SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The Borough of South Plainfield held its 2020 reorganization meeting on Jan. 4 with standing room only crowd gathering for the Saturday afternoon event.
This year’s reorganization began with the National Anthem, performed by resident Taylor Kurliew and an invocation delivered by James Lee, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church. The borough’s two new council members, Republicans Melanie Mott and Peter Smith, were then sworn in, the oath of office administered by Kim Guadagno, New Jersey’s former lieutenant governor.
“Congratulations to Councilwoman Mott and Councilman Smith. As parents and active residents, I know you will leverage your abilities to continue to move South Plainfield in the right direction,” said Mayor Matt Anesh. “The residents have bestowed upon you a tremendous responsibility, that of a public servant. Listen to their concerns, keep an open mind, and draw upon your strengths to improve the borough for all residents. Serve the community well and you will have a successful term."
“Thank you to the residents for putting their faith in Pete and I. We look forward to serving you and if you ever need anything, we are here for you 100-percent. We are looking forward to the next three years.”
“First and foremost, I want to thank my family for allowing me this opportunity,” said Smith, adding, “I have lived in South Plainfield since 1999 and it is going to be an honor to sit up here and serve you…I’m looking forward to working with the mayor and council, doing the best we can to keep South Plainfield going forward.”
With the governing body for 2020 officially in place, outgoing members Jon Dean and Gary Vesce were recognized with Anesh presenting both of the Democratic councilmen with plaques commemorating their three years of service to the borough.
“Today we say good-bye to two public servants who have given their all over the past three years; Councilman Dean and Vesce have been active members of the governing body who sought to use their backgrounds and skills to move South Plainfield forward. We appreciate their efforts in working with the entire governing body to tackle important challenges and foster new growth throughout our borough,” said Anesh. “A special thank you to your families for their sacrifice during the last three years. While you may be leaving elected office today, I know that you will both remain active residents.”
"It has been a great honor working for the residents...and it has been an unbelievable honor to work with the mayor and the rest of the council...I cannot thank everybody enough for the three years I had on the council," Dean, who lost his bid for re-election, said. "I want to congratulate Melanie Mott and Pete Smith. I know they are going to do great for the Borough of South Plainfield."
Vesce, who did not seek re-election to a second term, added,"I would like to congratulate Councilman Pete Smith and Councilwoman Melanie Mott. I hope that they have a rewarding experience as I have had. Every decision I have ever made has been for the town's best interest; that was always my focus."
Faustini Appointed Council President
During the reorganization meeting, the law firm of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer, Flaum, P.C. was reappointed as borough attorney for 2020 and a new council president was also appointed. A motion to nominate Republican Christine Faustini was made by Councilman Robert Bengivenga, Jr. and seconded by Councilman Joe Wolak with the all-Republican governing body approving the appointment 6-0.
Faustini, with her family at her side, was sworn in by Guadagno and, in her first act of business as council president announced the following committee assignments for 2020: Administration, Finance & Public Information: Chair - Bengivenga; members – Wolak and Derryck White; Economic Development: Chair –White; members – Christine Faustini and Peter Smith; Public Works: Chair – Mott; members – Faustini and Smith; Health, Welfare & Environment: Chair – Smith; members –Wolak and Mott; and Public Safety: Chair – Wolak; members – Bengivenga and White; Recreation, Office on Aging: Chair - Faustini; members – Bengivenga and Mott.
South Plainfield in 2019
During the meeting, Anesh took to the podium to deliver his annual message, highlighting the borough’s successes in 2019 and discussing plans for the coming year.
“As we close out one decade and begin the next, we reflect on our recent accomplishments and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead…” said Anesh.
According to Anesh, ‘2019 was a busy year’ for the Borough of South Plainfield.
The Environmental Commission’s Clean Communities Program conducted spring and fall litter cleanups with over 260 volunteers collecting over two tons of litter; the Clean Campus Program provided litter-education assembly programs for over 1,650 students; and residents and businesses maintained 21 Adopt-A-Spots. Throughout the year, litter was cleared from 1,305 storm drain grates, and 3.4 tons of roadside trash along with over 900 illegally posted signs were removed.
Additionally, said the mayor, the borough’s Green Team completed a Sustainable Jersey capacity building grant project, held a public screening of their sustainability video, and launched a website and Facebook page while remaining active in Mayors Wellness Campaign events and providing technical advice for the high school’s new greenhouse.
