WEST CALDWELL, NJ — As the governing body prepares the municipal budget for 2021, Chief Financial Officer Nikole Baltycki reviewed proposed capital and operating budgets, with directors from the library, public works and recreation departments during the Township Council meeting held on April 6.

In attendance on the Zoom meeting were library director Samantha McCoy, Department of Public Works director John Pressler and Director of Recreation Gabe DiMasi.

Baltycki  reported the library’s operating budget would remain flat for the year. McCoy noted that the library was closed for a total of eight weeks due to the pandemic and operations began on a limited basis beginning in May 2020. McCoy confirmed that there was a reduction in staff during the year by seven part-time and two full time employees, in addition to a retirement of a full-time librarian. 

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Although the library has been on a reduced schedule during the pandemic, plans are for the library to return to its regular schedule in September. It is anticipated that a full-time employee will be hired in addition to four part-time workers during the fall. The library did receive an additional $4,300 in state aid funding this year. As for the capital side of the library budget an additional $25,000 will be utilized for technology purposes and furniture replacement.

As it pertains to the Department of Public Works budget, Baltycki confirmed that the operating budget will also remain flat for the year. The CFO did confirm that in order to be prepared for extraordinary snow removal a snow trust exists that can supplement the annual line item for snow removal if need be. She confirmed that the costs for solid waste collection have increased and the township will be going out to bid for services due to the current contract expiring. 

There was an increase in salary and wages as a few staff members were reassigned. Due to COVID-19 janitorial supplies increased, however grant monies were received to offset some of the increase. An increase in vehicle maintenance was confirmed due to increased costs for the purchase of tires and fluids on newer vehicles.

Addressing the line item for the sewer treatment plan costs, $1.7 million was budgeted for this.  Mayor Joseph Tempesta questioned Baltycki if that figure included an “alleged credit” that may be forthcoming from the Caldwell Wastewater Treatment Plant, and it was confirmed that the credit was not included in the event it was not forthcoming. Tempesta agreed with that decision noting it was “prudent not to include that figure.”

Capital projects include the paving, milling and reconstruction of certain streets and addressing drainage issues. After the issue was raised by Councilman Michael Docteroff, Tempesta requested that the basketball court at Francisco Park be repaved this year instead of being put off until 2022.  Pressler confirmed it will be taken care of this year. Tempesta stated that maintaining the infrastructure “is one of the most important things we can do.”

The Recreation Department is planning for the return of the gazebo concerts this summer, most likely to begin July 8, the pools are opening, and summer camp will be in session. The Memorial Day parade will not occur however, plans are being made to honor the servicemen and women at the gazebo at Crane Park. 

Capital projects for the recreation department are budgeted for $686,000. Some projects will include new fencing at Francisco Park, lights at the basketball court at Richard Park, creating three pickleball courts where the two tennis courts currently are at the Westville pool and installing heat at the Memorial Park shelter to be utilized by the residents when ice skating is available. Baltycki confirmed that the cost for the Harrison School field project will be for the average homeowner an additional $20-$25 annually.

Tempesta brought to the council’s attention a potential lucrative revenue source for the township of a “technology tower.”  As hedge fund and financial service companies move out of New York City and relocate in Morristown and Jersey City a need for the technology towers is growing.  Noting that West Caldwell is geographically between the two the municipality may be an ideal spot for such a tower.  He noted that it was similar to a cell tower which may bring in $2,000 to $3,000 monthly however, the technology tower can potentially bring in $1 million to $2 million annually for a period of 5-10 years.  

The mayor suggested that the council authorize a bid spec not to exceed $5,000 “to go out to test the waters.”  Tempesta stated we “owe it to our taxpayers to at least look at this, that is a lot of revenue on the table.  We have talked about someday doing a cultural arts center or some kind of community center and this is exactly the kind of revenue stream that will help fund something like that.”

In other news, consent agenda items included a memorandum of understanding between the township and Essex County for the installation and maintenance of surveillance cameras and equipment on traffic signs and right of way signals belonging to the county. The council authorized the West Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department certification list for the length of service award program for 2020 and 2021.

Councilman Joseph Cecere reported that over 400 children attended the recent Easter Egg Hunt and thanked the recreation department for their efforts. Docteroff confirmed that a discounted rate for joining the pool was available until April 30. There will be a new membership available for the pools this summer a “twilight membership” that will offer rates for pool usage from Monday through Fridays beginning at 5 p.m.

Councilman Stephen Wolsky announced that on Saturday, April 10 beginning 10 a.m., a cleanup at Branch Park will be hosted by the Environmental Commission. Wolsky took the opportunity to comment on the virtual meeting held this past Saturday regarding a redevelopment project proposed on Lane Avenue by the borough of Caldwell. Wolsky noted that unless a question was noted during the registration process residents who did not have a question were unable to call in and attend the meeting and found that it was “not appropriate” since it was an open public meeting.

Addressing Caldwell’s proposed redevelopment project on Lane Avenue, Tempesta said, "We are monitoring events and are quite concerned by what we are hearing.”  He noted that although there was “no legal obligation to contact us, it is a shame that we were not consulted on the project.”  West Caldwell has retained the law firm of Antonelli Kantor PC, who met the governing body in executive session after the public meeting to discuss the proposed project.