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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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

steve kay December 20, 2012 at 06:34 PM
"$350,000 for a new concession stand at the high school" You can build a small house with this amount!!
steve kay December 20, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Why is WO township paying all this money for the HS? Forgive me for asking this.. (to anyone) but dont we have to pay taxes for education?? (Alot of taxes)
Gary Englert December 20, 2012 at 06:51 PM
First, the fields at WOHS are used more by the Township's recreation programs than the Board of Education's and I presume there will be an agreement to share the cost between the two. Second, the $350,000 figure is a worst case estimate; the true cost won't known until the project is put out for bid, a contractor selected and a contract approves. While this facility replaces a fifty plus year-old cinder block building (the current concession stand) that is not up to health or building codes, it will also include ADA accessible restrooms (long lacking at the facility) which will bring the Township into compliance with the same rules and regulations it must enforce on everyone else.
john anthony prignano December 20, 2012 at 07:48 PM
steve kay The Township and School Board entered into an " Inter - Local Agreement " some years ago .This denies the voters their right to Initiative and Referendum. The Township { purely at their discretion } bonds for the money, and the School Board pays the Township back. Submitting school construction projects for voter approval is too dangerous . Several years ago, after a { no frills? } 55 million dollar referendum was defeated , the School Board came back with a 23 million dollar plan. This failed too. So the School Board downsized again ,to a 21 million dollar proposal. The voters rejected this plan too. The School Board accepted the voters' will, right? . NOT A CHANCE .The Board spent more than the original 55 million dollar proposal .The entire process was a pathetic [ and costly } sham. This is the clear and present danger ; If the Board goes to Initiative and Referendum , THEY MAY LOSE, so submitting school spending plans to the voters for approval is a thing of the past. One way or another the relentless juggernaut rolls on. SPEND! SPEND ! SPEND! As Goldtooth { Alphonso Bedoya } says in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, " Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges! " .
Mayor Robert Parisi December 20, 2012 at 08:44 PM
The $350 thousand dollar concession stand is just an estimate but that estimate covers many elements of the project. Though this project will replace the current structure, which does not meet current health codes, more than that, this project includes public bathrooms and, in accordance with the law, these bathrooms will include ADA compliant facilities, meeting specific state criteria for public access. Additionally, in this cost estimate is the necessary funding for preparing the bid specifications for properly preparing specs to publicly bid this project in order to insure we receive the lowest cost possible. Also in the cost estimate is some site work to prepare the area for constructing the concrete pad the structure will sit on as well as the cost associated with running utilities to tie into the nearest cross street, both are necessary but add to the cost. This amount is an estimate based on these items as well as contingency factors that are always calculated in construction projects. We anticipate the total project to be less but always like to estimate high in order to keep the public bidding process moving forward and insure we have allocated sufficient funds to complete the project in a timely manner.
Mayor Robert Parisi December 20, 2012 at 08:44 PM
[continued] Despite being on school property, these projects are being funded by the Township simply because the Township and Township related programs utilize the facilities significantly more than school related programs. That is true for all fields and gymnasiums throughout this community. The Township and the Board of Education have always enjoyed a good working relationship and that has been to the benefit of the community. We have better facilities and better programs town wide because of that and, fortunately, our youth programs are continuously expanding both in enrollment and variety. In the end, all projects are funded by the same tax payers and serve the same residents so I do not see the issue with these projects being funded by the Municipality…especially since our programs most often use the facilities. Would be happy to discuss this further with you or any resident…feel free to call me at 973-325-4100. Happy Holidays! Mayor Robert Parisi
john anthony prignano December 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
From 1998 to today, the Township's debt has increased from $8,000,000 to $67,000,000. That's an 837,5% increase. To put it another way, on average the debt more than doubles every 4.7 years. Will the debt be over $130,000,000 in 5 years? I don't know, but what's to stop it?
Adam Kraemer December 20, 2012 at 11:11 PM
In answer to Steve Kay question because our town council (Joe excluded) and our BOE (Sandra excluded) takes taxpayers for granted and thinks of them as limited ATM machine. They need to be voted out!
