The town council gave the first of two required approvals to a sewer-assessment hike of $65, or 35 percent, to cover increasing costs, at its March 5, 2013, meeting.
The council also appeared to give tentative approval to holding a discussion with township legal and financial professionals regarding Prism, the downtown redeveloper, at the next council meeting. The council also approved renewal of contracts retaining the communications director and grant writer, as well as a $135,000 outsourcing contract for landscaping after debate.
The meeting agendas and related materials are here. The council's March 3 preliminary approval of the mayor's 2013 budget, which would raise property taxes 1.8%, was briefly mentioned. I plan to post on the budget soon.
The administration is asking the council to approve changing the sewer ordinance to raise the sewer fee to $250 from $185, citing increasing costs to maintain the service and infrastructure. The new fee, which would take effect in 2013, was last changed in 2006. The ordinance is up for second and final approval, including public comment, at the next council meeting.
The town chief financial officer provided the council with data showing that the sewer system is projected to cost $5.63 million, including a $2.66 million fee assessed by the Joint Meeting sewer authority that processes the town’s sewage. The $185 fee would raise $3.74 million, or 66.5% of the cost. The $250 fee would raise $5.06 million, or 89.9% of the cost.
At its last meeting February 19, the council began to discuss Prism’s 2011-2010 audited financial statements as well as the company’s delinquency on more than $200,000 of property taxes due February 1. I requested that the redevelopment legal and financial professionals attend the next council meeting to advise us on the financials and other redevelopment topics.
That did not happen, and in discussions just before the start of the March 5 meeting, I appeared to be the only council member who wanted the professionals to appear. Other council members appeared to me to believe that an e-mail exchange was sufficient.
In further discussion at the start of the meeting as well as during public comment, where some residents also said they wanted the professionals to appear at a council meeting, a consensus appeared to form among council members to provide questions to the professionals that they would be prepared to answer at the next council meeting. I’ve made that request in writing, so we’ll see what happens. Sentiment also appeared to grow to set a deadline for Prism to begin construction.
The administration also requested council approval to renew an annual contract for $135,000 to D’Onofrio & Son for turf maintenance, litter and debris collection, weed control and leaf collection. The contract received four competitive bids, and D’Onofrio’s combined bid for four services was the least expensive in the town’s structuring of the multi-service specifications.
However, other bidders were cheaper on three of the four services. If the contract was divided among the lowest bidders, as the bid specifications allowed, the township would have saved more than $23,400, or 23.9%, over the D’Onofrio bid – and more than $71,000 over the three years of the contract.
The administration and other four council people said that keeping the contract for all the functions with one vendor was a better way to proceed. I was outvoted 4-1.
The council approved the renewal of annual contracts for the town’s director of communications/public information officer for $38,000 and the grant writer for $28,000.
During public comment, Megan Brill was introduced as the new executive director of the Downtown West Orange Alliance (DWOA). Brill is vice president of the Board of Education and a long-time member of the DWOA board, as she and her husband run a pest-control business from a Main Street location.
Also during public comment, a resident criticized the alleged Facebook disparaging of a recently murdered resident by two town police officers, now under an internal investigation, as well as the recent DWI convictions of the town’s chief financial officer and council president.
The council also approved:
- Renewal of the ordinance maintaining fees at the town’s Ginny Duenkel Pool. A resident presented research into the fees at a number of neighboring municipal pools at the meeting. I moved to table the ordinance until the next meeting to give us time to review the research; it failed without a second. The ordinance then passed by a 4-1 vote, including my no vote.
- An executive session to discuss a legal matter relating to the huge Passaic River pollution lawsuit that’s pulled many New Jersey municipalities, including West Orange, into what’s known as the Occidental Chemical litigation. For more information, please see a recent Star-Ledger story. The resolution was amended to include discussion of a personnel issue.
- Approval of a request to purchase clothing for 14 new firefighters – including 10 hired with a federal grant and four other to fill vacancies -- for $44,285 under state contracts.
- Introduction on first reading of an ordinance creating pay for a Council on Affordable Housing coordinator and Municipal Alliance coordinator. I voted against this, because I’m wary of adding new personnel costs.
The next council meeting is scheduled for March 19.
I’m a West Orange Township councilman since 2010 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A former financial journalist, I am a business communications consultant in my spare time.