SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The Borough of South Plainfield held its 2019 reorganization meeting on Jan. 5 with standing room only crowd gathering for the Saturday morning event. To watch the entire meeting, click below, compliments of Bill Seesselberg:
At the start of the meeting, resident Taylor Kurliew sang the National Anthem followed by Rob Nieves, pastor of New Walk Church, delivering the innovation. Superior Court Judge Robert J. Jones, Jr. then administered the oath of office to Republicans Matt Anesh, Robert Bengivenga, Jr. and Joseph Wolak; in November, Anesh was elected to his third, consecutive four-year term with Bengivenga and Wolak returned for a fifth and second term, respectively.
With the 2019 council sworn in, a motion to nominate Wolak as council president made by Bengivenga and seconded by White was approved by a 6-0 vote with Jones administering the oath to the newly-appointed council president. "It's an honor and pleasure to be selected as council president. I look forward to a busy yet productive year," Wolak told TAPinto South Plainfield following the meeting. "I want to thank my family for putting up with my extra responsibilities, but most of all I want to thank our residents for putting their trust in me and re-electing me. As always, I will do my best."
As council president, Wolak announced the following committee assignments for 2019: Recreation, Office on Aging: Chair - Christine Faustini; members – Bengivenga and Jon Dean; Administration, Finance & Public Information: Chair - Bengivenga; members – Wolak and Derryck White; Economic Development: Chair –White; members – Faustini and Gary Vesce; Public Works: Chair – Vesce; members – Dean and Faustini;Health, Welfare & Environment: Chair – Dean; members – Vesce and Wolak; and Public Safety: Chair – Wolak; members – Bengivenga and White.
The Borough in 2018
The reorganization meeting also served as the opportunity for Anesh to deliver his annual mayoral message. “Thank you to our residents, families, and special guests who join us as we reflect on the accomplishments of 2018 and prepare for the challenges of a new year,” Anesh told those gathered at borough hall. To read Anesh's mayoral message in its entirety, click the link below:
Highlights of 2018, said Anesh, included continuing to ‘execute [the borough’s] multi-year plan to invest in our hometown through targeted capital investment and a keen focus on stabilizing municipal taxes through sound financial policies and budgeting.’
According to Anesh, the borough, in 2018, adopted a municipal budget that held the municipal tax rate below the 2009 rate and kept municipal taxes flat for the second consecutive year. South Plainfield, he said, has managed to maintain ‘one of the lowest tax rates in Middlesex County’ without layoffs and/or service costs but rather through ‘fair labor negotiations, a focus on health care costs, and a desire to seek the best alternatives to deliver basic governmental services through a mix of in-house, contracted, and shared services.’
The previous year saw the addition of several new businesses and the celebrated reopening of a South Plainfield-based motor vehicle office. Additionally, in 2018, the borough under went one of its most aggressive road improvement programs with 10.1 miles – or 10 percent of roadways within in its jurisdiction – paved.
Through the efforts of Public Works, said Anesh, decorative lights were installed at borough hall and the library; 2,053 bulk picks up were made; and over 160 tons of debris made its way to the compactor. Willow Park, thanks to the library, was expanded to become a completely inclusive playground and, the PAL building saw the installation of a digital sign and the completion of a large addition to the wrestling room.
Last year, said Anesh, the police department hired seven new officers; the council approved a multi-year, multi-agency investment in is police training range; and, through a collaborative effort with the police department, South Plainfield School District, and the borough’s Public Safety Committee, there are now three special resources officers.
Additionally, in 2018, over 50 active rescue squad volunteers donated of 21,000 hours of service and responded to 800 calls while also remaining one of the only squads in the county that does not bill for their services. The fire department, added Anesh, saw an increase of 220 calls from the previous year and members took part in hundreds of hours of firefighting training.
According to Anesh, 2018 was ‘truly a transformational year’ for the South Plainfield Building Department with new computer terminals installed for all employees; new construction and zoning management software with shared access provided across all borough departments; and the borough’s telephone system ‘replaced to provide for better functionality.’
According to the mayor, the borough’s Cultural Arts Commission and Public Celebrations Committee added new programs in 2018 and the senior center, ‘was super-successful.’ Membership was up 10 percent, daily attendance increased 12 percent, new classes became ‘welcome additions,’ and center’s fish tank, donated and installed almost a year ago, has became a ‘focal point of relaxation and conversation.’
