SUMMIT, NJ - Following a few last-minute technical tweaks, the April 14 Summit Common Council convened, with the meeting again conducted remotely over Zoom with each participant in their own home or office. An efficient 'gathering', the meeting clocked in at a tidy 63 minutes.

Summit's Deputy Fire Chief Don Nelson, the City’s emergency management coordinator, gave a brief update on the City’s coronavirus response. The City is in close contact with the Westfield Regional Health Board and with the Union County Office of Emergency Management. Summit has requested personal protective equipment (PPE) for its emergency agencies and other organizations; those items are slowly beginning to arrive.

Fire Chief Eric Evers, deputy OEM coordinator, is working with Overlook Medical Center, while Public Information Officer Amy Cairns is disseminating information via the City’s website, social media and to the local media.

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All first responders have their emergency operations plans up and running. The Summit Police Department, Summit Fire Department, and Summit OEM are working to get equipment via grants, and working with the state and County OEM on a request for a public assistance grant. So far, senior centers in town are reporting no issues. Nelson applauded groups like FLAG and local restaurants providing food for first responders and health care workers and individual families making face masks. He reminded everyone to continue to follow CDC guidelines on masks, hand-washing, and social distancing.

Evers added that Summit Police Department Captain Andrew Bartolotti, deputy OEM coordinator, has been working with the state Board of Health to obtain updated numbers for COVID-19 cases in the City.

Public Comments

Three emailed public comments, from Yon Cho of Beekman Terrace, Jeff Hankinson of Knob Hill Drive, and Travis Barr of West End Avenue, all concerned the transfer station. Paul Cascais, director of community services, noted today was the first day the facility had reopened on a limited schedule – Tuesdays and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., by appointment only to ensure social distancing to keep residents and employees safe. Only household waste and vegetation are being accepted at this time, and there is no pick of mulch or other materials at this time. No commercial vehicles are allowed. Residents are being given 15-minute time slots, and 10 cars can be accommodated every 15 minutes between the recycling center and transfer station. With Monday being the first opportunity to make an appointment, two-thirds of Tuesday’s time slots were filled, and people were already registering for the next several open days.

Beth Little, Council Member at large and chair of the Capital Projects & Community Services committee, said the community services department has done “a great job of keeping the essential services going in these difficult times” but this has required reallocating personnel to keep staff safe. The committee will continue to evaluate operations at the transfer station to determine if it’s feasible to add additional days or hours.

Eileen Kelly, Woodland Avenue, emailed to ask why Reeves-Reed Arboretum remains open. Council President Marjorie Fox said the Arboretum, which is technically on City property, is taking its cues from the City and will stay open as long as City parks do so. Kelly also asked if the City is reevaluating its single-use plastics ban given the possibility of spreading the virus on bag surfaces. Cascais said the City won’t begin to enforce the ordinance on May 1 -- waiting until the COVID restrictions are lifted. Fox disputed the idea that reusable bags, especially if properly washed, could pose a threat but “in the interest of not putting additional burdens on businesses at this point,” would delay enforcement. David Naidu, Ward 1 Council Member, added that when the Council looks at the City budget, it will see that recycling costs represent an almost 100% increase. “We have to be cognizant of the fact that the issues that were existing prior to COVID-19 continue to exist for us including the fact that we need to address issues of sustainability and plastic... Long-term problems remain long-term problems.”

Ordinances and Resolutions

Little introduced a Capital Projects & Community Services ordinance to amend the Development Regulations Ordinance. The change would clarify that the clinical development and commercial production of chimeric antigen receptor t-cell therapy, a cancer therapy known as CAR-T, continues to be a permitted use in the Planned Research Office Development (PROD) zone. This was being considered at the request of Bristol Myers Squibb. This will be heard at the May 12 meeting. It passed on a unanimous roll call vote.

Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan introduced two Finance resolutions to change the hearing and adoption dates for the 2020 municipal budget and the budgets for the Parking Utility, Sewer Utility, and Summit Downtown Inc. from April 28 to May 26. The State of New Jersey has extended its deadline for the adoption of municipal budgets until the end of May. The delay will allow for “a clearer picture of the budgetary impact of the health crisis” and “greater public participation in the hearing.”

Also moved by Vartan were emergency temporary appropriations to the municipal operating budget ($3,903,515), Parking Utility ($95,300), and Sewer Utility ($626,500) for continued operations until the 2020 budget is adopted.

