CALDWELL, NJ — At its recent borough council meeting, the Caldwell governing body provided additional input on the upcoming public hearing being held virtually on May 21 to address the Caldwell Community Center’s (CCC) temporary closure and the task force being established to assess its future.

Noting that “rumors, poor judgment” and general misinformation has recently been circulating about the CCC, Council President Christine Schmidt expressed hope that the town hall meeting would help to clarify the issues at hand.  She also reiterated that the closure of the facility was “purely an administrative decision.”

Schmidt will be among the members of the task force, which will also include Mayor John Kelley, Councilman Henderson Cole and Business Administrator Thomas Banker as well as a handful of residents. Both members and non-members of the CCC will be represented in the group, which be charged with analyzing the financial future of the facility.

Sign Up for West Essex Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The administration is currently working to issue membership refunds, which will be prorated, as well as camp participant fees, as the facility will remain closed until at least January.

Councilman Jonathan Lace explained that the CCC was originally designed to be a self-sustaining utility “with a majority of its funding coming from membership fees—not tax dollars.”

“It is not like other tax-financed services such as public schools, public works, and police and fire departments—none of which require additional membership fees in order for taxpayers to receive their benefits,” he said. “There are some services the CCC offers to all taxpayers such as a public meeting place, a space for polling locations, and the hosting of senior services, but these are a small percentage of its overall operations.”

According to Lace, the funding formula of the CCC should ideally reflect the percentages of these categorical differences.

“For example, if 90 percent of CCC operations require a paid membership and 10 percent are free to the public, then 90 percent of CCC funding should derive from membership fees and 10 percent should derive from the municipal budget,” said Lace. “However, the original bonds for the CCC are still outstanding and have been refinanced twice.”

More recently, Lace said, the balance of funding for the CCC “has not kept pace with the financial demands of necessary maintenance.”

As an example, Lace explained that the council passed an ordinance in June of 2018 that appropriated $300,000 of taxpayer money for improvements to the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and the replacement of the pool-heating unit.

Noting that these costs could not have been funded from user fees, Lace said that later in the year, the “mere rumor of an increase in member fees enough to inspire an entire group of members to publicly oppose any increase.”

“Such imbalances in funding are not fair to the taxpayers of Caldwell nor sustainable for the long-term success of the CCC as a utility,” he said.

Lace further suggested that the task force take the following actions:

  1. Examine the original financial model of the CCC as a self-sustaining utility, the degree to which it has been historically implemented, and the current and projected feasibility of that model.
     
  2. Develop a funding formula that is consistent with the percentages of its categorical services offered as described above, including the development of published standards and thresholds for future maintenance and operations, as well as contingency plans should those standards not be met and those thresholds exceeded.
     
  3. Draft essential language for an ordinance to be voted on by the borough council that explicitly establishes the CCC as a utility and includes the aforementioned funding formula, published standards and thresholds, and contingency plans for amendment to the Caldwell Municipal Code “because, unlike the sewer utility, there is no explicit authorization of the CCC in any form currently in the Municipal Code.”

Cole, who is a charter member of the CCC, added that he “looks forward to reopening a safe facility” and that the facility “is fair to the community regarding tax revenues.”

He also said that he has already begun receiving applications from residents wishing to serve on the task force. Once he vets the volunteers, Cole will make recommendations to the council on who should be appointed.

Councilman Francis Rodgers noted that although he has never been a member of the CCC, he “recognizes the value to the borough” and is “confident that the task force will come to a solution” that “everyone can live with moving forward.”

Kelley, noting that the CCC is “near and dear” to his family and also thanking all CCC employees for their work, reported that the task force will begin meeting during the first week of June and will hold public meetings as well.

He also thanked all CCC employees for their work.

In other news, the council also introduced an ordinance that would authorize a bond in the amount of $6.64 million for general capital projects.

This includes an estimated total of $750,000 for non-passenger vehicles and a variety of equipment for the Department of Public Works, such as a new street sweeper and sewer jet, a salt spreader also used for brining and aerial equipment for accessing tree limbs, signs and flags. 

The ordinance also includes an appropriation of $2.76 million for the new borough hall complex project; $2.58 million for the 2020 road improvement project (also utilizing a $580,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation); and $550,000 for the Smull Avenue Parking Facility. 

Lace and Cole abstained from the votes related to the borough hall complex and the parking facility, as they were not able to read through the paperwork prior to the introduction of the ordinance.

During committee reports:

Councilwoman Frances DePalma-Iozzi noted that the Environmental Commission will host a webinar on May 20 to address declining rates of the global insect population.

Cole thanked the members of the Caldwell Rotary Club for their efforts to assist the Caldwell Food Pantry. 

Gates reminded residents to complete the 2020 U.S. Census, as the results will affect the borough, county and state in a variety of ways. Noting that the census only circulates every 10 years, Gates explained that only 73.1 percent of residents responded in 2010 and urged taxpayers to take a few minutes to complete the census online in the coming weeks.

Banker reported that he plans to present the municipal budget before the end of June.

He also reminded residents that there will be increased construction activity on roadways as excavations for the sewer and water systems progress.

The next council meeting will be held on May 19.