WEST ORANGE, NJ - Hurricane Irene and her aftermath took center stage at the West Orange Township council meeting on Tuesday night.
Council President Patty Spango opened the meeting stating, "Time and time again, our first responders - our police, our fire, our first aid squad, and our fellow government employees rise to the challenge to aid our residents. Our employees leave their families, who are facing the same issues as our residents are, to help other residents. "
As of the August 30 meeting, 65,000 PSE&G customers were without power in New Jersey, about sixty of them living in West Orange. West Orange continues to be under an alert to boil water after New Jersey American Water company's Canoe Brook Water Treatment Plant was flooded as a result of the hurricane. Mayor Robert Parisi informed the council that it would take at least until the end of the week before the facility would be repaired.
In other news, a representative from PSE&G, Art Guida, director of external affairs for the public utility, urged passage of a resolution by which the township would cooperate with, and not oppose, the replacement of the existing 138,000 volt (Kv) electric transmission towers along Interstate 280, upgrading them to 230 Kv and 22 monopole towers, running form the West Orange substation on Prospect Avenue to the switching station at Roseland. Guida explained that the upgrade was necessary to avoid future brownouts and blackouts in the light of increased demand for power.
Guida noted that pre-recessionary electricity demand grew at 1.5 percent annually. "As we come out of the recession," he said, "our demand will go right back to where we were. The demand is there, as you can see from all the electronics we have plugged in at home."
Although the resolution was approved by the Council, a forum on the matter will be held by PSE&G at Mayfair Farms at 7 PM on September 7 for public input.
Among the other resolutions approved by the Council were those involving a tax revaluation error and an increase in the change order to repave Franklin Avenue. Resolution 201-11 authorized the tax revaluation service Appraisal Systems, Inc. (ASI) to perform additional assessments at no cost to the township after township consultant George Librizzi discovered a computing error that resulted in the evaluation of a 5600-acre property on Pleasant Valley Way as a 5600-square foot property, an error that could have cost the town $2 million. Librizzi's work enabled the township to correct the error. Regarding the Franklin Avenue resolution, Township Engineer Leonard Lepore reported that necessary repairs to the pavement and sidewalks on Franklin Avenue would cost $46,000 more than he estimated, prompting him to request a change order that would cover the discrepancy with money already available. Both resolutions passed unanimously.
Also receiving approval was a resolution authorizing a $15,000 "brand campaign" to promote the town with online videos and social media promotions. Direction, a West Orange-based company, would receive the funds. Councilman Joe Krakoviak, citing his doubts over its cost-effectiveness from previous council sessions, voted against the resolution, though it was approved by a majority of the Council.
The township council also took the time to approve the hiring of two new employees - Tax Collector Joanne Gagliardo and new Chief Financial Officer John Gross. Gagliardo touted her people skills as an asset in dealing with tax appeals and listening to irate residents, having been a hotel owner at the Jersey Shore. "They wanted to be seen, they want to be heard and they want to be validated," she said, explaining the need for a fair hearing.
"Now everyone knows the face of the tax collector," Mayor Parisi joked.
Gross, having previously served as the business administrator and CFO of South Orange, expressed a desire to get straight to work and restructure West Orange's municipal government to make it more efficient. He replaces Ed Coleman, who was honored with a cake on the eve of his retirement at the Council meeting.
Also, Mark Levy, president of the property owners' association of the Eagle Ridge gated community, welcomed an ordinance approved by the Council that provides for street repairs in Eagle Ridge based on assessments reflected in the principal amounts due on bonds sold to finance street repairs and the interest payments incurred.