any redevelopment project must be spent by the developer using local electricians, local plumbers, local carpenters, local painters, local carpet installers, local furniture suppliers and the list goes on.....that means that as Somerville sees additional investment in our community, Somerville and Somerset County people will have a guaranteed opportunity to provide their craftsmanship, expertise, and knowledge on these projects. Local investment, local professionals, local labor and local opportunity. That is good business all around!

“I have tried to make a priority of bringing people and ideas together in an open and public forum....this required a change of attitude and responsibility at the council table brought about by openness, fair discussion, and a willingness to work with each other regardless of party for the betterment of Somerville. This approach has been embraced by past councils and I thank them for that. Government can be accomplished in a civil fashion as ladies and gentlemen with character and dignity. We have separated the politics from decision making in government ... and I anticipate that continuing.

“It never ceases to amaze me, the volunteer spirit that is alive and thriving in Somerville...we have a Fire Department that is second to none whose resources are called upon daily-sometimes hourly- to aid those in need, including Christmas Day this year. They are the envy of Departments both volunteer and paid throughout the county and beyond for the work they do.  We have a Rescue Squad who has created a team of professionals that  exhibit a level of knowledge, training and professionalism unmatched in Somerset County. And we have a community base of volunteers that staff this Borough’s committee’s and commission’s and make our programs efficient and well run.

“We have a Police Department, under Chief Manning that is professional, courteous, and knows how to catch the bad guy.

“There are few communities that can boast what we have...a diverse population, housing for all income levels, people young and old living next door to each other, a thriving Main Street, volunteer services second to none in quantity and professionalism. Above all else Somerville has a sense of community that thrives when others are in need. The people of Somerville realize that, when their neighbors are in need it is an internal moral responsibility to help, that is what truly matters....and that has been seen
time and time again this past year for a number of families here in town.

“We are the envy of many other communities- - Somerville has a sense of community like no other....it is a place where people from all walks of life form a community...color, religion, age, income, all blend to form this great mix of people and place that we call home...that is Somerville, and the mix we have here is magic!

“Thank you and God Bless Somerville and all of her citizens.” 

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