SUMMIT, NJ - The City of Summit Common Council, at its May 12 meeting, addressed how to ensure transparency in the City budget process during these unusual times and how to accommodate the highest levels of public input at online Council meetings. Council President Marjorie Fox opened the meeting, which was again held remotely, with a moment of silence for the 16 Summit residents who have succumbed to the virus.
Means for Public Access, Input
Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu raised an administrative procedure resolution from the floor, expanding how the public can participate in electronic council meetings. “When the pandemic hit … we had to take essentially an emergency stopgap measure” to be able to continue to hold Council meetings, he said, while still having public input “because it’s important for us to be able to hear from the public and understand what their concerns are at every stage of decision-making.”
Naidu’s resolution formalizes the holding of electronic meetings and allows the public to participate in the future through electronic or audio means. Saying that “rules of the road” need to be developed, Naidu cautioned the public against expecting things to be exactly as they were, but said the Council wants to hear from them in a timely fashion during meetings. Fox said that measures will be in place for the public to participate more fully in the May 26 budget meeting, and the public can expect instructions on how to participate when the next agenda packet is published.
Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan moved two Finance resolutions, the first to concur in the Board of School Estimate’s certification of funds for the 2020-21 school year. This annual resolution is the final step in approving the amount from property taxes to operate Summit’s public schools, based on the Board of Education’s approved budget. Naidu explained that the Board of School Estimate approved this budget in March at the beginning of the pandemic because the governor had not granted permission to postpone budget approvals. Naidu acknowledged that budgets, including revenues and potential state aid, are necessarily fluid during this time.
Vartan's second resolution, designed to aid local dining venues during the health crisis, extended the deadline to renew food establishment licenses from June 30 to July 31 without penalty.
Beth Little, Council Member at Large, had two Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. The first resolution awarded a bid, not to exceed $174,669.72, to Asphalt Paving Systems of Hammonton, NJ, for the 2020 road micro-resurfacing program. Summit bid this project with five other communities to obtain the best pricing. Little pointed out that micropaving is a successful way to improve road surfaces while containing costs and minimizing disruption. The roads scheduled to be microsurfaced are Hillcrest Avenue, Beekman Road, Myrtle Avenue, Twombly Road, Warwick Road, Pembroke Road, Portland Road, Gary Road, Irving Place, and Canoe Brook Place.
Her second resolution authorizes the submission of Summit’s 2019 tonnage report to the state. The City receives state grant funding for its recycling program based on the reported information.
Director of Community Services Paul Cascais described some changes in Summit’s recycling processes. Due to the depressed global recycling market, the City’s current contracts require cleaner material with less contamination and fewer accepted commodities. He stressed that paper and cardboard must be kept dry, and commingled glass, plastic, or metal containers should be rinsed clean. Only plastics marked type 1, 2, or 5 are now accepted. Types 3, 4, 6, and 7 should be thrown away with household garbage. No plastic bags are being accepted, and any recyclables put out in plastic bags will not be picked up. However, thin plastic bags can be put into the TREX collection bin at the transfer station.
Ward 1 Council Member Danny O’Sullivan raised the point that the City holds two recycling contracts – one for curbside pickup and another for the transfer station – and it’s important that residents use the curbside service as much as possible. Cascais said that since the curbside contract covers all 7,400 households in town, everyone pays for it, so they might as well use it. Currently, only about half of households do.
Also, the curbside vendor is responsible for marketing the material that’s picked up, regardless of market conditions. On the other hand, the City itself must market recycling deposited at the transfer station and pay to dispose of it. The two-year curbside contact begins July 1. Mayor Nora Radest said a communications program will be aimed at educating the public about using curbside recycling, and using it correctly. She observed, “probably people would be happy to hear about things that aren’t COVID-related.” Recycling isn’t cost-effective any longeer, said Fox, suggesting people try to use reusable items as much as possible. Naidu underscored that not only is curbside recycling more convenient, especially with the current limits on transfer station use, but that when people take their recycling to the transfer station, it’s essentially costing the City twice.
