SUMMIT, NJ - In her first nine months as mayor of Summit, Ellen Dickson is extremely proud of the City's accomplishments to date.
After spending six years on Common Council, she knew it was time for a change. While she thoroughly enjoyed her time on council, she needed something new, the mayor said. In addition to serving as mayor she also serves on the Planning Board.
“I feel fortunate to be mayor right now because slowly we’re pulling out of this economic slump that we’re in,” Dickson said.
As an 18-year resident of Summit, there is nowhere else she would rather live, she told TheAlternativePress.com. The City has an illustrious and vibrant downtown, excellent police and fire departments, a great school system, a renowned hospital and a train station that can get to Manhattan in a quick 40 minutes. "What else could a person want?" she asked.
Summit is one of the few cities in New Jersey that has both an accredited fire and police department and unlike many of the surrounding towns who have volunteer firefighters, it has a full-time fully-staffed fire department.
Although Summit is a relatively small town, everyone usually gets along, Dickson said. It’s a great city where parents want to raise their children and when their kids get older they want to stay in Summit because of the welcoming and warm atmosphere in the community, she said.
“I think it’s a perfect little city,” Dickson said. “People will make the sacrifice to live here because of its convenience and the schools.”
The town’s excellent schools are one of the reasons many people stay in the area, she said. Because there are no school buses every student lives within two miles of a school, Dickson said. However, Dickson said overcrowding has become an issue in the schools. While the population of the town has not increased, school enrollment over the last eight to 10 years has risen from 3,000 to 4,000. The district needs to look into expanding in the near future, she added.
“It’s going to be a continuing challenge to keep space for all the students coming through,” she said.
However, one of the biggest challenges is high property taxes. The average tax on a home is $15,500, so the mayor’s goal is to keep living in the city affordable. One of the factors in Summit's high property taxes is that the county budget is 25 percent of Summit's taxbill. Dickson said that Union County taxes were increased 11% where the rest of the tax bill was relatively flat. "It caused our overall bill to taxpayers to increase 3%. I believe this increase is unacceptable in these economic times," she told TheAlternativePress.com
“I think everybody’s real income is flat to declining, yet the taxes are going up so it’s making this city more unaffordable,” she said.
With the renovations almost finished at the three parking lots on Deforest Avenue in downtown Summit, the mayor feels the town is moving in the right direction. People need to understand parking generates a profit for the town, so it is needed, she said.
“Parking is never an easy topic because everyone thinks it should be free,” she said.
Looking into the future, she would like to see a four story parking garage built by a developer near the post office that would be free and not use taxpayer money to build it.
Dickson said she is anticipating the big Martin Luther King Day celebration in January and expecting a surprise guest. She also said she is excited for several new businesses downtown including Mondo, Weight Watchers, and Meat House.
“People will continue to enjoy community and succeed,” she said. “I think people really want to stay here and we continue to find ways to keep them in town.”