All these resolutions passed on unanimous roll call votes.

Little bundled a pair of Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions authorizing change orders for the City Hall air conditioning project. Additional costs of $5,285.33 were incurred by the discovery of deteriorated conduits in the cooling tower. An additional $42,564.81 was needed to complete the chiller replacement work; it was discovered that pipes had deteriorated due to scaling. The new installation will include a chemical water treatment system, extending the life of the new system. Funding is in the 2019 capital budget.

Ward 1 Council Member Danny O’Sullivan moved a Community Programs & Parking Services Committee authorizing a change order for the Community Center renovation for $42,029.05 plus a $0.21 adjustment. H&S Construction and Mechanical is the contractor. The amount covers earth work, temporary fencing, temporary heating during the project, credits for work not completed, and finalized quantities of materials used. The 21-cent adjustment corrects discrepancies in previous change orders. Funding will be found in existing capital accounts.

The Summit Community Center project ultimately cost $6,429,147.99, which is 14.6% more -- in excess of $819,000 -- than the Summit Common Council authorized when the project was initially approved in 2014. At that time, Council also mandated that no more than $4.5 million of City funds would be allocated to the project with the balance needing to be raised privately. The private fundraising effort netted $1.48 million, but the City's tab of $4,949,147.99 still exceeds the Council's original committed threshold of $4.5 million by $449,147.99 -- or almost 10 percent (9.98%).

O’Sullivan recalled attending a meeting during the initial planning stages for the center, at which one of the consulting architects told him his first-grader would never get to use the center; it would take too long. Instead, the boy played rec basketball there this year. O’Sullivan thanked everyone who had a hand in the project.

He also moved a resolution from the floor authorizing suspending the contract with Parking Services Plus for the Broad Street East valet parking concession. With parking lot use dramatically curtailed during the pandemic, the City proposes to suspend the $11,247.50 / month contract from May 1 through July 31, and then extend the contract past its end date of December 31 for the same amount of time. During the suspension, no payments will be made to the vendor, and service can resume with two weeks’ notice. O’Sullivan called Parking Services Plus a “good vendor” with whom the City has a good relationship, and this arrangement will save costs and give the City flexibility. Outright cancellation, on the other hand, would require going out for bids to resume services, possibly with higher costs or a less reliable vendor.

Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman had a pair of Law & Labor resolutions. The first authorized a settlement agreement for the Ernest Bozzi lawsuit, calling it a “cost-effective manner” to settle the matter. The other extended paid sick leave through May 14 to an employee in the City clerk’s office.

With Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston experiencing technical difficulties, Little moved a Safety & Health resolution to extend the 2020 animal license renewal deadline to August 31. This will ensure that pet owners will have time to update their animals’ vaccinations when the state lifts its lockdown.

All resolutions passed.

Announcements and Other Business

Mayor Nora Radest opened her report by thanking the City’s “brave and selfless” employees and “tireless” council members for their work during the pandemic.

She urged citizens to support the 'Sustain Summit Fund', designed to help small businesses affected by the coronavirus-caused shutdown. A partnership between the Summit Foundation (formerly the Summit Area Public Foundation) and Summit Downtown Inc., it has already raised $140,000 in a week. Sixty-nine businesses have applied for assistance so far. Tax-deductible donations can be made at or via checks mailed to SDI. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is accepting emergency assistance loan applications for small and medium businesses.

Radest shared a statement from Police Chief Robert Weck, who was previously diagnosed with COVID-19. He is on his way to a full recovery thanked everyone for their concern. He reminded people that social distancing is essential to control the spread of the disease

Fox reminded listeners that both workers and customers getting takeout from restaurants must now wear masks and that group gatherings in April and May are canceled, including the Free Market and the annual Earth Day clean-up. The Free Market will be rescheduled for this summer, “hopefully in the new building.” While the Earth Day Clean-Up will also be rescheduled, Fox suggested residents celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 with their “own green activity.”

She reminded listeners that state and county parks, including Briant Park and Passaic River Park, are now closed by executive order but that Summit municipal parks remain open, with social distancing being enforced. Violating those guidelines, she warned, could result in city parks being closed.

She asked residents not to litter with masks, gloves, or sanitary wipes. These should be discarded in the trash and in particular, wipes should not be flushed.

In closing comments, Bowman paid his respects to Sam McGee, former executive director of the Joint Meeting, who led that body for 15 years and retired on December 31. He died from COVID-19 last week.