Giovanni Sce, Glenside Avenue, commented that he’s been studying past tonnage reports and suggested elected officials should encourage a wider range of recycling, citing items like antifreeze, motor oil, electronics, and lead. He’s been attempting to assess the City’s recycling achievements, calculating it at about 10%. Cascais, who has met with Sce, explained that the tonnage report is developed by the state and includes many materials beyond household waste. The reported numbers are submitted by vendors and processors. He prefers to base calculations on what a residential unit would put into its trash can and what is “taken out” for recycling. He determined the recycling rate to be about 37%; New Jersey wants communities to reach 50%. Cascais said Summit recycles more commodities than most, and the Free Market will create more “waste diversion” and reuse, further increasing the recycling rate.
Eileen Kelly, Woodland Avenue, asked if there were a risk of falling below the 50% capture level. Cascais explained there’s no “risk”; the number reported simply determines grant money bestowed by the state. The City typically receives about $35,000. An increase in recycling would bring an increase in grant funds available to use for recycling projects.
Mimi Zukoff, Wade Drive, asked when the new recycling rules go into effect and how residents would be advised of the changes. Fox replied that curbside changes are effective July 1. The City communications office will get this information to the public. Cascais added that the contract at the transfer station began March 1, so the rules regarding acceptable plastic types and plastic bags are already in effect there. Zukoff asked if the recycling company will put stickers on rejected material; Cascais said yes. She also suggested that the effects of these costs be included on the tax bills. Cascais explained that the recycling market fluctuates weekly, so estimates would be very inexact. He did note that the price of curbside collection increased from $228,000 to $500,000 per year, and the recycling center generates no revenue stream at present. Zukoff’s recommendation prompted Naidu to suggest that perhaps a small PSA could be included on the tax bill, reminding residents that the less they recycle, the less the City gets in grant money and the more it costs Summit.
Two Law & Labor resolutions were moved by Stephen Bowman, Ward 2 Council Member. The first declared a vacancy in the Fire Department resulting from the retirement of a long-term firefighter. The new hire will train and join the Department after the health emergency passes. The other extended paid sick leave for an employee in the Department of Community Services.
Hairston had three Safety & Health resolutions. The first authorized applying for a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant. This $3,000 grant, with a 10% City match, would fund personal protective equipment (PPE). The next authorized applying for a First Responders Grants Program grant from the Gary Sinise Foundation in the amount of $36,697.49 for equipment to sanitize work spaces and equipment. This equipment will be used by the police and fire departments. Hairston’s final resolution authorized a lease agreement to purchase a pump engine from Ferrara Fire Apparatus in Holden, LA. The cost is $618,000 plus leasing fees, payable in ten annual installments beginning in May 2021. This agreement will allow the vehicle to be built for delivery to the fire department in five or six months. Because it’s being leased through an out-of-state firm, it requires the City solicitor’s approval. Evers said it will replace a 28-year-old fire truck that is beyond its expected lifespan. As one of four pump engines, it will be a first-line apparatus for responding to any fire call, and can be used at the Overlook Medical Center helipad.
All resolutions passed.
One ordinance was heard and voted on. Little moved a Capital Projects & Community Services ordinance amending language in the Development Regulations Ordinance. This would allow clinical development and commercial production of chimeric antigen receptor t-cell therapy, a cancer treatment, as a permitted use in the Planned Research Office Development (PROD) zone. The amendment, made at the request of Bristol Myers Squibb’s attorneys, does not change what is actually permitted but merely clarifies the language in the DRO. At its April 27 meeting, the Planning Board determined the change is not inconsistent with the City’s Master Plan. The ordinance was approved on a unanimous roll call vote.
During public comments, Giovanni Sce asked whether the planned micropaving project conforms to the New Jersey Complete Streets guidelines, accommodating pedestrians and particularly bicyclists as well as motor vehicles.
Cascais explained that micropaving is a pavement preservation measure, not a reconstruction project. Consequently, the project will include only striping and signage.
Eileen Kelly asked why the City did not extend the second quarter property tax payment grace period.
