SUMMIT, NJ - The City of Summit introduced its 2020 preliminary capital budget at a public workshop held in the Whitman conference room at City Hall, a lightly-attended event that mostly reflected a business-as-usual theme. Over the course of the 133-minute meeting, City departments presented their proposed initiatives and elements along with the related costs.
Inarguably, the most newsworthy aspect of the proposed budget is the inclusion by the Parking Services Agency of a new parking structure, tabbed at a cost of $12 million. The six-story deck would add a net gain of 225 spaces and potentially be located at the Broad Street East lot adjacent to where the proposed new $11.8 million Fire Headquarters would be placed.
The meeting was the first to be hosted by the Capital Projects & Community Services committee, and Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox -- chair of that committee -- welcomed everyone to the session. All Council members were present except for Mike McTernan. Also present was Council member-elect Danny O’ Sullivan.
The City’s various departments have been working to create the new budget since August. Fox described the preliminary budget as a “wish list” for the various departments and emphasized that the final total will likely be lower. After review and discussion, the final budget will be introduced by Summit Common Council in March 2020 and voted on in late April.
There will be a public hearing held at least 28 days after the budget’s introduction.
The proposed Capital Budget is $5,741,750, a decrease of 65.73% from 2019’s $16,755,500 budget. City Administrator Michael Rogers explained that this is because last year’s budget included some $11 million for the new firehouse. For the City’s Utility Capital Budget -- which includes Parking Services and Sewer utilities, the budget is $12,760,000, an increase of $2,346.8% over 2019, chiefly because of a proposed new parking structure.
Department proposals included:
City of Summit Fire Department -- $139,500 (98.8% decrease v. 2019)
The Fire Department budget of $139,500, presented by Fire Chief Eric Evers, is largely for “safety equipment … critical to protect personnel and Summit citizens.” Included in his proposal:
$16,500 for turnout gear, with six sets slated to be replaced in 2020 as part of a continual program of replenishing and updating gear.
$17,500 for fire hoses, particularly the large-diameter yellow hose used at fire hydrants.
$55,000 for a fire prevention vehicle to replace the department’s 14-year-old hybrid. The new 4WD vehicle won’t be a hybrid, as charging equipment like flashlights, sirens, and cameras is hard on the hybrid engine. When pressed by Council President David Naidu as to whether battery technology has improved in the past 14 years, Evers agreed to investigate hybrid options.
$40,000 for replacement of rescue equipment like ropes, pulleys, and air packs.
$10,500 for replacement of small equipment like hand tools or power saws. Evers noted that when Celgene bought the Merck site, the City took over fire protection responsibility. Equipment provided by Celgene delayed the need for the department to purchase certain items, but that equipment is now due to be replaced. Bristol Meyers Squibb has purchased Celgene and the city cannot say at this point what the new relationship will be like.
All of this proposed equipment can be transferred to the new firehouse when it’s completed.
City of Summit Police Department -- $85,000 (41.8% decrease v. 2019)
Police Chief Robert Weck presented his department’s budget. The $85,000 originally proposed for computer equipment will actually be reduced by about $9,000 by using an alternate vendor. The bulk of the request is for new mobile data terminals in the police vehicles, allowing officers to file reports and access databases while in the field. The current units were purchased in 2012 and are out of warranty, and as of January 2020, Microsoft will no longer support their Windows 7 operating system. The 12 desktops and laptops in the headquarters are also old and running Windows 7.
Department of Community Programs -- $2,121,250 - (3,435.4% increase v. 2019)
Director Mark Ozoroski presented the Department of Community Programs (DCP) request of $2.12 million. His top priorities:
Resurfacing the pool at the Summit Family Aquatic Center, for $500,000. Half of that was included in the 2019 budget. Originally DCP planned only to replace loose plaster and tiles, but when the contractor wouldn’t guarantee the bond between the old material and the new, the City withdrew from the contract. The pool will now be completely resurfaced, starting after Labor Day 2020.
Resurfacing the track at Investors Bank Field. This was last done in 2006, and the expected lifespan is six to eight years. This $415,000 project is partially funded by a $62,000 grant from the Union County Kids Recreational Trust. A triple jump runway and pit would be added, allowing the high school to sponsor more meets. Because the track is heavily used during the spring and fall, this will likely be a summer project.
Lighting for the stadium at Investors Bank field and at Upper Tatlock fields for $626,250. The outdated lights at Upper Tatlock illuminate only about a third of the field and “spill” as much light outside as on the playing surface. When the DCP met with the city’s many sports organizations in 2018, lighting was the “Number One priority for all youth and adult sport stakeholders.” Naidu questioned if the lighting would have the unintended effect of more wear and tear on the turf.
Resurfacing and updating the Memorial Field basketball courts for $120,000. The courts see nearly constant action.
Remediating flooding conditions at the municipal golf course pond ($350,000) and ensuring ADA compliance and making security fencing and parking lot improvements ($350,000).
Annual refurbishing and replacing park furnishings (e.g., benches, tables, trash cans, etc.) and signage for $10,000.
