WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Township council meeting Tuesday night focused largely on residents' concerns - including those of Council President Patty Spango - over traffic and parking issues.
The public comment portion of the meeting centered on overnight parking on Carter Road, a dead-end street. Carter Road resident Lisa Touzeau complained of a ticket she received for illegal parking between 2:00 and 5:00 A.M. in an Oct. 12 blanket ticketing operation by West Orange police. Several neighbors were affected because the large number of cars belonging to themselves or to overnight guests. Touzeau lamented that Carter Road residents have too little space in which to park their cars under the ordinance, and that possible solutions offered by the police, such as widening driveways, are too impractical.
"I don't have the inclination or money to widen my driveway," she said. "Carter Road is an extremely quiet street, it's marked as a dead end, there's not a lot of night traffic." She said the ordinance was an imperfect fit for the street and should be lifted.
"I really don't want to pay this ticket," she said. "So maybe you could help us out."
Maria Rebelo, also of Carter Road, who was also ticketed, was told she could put down gravel on her front yard as an extension of her driveway as a solution. She added that one resident who tried to comply with the ordinance after Oct.12 tried to fit three of his four cars in his driveway, with one sticking three-quarters out into the street.
Councilman Vic Cirilo, who had some familiarity with the issue, provided more context. He explained that the resident permit decals giving Carter Road residents the ability to park and deterring students at neighboring Seton Hall Preparatory School to park on the street were long misinterpreted as permits for overnight parking.
Cirilo said that the town was working with the police and the street's residents to resolve the misunderstanding, as well as seeing if the ordinance could be lifted. Township Engineer Leonard Lepore said the residents could petition for the removal of the restriction, but that they could consider allowing 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. parking on one side of the street for a few days, than the other side for a few days, alternatively.
In other business, all of the resolutions up for a vote passed unanimously, but two of them came under closer scrutiny at the request of Councilman Joe Krakoviak before being approved. Both of the resolutions Krakoviak wanted to look at involved new deals for dental and health plans for West Orange employees. Resolution 257-11 authorizes Delta Dental to provide dental benefits to public employees, and Resolution 258-11 authorizes Express Scripts to provide prescription drug benefits to public employees. Both plans are to take effect Nov. 1.
Chief Financial Officer John Gross explained that, in both cases, the township was projected to see increases from its current policy providers for dental and prescription drug coverage, and that, in each case, the township went with the lowest bidder possible under the agreements West Orange has with the public employee unions through collective bargaining. West Orange is bound by law to provide the coverage agreed to with the unions under contract.
"Considerations have to be made," said Gross. "Not only just for pricing vis-a-vis services, but whether or not the services being provided or proposed is equal to or better then than the benefits currently provided to our staff."
In the case of dental insurance, Gross reported that Delta Dental offered the services promised to municipal employees at a cost of $368,680, a modest savings compared to a projected $370,630 under the current plan. Gross noted, though, the West Orange's staff was more satisfied with Delta Dental coverage than with the current provider.
"It was actually well-received," Gross said.
The dental plan also includes a cap on insurance rates that will remain the same in a transition from single to family coverage, at no risk to the township.
Similarly, Gross selected Express Scripts for prescription coverage when the cost renewing the current prescription drug provider amounted to $2,464,000. Express Scripts offered the lowest coverage among three companies, with at a bid of $2,346,000. Gross explained that this was not a strict premium program, but rather the projected maximum cost to the municipality, with the possibility of a greater cost under $100,000 more than currently projected. Even so, it would still save $250,000 over the current drug plan. "It's still an increase in costs," he told the council, "but it is a moderating increase in costs."
A two-year plan also available had a cost of $2,282,000 for the same year but did not include a second-year cap, Gross added. It would also likely commit West Orange to their current medical carrier and provide less flexibility going forward.
Also, the resolution authorizing the refund of an escrow fee to Organon that was postponed in the previous meeting was approved after Councilwoman Susan McCartney, who had found it troubling, reported that the firm would donate the escrow fee to the township.
Later, Essex County Representative Anthony Puglisi announced that work had begun on a new left-turn lane on northbound Pleasant Valley Way (County Route 636) at the intersection with Mount Pleasant Avenue (State Route 10) and the elimination of the cross hatching on northbound Pleasant Valley Way to permit two lanes of traffic rather than one to approach the intersection. The work should be completed by the end of the year.
Council President Spango, whose restaurant is on the northwest corner of the intersection, appreciated the attention but lamented that the green light at Mount Pleasant Avenue going east across Pleasant Valley Way isn't long enough. "You can sit there through five lights," she said. "The timing is horrendous. Maybe four or five cars get through, and it just creates such a backup."
Puglisi said he would get the county to inspect the situation. "Now's the time to look at it," he said.
The committee conference meeting before regular business honored as West Orange Employee of the Month fireman Joseph Matullo for his distinguished service in the fire department and his volunteer work with veterans at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.