Vartan responded that the City was unable to extend the timeframe because “cash flow is critically important. The City is simply the collection agency for the school and the county tax.” By law, if those payments are delayed, the City is subject to harsh interest penalties, and there would be a “ripple effect” on the school and county agencies. Additionally, May is an expensive month for municipalities, with Summit making about $20 million in payments. As of Tuesday morning, there had been a 92.33% collection rate. Vartan said the Finance Committee recognizes the strains households are under, and is making decisions to balance the need for relief in the short term while protecting the City’s long-term financial stability.
Kelly also asked if there would be a public budget workshop prior to the May 26 meeting.
Fox pointed out such a workshop was held in December. On May 26, the public will have an opportunity to ask questions about the budget amendments, and an opportunity to comment on June 9 before a vote is taken. Vartan added that with so many moving pieces, it would be premature to discuss any changes which might change again before the final hearings.
Fire Chief Eric Evers, deputy OEM coordinator, presented that office’s latest activities. The OEM remains in contact with all first responders. PPE remains in high demand, so the office is working through the various supply chains. The OEM is looking ahead at the possibility of a fall resurgence of the virus and laying plans for that. It’s also working with the state and regional boards of health, with the City’s senior organizations, and with potential grant sources. Evers mentioned weekly meetings with Overlook Medical Center and daily updates; the hospital considers itself in a “recovery phase” now with fewer COVID-19 patients coming in, giving them the ability to handle more everyday emergencies. Testing platforms are also being investigated, with an eye towards performing antibody testing on hospital staff and, eventually, first responders. Evers emphasized that while hospitalizations are down statewide, “we can’t be too complacent … please, please, wear your mask any time you have to go out.”
Radest announced the cancellation of the city’s traditional Memorial Day observances, but noted that American Legion Post #322 will share a pre-recorded Memorial Day ceremony video on the Department of Community Programs website.
The Summit Police Department has canceled all sessions of its summer Youth Academy.
Responding to inquiries from residents concerned about their inability to pay the rent, Radest reminded them that the governor’s Executive Order No. 106 prohibits evictions and foreclosures, and that renters can apply their security deposit towards rent. Those at risk of eviction can call the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency at 1-800-NJ-House or the Summit Rent Commission at 908-656-4618.
Residents are invited to produce “fun, informational” videos about the benefits of wearing a face covering in public. Three winning videos will be selected and used as public service announcements.
Radest visited the inaugural 2020 farmers market on May 10, declaring it a social-distancing success and an “uplifting moment.”
Finally, she again asked to complete the 2020 census. As of Monday, 70.2% of Summit residents had responded; Radest hopes to surpass 2010’s results of 82%.
Michael Rogers, City administrator, used his report to explain the 2020 budgeting process. The proposed municipal budget was introduced by Council on March 24. Since then, the Finance Committee has continued to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on the budget. As a result, at the May 26 budget hearing, the committee will be recommending a number of amendments to the original budget. Overall, the changes will reduce property tax levy needs, which will in turn reduce the tax increase to a near flat amount.
Also at the May 26 council meeting, Rogers will provide summary details of the proposed amendments. A public hearing will then be held, and kept open until June 9. A resolution with the proposed budget amendments will be need to be considered and introduced by council. At the June 9 meeting, a public hearing will be held only on the amendments. After that, the Council may vote to adopt the amended budget.
Rogers noted the municipal golf course opened May 6. The municipal tennis courts have also opened, also by advance reservation only. He thanked the Summit Tennis Association for its assistance in coordinating the process.
Additional appointments have been added for the transfer station. Residents may now request appointments between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. All residents must wear masks and practice social distancing.
Fox addressed the numerous inquiries about reopening businesses, City Hall, and other services. She noted the Council, City staff, mayor, and Summit Downtown, Inc. are working on a plan to safely reopen businesses while complying with safety guidelines, with the goal of a flexible approach “to safely jumpstart the local economy once we receive the go-ahead” from the governor’s office.
Hometown Heroes banners, honoring local military personnel and veterans, will all be hung by Memorial Day.