Ozoroski said three of the DCP’s four playgrounds are 15 to 20 years old. The department will perform a full audit of its playgrounds in 2020 to determine what equipment can be kept and what needs to be replaced, since manufacturers have gone out of business and parts are not always readily available. The DCP will be pursuing grants and working with local non-profits. The Junior League, as part of its 90th anniversary celebration, has committed to fundraising to benefit Mabie playground improvements. The goal is to make Mabie playground sensory-friendly and “100% ADA-accessible as well as 100% inclusive for every person in the city.” Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston referenced the “ten-minute walk” philosophy -- that everyone should be that close to a public park and questioning why there is no playground in east Summit. She suggested the Community Center as a site. Council member at large Beth Little clarified that all playgrounds, other than Mabie, are associated with schools.
Department of Community Services -- $3,370,000 -- (20% increase v. 2019)
Paul Cascais, director of the Department of Community Services, noted that the DCS oversees Summit’s largest asset, its infrastructure. The 2020 budget request is $3.37 million, a 10% increase over last year. This comprises $2,320,000 for infrastructure, $325,000 for vehicles and equipment, $675,000 for buildings, and $$50,000 for DCS/GIS (geographic information system) technology. He noted that to replace the existing infrastructure, some of which is a century old, would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The proposed budget will fund 11 road projects, sidewalk installation projects, pedestrian safety and traffic calming, regulatory and warning sign (stop, yield, etc.) replacement, and state and federal storm water compliance. If approved, most of these projects will be carried out between April and November 2021, though some could begin in late 2020.
Roadwork will include both paving and micropaving as well as drainage improvements and traffic signal upgrades.
Vehicle and equipment requests include a five-yard dump truck and a supervisor’s pick-up truck, both with plows for year-round use. The backup street sweeper will be refurbished and a 20-year-old compost screener at the recycling center will be replaced. Cascais also wants to purchase a recycling compactor. One of the larger costs in recycling is getting material to a processor; being able to compress corrugated cardboard will greatly decrease the city’s transportation costs.
Building projects include maintenance and upgrades in City Hall and the DPW garage, as well as completely replacing the siding on the transfer station, built in 1971. That project will be done in such a way that transfer station operations can continue throughout the process.
Sewer Utility -- $710,000 (68.4% increase v. 2019)
The sewer utility budget is $710,000. Deputy Director Aaron Schrager reported the City’s 82 miles of sanitary sewer mains handle 5.22 million gallons a day. Budget requests include
$275,000 for infrastructure, including video inspection and line cleaning of 12 to 15 miles of pipes, spot repairs, and other upgrades
$50,000 for capital projects such as priority spot repairs and investigation
$185,000 for equipment and vehicles including replacing a backhoe and a 20-year old 4x4 utility vehicle
$200,000 for replacement of the electronics controlling the sewer pump station at Constantine Place.
Parking Services Agency -- $12,050,000 (11,950% increase v. 2019)
Rita McNany, Parking Services manager, presented a $12,050,000 budget. She reminded the audience that the parking utility, like the sewer utility, is self-funded, and that the debt on the Broad Street garage has been paid off.
Routine parking lot maintenance, particularly in the Sampson lot, accounts for $50,000 of the budget. The remainder is earmarked for a new parking structure. She pointed to studies in 2009 and 2014 that both indicated parking deficits of up to 450 spaces. McNany said the Utility has considered a number of sites and solutions, including adding levels to existing garages, but most have proven to be impractical, unfeasible, or undesirable for one reason or another. The current front-runner is the Broad Street East lot and a six-story garage, for a net gain of 225 spaces. She emphasized that it is necessary to first do a traffic study to assess viability, probably in the spring
Naidu pointed out “this is a fully built city. You can’t invent pavement.” He suggested that the answer is taking some cars off the road, by implementing a jitney service. McNany replied that West Orange is looking at Summit’s Lyft program and considering discontinuing its jitney service. The solution needs to accommodate shoppers, employees, and non-resident commuters who use the Summit train station. Council member-elect Danny O’ Sullivan shared his observation of the elevated stress levels of commuters racing for a train after navigating the parking system versus the calmness of a commuter arriving at the station in a Lyft. McNany said the Lyft system is promoted energetically, but that people love their cars. Rogers added that there has to be an economic incentive for people to use Lyft instead of driving.
Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan suggested that if a traffic study is done, it should examine all the multiple viable locations in town. He also noted that no jitney in the state makes money; the most successful, Maplewood “only” loses $250,000 a year.
Rogers closed the meeting with a brief discussion of debt. The 2019 debt service payment is $4 million; the projected 2020 debt service payment is $4.56 million. With the firehouse and six-year capital investment plan, and taking on no other debt, the “worst case scenario,” as Rogers called it, would be an increase to $6,180,673 by 2025.
To view the complete workshop presentation, visit cityofsummit.org/DocumentCenter/View/3482/Capital-Prelim-Budget-Workshop-2020.