Council approves nearly $3 million in capital spending, $1.7 million in borrowing and nearly $1 million for athletic facilities at high school

Council OKs $3 million in capital spend: borrowing $1.7 million, nearly $1 million for athletics improvements at high school. Administration may send third default notice to Prism.

The town council approved nearly $3 million in capital projects and equipment, including $1.7 million in new borrowing and nearly $1 million for improvements of athletic facilities at the high school at its Dec. 18 meeting.

The administration withdrew a proposed contract to a company under investigation for trying to evade state law on public contracts and political contributions. The mayor said in an e-mail to the council that the town engineer was unable to make the council meeting to discuss the contract.

The deputy town attorney also said the administration planned to soon send a default notice to Prism, the designated redeveloper of the Edison site downtown, for failure to provide information requested in an Oct. 26 letter. This would be the third notice of default to Prism, which addressed the two previous default notices by paying about $300,000 in delinquent property taxes and escrow funds for the town’s redevelopment expenses.

The meeting agenda and related material is here http://bit.ly/Ttq8PP.

The council approved two bond ordinances on second and final reading. The first (Ordinance 2366-12) reallocates $1,606,799 in previous borrowing for:

- $400,000 to renovate the artificial turf soccer field at the high school

- $200,000 to light the football/track & field facility at the high school

- $350,000 for a new concession stand at the high school

- $200,000 for public works vehicles/equipment

- $200,000 for computers and software

- $56,779 for “improvements to outdoor facilities”

- $200,000 for improvements to the municipal building

The vote was 4-1 and I cast the lone no vote. This ordinance reflects previous debt issuance, so it doesn’t require adding to our debt level.

The second ordinance (2367-12) modifies existing authorizations to borrow $1,717,024.44 for:

-  $873,824 for road resurfacing for unspecified streets

-  $100,000 for Nicholas Avenue improvements

- $600,000 for Mountain Drive (erroneously identified as Mountain Avenue) improvements

- $143,201 for the balance for “outdoor facilities” from the other ordinance

The vote was 5-0. The town has slightly less than $67 million in outstanding debt and is spending more than $5 million in debt service in 2012.

Other items of potential interest approved included:

- The 2013 budget for the township’s Special Improvement District, which is managed by the Downtown West Orange Alliance. The budget is $240,000.

- Prioritization of projects for the application to the county for Community Development Block Grants, slightly modified to raise the priority of one application.

- 12-month contracts for snow plowing and hauling to three companies that had low bids for various services.

- One-year extension of a contract for janitorial services to Excellent Building Services for $57,540 for various town buildings.

- Three contracts for tree services to Kevin Downs Tree Service and Dujet Tree Experts.

- The 2011 audit of the town’s finances by the auditor and the correction plan.

At public comment:

- Several residents spoke in favor or opposition to the athletics projects at the high school.

- A resident spoke in favor of the Bethany Center for Champions, a youth program that applied for a Community Block Development Grant.

- A resident asked questions about administration and council president dealings with Prism which went largely unanswered.

- Three residents criticized the town’s borrowing for capital projects on school property, saying this sidestepped the requirement that school districts get voter approval for borrowing. The town said setting up “shared services” agreements under state law permits this process.

- A resident asked the town to buy his property because of alleged mistakes by the town planner and Zoning Board.

- A resident (disclosure: my wife, Clare) asked why the town did not participate in a federal/county grant providing workers to clean up storm debris. The mayor said the offer came too late and involved unwanted paperwork. She also asked that the town devote more resources to tree maintenance, given the amount of storm damage.

Video of the council meeting will be up on the town website and www.WestOrangeGrassroots.org in the next few days.

Joe Krakoviak is a West Orange Township Councilman, since 2010. He can be reached at jkrakoviak@westorange.org. A former financial journalist, in his spare time he’s a business communications consultant.

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john anthony prignano December 22, 2012 at 07:52 PM
I've written that the Shared Services Agreement eliminates the public's right to Initiative and Referendum . I haven't written that if these projects were rejected by the public, they wouldn't get done . because they would get done ."ADA compliance, an outdated snack bar , the inescapable necessity of renovating the artificial turf soccer field, the compelling need for lighting ." That's our elected officials position, not mine. Which is the smarter move politically? To put it to a vote, lose, and insult and defy the taxpayers, as they've done many times, or to just do it, and say " We are doing what we truly believe is in the best interests of the majority of the residents " ? By the way, Township debt is almost equal in size to the Township budget. In 1998, the debt amount was equal to about 20% of the Municipal budget.
john anthony prignano December 23, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Michelle Casalino said she saved several hundred thousand dollars by reducing janitorial overtime and changing bus schedules. New Jersey teacher compensation over the last 3 years rose an average of 7%. West Orange teacher compensation over the last 3 years rose 14%. The Board just handed Dr. Cavanna $150,000 as a parting gift . The Township debt is almost equal to the budget - 67 million dollar debt , 70 million dollar budget..The Debt has risen 837.5% over the last 15 years Fifteen years ago, the debt amount was equal to just 20% of the overall budget.The attorney fees must be enormous.The Township and School Board NEVER "save" money. It just goes someplace else +++
john anthony prignano December 23, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Doesn't West Orange have a paid Public Information Officer ?
john anthony prignano December 23, 2012 at 08:53 PM
The strategy is very sound: Spend millions and millions of dollars without taxpayer approval The entire project is , of course, " state of the art. cutting edge etc. " While the initial expenditure may seem excessive ,by spending more now ,we will realize greater savings later on renovations, repairs, etc. Many Millions were spent on the Athletic Complex, and NOW we must spend $300,000 to come in to ADA compliance and build a $50,000 snack bar. Also, even though the facilities were built without taxpayer approval ,surely we can clearly see the absolute necessity of renovations, extending the usage time of a field to address ever increasing demand, etc. These unapproved projects provide an eternal spending stream. What about the track ,the Bubble, the football field and the stadium ? Next year, and the next year, and the year after that,...... Revenue streams are drying up , but spending streams are increasing in number and scope. .
john anthony prignano December 24, 2012 at 03:02 AM
To further illustrate how the strategy works, several years ago I watched a School Board meeting . At one point in the meeting, Board member Paul Petigrow talked about the very sizable sum of money the Board was spending on facility maintenance. " We have to maintain our facilities", he said . No one would argue with that statement . But the facilities he was talking about included over $50,000,000 of facilities that the voters of West Orange , through Initiative and Referendum, said they would NOT pay for.


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