Welcome and thank you for joining us for the borough’s annual reorganization. This year nearly sixty residents will take the oath of office and dedicate their time and effort to serve on a borough board or agency. On behalf of the entire governing body, thank you for volunteering your time to serve our community.
After a successful six years as part of the governing body, Councilman McConville leaves us today to further his career with the Federal government. Thank you Councilman McConville for all of your effort during the past six years. The Department of Public Works has been retooled under your leadership, and under the direction of Superintendent Capparelli is regarded as one of the best Public Works Department in New Jersey.
We welcome back Councilman Rusnak who begins his third term. The residents have once again placed their faith in your ability and performance as a public servant. We thank you for your dedication and hard work leading the Administration and Finance committee during some of the most difficult financial times in recent memory.
Today, we also welcome and congratulate Councilman Richkus on his election to the Borough Council. The opportunity to serve your fellow residents as an elected official is a profound honor and a great responsibility. The formula for success is quite simple, let the best interests of our community be your guiding principle and you will serve our residents well.
2013 was a year of transition on the Federal and State levels. Unemployment at both levels began to show slow signs of improvement. The commercial and residential markets are slowly rebounding from the recession and we have witnessed real estate values beginning to improve. Led by Council President Rusnak and Chief Financial Office Glenn Cullen, the Council introduced a municipal budget that once again focused on controlling taxes and spending. Municipal taxes in 2013 were approximately eighty dollars less than they were in 2009. The borough’s overall tax rate remained the second lowest in Middlesex County, and municipal spending has remained in check. As a result of these combined efforts, the borough has maintained its AA debt rating through one of the most difficult fiscal environments for our nation and state.
After completing their training, the Police Departments new K-9 unit officially joined the force full-time. The unit has proven to be an integral part of the patrol and often sought out by neighboring municipalities. The department was involved in several major initiatives including multiple investigations with several Federal agencies resulting in the dismantling of a human trafficking ring.
This spring, the volunteer Fire Department took delivery of a brand new Engine. This addition will enhance the safety of our volunteers and residents for many years to come. Our Emergency Medical Services continued to provide a vital service to our borough residents. Responding to over 800 calls in 2013, the men and women of our Rescue Squad stand ready to respond to assist residents during their most crucial time of need.
In December, I announced that through the efforts of our Emergency Management Coordinator, South Plainfield received a FEMA grant for a diesel generator. FEMA will cover 90% of the total cost of $460,000, with the borough and board of education splitting the remaining 10%. South Plainfield was one of only four municipalities in Middlesex County to receive this type of grant.
Last year the borough finalized our September 11th Memorial located in the lobby of Borough Hall that features steel from the Twin Towers as well as a US Flag flown over the World Trade Center site on the 10th anniversary of 9-11. A special thanks to residents Jacob and Ralph Rotella for their hard work and custom made display cabinet that made the memorial possible.
Our Department of Public Works “Bulk Pickups On-Demand” program was expanded to facilitate year round pickups while also continuing to save money by using our sanitation trucks to in-house leaf bag and Christmas tree pickups. In addition, the Borough resurfaced twelve additional roads and through the acquisition of a new line striping machine in-housed the maintenance of road markings such as stop bars and cross walks.
The Borough continued to make strategic investments in our Senior Center with the promotion of Tree Olano to full time. Zumba Gold continues to be one of the most popular events. The Senior Center took possession of a new minivan paid for by a Community Development Block Grant and we continued to strengthen our partnerships with local businesses to offer additional programs and classes to our seniors including Singercise and a crocheting group. We are excited about new programs coming this year such as our new Men’s book club and Project Healthy Bones. Thank you to the entire Senior Center staff for making this facility a true jewel for our seniors.
Our Cultural Arts Committee remained hard at work with many events including the annual Talent Show that showcased the talents of many Borough residents. The Committee also worked with the South Plainfield Business Association to hold Christmas in July in the downtown district. Once again, the Annual Labor Day Parade experienced record support in corporate and local business sponsorship and we were treated to perhaps the best fireworks show ever.
The Mayor’s Wellness Campaign built upon an extremely successful 2012 with events such as the Borough’s third annual Health Fair, Walk to School Day and the Borough’s second annual Relay for Life. A new and popular event for 2013, “Caught on a Walk” helped to spotlight and promote walking throughout the borough. The Mayor’s Wellness Committee is targeting further expansion in 2014 with the addition of a Spring Health Fair, additional seminars for seniors and the community at large.