In his message, Anesh stated that the borough’s recycling complex completed a multi-year initiative to improve the residential grass drop off service with updated signage and new fencing funded through a Recycling Tonnage Grant; its paper shredding event drew a record 528 individuals with over 21,600 pounds of paper shredded and recycled; and recycling efforts across the borough diverted over 6,000 tons of recyclable solid waste from the landfill.
In 2019, said Anesh, sewer repair and improvement projects were completed near Hadley Road, New Brunswick Road, and Putnam Park and a borough partnership with the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority (PARSA) was expanded to include jet cleaning with the authority cleaning over 20-percent of the system in accordance with Department of Environmental Protection requirements.
Over at the senior center, Anesh stated that membership continued to increase in 2019. Classes and trips were routinely at full capacity, new programs such as Meatball Monday and Tailgate Tuesday were introduced, and the gardens yielded fruits and vegetables into early October. The center, he said, also has two new vehicles to transport seniors, a new Facebook page, and an electronic sign.
The South Plainfield Public Library, said Anesh, continues to be a ‘focal point for residents of all ages’ with circulation up 9.9-percent; total programming increasing 11-percent; and programs attendance surpassing 24,000 for a 24-percent increase over 2018.
The Municipal Clerk's Office, said Anesh, ‘continues to evolve and provide necessary services to residents in a timely and organized fashion' and the borough 'continues to keep residents informed via important tools such as Nixle and Facebook,' with his assistant Anne Daley leading the effort. Additionally, said the mayor, the Public Celebrations and Cultural Arts committees continued to provide town-wide popular events for all residents to enjoy.
The building department, said the mayor, has ‘new technology to better serve residents, business owners and contractors.’ In 2019, current businesses such Kobe, Five Below and Prolong Pharmaceutical renovated and/or expanded; national chains such as Ulta Beauty and Patriot Fine Foods came to town; and small businesses such as Angelina's, Charlie's Cheesesteaks, and Park Viva opened their doors.
Over at the Department of Public Works (DPW), a new fuel management system was installed and the borough’s in-house bulk pickup program resulted in the collection of over 560 tons of waste with an additional 200 tons of bulk debris collected at the compactor site. Along with normal maintenance of borough buildings, grounds and parks, crosswalks were restripped around schools; wire vehicle loop detection systems were upgraded to video cameras at Hadley Road intersections; and ADA curb ramps and sidewalks were installed.
DPW, said the mayor, oversaw improvements and repaving of Hadley Road - completed in two phases through $1.21 million in New Jersey Department of Transportation grants; worked with the police department’s traffic safety division to install signage in accordance with recently revised borough traffic ordinances; and repainted the wrestling room, locker rooms, and bathrooms at the Police Athletic League.
In 2019, said the mayor, the police department saw eight officers graduate from the academy ‘keeping staffing at key levels and qualifying for a Safe and Secure grant; the fire department continued to attract and retain volunteers, responding to over 950 calls through the year; and the borough’s emergency services department logged over 16,700 volunteer hours. Additionally, the police department’s partnership with the board of education has enabled the school resource officers to ‘play a vital role in ensuring the safety of our students;’ and the borough’s fire prevention/office of the fire marshall implemented ‘Fire Is,’ an educational program for 5th and 6th graders that incorporates both the student and their family in a five-month learning journey; and the Rescue Squad received two new ambulances.
“Public Safety will always remain a key focal point,” said Anesh.
The Recreation Department, said the mayor, continued to offer vital programs across the board for young residents and parks throughout the town. Residents approved a multi-million dollar investment in the reconstruction of the community pool during Democracy Day and, in September, the Recreation Commission hired Elizabeth Yarus as director.
The borough’s 2019 budget, said Anesh, ‘once again put residents first and kept municipal property taxes in check.’ “Over the last ten years, municipal taxes are nearly flat,” said the mayor, noting that the borough’s rateable base continues to increase, poised for a nearly $12 million increase.
“Through a focus on borough finances, South Plainfield continues to have one of the lowest tax rates on real value in Middlesex County as well as a low debt burden. It’s important to note this record isn’t the result of layoffs or avoidance of investments in the borough but rather a singular focus shared by councilmembers, department heads, and borough employees alike to achieve the most benefit for each tax dollar received,” said Anesh.
