CLARK, NJ — Westfield Town Councilman Sam Della Fera was one of 18 representatives from Union County towns at a meeting of mayors and other representatives in Clark last week. The meeting, organized by Mayor Sal Bonaccorso of Clark and Mayor Coleen Mahr of Fanwood, was designed to bring local leadership together to discuss the affordable housing challenges facing New Jersey municipalities and the two-percent arbitration cap for municipal workers’ contracts set to expire in a few months.
“The legislature has allowed the New Jersey State Court to make the rules,” Della Fera said. “It was certainly gratifying to me to see the mayors and other representatives of nearly all of the 21 Union County towns come together on a bipartisan basis to support legislation.”
According to Bonaccorso, the meeting went well. He said many Union County mayors are concerned about the demands placed on their municipalities by affordable housing.
Della Fera told TAPinto Westfield that he is hopeful that the town of Westfield will be told by a judge next week that it has adequately met its affordable housing obligation.
“Thankfully, Westfield is among the towns that has successfully managed our affordable housing,” he said.
But Bonaccorso said that many towns like Clark are almost completely developed and cannot afford to continue to build without grossly overcrowding schools and straining the town’s resources.
“Everyone in the room was clear they are not against affordable housing, they are against the density,” said Bonaccorso. “None of us want to see our towns or county wrecked in the next 10, 15, 20 years because our towns simply do not have the infrastructure to support the density of building required to fulfill affordable housing requirements. It is going to look like New York City in Union County in the years to come.”
As a result of the meeting, the mayors are creating a bipartisan subcommittee to work on developing ideas around affordable housing to present to legislators from Union County.
“We’ve got a great crop of mayors in Union County, and we agreed this [affordable housing] cannot be a partisan issue. Mayor Mahr and I are heading up this bipartisan committee to gather some kinds of points and ideas for legislation. We will work on getting agreement with mayors and share it with the legislators of Union County — they are a powerful group,” said Bonaccorso.
He shared that the mayors are in agreement that state legislators should be working to gain back control of legislating affordable housing from the courts.
Bonaccorso expressed his hope that the Union County mayors will continue to speak up and support the work of the subcommittee and not be swayed by any political ties that might urge them to back down.
“I am not controlled by any party bosses, not now, not ever and I hope that is not going to happen to anyone in the group. It is our responsibility to try to get this done,” said Bonaccorso. “Mayors are a big lobbying group, as we addressed the other day, you can’t bring in enough revenue to offset the experiences we’ve got.”
The other item on the agenda at the meeting was the pending expiration of the two-percent cap on salary increases for unionized municipal employees, such as police, fire and department of public works personnel. It was created as part of the two-percent tax levy cap, which is not expiring.
“If that’s not addressed, it’s going to materially affect municipal budgets,” Della Fera said. “Again, it’s an interest that crosses party lines.”
“We need to keep this cap in place,” said Bonaccorso. He and Della Fera agreed that the future of the cap could be tenuous based on who wins the governor’s seat.
“Murphy got endorsed by the police, fire and teachers [unions] before they even knew who the other candidate was. “It makes me stop and think, ‘Hmmm, what does that say?’” said Bonaccorso.
According to Bonaccorso, by the end of this gathering the representatives agreed to conduct quarterly meetings to share best practices, keep the lines of communication open and continue conversations around issues facing their towns.