The Borough’s recycling efforts over the last several years resulted in a new record Tonnage Grant of $117,397 for 2013. The South Plainfield Green Team built on 2012 efforts and expanded the Anti-Idling campaign. We were pleased to award a new 3-year contract for curbside recycling pickups that yielded a savings of over $20,000. In honor of the Borough’s first Recycling Coordinator, the Recycling Center was rededicated to Mary Mazepa. Our Shade Tree program remained strong with numerous trees were planted on borough property including Franklin School, Borough Hall and the Community Pool.
The Environmental Commission initiated a Citizens Scientist Project, a 5-year study of the flora in the Nature Reserve. This year the Environmental Commission will seek a $20,000 grant from Sustainable New Jersey that will be used to produce an updated Environmental Resources Inventory.
The Borough continued to experience a healthy recovery in business activity for 2013. Major new developments such as the Progressive Insurance site have completed construction and held their Grand Opening. Additional businesses such as PSE&G, Halls Warehouse and Royal Coffee New York continue to expand operations within the borough. We were proud to assist many new businesses that opened or expanded this year, including Dicks Sporting Goods, Great Clips, The Alternative Press of South Plainfield, My World Childcare, Park Avenue Barber Shop 2, Farmers Insurance, Yo Fresh Café, Rise and Shine Pediatrics, Trivium Academy, Nicky B’s and many more. We are proud to announce that two South Plainfield companies, Astir IT Solutions and Genewiz made the list of New Jersey’s 50 fastest growing companies.
This administration is committed to working with existing businesses to ensure South Plainfield remains a business friendly community. Thank you Councilman Barletta for your dedication and support as Economic Development Chairman over these last couple of years. We worked with Restaurant Depot to ensure that when they outgrew their current location their expansion and relocation plans would keep them in town. To further assist with these efforts we launched a new Economic Development website, worked with Middlesex County to launch the South Plainfield Municipal Profile on the county business portal and continue to seek ways to streamline the local permitting process.
We built upon the borough’s Face Book page as a vital communication medium, increasing our “Likes” by 30%. We introduced new communication tools such as Twitter and Nixle. We modified the borough’s website to provide additional information and event notifications. As a result of these efforts, we were honored with the award for the Best Overall Public Information Program for the 52nd Annual Municipal Public Information contest. Thank you to our Borough Clerk who prepared and submitted our contest entry.
Our Clerks office has also been focusing on streamlining borough government. Significant process changes have been implemented to manage the issuance of certain licenses and state reporting. Additionally, the office has identified and implemented annual savings of several thousand dollars by eliminating hard copy subscription services that can be obtained electronically.
2013 proved to be an historic year for the Hollywood Avenue Extension project. In early November, we received word from the NJDEP that South Plainfield was granted a Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permit and a Flood Hazard Individual Permit. These permits will allow us to pursue the next phase of the project that will ultimately solve a 30 year old problem and promises to end a truck route that has divided residents and impeded business and future economic development for too long.
While we have reached several major milestones over these last several years, I know there is still much work that lies ahead before this issue will be fully resolved. With permits in hand, our efforts are now focused on securing funding to complete this large project. I’m looking forward to working with our Engineers and the Borough Council to continue moving this initiative forward. I’m convinced that there is no other project in the history of South Plainfield that will do more to benefit the quality of life for our residents than the Hollywood Avenue extension.
As 2014 unfolds our priorities will seem familiar. We remain committed and focused on providing essential services to our residents while keeping taxes and spending under control. To that end, we reaffirm our operating model of doing more with less. I ask Councilman Rusnak and the Finance and Administration Committee to work diligently to adopt a 2014 budget that will keep South Plainfield’s tax rate below the 2009 rate.
Maintaining and improving our infrastructure will also remain a focal point for 2014. We will continue to maintain our borough roads, facilities and parks. Work will begin to repave Montrose Avenue this spring with Franklin Avenue following shortly. These aren’t flashy project but they are the core responsibilities of our local government.
Durham Ave will continue to undergo a transformation as the gateway to South Plainfield. Late last year, the Planning Board awarded final approval for a major expansion at Quick Check that will further transform the area which received a jumpstart with the addition of Progressive Insurance. Additional development under consideration will further enhance the gateway with a new McDonalds restaurant on Durham Avenue. This development proposes to correct the misalignment of the Helen Street and Bushwick Avenue intersection. I’m eager to work with Councilman White to continue to showcase South Plainfield to the business community.
As I begin my fourth year as Mayor, I’m proud of what we have accomplished during the past three years and remain optimistic about South Plainfield’s future. I encourage the governing body to work together in a bi-partisan fashion. I look forward to working with the Council, Department Heads, borough employees and our residents to ensure South Plainfield remains the vibrant community for our fellow residents and a model for how government can work efficiently and effectively. It is your commitment, involvement and ideas that are the critical ingredients to our collective success. May God bless you and your loved ones. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.