SUMMIT, NJ - September’s second Common Council meeting brought a discussion among Council members regarding the acceptance of “free” items and projects, gifts that could potentially -- in the future -- become burdens for the City.
The impetus for the discussion was a proposed resolution regarding the acceptance of a donation that would partially fund a new bus for the ;Senior Connections' program operated through the Summit Department of Community Programs.
The Council ultimately voted to accept the donation of $24,160.50 toward the purchase of a new bus for Senior Connections by approving the resolution, which states that the Senior Connections bus has provided Summit senior citizens with “a great source of free transportation to nearby malls, grocery stores and downtown Summit for more than a quarter century.”
Mark Ozoroski, Director of Community Programs, said that the current bus was no longer suitable for transporting seniors. He said that it needed to be used to transport them to ShopRite, but that the shopping bags cannot fit.
“It’s not handicapped accessible,” he noted.
Ozoroski explained in a memo to Council that 'Senior Connections' operates a senior-focused bus service through a cooperative agreement with the City of Summit. The current Senior Connections Bus, which is over 12 years old, is not equipped with an ADA approved lift, making access difficult for those with physical limitations dependent on wheelchairs, scooters and walkers. He explained that its mechanical condition forces replacement. He said that the 2018 capital budget process approved the allocation of $45,000 in funds towards the replacement purchase of a new ADA lift-equipped bus for this program, and that the balance would be funded from Senior Connections.
He wrote, “A review of ridership statistics has allowed that a sixteen-passenger bus, to include two wheelchair spaces, is sufficient for the program’s needs. The new bus as specified will accommodate 14 passengers in conventional seats, and two additional passengers via wheelchair spaces. The layout will convert to accommodate 18 passengers plus one wheelchair position if needed with the option of four fold-down seats. The bus will feature an ADA approved lift to assist passengers who are mobility-challenged. The interior space will also include a luggage storage rack, an existing option that is popular on the current bus. The total cost of the new vehicle as specified is $70,164.50."
Ozoroski said that the purchase will result in a cost savings for the City since there are no vehicles meeting the same specifications on NJ State contract or any other local cooperatives that the City is a member of, and conducting a formal bid process for equipment generally does not produce results that offer better pricing than the larger cooperative contracts.
He said that the new bus is “much better.”
Ward 1 Council Member Mike McTernan questioned why Summit was paying for a bus that in the past was funded by the Junior League. He called this “a cautionary tale.”
He said that the City needs to be “very careful” about entering into programs for “nice things” that are free but which might then, down the road, become a “significant cost” for the City if the program can no longer be supported.
Radest said that the Junior League bought a bus for Senior Connections which ran the program but then lost funding. They weren’t raising the money anymore, she said.
“The cautionary tale does exist,” she said.
The old bus will be given to the Summit Police Department. “It may be on its last legs,” said Police Chief Robert Weck. “We will see if we can use it,” he said.
Council Member at Large Beth Little said that the Senior Bus “enriches the lives of seniors in town.” She said that this is “a good use" of City funds. “I’m in favor of the authorization,” she said.
McTernan asked how many people the bus supported.
Ozoroski said that it was in service for five days per week and took 16-18 people.
Council President David Naidu agreed that part of the funding discussion needs to be who will continue to fund a program “if the initial funding disappears.”
He said that without the bus, City seniors could spend much of their time trapped in their homes, without access to people who could transport them where they need to go.
“What the bus program does is gives them the freedom to go out to the rest of the world,” he said. “That is a big deal," adding that, “It’s of no use to build a community center and have an empty building.”
In Community Programs and Parking Services, resolutions were passed to submit grants to the Junior League of Summit and the Summit Area Public Foundation.
Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox said that it is wonderful to have space in the new community center to be able to offer programs that these grants would provide. She told Ward I Councilman Greg Vartan, who presented the grants,” I hope you get them.”
Under Labor and Law, Ward 2 Council Member Steve Bowman presented resolutions to grant a “place-to-place liquor license transfer” to the Elks Club.
“Does everyone know there is a rooftop bar going there,” Bowman asked. He said that this transfer is similar to the recent approval for the Summit House restaurant. McTernan and Bowman recused themselves for this vote as they are Elks Club members.
