CALDWELL, NJ — Community members had the opportunity to interact in real time with Caldwell’s governing body when the mayor and council met electronically last week to discuss borough business after updating the public about the borough’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a direct result of the pandemic, the council voted unanimously to authorize the acting borough administrator to “cause such reductions in force and other economies as are necessary to minimize the financial impact…due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Effective immediately, 100 percent of the part-time work force, consisting of 68 employees, has been laid off, and 15 school crossing guards have been furloughed until school resumes. The latter does not include the guard currently serving the Borough Parking Enforcement Officer, who will remain employed.

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Mayor John Kelley noted that these efficiencies would make those employees eligible for unemployment, adding that the borough intends to consider rehiring employees at a later date.

“This is not a pleasant environment, but we do have to be responsible to the taxpayers,” said Kelley, also confirming that the crossing guards were paid for the first two weeks that schools were closed.

In other news, the council introduced several ordinances on first reading, including a handful that contained minor language changes and would not alter the intent of the existing ordinances. 

One such ordinance clarified that 30 parking spaces must be on sight for planned construction at 459 Bloomfield Avenue.

Of greater significance, according to the borough, the council approved the acquisition of property located at 26 Smull Avenue reading for an amount not to exceed $500,000. This proposed ordinance comes after the council and administration decided not to move forward with a proposed parking garage on Smull Avenue. The second hearing of this ordinance will be held at a later date.

The governing body explained that the intent of purchasing the property, which is being sold by the current owners, is to provide additional surface parking in order to minimally increase the parking spaces to 85, therefore doubling the current capacity. 

The agenda also included a resolution to rescind the borough’s contract with Desman, Inc., the firm initially selected to provide the design services required in conjunction with the previously proposed parking garage. Business Administrator Thomas Banker noted that “no money was spent” as it pertained to Desman.

Also approved on first reading was an ordinance that would allow for a bond to provide water main replacements within the water utility in the borough.  After previously approving $800,000 for the project, the council approved an additional appropriation of $2.7 million for a total of $3.5 million to complete the project and to cover ancillary costs, such as police supervision.

Additionally, Councilwoman Frances DePalma-Iozzi led a brief discussion about Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) scheduling projects that have frequently led to newly repaved roads being altered, thereby forcing municipalities to repeat paving projects, she said. Banker concurred that this is a constant occurrence in many municipalities, as PSEG’s scheduling it not coordinated consistently.

Banker announced that the water main replacement project is expected to continue into 2021 and is anticipated to last approximately two years. The streets scheduled for water main replacement are as follows:

  • Water Project A: all of Birkendene Road, Prospect Street, and Thomas Street.  Westville Avenue from Thomas Street to the end of the cemetery and Westville Avenue from Cherry Lane to Birkendene Road;
  • Water Project B: all of Forest Avenue, Hatfield Street from Forest Avenue to Smull Avenue and Crane Street from Arlington Avenue to Erwin Place; and
  • Water Project C: all of Welshman Court and Ella Road. Central Avenue from Miller Street to Wakefield Place. 

“When the repaving aspect of the program takes place, some streets that are adjacent to theses streets, but which do not need water main upgrades, will be included for paving purposes,” said Banker. “That would include Leacroft in the Project A area and Miller in the Project C area.”

An additional resolution approved during the meeting allows temporary emergency appropriations to extend the temporary budget for the borough and its utilities through June 30.  Banker explained that although budget adoption typically occurs at the end of March, the borough will need to extend its timeline due to delays in Trenton. He added that the extension “is not a cause for concern.”

Banker stated that his “target date” for introducing the 2020-2021 municipal budget is April 7. However, because the auditor and the Chief Financial Officer need input on the budget, he expressed the possibility that the presentation might need to be pushed to April 21.

Committee Reports:

During committee reports, Council President Christine Schmidt reported that although the public library is physically closed, there are digital offerings available. Any residents who currently have books checked out are asked to hold on to them until the library is able to reopen. The community center is also sharing classes online, she added. 

Councilman Jonathan Lace apprised residents to continue to monitor the borough’s website for information on COVID-19, stating that “the website is our prime social presence.” He added that business owners have volunteered to create a database of businesses that are open in town, and the borough is “taking a whole-community approach to assisting [its] downtown merchants.”

Additionally, Banker reminded the council and the public that the possible relocation of Caldwell Borough Hall is still up for discussion.

“The virus is all-consuming; however, it is important not to lose sight,” he said. “We need to still be prepared for long-and mid-term needs of the borough.”

The next council meeting is scheduled for April 7.