West Orange Town Council Meeting Addresses Redevelopment and More

The West Orange Town Council Meeting Tuesday night lasted five hours. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Resident Dorene Richman donated two animal oxygen masks to the Fire Department. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Fire Chief Peter Smeraldo updates the public on Hurricane Sandy. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Essex County Surrogate Judge Theodore Stevens advises the public that office hours in Newark have been extended. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Tamer Zakhary, CEO of Packetalk, explains components of the Surveillance System to the Town Council. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ - After one canceled Town Council meeting due to Hurricane Sandy and another one rescheduled, tonight's meeting covered several issues in a five hour time period.

The Conference Agenda included a presentation to town resident Dorene Richman.  Ms. Richman donated two animal oxygen masks to the West Orange Fire Department in memory of her own beloved pets.

 The Rec Department provided an update of activities, including the Christmas Tree Lighting at Town Hall on December 7, with the Petting Zoo open at 4:30 and the Tree Lighting at 5:00.  (The Town Menorah will be lit on December 12 at 4:00 pm).

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Elected Essex County Surrogate Judge Theodore Stevens advised the public that Surrogate Court in Newark has expanded its hours of operation on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month between 4:30 and 6:30 pm.

In Health Department news, as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the Health Department will now register residents who rely on life saving and other related medical equipment to establish their priority on power outage restoration.  

Mayor Parisi and Fire Chief Peter Smeraldo gave an update on Hurricane Sandy.  Both expressed their appreciation of the efforts of township employees in the restoration of township operations and updating the public during the storm.  Smeraldo, who was the Emergency Coordinator for the West Orange OEM, detailed how 85% of the town was without power.  13 nursing homes were operating on diesel generators, and the town had to coordinate acquisition of fuel from FEMA.  The initial FEMA damage assessment report is tagged at about $600,000.00.  The town expects to collect about 75% of that from FEMA and the other 25% from the state, although it may take up to a year or more to do so.  The council voted to approve 600K to cover storm costs with the understanding that the money would be recouped. To date, the town has received compensation for some of the October 2011 Nor'easter, but not Hurricane Irene. Chief Financial Officer John Gross added that in 2013, state mandated requirements would require the town to establish an OEM budget of 120K.  The current 2012 budget is about 30K.

Township Attorneys for the Prism Redevelopment Project, Jennifer Credidio and Glenn Scotland of Mcmanimon, Scotland, and Baumann, LLC, then presented an update on the status of the Prism Redevlopement project, detailing the initial letters of default sent to Prism regarding their failure to pay this quarter's taxes, replenish their escrow account, or provide information on their profit and loss statements, particularly as they applied to the foreclosure of the Barton Press property on Lakeside Avenue.  

Scotland explained that several letters, after discussion with the Mayor and in concert with various township departments, were issued to Prism. The township is concerned with a number of issues, notably the tardiness of payment to the escrow account and taxes, and wanted answers to the Barton Press property foreclosure.  Prism did not elaborate on the foreclosure, saying that they had their reasons to leave the process as it was at this time.  The October 26, 2012 letter requesting P & L statements from Prism, for purposes of ascertaining Prism's ability to  secure financing for the redevelopment project and continue to pay its required taxes under the agreement, was not yet answered, and Prism said the hurricane did not allow them to provide that information in a timely manner.   Letters dated November 14 and 20  from West Orange town attorneys, invoked the township's right to execute Initial Letters of Default.  In response to this, Prism indicated that they are, in fact, working on a reply.

If the explanations and payments for escrow and taxes are not received within the required time frame, the township may then proceed with "Event of Defaul" Letters, which may ultimately determine Prism's status as developer, and they can be stripped of their entitlements to build.  When Susan Borg left her post as Planning Director, billing invoices to Prism were delayed.  Additionally, Mayor Parisi noted that up until this point, there was no reason to be concerned about Prism as they had paid all escrow and taxes until this point, though late by a few weeks.

Property tax appeals are not generally allowed if taxes are in arrears.  

Public comment offered resident's opinions on Redevelopment and promises from others that pushing to have the proposed 6.3 million in general obligation funds approved by the council become a vote referendum, would be taken to the Supreme Court, and they would win.  The issue of 'general obligation" v. 'Redevelopment" bonds  were mentioned as an important reason driving the lawsuit.

In one of the more hotly contested resolution discussions of the evening, Councilman Krakoviak grilled Tamer Zakhary, CEO of Packetalk, regarding expenses to the township for a unique surveillance capability that would allow specific community groups, block captains, and neighborhood watches to access the cameras to assist with crime prevention.  (Cameras would also be in all police vehicles and at the WOPD). The cost would be about $50,000.00, included in the total amount.  Jack Sayers, town administrator, expressed frustration at the lengthy questioning, and Councilman Krakoviak said he did not receive answers to his questions prior to the meeting.  In the end, Packetalk was voted by resolution to provide 7 surveillance cameras, at two locations along the Main Street corridor, and one in the  Valley section of town, along with all necessary software and hardware, for a cost to the township of approximately $203,000.00. It was determined by town administration that what the system offered in the way of protection and additional safeguards compared to other systems, merited the investment.  The resolution passed, 4-1.  At the request of Mr. Krakoviak, the township will set up a demonstration of the Packetalk system in the near future.

Lastly, Council President Cirilo expalined Resolution 214-12, which entailed the Amendment of the Defintion of Hazardous Substances Within the Spill Compensation and Control Act.  By voting on the resolution, it redefined the word 'sludge' in the Act, thereby allowing Township exemption from the lawsuit filed by the state.

That resolution passed without incident.  

The council also voted to approve the Downtown West Orange Alliance budget for 2013 in the amount of $213,000, 5-0.

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