Summit Council Delays Kent Place Parking Restrictions Until End of School Year; Municipal, School Budgets Approved

Student parking on Kent Place Boulevard, between Madison Avenue and Passaic Avenue, continues to be a hot-button topic for residents, the Board of Education, and elected officials alike.

SUMMIT, NJ -- Following a vigorous debate on all sides of the issue, the Summit Common Council has decided to delay implementation of parking restrictions on Kent Place Boulevard from Madison to Passaic Avenues until the end of the current school year.

Under the ordinance creating the restrictions, parking would be allowed for only two hours on school days between 7 - 10 a.m.

The amendment delaying the measure was agreed to following pleas from Board of Education president Celia Colbert and some parents, who argued that Summit High School students needed time to get used to the new regulations.

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Parking restrictions have moved from one set of streets adjoining the school to another. The restrictions have come in response to resident complaints that high school students parking on the streets are blocking access to resident driveways, and that a safety problem is being created by a large volume of student drivers in the area.

After a meeting attended by city and school officials, PTO officers and residents, a number of suggestions were made in an attempt to alleviate resident concerns without overly restricting students who wished to drive to the school.

Citing one possible solution, Police chief Robert Weck said at the governing body’s meeting that city engineer Aaron Schrager, after consultation with school officials at the meeting, decided to recommend that additional onsite parking for 72 vehicles be created by blacktopping an area of a Summit High School field near Morris Avenue to help deal with the problem.

In addition, Susan Sidebottom, a member of the task force created at the high school to study the problem, said her group had identified several options for increasing onsite parking at the school.

Sidebottom added that students are reminded, both over classroom loudspeakers in the morning and at periodic assemblies which their parents attend, of the courtesies of the road which are expected of them.

She also said the lottery system, through which students obtain some of the limited onsite spaces available, is being revised with the goal of making it easier for those who live further from the school to get a better chance of claiming the spaces.

Additionally, the schools are working on a system where two students can share the same space on different days to cut down on the demand for onsite spaces, she added.

Weck noted that, in the interest of safety, the behavior of drivers must change in the Kent Place Boulevard area. All drivers, he said, must avoid "K-turns" near the school, and they all should slow down, leaving themselves extra time, both for student drivers trying to make it to class, and parents dropping off students before commuting to the Summit train station and other destinations.

Although the chief said cars may park right up to the aprons of residential driveways, he urged student drivers to leave more room near driveways,

He also said traffic studies would be done in the area to determine if other measures were needed.

Colbert said not every student can have a parent or another person drop them off at the school. She added that consideration should be given to the fact that, if student drivers were too restricted, they may get to classes late or not at all.

She urged a delay in enforcement of the new ordinance to give the Board of Education time to pursue a number of “active projects” it was considering to provide onsite solutions to the problems.

However, Kent Place Boulevard resident Murray Mohl called the current parking system “a disaster waiting to happen,” saying delaying the restrictions until after June was not a good idea.

Referring to speeding and blocking of driveways by student drivers, he called the situation a threat to children in the area and to residential properties.

Mohl said that, as a child in Brooklyn, he had walked longer distances to school than current students at the high school, and had no problem with that.

Danielle Maloney of Oak Ridge Avenue, said, however, that restricting parking in one area just pushed the problem to another area.

She added that Summit was not necessarily a “walking community,” and speeding was done by all drivers, not just students and their parents.

Council public safety committee chairman Albert Dill Jr. said safety was the paramount issue, with 35 to 40 cars in the area every school day.

He added the restrictions were needed, and would become more necessary when New Jersey Transit began work on its bridge crossing Morris Avenue and more trucks were detoured into the area surrounding the high school.

On another matter, the council adopted the city’s 2015 municipal operating budget, with appropriations totaling  $49,102,505.

In a presentation preceding the budget vote, City Administrator Christopher Cotter noted the spending plan would result in a 0.5 percent tax increase, and the portion of the total property tax increase attributable to municipal expenses would amount to only $19.

He added that school taxes would increase by 1.4 percent, while the projected tax increase for Union County, whose budget still has not been finalized, would be about 6 percent.

Council president Robert Rubino said the county last year sold Runnells Hospital for $26 million, and saved an additional $13 million in operating expenses due to the sale. Therefore, it started off the year ahead by $39 million, and should have used that money to give relief to taxpayers.

Council finance chairman Michael McTernan said county spending was taking money away from Summit that could be spent on a number of local programs and improvements, while Councilman Patrick Hurley repeated that the state property equalization formula unfairly taxed residents in communities like Summit by presuming increases in property values from properties which had not yet been put up for sale.

Democratic councilman-at-large candidate Richard Sun said, however, that the city should make more of an effort to obtain benefits from the county to make up for the large amount residents pay in taxes.

Rubino acknowledged that, for example, Summit had received $10,000 from the county that helped with electrical repairs at the Reeves Reed Arboretum, and the city has shared several services with the county through its good relationship with county public works officials.

However, he, Mayor Ellen Dickson, and Republican councilman-at-large candidate Andy Smith said the goal should not be to have the county provide more but to spend less.

Smith said the county’s attitude was like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

On another matter, the council voted 6-1 to concur with the Board of School Estimate approval of the 2015-16 school budget.

McTernan, a member of the school estimate board, noted that he, Second Ward Councilman Sandra Lizza, and the mayor had not been privy to the exact terms of the school board settlement with the Summit Education Association contract when the budget vote was taken.

He added that, since that time, the council had learned that the salary increases in the contract averaged about 2.5 percent, reduced incentives were given to SEA employees opting out of the school district health plan, and an agreement was made on block scheduling at the high school.

Councilman-at-Large Gregory Drummond, who voted against the certification, said he had asked Superintendent of Schools June Chang for contract details on April 13, but the superintendent had cited a memorandum of agreement as part of the negotiations as reason for not providing the details.

Drummond said the contract details were not provided until the afternoon of the day on which the council was scheduled to vote on the certification.

Dickson replied, however, that she had appointed school board members, and believed they did a good job in budget preparation along with school business administrator Louis Pepe.

In a Type I school district such as Summit, she added, the council’s only duty was to certify the budget figures agreed to by the Board of School Estimate.

Rubino also said resident interests were protected in the city’s Type I district because the membership of the Board of School Estimate was “weighted”  toward elected officials. The mayor and two council members serve on the Board of School Estimate, while two Board of Education members serve on the board.

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