As the year comes to a close, as is typical, I am providing my semi-annual report on Council’s activities. However, I am viewing this report somewhat differently. As is customary after serving two years, I will step down from my role as Council President come January 2020. So, I want to look back on what Mayor, Council and City staff have achieved together during those two years. At the outset, I want to thank City staff for all of their hard work.
First, as to economic issues, in 2018, we had a zero percent increase in the municipal tax rate and, in 2019, we had a one percent increase. We actually had a small decrease in overall property taxes in 2018--a first in recent history. We cancelled a $400,000+ fake “cobblestone” project for downtown. We also had -- over the past two years -- a nearly $50M in increased ratables. We adopted a redevelopment plan for the Broad Street West area--something that had been discussed for thirty years. We reviewed proposals, met with various developers, and were ultimately able to conditionally designate a consortium (L+M/Toll Brothers) to be the developer for the site. We maintained our triple AAA bond rating, and consolidated and refinanced our debt. We created an Economic Development committee to look at economic trends, neighborhood business districts, and marketing.
Second, we tried to bring residents together and make all residents feel welcome. In 2018, we started the Hometown Heroes program--installing banners downtown to honor our veterans. We approved the installation of a monument on the Village Green acknowledging two Medal of Honor recipients--more than 100 years after their heroic service. We had our first PRIDE event. We recognized the contributions of African-Americans to the community by installing a privately funded historic marker at the original location of Foundation Baptist church.
Third, we have tried respond to long-standing complaints by residents. We created a plan and financed projects to address flooding on Wallace Road. Over the past two years, we have tried to seriously tackle pedestrian safety by installing four-way stop signs, speed tables and illuminated crossing signs at various locations, including on DeForest/Norwood, Aubrey/Morris, Broad/Elm and Morris/Elm. We approved a Sidewalk Master Plan so that, in the future, sidewalks can be installed as road work is performed on those streets designated to receive sidewalks. We removed the requirement that homeowners pay half of the cost of sidewalk installation.
Fourth, we moved forward with a number of capital projects. With the Planning Board taking the laboring oar, we approved a new set of Development Regulations and Ordinances --the first comprehensive review and update in more than a decade. The new DRO includes design and sustainability standards, which were not included in the last version, as requested by residents during the Master Plan process. We also saw the completion of the new Community Center and began designing the new Fire Station. We increased transparency associated with the Parkline project--creating an agreement with the Foundation that outlined responsibilities for this project. We also entered into an agreement with the Summit Conservancy for the construction of the Free Market building. We purchased 7 Cedar Street as part of a strategic acquisition associated with Broad Street redevelopment and we sold 71 Summit Avenue for its full appraised value to Family Promise. We continued to support public arts and split the funding for the installation of a mural on the Tiered Garage with the Summit Arts Committee—the first time, to my recollection, that the City co-financed a project to help bring more art to town.
Fifth, regarding environmental initiatives, we passed restrictions on the use of single use plastic checkout bags, on the use of polystyrene food containers, and on how plastic straws are distributed. Members of the community have been working on these initiatives for years, and we appreciate the support that Summit Downtown Inc. provided. We also increased the City’s commitment to plant trees to restore the tree canopy lost due to storms. We agreed to have 1000 trees planted in the next four years in honor of the late Councilman Matt Gould. The City joined the “Monarchs in the Rough” program by sowing pollinator friendly plants at the municipal golf course. In the upcoming year, I hope that we will move forward on other environmental initiatives.
Finally, I am proud to have started the Council President’s preview of each Council meeting. When I ran the first time, I heard the frustration of residents regarding City government’s lack of transparency. So, before each Council meeting, I have tried to provide a clear, plain English summary of what Council is considering. I hope that future Council Presidents will continue writing previews and improve upon them.
Let me close on a personal note. The last two years have been bittersweet for me. As the list above shows, in my opinion, we have certainly moved the community in a positive forward direction. However, one month after I became Council President, my mother passed away, and four months before I end this role, Matt passed away. I will be honest in saying that dealing with each of these events was not and has not been easy. But, I can say it was made easier by the friendship and collegiality that we have maintained in the Council Chamber. This is in no small part due to the individuals who have been involved--Nora, Mike, Mary, Steve, Beth, Marjorie, Matt, Greg, Stephanie, Susan, Rosie, and Michael--each of whom understood that, while we may not agree on every policy decision, we can agree that we share a responsibility to work together for the common good. And, for this, as a community, we are indeed fortunate.
I wish you all a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year.
David Naidu - President, Summit Common Council