Well another summer is upon us and this is my seventh status update. As you probably have come to expect, I will share some of the major accomplishments of the past six months and what I think the rest of the year may bring.
The first six months of municipal life is always top heavy with financial issues. This year we had a 1% increase in the municipal tax rate. We could not achieve a second year in a row of a 0% increase because we had to reserve money in the budget for the new fire station. The County did its job and kept its growth under the two percent cap; and while the Board of Education budget saw an increase, hopefully, this is a single year event. The Board of Education and Board of School Estimate made the right call in approving universal full-day kindergarten as it is a long-term investment both in our kids and in making our community more attractive to young couples and families. We must recognize that 81% of our tax base is residential homes, and we have to ensure that people continuously want to invest in those assets.
In May, the City adopted a redevelopment plan for Broad Street West – to my knowledge, the first redevelopment plan in the City’s history. The plan encompasses 10 acres that currently pay approximately $40,000 in municipal taxes. In order to develop the area, the fire station must be removed so that commercial, office or residential building(s) can be constructed on the same parcel. We are currently in communication with various developer groups to see how they can construct buildings consistent with our redevelopment plan. I expect the fall to have intense activity on this topic, including negotiations with developers. As developments occur, I will keep you informed and seek your thoughts on how to go forward.
As part of the redevelopment, we have moved forward with designing a new fire station to be located on a portion of the non-resident parking lot on Broad Street. We are cognizant of the parking issues associated with that lot, and City staff and various Council members have been working very hard on different ideas to make up those lost parking spaces. As the year progresses, those ideas will be shared with the public for input. The new fire station would be constructed by summer 2021. Some residents have asked me why can’t our fire department merge with another town? Council looked at this issue many years ago. A study determined that, regardless of any merger, a fire station in Summit would be necessary given our infrastructure and the need for an appropriate response time.
Broad Street, however, is only one portion of our City, and only one priority for Council. Pedestrian safety continues to be area of focus. We are moving forward with a sidewalk master plan. The sidewalk master plan is intended to identify those roads where sidewalks should be installed, so that this will occur as roads are resurfaced. Council asked for feedback from residents and PTOs to ensure that we have an updated set of streets for “safe walk to school” routes. I expect that this fall we will vote on a sidewalk master plan. Once that has been finalized, we will focus on a bicycle master plan.
One pedestrian project that has engendered debate is the Parkline. For those not familiar, the Parkline is a project to turn an abandoned 1.4-mile railroad bed into a walking (and bike) path connecting Broad Street (near Salerno Duane) to Briant Park. The Parkline Foundation, led by a group of Summit residents, is willing to fund most of the project through donations. At the July 9th Council meeting, the Foundation will offer a presentation regarding how they plan to address certain resident concerns, especially relating to safety and privacy. To me, this is a critical meeting. There are legitimate issues and I expect that we will have a civil discussion that hopefully can bring people together. Ultimately, a decision has to be made by Council on this project.
Finally, we have had a number of people —including children — reach out to us about sustainability and plastic pollution.
We are looking into a number of sustainability initiatives, such as planting native pollinators in more areas to reduce the use of pesticides; installing solar arrays at different city owned properties; planting more trees; encouraging the use of rain gardens and roof gardens; and increasing the use of hybrid/electric vehicles (we actually purchased our first hybrid car earlier this year).
We need to address is plastic pollution. Scientists say that each human body inhales or ingests about 70,000 pieces of micro-plastics a year. Already, Summit has implemented a voluntary “Skip the Straw” campaign for restaurants, and Summit Downtown Inc. prohibited single use plastic carry bags at the Farmer’s Market this year. Many communities in the State have already banned single use plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, or in the process of doing so. A number of committees and Council members have been looking at what would be reasonable for Summit. In my opinion, inaction is not an option.
I could address a number of other issues that Council or other resident volunteers have been examining. Instead, let me invite you to reach out to me to talk about issues that you care about. I expect this to be one of the most productive years on Council that I have had, and I am grateful to be working alongside with so many committed volunteers to continue to move Summit forward.
Enjoy your summer!
David Naidu - President, Summit Common Council