Extended sick leave with pay was granted for a Department of Public Works employee.
The job of “program aide,” which had already been approved in the budget, was approved. The position name was changed to reflect the responsibilities and no additional dollars will be spent..
In Capital Projects and Community Service, an additional fee of $35,000 was added to amend the professional services agreement with Mott MacDonald, 2019 Special Consultant Engineering Services. The original project was not to exceed $200,000, but has been amended not to exceed $235,000.
Fox explained that this was “due to unforeseen wetlands work at the transfer station, trail surveys, additional LSRP work required by NJDEP, and surveys of the sanitary sewer system as a result of the emergency collapse at Briant Parkway.”
She explained that this does not necessarily mean that the project will come in at $35,000 over budget, as there were various contractors who were awarded projects within the bid and others in the group may bill less than was budgeted.
She said that the firm that is receiving the additional funding is the one that is “best equipped for this kind of work.”
Funds in the amount of $4,789 was added to a $127,632.20 project at City Hall to reconstruct sidewalks, install a new driveway, apron the parking lot, and create reverse angled parking for city vehicles. The works freed up 11 spaces for residents and City Hall visitors. The increase was for additional striping and asphalt base material along the parking spaces to prevent public parking.
Naidu said that a project for micro surfacing on Stockton Road needed to be increased by 10.3 percent because of an ‘inadvertent omission.” This increases the cost of the project by $12,834.00 to $137,496.78.
An ordinance was introduced, to be heard at the next Council meeting, that would prohibit the retail sale of dogs and cats in Summit. All Council members voted to hear the ordinance except McTernan. It will be heard at the October 2 meeting.
An ordinance amending the salary of the new City CFO Tammie Baldwin was approved.
Another ordinance which changed a job title for a new position in the Department of Community Programs was also approved.
Proclamations and Presentations
Mayor Nora Radest, in ceremonial activity, proclaimed September 17 - 23 'Constitution Week' and recognized Amanda Greene, Regent, from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She also proclaimed the month of September 'Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad Month'. Squad President Bob Flanagan accepted the proclamation. Radest said, “Health and safety is paramount to our community,” She said that the Squad puts in “untold hours” protecting Summit citizens, noting that more than 2,000 emergency calls come into the squad each year “some small and some very large,” she said.
Flanagan said that all the members of the Squad are volunteers who “rely solely on donations.”
He said that the Squad operates at “no cost to patients or taxpayers.” This, he said, saves Summit residents $1 million every year.
Radest said, “This is a wonderful organization; whether we like to think about it or not, all of us will need them.”
Flanagan requested donations to the Squad “if you have some spare money. We love what we do and we want to keep doing it for you."
Dr. Paola Acosta, Dr. Patricia Fontan, and Teresa Usme, co-founders of 'Empowering Kids Organization', presented information on how this new group is empowering Summit’s Hispanic youth.
The trio personally has or has had students in the Summit Public Schools. Fontan works as a liaison to the District and has had children go through the system; Usme had two children graduate the schools and her daughter now works at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School. Acosta has a child at Lincoln-Hubbard, and is the president of Speak Up Summit.
They said that the goal of the organization is to expose students to strategies and programming to empower them, and allow them to thrive. The EKO hopes to resolve issues resulting from language barriers and differences in culture.
Acosta said, “We believe we can have a positive impact.”
Usme said that there are plenty of parents who “don’t know the school system.” She said that EKO provides parents with the tools they need so they can support their children.
Fontan said that EKO teaches families, in part, through cultural events. She said that on weekends, students are taken to the police department, the fire department, and to the First Aid Squad. She said that it is “fantastic” to be able to connect students and families who had not realized that they can volunteer and create connections in the community.
A trip to New York City was planned for some families who had never used the subway system, and “didn’t know how to buy a train ticket or use the train schedule,” she said.
She said that it has been very helpful for the families to be connected with different cultural experiences. It makes integration much easier for them, she said.
Naidu said, “Summit takes pride in its diversity, that also means working on it. It’s no use if we have the tools there and people don’t know they exist,” he said.
Two positions on the zoning board will be reconfigured so that “everyone moves up a step.”