NEWTON, NJ – Newly appointed New Jersey Assemblyman Parker Space (R-24) opened one of his last meetings as Sussex County Freeholder Director on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
After the usual moment of silent prayer and salute to the flag, the freeholders passed a proclamation designating March 2013 as “American Red Cross Month.” Freeholder Dennis Mudrick presented the proclamation to Jocelyn Gilman, American Red Cross Community Chapter Executive of Northern New Jersey, and said, “The Red Cross in Sussex County works tirelessly in times of disaster, when someone needs blood, and provides 24 hour support to members of the military and their families. We want to thank our heroes.”
The board acknowledged the retirement of Joanne Baker, Adjuster for County Counsel, and Carol A. Crowley, Principal Librarian. Crabb acknowledged Crowley’s contribution of bringing a large young clientele in to the library, and said, “that branch is a very important aspect of Main Street in Franklin.”
Ann Smulewicz, from Wantage, spoke about the Sussex County Community College during the open public session. “There are a number of attorneys that have been appointed to the (SCCC) board, I personally would like to see some diversity this time. The board is very important, especially today when our youngsters are being influenced, we want to make sure they are being influenced the ‘good old-fashioned Sussex County way.’”
She then asked Crabb to repeat his comments about the Sussex County Landfill.
Crabb first reported that they are just about to put in new sheetings at the Franklin Viaduct, which will be very noisy for people in the immediate area, although work will proceed as quickly as possible.
With regard to the Landfill, Crabb explained that from its inception, there was debt associated with it, that fact was known in advance. Initially, the state guaranteed to pick up those costs, but “the rules have changed.” In recent years, it has become more difficult for the landfill to cover the debt, and “if it came back to the county, Sparta would pick up 80 percent on top of what they already pay. Originally, it was planned for the landfill to close around 2017, but they have been looking into ways to alter that plan. There are strategies already in place in Cape May County and Atlantic County, and approved by DEP. One of them is to increase the level they go up. This could add three to four years, without any added expense. The other strategy is to put up walls around the existing footprint, and areas not yet in use. This could extend the life of the landfill by as much as 30 years. Then, we are not looking at the stranded debt that occurs from year to year, plus the closing costs. This means that the tipping fees will not raise from year to year, which is important to those towns who are in the garbage business.”
He continued, “This puts the Solid Waste Advisory Council (SWAC) in a key position to research new technologies to make the landfill more efficient, maybe something that consumes the landfill. They don’t have to rush now, to meet the 2017 deadline.”
Smulewicz commented that she was glad they “took the bull by the horns to tackle this issue, and felt the public needed to know how well the board was keeping this large expense item under control.”
Mudrick reported the Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council announced new officers. Mudrick stated how impressed he was with “the passion and the love that these folks show for the arts.”
Mudrick is also the liaison to the Department of Environment and Public Heath, and has been familiarizing himself with its policies and procedures. He was briefed on the Public Health Notification System.
Mudrick reported on the Sussex County Community College Board of Trustees meeting, held Tuesday. Four students made high energy/high spirited presentations in appreciation of the college.
Freeholder Gail Phoebus reported that the monthly meeting of non-profit organizations was cancelled Wednesday morning, as they do not meet if the county Vo-Tech school has a delayed opening, which it did.
She reported that the Senior Transitional Care Program is becoming a huge success. It provides transportation to the hospital and back, transportation to doctor’s appointments, and tries to keep seniors from going back to the hospital.
Phoebus said the Meals on Wheels food is now being prepared by Newton Medical Center, and they have received many positive compliments about the food.
The Sussex County Tax Board met, which is made up of three bipartisan people, Phoebus said. It was announced that in 2004 there were 300 tax appeals, but in 2012, there were 2,000. The office is very busy. This board does not handle the large ratable, those appeals go to Trenton, and are all heard at Morris County.
Phoebus asked the board to allow John Eskilson, Sussex County Administrator to work on a resolution against Bill 3780. If passed, it will allow “short sales” to be usable in appraisals of property value. This will devalue the neighborhoods. She gave the example, if a person's house was worth $300,000, but one of their neighbors had a short sale (sold it for less than it was worth), that figure could be used to appraise the value of the home normally worth $300,00. The tax commissioners are also very concerned, and will be having an open meeting for all assessors, CFO’s, clerks, and administrators in the county. Due to the high number of tax appeals, the commissioners have suggested doing a reassessment in Newton, Ogdensburg, Franklin, and Wantage.
The Sussex County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) will be bringing Vision 20/20, which is a program that uses GIS technology to screen for developable property. Eskilson reported, “Once the parameters are plugged in, the program will locate “shovel ready properties,” which will help the EDP to identify and locate desirable businesses for those locations. Sussex County is extremely challenged, as there are only a few isolated properties which are unconstrained.”
Phoebus added, “The EDP will work with municipalities to find existing vacant buildings and encourage desirable businesses to take them. They can assist in finding areas in need of redevelopment.”
Freeholder Richard Vohden attended the Highlands Council. He reported that although the Highlands Act was passed nine years ago, people are just now realizing how this law affects them. Vohden condemned the act as unfunded, unworkable and incomplete. He vowed, “It’s important to many landowners that we stay on top of this.”
Initially, a promise of compensation “where appropriate” was included, based on property values at the 2004 market value. This was known as Transfer Development Rights (TDR). That requirement is about to expire, and new property values in the Highlands are much lower than that. The only source of compensation is the Farmland Assessment and the Open Space Funding.
At the Agricultural Development Board, Vohden learned that our 166 preserved farms, (17,000 acres) must be physically inspected by the Freeholders each year to make sure landowners are upholding their agreements. When farmland is preserved, it is still owned by the farmer, but it is deed restricted for no further development. There have been violations, which must be monitored by the county. Vohden sees this as a big project with a lot of paperwork, and more preservation is in store.
He reported that the Sussex County Historical Society was having an event last night, a 340 year-old Bible will be on display, with experts on hand to present the full story.
At the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Vohden learned that Sussex County will be competing with several large projects for funding, including the rebuilding of Rt. 35 from Point Pleasant to Seaside (destroyed by Superstorm Sandy),the replacement of the entire Pulaski Skyway, and the raising of the Goethals Bridge to Staten Island, to allow the supertankers to pass underneath.
Vohden was asked about the train. He said, “The Lackawanna Cutoff has had many hold-ups, including the endangered Indiana Bats which stopped work last summer, a nearby stream was appointed a Category 1 stream, the Roseville Tunnel was designated as historic, the rail beds have been used for hiking trails, so fences must be installed. The rails are completed to Byram [Stanhope Road]."
Finally, Vohden reported that there is a bill in the House which will require all municipalities to have early voting rights, for 15 days before the election.Their hours would be from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. This would require all current poll workers to be re-trained, to work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will receive special training. Each night, the ballots will have to be returned for safe keeping to Jeff Parrott.
During the Open Public Session, Dave Fanale, of Franklin, asked for the names of the bills, and their sponsors, so he could contact them to express his opposition.
Space adjourned the meeting, after the items on the consent agenda were approved.
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