WEST ORANGE, NJ — With 2019 now in full swing, Robert Parisi has much to look to forward to as he embarks on his third term and ninth year as mayor of West Orange.
After more than two decades in public office, including the 12 years Parisi served as a council member prior to his first mayoral term in 2010, the mayor recently touched upon his many roles as the leader of one of Essex County’s largest municipalities while also managing his various responsibilities as an insurance consultant at RD Parisi Associates Inc.
In addition to discussing the many topics currently confronting West Orange, including budget negotiations with department heads and many redevelopment projects such as the recently announced plan to purchase Rock Spring Golf Club, Parisi explained how his job away from Town Hall impacts his approach on the municipal front.
Parisi’s firm—a West Orange-based office decorated with several personal effects to include a Notre Dame Football helmet and evidence of his time at Rutgers University—represents companies and their employee benefits programs, including health, dental and disability benefits.
“Being an insurance consultant has insight into what is a significant cost for the township,” said Parisi. “Besides salaries, employee benefits are the second-largest cost the town incurs every year. You don’t have to look far into the news to see the impact health insurance costs are having on the country. It’s a significant cost driver for municipal budgeting.”
He also conceded that the impending 2019 budget would be the most challenging budget in his tenure as mayor.
“Health insurance usually always goes up; sometimes it goes up lower percentages than other years,” he said. “Pension costs usually always goes up, sometimes less than other years. This year, they are both increasing at substantial amounts. Those are uncontrollable costs and we have an obligation both legally and morally to provide benefits to our employees.”
The mayor added that the township is switching health care providers from a United Health Care plan to an Aetna Health Care plan, marking the fourth change in carriers over the last nine years.
“That’s going to save money while providing employees the same benefits,” said Parisi. “You always have to be looking for ways to save money for what is a significant cost.”
Regarding upcoming projects that will benefit the township in many ways, Parisi was enthusiastic about the plan to acquire the Rock Spring Golf Course from the Montclair Country Club.
“The township has made acquisitions of open space I think six times since 2006, but never a purchase this large,” he said. “This is a unique situation that could provide a lot of possibilities for the township.
“Green acres from the state funding has been very supportive in the past, and we are working already with the possibility of getting funding for this. We think it is too big and too unique a piece of property to just let go to development.”
The mayor was quick to point out that the many benefits that could come out of Rock Spring is conjecture at this point, pending approval from the township council. However, he sees the purchase as potentially having far-reaching positives, with the cost incurred from the purchase being offset by limited development and Green Acres aid.
“We do think a small amount of land has to be developed because you have to generate tax revenue,” said Parisi. “We can make that development complimentary to golf and recreational use by making it an active senior community where golf is a part of the living component. That could help with the tax revenue needed to fund this operation.”
Continuing on the topic of redevelopment, the potential relocation of the West Orange Public Library to Executive Drive was another area the mayor went into detail on. Specifically, Parisi responded to the potential impact that moving the library could have on the many West Orange seniors who benefit from the library’s close proximity to senior housing.
“The only way we could consider moving the library—and we're still reviewing it—is if we determine we can build affordable senior citizen housing on that site," said Parisi. “I grew up on Main Street; I'm not looking to take anything away from Main Street. I still live down the hill, but there is a benefit to having the library centrally located.
“It all hinges on if we can build new senior citizen housing on that site. If we can't there's no justification for moving the library. It's still up in the air based on some studies being conducted now.”
For Mayor Parisi, recreational activities and sports has always been a major focus. The mayor mentioned a potential indoor turf field that could host various sports, including football, baseball and lacrosse programs.
"Having a son who played sports, we traveled to these facilities all over the state,” said Parisi. "We've never had the land to explore those types of opportunities before. [Rock Spring] provides us with the land to meet a lot of community objectives.”
In speaking about his kids, Parisi ventured into how he manages to balance his professional and mayoral duties with his family life.
Parisi is married and a father of two with deep ties to the town. He was proud to state that his children are fourth-generation West Orange residents, with his wife Sheila’s family coming to the township in the 1930s.
In his eyes, managing technology is a big part of the job, and unlike many popular takes on Email and other digital technology, the mayor offered a positive take. He stated that technology grants him flexibility, such as using Email to stay connected to township affairs, allowing him to respond swiftly to any issues that come up.
But even with his professional, mayoral and family lives overlapping, Parisi always makes time for his family, such as making sure he gets home in time for dinner—at times only to head back out to meet his duties as mayor later in the evening.
“As much as technology can be a curse, it makes it easier to juggle a lot,” said Parisi. “I think we all balance a lot of things in our life now. You find the time for doing the things you love.”
Emphasizing the importance of community and local government, Parisi explained that his roots into the township run even deeper, as Parisi is also the son of a father who coached in West Orange’s Police Athletic League (PAL) for 35 years, and his wife serves as serves as event chair for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, one of the township’s most highly anticipated annual events.
“You build community and community is built from the ground up, not the top down,” said Parisi. “I still believe and try to foster that.”