Anesh said the South Plainfield’s Residential Recycling Program, in 2018, collected over 6,000 tons of recyclable solid waste and the borough received both a $147,822 and a $15,000 grant. Also, use of the MyWaste app increased and, in December, a social media campaign to educate residents about vital recycling practices was launched. Additionally, 250 volunteers took part in the Environmental Commission’s annual spring and fall clean ups collecting over 7 tons of litter across the borough. Additionally, said the mayor, the Green Team received a grant from Sustainable New Jersey and sponsored an essay and video contest.
The borough in 2018, said Anesh, completed its third round Council on Affordable Housing obligation, creating overlay zones in the downtown district and a new multi-family site off Durham Avenue. “This agreement was bipartisan because it limited the borough’s exposure to high density housing,” said the mayor, adding, “While this agreement fulfills the borough’s obligation through 2025, we must advocate for smart growth policies that put municipalities, not developers, first.”
Planning for 2019
In 2019, said Anesh, the borough will welcome both Ulta and Chick-fil-A as well as complete phase two of the Hadley Road project funded through an $881,500 New Jersey Municipal Aid grant, the largest grant South Plainfield has ever seen. Capital road improvements, coordinated with local utilities completing line replacement programs, will also continue and investments. Additionally, additional police and EMS vehicles will be obtained and the police department will welcome a third K9 officer through a donation from South Plainfield-based Alpha Solutions.
“The goal for the new year is to remain focused on delivering essential residential services while ensuring that South Plainfield remains affordable,” said Anesh, adding that starts with ‘introducing a budget that funds the critical areas of investments needed to move our borough forward while maintaining our focus on property taxes.’
He added that 2019 initiatives include purchasing a new vehicle for the senior center, implementing a computerized property card system, extending building department counter hours, increasing fire prevention awareness training, and continuing to invest in recreational programs and parks.
Additionally, 2019, said the mayor, will also provide for ‘unprecedented community involvement in major borough decisions’ with a Democracy Week tentatively scheduled for March to obtain resident input on three issues: structural repairs of the community pool expected to exceed $1.5 million; preliminary design costs estimated at $3 million to pursue Quiet Zones; and whether or not to allow for the retail distribution of marijuana within the borough.
“To prepare residents for these three very different public questions, information sessions will be held with borough managers and professionals,” said Anesh.
“As I begin my third term as mayor, I do remain confident that we have the necessary ingredients to meet our current and future challenges,” added the mayor. “Our active and giving residents, talented employees, dedicated volunteers, and responsive officials will ensure that we remain a desired destination for families and seniors alike.”
Mayoral and Council Appointments, Resolutions
As in previous years, the reorganization meeting also included the awarding of professional contracts and both mayoral and council appointments. For 2019, dozens of community residents were named to borough committees and commissions with all appointments unanimously approved by a 6-0 council vote except for one.
Despite reapplying for new terms on the Public Celebrations Committee, Debbie Boyle, along with Pat DeSantis, and Sue DiFrancesco were not reappointed. Instead, Debra Leporino, Gina D’Urso, and Kelly Daley were each appointed to three-year terms expiring Dec. 31, 2019 while Scott Miller was appointed to fill a vacated unexpired seat expiring Dec. 31, 2019.
At the request of Democratic Councilman Jon Dean, the appointment of four new Public Celebrations Committee members, initially included in Resolution 19-05, was separated with Dean and fellow Democratic Councilman Gary Vesce voting in opposition.
"The mayor presented us with a listing of Public Celebration volunteers and a minute before the meeting Councilman Dean told me he was upset that Debbie Boyle was not being reappointed and asked if we could separate the Pubic Celebrations resolution," said Bengivenga, adding, "He never told the public what issues he had and voted against all four of the new volunteers."
When asked about the 4-2 vote opposing the new committee members, Dean told TAPinto he didn't agree with the change. "Public Celebrations has always done a terrific job, all of them on the committee, and I didn't see the need for the change. That is the only commission that anyone who reapplied didn't get appointed," said Dean, adding, “They did a great job so why the change? Recreation should change; Bill Cochrone has been the commissioner for 30-plus years and now we have a major issue with the pool. You didn't know there was a major issue and now our residents are going to suffer. I have a problem with this.”
Vesce also disagreed with the change, telling TAPinto, "My feeling was and why I wanted it separated was that they should have all been reappointed; there were other people who asked to be reappointed to other committees and they were. The [Public Celebrations] Committee – all of them on it – has done a great job. They are always complimented at council meetings about the good work they do and I didn't see any need for change."
"This was the first time I can remember anyone voting against new volunteers," said Bengivenga. "There were 16 applicants for this committee and I am glad we were able to give others a chance. Ms. Boyle will continue on the three other committees in which she already serves. I look forward to working with all of the volunteers in 2019.”
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