I hope this note finds you well, enjoying the Spring, and preparing for what will surely be a fun-filled Summer.
I have been serving on Council for 6 months, and so far it has been an incredible honor. While campaigning last year, I promised to communicate clearly about the priorities of the Council, the progress we’ve made, and to actively seek input. In addition to my “Vartan’s Views” videos outlining my three thoughts after every Council meeting, I think a slightly longer and more thorough update is also appropriate.
When I spoke with folks about what they believed we should be focused on, the conversation usually centered on the broad concept of increasing affordability. For me, that meant that almost everything the Council should be doing fell under two main topics. They were 1) protecting our property values and 2) expanding the commercial tax base. I am very pleased to report that we have made significant progress on both fronts.
Protecting Property Values
We are working to do this several ways including the budget, pedestrian safety initiatives, full-day kindergarten, the new fire house project.
This Council has continued to prioritize spending our tax dollars responsibly. The Council passed a strong budget that maintains our AAA bond rating. The municipal budget increase was only 1% over last year. And for the second year in a row, Union County also came in under the 2% cap.
The Police and Department of Community Services are also working together to continuously implement traffic-calming measures and stop signs around town. I am also very happy that we’re quickly moving forward on a city-wide sidewalk plan that will better connect neighborhoods, schools, and the Downtown. We will be discussing the specifics of the plan at upcoming Council meetings in June and July.
The Board of Education and Board of School Estimate finally approved this critically important initiative. Together with my colleagues David Naidu and Beth Little we thanked all involved in this process. As outlined in that letter, I believe in equality of opportunity for all of our students and I’m thrilled that starting in Fall 2019 the starting line will be the same for all students in our wonderful public schools. This protects our property values because it keeps Summit competitive. Young families can continue to feel confident that choosing Summit will be a great decision.
New Fire House Project
There are three important points about this project. The first is that it makes sense to do this project right now because it is badly needed. The fire department continues to provide life-saving response for our city while operating in a building that is not up to par. The second is because the sale of the land and potentially commercial tax increase from Broad St. will work to offset the cost. The third is that the team at the department has been working hard with the architects to design the building room by room with a focus on value engineering and environmental sustainability. These measures will also reduce the cost and long-term maintenance of the project.
Expanding The Commercial Tax Base
More than 80% of Summit’s tax base is residential. The best way to bring in new revenue will be to expand the commercial tax base.
Broad Street Redevelopment Update
If you have not yet read the Redevelopment Plan on the City website I encourage you to do so. The terminology can be a little confusing, so while the Council adopted the plan, it’s really more of a framework for what the City and our residents (you) want to see in that area. Over the next several months, we will move into the phase of the project where the City will negotiate with one or more developers to iron out specific details. In the remaining June and July Council meetings we will also discuss the critically important parking plan.
I’ve continued to stress the importance of a few things throughout this redevelopment process. The first and most important is keeping the public involved in the process. The second is to maintain the character of the City. And the third is to make sure the development is environmentally sustainable. When you read the plan I believe you will see that those things are all outlined clearly. Many thanks to our planner, Topology for the way they relentlessly seek public input.
Other Ways Summit is Even Greater
The Hometown Heroes program is in its second year. This is a great way to honor the people who have served and it’s wonderful to walk around and see all the banners. There is a new monument on the Village Green honoring two Summit residents who were the recipients of the Medal of Honor for their acts of valor in World War I. Summit is also in receipt of several grants that will soon make us able to revitalize the Village Green and install an electric vehicle charging station in one of the DeForest parking lots. Summit held our first-ever Pride event, and I was filled with well, pride to see so many people come out to support our LGBTQ neighbors.
Finally, I think it is very important to note that through these first six months and hundreds of votes, there have only been two occasions when the Council did not vote unanimously. I think we are incredibly fortunate that our City government functions this way. I am thankful for the things we have achieved but I am even more proud of the way we have achieved them. Regardless of political party, everyone on Council and our Mayor are all hard-working volunteers. We disagree respectfully, and recognize at the end of the day, we’re all neighbors doing our best to try and make this wonderful City even better.
I represent you, and I’m thankful that people in Summit know the power of their voice and the value of their vote. So please let me know what you think. Email me at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!
Greg Vartan - Summit Common Council Member, Ward II