SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Expanding the village’s use of technology will enhance nearly all aspects of South Orange government, from improving communication to making operations more environmentally friendly, Village President Alex Torpey said in his “State of the Village” address Monday night.
“We’re going to be able to redefine, in years going forward, what e-government really is,” he told an audience of trustees, department heads, employees and village residents.
The president said that going digital helps the village control costs as well. He noted that the 2012 budget is $32 million, with a projected 1.79 percent tax rate increase. The owner of a home assessed at the South Orange average value of $460,000 will pay $4,381 in municipal taxes.
Technology also can improve communication, which Torpey called “the bedrock of engaging with people at the local level.” He said that developing the village’s social media presence through the use of Facebook and Twitter, as well as revamping the website, will make it easier for residents to find the information they need.
He pointed out that visits to the website spiked during Hurricane Irene and the late-October snowstorm. “Our website really is a resource for people during emergencies,” he said.
While South Orange is one of the “better-prepared communities” in the area for emergencies, he said, the village has taken steps to improve its emergency management. Those steps include partnering with Seton Hall University for long-term infrastructure development and the creation of Community Emergency Response Teams.
“We’re ensuring that our community and our responders are ready to act when time is of the essence,” he said.
In addition, technology improves government transparency. Torpey cited the village’s decision to post the 2012 budget as an Excel spreadsheet that allows residents to “play village administrator for the day” by entering different amounts in budget lines to see what the impact would be.
“We’re leading the way to creating a more participatory government in New Jersey,” he said.
Turning from technology, Torpey outlined projects that will enhance downtown South Orange, including development of apartment buildings on the former Beifus property on South Orange Avenue and on land owned by the village at Valley and Third streets. He said that “dense residential” development is key to keeping downtown vital.
He noted that the creation of a Special Improvement District, funded by assessments on downtown businesses, will enable everyone “to work together to improve downtown.”
In making downtown South Orange a destination, he said, the cultural opportunities cannot be overlooked. “South Orange is the place to go” for all kinds of cultural events, Torpey said. He also praised the programs offered by the Baird Center and the library.
Torpey then focused on the challenges facing government, drawing on his graduate studies in organizational theory to warn against what he termed “bureau-pathology,” a phrase that he explained encompasses everything from the “this is the way we’ve always done it” attitude to the reluctance to embrace merit-based pay.
In reflecting on his year in office, Torpey said, “This past year seems like it has gone by in a week, yet somehow last year’s election seem like an eternity ago.” He concluded, “I’ve gotten to see the progress South Orange has made over the past year, and as good as South Orange is today, the best is yet to come.”