Summit Council Introduces $42.4 Million Budget for Municipal Purposes with Tax Increase of $9.25 on Average Home; Merchants Condemn Paid Parking Program

March 20, 2013 at 7:27 AM

SUMMIT, NJ - A 2013 municipal budget totaling $42,409,294 that will bring the tax for municipal purposes on the average Summit home, assessed at $410,000, to $3,703.69 or $9.25 higher than last year was introduced on Tuesday by the city’s common council.

Included in the proposed spending plan are:

  • Increased technical support for various city hall departments;
  • Vehicle replacement and e-ticketing capability for the police department;
  • Increased facility maintenance funding and software for the fire department;
  • Increased funding for tree pruning; and
  • Additions of a part-time staff member and a department head in the department of community programming.

The public hearing on the proposed spending plan is scheduled for Tuesday, April 16 at 7:30 pm

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A resolution to allow the city to add to increase its “cap bank” for up to two years again drew a negative response from Councilman Thomas Getzendanner. The comments drew disagreement from most of his colleagues.

Under state law, according to council finance chairman Dave Bomgaars, the city, if it passes a budget under the state 2 percent “cap” limit on appropriations increases, can “bank” up to 1.5 percent beyond the cap for up to two years for use in case of unforeseen emergencies.

Getzendanner said although he appreciated the budgetary flexibility resulting from the cap bank, it was “self-indulgent” and did not fulfill the expectations of taxpayers who wanted to see greater restraints on spending.

He added if the city should encounter an emergency it could pass a temporary appropriation without encumbering the cap bank funding.

City Chief Financial Officer Scott Olsen noted, however, that is his 15 years with the city the cap bank had never been accessed. He said passing a temporary emergency appropriation would be much more difficult than tapping the cap bank if it were needed.

Councilman Patrick Hurley added the council would not be spending the money by voting on the cap bank--that would require a specific appropriation action. He pointed out that the city budget was well below the 2 percent cap for the second year in a row.

Although agreeing with Getzendanner on the need for fiscal restraint, Councilman Robert Rubino said he was glad that the cap bank mechanism was never used although it was available if needed.

The governing body also discussed a capital improvement plan for 2013 to 2018 amounting to about $10.3 million for city projects and approximately $3 million more for projects of the city’s parking and sewer utilities.

Proposed projects include:

  • $3 million for rehabilitation of the recreation center, with $600,000 of the total to come from last year’s sale of city-owned property at 2 Walnut Street;
  • $3.4 million for infrastructure improvements, portions of which may be funded by New Jersey Department of Transportation grants;
  • $2 million as the city’s share of the cost of the joint emergency dispatch center with New Providence, a portion of which has been funded by a $1.6 million federal grant;
  • $95,000 for a design and development study for a new fire headquarters;
  • $240,000 for the police department to fund updated patrol care video equipment, an upgrade to security equipment in police headquarters, portable generators for use at traffic signals during power outages and acquisition of a utility vehicle for transport of equipment;
  • A multiyear investment in computer workstation upgrades for the library;
  • For the sewer utility, a capital contribution of $937,000 to the joint meeting of which the city is a part and which operates a processing plant in Elizabeth; and 
  • For the parking utility, improvements to several surface parking lots and maintenance of the parking garages.

Getzendanner said the capital improvement proposals were not adequate because such plans should be broad outlines and not dollar specific until the actual projects come to fruition, the total does not include capital projects for the schools, and the proposals do not hit a target of $5 million or $6 million per year that would keep the city’s overall debt under control.

City Administrator Chris Cotter replied that the schools had not yet submitted their capital plans to the city and their totals would be added to the plan when they were presented.  He also noted that the city total for all the projects was, in fact, about $10 million with the additional $3 million coming from the utilities that were independent organizations and funded through usage fees.

On another matter, Donna Puzella, owner of Sweet Nothings gift shop, said the city’s current program of paid shopper parking could drive many small businesses in the central business district into extinction.

She said many customers see paid parking as a negative that was driving them to shop outside Summit.

Puzella added that shoppers, used to previously having up to two hours of free parking, were upset that they now were limited to a half hour.

“People will not get used to the new system and will not come back,” she noted.

The store owner called for the council to allow a longer amount of free parking time, restructure the rates and create a more friendly atmosphere at the lots.

Ellen Erbeck of Anspach Opticians said allowing shoppers only 10 minutes to exit lots after paying was not sufficient, signage was not clear and the new parking machines were difficult to operate, especially for the elderly.

She also asked for free parking expansion to two hours and suggested free parking with the lot gates up after 6 pm on weekdays and on Saturdays.

Laura Weber of the Papery said she had lost about 35 percent of her business since the new parking system went into effect last year.

Council President Richard Madden replied that Summit Downtown Inc. had approved of the new system before it was implemented, but he found the news that merchants were suffering from it disturbing.

He called from representatives of Summit Downtown, the parking committee and the city to discuss the complaints and report back to the council at its April 2 meeting.

Hurley, however, said the new system should be suspended immediately until an alternative was found.

Noting he had voting against the new system after 75 percent of the emails he received were against it, he called the paid parking system an added tax.

Rubino added when the new system was proposed he expressed his concern that the half hour limit would not give residents enough time to perform their “actions of daily living” in the central business district before being forced to pay for parking.

Bomgaars, however, said the city already had repaved the lot, relined parking spaces and responded to complaints from senior citizens by restoring cut-throughs to stores. He added that the current complaints could be addressed within the existing system.

While Hurley said Summit Downtown did not represent many of the merchants in the central business district, Madden said SDI was developed to represent merchants and the city should “follow the chain of command” in finding solutions.

Mayor Ellen Dickson said she believed many of the complaints were age-related and she had spoken to several people who loved the new system.

Getzendanner said, in order to keep the lots “revenue neutral,” if the city was going to increase the amount of free parking allowed it should increase the $20 fee for parking more than eight hours and do away with bulk parking discounts for employees.

Madden replied the council should solve the current problems with the system rather than creating new ones.

In another action, the council approved a settlement for Summit of the Passaic River pollution litigation that would have the city pay $95,000 so that it could get out from under the massive third-party 70-municipality suit resulting from pollution of the Passaic River in Newark.

Madden estimated without the settlements the suit tally could have run to $10 billion to $20 billion. He said the presiding judge would rule on the settlement on March 26.

Bomgaars added the city also would have to pay about 8.5 percent of the joint meeting’s cost for the settlement because it was a member community.

The council also approved the designation of the Railroad Avenue parking lot behind the Summit Post Office and the parking lot of the Gallo senior housing complex as areas in need of redevelopment.

The planning board must now come up with a redevelopment plan, which probably will include public and private interests, and present to the council for approval.

Dickson also presented certificates to the members of the Summit High School Boys' Swimming Team for winning their first state championship.

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