SUMMIT, NJ - While the result of the 'public' part of the Summit Common Council’s December 12 public workshop meeting on the preliminary 2019 capital budget was big-time debatable -- there were but two persons in attendance who were not required to actually be there for the meeting -- the fact that the meeting to review a preliminary 2019 capital budget was highly informative and featured a mostly accessible discussion of the city’s planned capital improvements is not.
The two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting saw City department heads present their plans for 2019. From an elected official standpoint, in attendance were Mayor Nora Radest, Council Members Stephen Bowman, Matt Gould, Marjorie Fox, Beth Little, Mike McTernan, and David Naidu, and Council Member-elect Gregory Vartan III.
City Administrator Michael Rogers opened with an overview of the budget process and timeline. The various City departments have been working on their budget requests since this past August in anticipation of a public hearing in March and budget adoption in late April 2019.
The budget is projected at $5,514,500 -- a modest increase over last year’s $5,039,200 -- but the figure rises to $17,314,500 if the new firehouse is included, a 246.35% increase over 2018. The budget also calls for $100,000 for the Parking Services Utility and $351,500 for the Sewer Utility, a 78% decrease over last year.
First up was Fire Department Chief Eric Evers. Outside of the new firehouse, the department’s requirements are primarily for equipment replacement and repair. DOT and NFPA regulations require that self-contained breathing apparatus packs and canisters be replaced when they are 10 years old; the budget requests $80,000 for the second year of a three-year replacement schedule. Turnout gear and vehicles also suffer from what Evers called “intense use,” resulting in a $14,500 ask for gear and $55,000 for a new vehicle. To ensure firefighters’ safety, a bailout system costing $7,000 is also in the budget.
Evers then moved on to the new firehouse, projected to cost $11,800,000. He presented artist’s renderings of the new three-story building’s exterior and interior. The proposed building would be situated in the between the Broad Street parking garage and the Salerno Duane Summit dealership.
Evers promised to work out temporary and long-term parking solutions. Four bays on each side of the building will provide easier access than the current firehouse. In addition to housing equipment and providing dorm and kitchen space for the firefighters, the new building will include training areas, a decontamination room, a space for air bottle filling and storage, and a small historical museum area.
The building’s design and development and construction document phases were included in the 2018 budget; the bidding phase will take place in 2019 with construction, anticipated to take some 18 months, starting in 2020.
Unsurprisingly, the firehouse generated the most discussion. Asked by McTernan how much of the proposed expense was necessary, Evers replied that very little is not part of what already exists, only larger. With chemical fires becoming more common, the decon room is a necessity. Little wanted to know if the $11.8 million was all-inclusive; Evers responded that it doesn’t include anything “not fixed to the wall.” Naidu said he is looking for ways that developers might contribute to the cost, and wondered if construction required a specialized builder.
Evers explained that any qualified builder could meet the specs; the special knowledge was required for the design phase. He reiterated that the job would need to be put out to bids. Further discussion was tabled in the absence of the City’s redevelopment lawyer. Rogers pointed out that the sale of the property to developers will offset some of the building costs.
Police Chief Robert Weck got a laugh when he opened with a slide showing a mid-century police cruiser, prompting Evers to point out that the firehouse, at 102, was considerably older.
Weck laid out the department’s three main goals for next year. The first is to install an Axon camera system in the detective bureau interview room. This $33,000 system will automate the process of managing audio and video, allowing detectives to focus on the interview. It can also protect them from allegations of misconduct or coercion during interviews, and allows jurors to see the interviews as they happened. Second is to install in-car cameras. The resulting unbiased recordings help “build public trust” and enhance officer safety, minimize public complaints, and can even deescalate situations when someone knows he or she is being recorded. The $13,000 system will be sourced from the same company that provides the police’s body cameras, and will run on the same server. Weck’s third ask is for $80,000 to replace two vehicles, one a 2003 and one a 2008, in the detective bureau.
Asked by Bowman about the useful life of the cameras, Weck said for car cameras, it’s at least ten years. He added the department is trying to get Axon to add some extras; they already donated a camera for the traffic car. Naidu recalled a camera request from last year. That was for license plate recognition equipment, which has been purchased and is awaiting deployment. The department is working with JCPL to put the equipment on the utility’s poles to save money; approval came last week. Gould brought up the mobile speed signs. Weck said those require two $700 batteries, but they have found a company to retrofit them with solar power for about half that cost, which will be funded in part by the drunk driving enforcement fund. Fox wanted to know if the department was considering hybrids or electric cars. Weck replied that while it could be considered, any police vehicles need to be “pursuit-tested.”
Community Programs Department Director Judith Josephs began with a recap of the 2017-18 capital projects either completed or currently under way, including the creative reuse of soil created by the Community Center construction. Rather than paying $300,000 to have it hauled away, the City used it as fill to create a pocket park. She then listed the department’s 2019 priorities. First is the Senior Activity Area and Community Center pocket park ($800,000). The bocce courts and access will be completed in 2019, and the remainder of the project will be bid out next year. The DCP is also pursuing grants and sponsors to augment the city’s capital investment. Second are improvements to the Family Aquatic Center ($280,000 in 2019 and $300,000 in 2020). An emergency amendment to the 2018 capital budget was approved by council at its last meeting to ensure necessary repairs to the pool surface and cover would be completed in time for the 2019 swimming season, but outstanding needs remain, including shade fabric, slide tower painting, and restroom improvements for ADA compliance. Third is a security system for the community center, with cameras and computer hardware totaling $50,000. Other capital requests include upgrades to Memorial Field basketball courts ($130,000) and ongoing replacement of park furnishings ($10,000).