“As we start the new decade, our foremost priority will not change. We remain committed and focused on providing essential services to our residents while keeping taxes and spending under control,” he continued. “This means adopting a municipal budget that adequately funds municipal operations while insuring our residents get the maximum return for each municipal tax dollar and maintaining our existing credit rating.”
In the coming year, said Anesh, the borough is looking forward to the opening of a new community pool and stated that investments in infrastructure will remain a top priority.
“With the assistance of over $1.17 million in New Jersey Department of Transportation Municipal grants, the borough will complete improvements to Corporate Boulevard, St. Nicholas Avenue, and Cragwood Road,” said Anesh, extending thanks to State Senator Patrick Diegnan, who, as Transportation Chairman, was able to secure for South Plainfield ‘the largest Department of Transportation grant for the 18th Legislative District for 2020.’
Additionally, said the mayor, the borough will continue to coordinate its annual road resurfacing program to coincide with utility company projects as well as complete an examination of its sewer system to identify and address groundwater infiltration within the system.
According to the mayor, in 2020, the borough plans to upgrade its 911 Communication Center, introduce traffic cameras, and continue to invest in its police, 911, fire, and EMS by providing personnel with training, supplies and technology. He stated that the building department will offer evening hours as well as accept credit card payments for permit and application fees and technology improvements will take place in the tax department.
On a recycling front, the borough will look to design and implement a program to enforce proper recycling guidelines; work with the curbside pickup provider to improve customer service; and look into ways to prevent contamination of yard waste and recyclable materials. Additionally, said Anesh, the borough’s Green Team will seek recertification and look to develop a Home Performance with an Energy Star campaign for the residential sector.
“I continue to be proud of what we have accomplished and remain optimistic about what lies ahead for South Plainfield. I look forward to working with the council, our department heads, borough employees, and our residents to ensure South Plainfield remains a vibrant community for our fellow residents and a model for effective government,” said Anesh. “With a solid foundation laid, talented employees and active residents, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Mayoral and Council Appointments, Resolutions
As in previous years, the reorganization meeting also included the awarding of professional contracts, the swearing in of judges, and both mayoral and council appointments.
For 2020, dozens of community residents were sworn in as members of borough committees and commissions with all mayoral and council appointments approved by a 6-0 council vote; a complete list, including committee/commission, term, member, and position can be viewed online at https://bit.ly/2FhAIsp.
Professional Service Contracts, each receiving a one-year term, were as follows: Borough Prosecutors – Tom Lanza, Esq. & Maleski Eisenhut & Zielinski, LLC; Public Defender - Edward Santoro, Esq.; Borough Auditor – Suplee, Clooney & Co.; Borough Appraisers – Sterling DiSanto and Associates and Sockler Realty Services Group Inc.; Condemnation Counsel - DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, P.C.; Redevelopment Attorney – DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, P.C.; Borough Bond Counsel – McManimon & Scotland, LLC; Insurance Broker/Consultant –Acrisure; Borough Consultant Engineer - T & M Associates and Najarian Associates; Environmental Engineer – Najarian Associates; Borough Professional Planner – T & M Associates; Tax Appeal Attorney – DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, P.C.; Labor Attorney - DiFrancesco, Bateman, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum, P.C.; and Conflict Tax Appeal Attorney – Mauro, Savo, Camerino, Grant & Schalk P.A.
Additionally, for 2020, the Honorable Robert J. Jones, Jr., a South Plainfield resident who himself was sworn in as a superior court justice four years ago Jan. 4, was on hand to administer the oath of office to both Paul Garelick, Esq. and Manuel Sanchez Esq. Garelick, an attorney with Lombardi & Lombardi, will serve his first, three-year term as municipal judge with Sanchez reappointed to a second consecutive three-year term as conflict municipal judge.
"If I can give advice on the bench, it is to be yourself," Jones said prior to swearing in Garelick, reflecting upon the words posted across the top of the state's Supreme Court building. "'Equal Justice Under Law.' I couldn't be more sure that [Garelick] has the knowledge of the law, the humanity, and the sense of fairness to fulfill that obligation."
Sanchez, who was first appointed in 2017, said, "I'd like to thank the mayor and the council for appointing me then and for appointing me now. I wish Judge Garelick good wishes and [you] have my support whenever you need it."
Video credits: Bill Seesselberg
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