Josephs then laid out a number of future projects for consideration including updates to the Village Green and Mabie Playground ($600,000), the extensive Tatlock Park redevelopment plan ($5,800,000), an HVAC system for Cornog Field House ($100,000), updating Memorial Playground to make it useful to more age groups and adding a fitness course ($500,000), and the Municipal Golf Course entrance and pond project, including flooding mitigation and ADA compliance ($600,000).
Fox suggested that perhaps the further development of the bocce area be done in phases. Josephs agreed that some parts, like the paths, should be done at the same time, but that perhaps the various fitness stops could be implemented separately.
Josephs’ assertion that her pool funding requests had been denied over several years drew a retort from the Mayor Radest, who said that in Summit, “we can do anything. We just can’t do everything.”
Department of Community Services Director Paul Cascais noted that previously, his budget has included the sewer utility, but it would be broken out this year. He said his department is responsible for Summit’s largest monetary asset, the City infrastructure and that, at around 120 years old, it’s even older than the firehouse. Responsibilities include 30 traffic signals, 50 miles of storm sewers, 45 buildings and structures, and more than 500 vehicles and pieces of equipment. His overview of the department’s 2018 accomplishments included brief videos of streets being paved and snow bring cleared. He made the point that capital infrastructure investment is necessary for road safety, maintaining property values, controlling future infrastructure expenses via maintenance, and emergency services.
The 2019 budget includes three major road projects -- Butler Parkway, Caldwell / Clark / Dayton / Huntley / Willow, and New Providence Avenue – as well as a slew of smaller infrastructure projects totaling $2,210,000. Six Public Works vehicles are set for replacement, including two late-90s vehicles -- the transfer trailer and the recycling truck -- and a 2007 Bomag roller for paving and turf maintenance ($617,000). Additionally, the Department seeks funding for eight projects including a new chiller at City Hall, roofs on two DPW buildings, and siding on the Transfer Station ($810,000).
Queried by Naidu whether there was grant money for the Parkway project, Cascais replied that his request is the anticipated cost of the project, but that the City would likely know the outcome of the grant process before the budget needed to be approved. Bowman asked whether micropaving was smarter than completely repaving a road. In reply, Cascais said the department needs to take a “holistic look” at which roads qualify for micropaving, which is ideally done five years after full paving, before cracking sets in. Roads are already being prepped for 2019 work. Gould raised the question of resiliency, pointing to the recent power outage that left portions of City Hall in the dark. A grant has been received for a generator for the DPW building, which needs to be in service at all times. Cascais said he’d need to look at the City Hall generator, which powers the computers, phones, and some hall lights, but which is close to being at capacity.
He then turned over the podium to Aaron Schrager, deputy DCS director and City engineer. The City maintains 82 miles of sewer mains and currently handles 4.89 million gallons a day. Noting that the system’s grinder was replaced in 2018, Schrager begged people not to flush baby wipes. Sewer 2019 projects include sewer lining and valve upgrades, a sewer jet garage extension, odor control at the Chatham Road station, SCADA monitor office upgrades, the West End Avenue sewer study, and replacing a pickup truck, for a total of $351,000.
Rogers presented the Parking Utility budget in the absence of Director Rita McNany. The capital request of $100,000 represents $50,000 for shelters / canopies at the DeForest lots entrances and exits. Having to leave the gates open when there is snow or ice represents as much as $20,000 to $25,000 in lost revenue. Another $50,000 will be used for parking lot maintenance.
Rogers closed the meeting, with apologies for ending on a down note, with a look at the City’s six-year capital improvement plan and its impact on future debt obligations. Summit's net debt at the beginning of 2018 was $55,549,000, and this year’s debt service payment was $4.494 million ($3,670,000 in principal, and $824,753 in interest). The estimated debt at the end of this year is $56.78 million, and the projected debt service payment for 2019 is $3.685 million. The net debt ratio is currently .78%, but will most likely move closer to 1% in the future. The estimated debt service schedule with the proposed six-year capital improvement plan, including the firehouse and some, but not all, projects potentially required by the various City departments -- increases from an estimated debt service payment of $3,685,155 in 2019 to $6,388,112 in 2024.
Naidu suggested that the City needs to see what actually happens with the Broad Street West redevelopment, and think of the firehouse as a stand-alone project. He also observed that the necessary interior fittings might bring the total closer to $13 million. Should Council / City wait to approve this expenditure?, he asked.
McTernan countered that just because they approve an amount, the money does not have to be spent, and that the public should be aware of the size of this project. Rogers pointed out that bond authorization is a totally separate function, and that one can be done for the basic CIP and a long-term one separately for the firehouse in 2020. Little remarked that the project should be part of this budget; and that the Council / City needs to look at different ways to fund it. Naidu agreed that the Council / City needs to “put our cards on the table,” but if the firehouse does not end up being part of the Broad Street redevelopment, the Council / City should assess whether the firehouse needs to be rebuilt. Radest answered that she thought the City had determined that, and decided it was best done as part of the redevelopment.
Rogers closed by saying that the City has adopted a debt policy with a 1% threshold, and that the City is heading to exceed that. He asked, “What is our appetite for additional debt?” The meeting closed with all in agreement that with so many necessary requests, there will be many tough decision ahead.
Police -- $146,000
Fire -- $11,960,500
MVEC Joint Dispatch -- $200.000
DCS/Technology -- $3,717,000
DCP -- $1,270,000
Admin / Clerk -- $0
Library -- $25,000
Total -- $17,314,500
Parking Services -- $100.000
Sewer $ 351,000
Total -- $451,000