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 04:18 AM
Mayor Parisi, I have an open door policy too. I'm sure it is easy for you to learn my address, if you don't already know it. .
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Mayor Parisi Just so you know , I stand 100% behind everything I've written.
Sue Freivald December 21, 2012 at 05:14 AM
"We anticipate the total project to be less"--how much less is anticipated? How often do projects come in under the original estimates? "This amount is an estimate based on these items as well as contingency factors...." Could you post the actual figures for "these items" and all others that figure into the estimate to show how the $350K amount was arrived at? For example, how much is "the necessary funding for preparing the bid specifications?" How much is the "site work to prepare the area for constructing the concrete pad....as well as the cost associated with running utilities to tie into the nearest cross street?" Please post the detailed estimate you're working from.
Sue Freivald December 21, 2012 at 05:22 AM
I applaud you for posting here and adding information to the discussion. If I may ask for some more clarification, though...Above you mentioned how the current building was not up to code. How long has that been the case? I ask because I'm wondering why these projects had to happen NOW. For example, at a time when you have indicated that the Town will need to cut $5million from next year's budget or raise taxes, and when the BOE has indicated that the demographic studies anticipate a surge in enrollment in the next year or two, resulting in the urgent need to address the already-existing overcrowding, why would the BOE/Town decide that this is the time to spend on a million dollars of projects that add to our spending on the Town side and fail to add any classroom space or address overcrowding on the BOE side? What makes the concession stand, for example, a priority at this moment?
Adam Kraemer December 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM
While I respect our mayor he misses the point: Why do we need new facilities such as this. This town faces some of the highest property taxes any place in the state county and nation. I understand the need to keep basic governmental function in place like police protection, fire protection, and education that focused on the classroom, but is this really necessary or just one of those things that would be nice to have? However, why should an over taxed community pay for things that are not truly needed? It is being paid for with debt on future taxpayers. This debt will making it that much more difficult for my children to stay in West Orange when they grow up. If we focus our local government to do only what we need taxes can become reasonable.
Gary Englert December 21, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Absent specific contractor proposals (which can vary greatly) obtained through the bid process, an owner's (the Township's) preliminary construction estimates are based on generally accepted "rule of thumb" guidelines: X number of square feet of building times $200 (whatever regional average) = construction cost. The same holds true whether it be pouring a concrete pad or running a sewer line...with estimated architectural/design/engineering/bid specification fees being 6 to 10% of whatever total is arrived at. The bottom line is that the Township needs to be in a position to fund the worst case scenario and the bond appropriation reflects that.
Gary Englert December 21, 2012 at 03:54 PM
The present concession stand dates to the original construction of the Lincoln Junior High-Mountain High School complex in 1960. Absent a roof repair/replacement or two in the last 50 years, I don't think it has been altered or changed a bit while, clearly, health and building codes have changed dramatically during that same time; it has been out of compliance for a good, long time. That said, other than those inside the high school (hardly convenient to anyone, let alone the elderly or handicapped and preseenting obvious after-hours security concerns) there are no restroom facilities serving the athletic complex...a clear vioation of various construction/building codes for a public facility. Further expanding its volume/hours of use by lighting the football field, it seems prudent to solve the problem now.
Gary Englert December 21, 2012 at 05:23 PM
By the way, I'm gratified to see that outsourcing building janitorial services continues to be the economical right way to go at an annual cost of $57,540. When I championed privatizing these service a decade ago, the in-house, municipal employee cost of doing it then was +/- $175,000, including benefits and pension contributions. In the last decade, the Township has saved +/- $1.2 Million through this initiative.
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 05:48 PM
The Township has bonded for millions of dollars of non - mandated school construction . It's a shrewd political move .The Township is not going to give "Scrooges and Grinches " a.k.a. severely overtaxed residents , the chance to vote down these projects.The Township to the rescue !! In several ways the Township is not even close to meeting it's most basic responsibilities , yet it continues to pour huge sums of money into perhaps nice but certainly not necessary projects; If the artificial turf soccer field had been voted down via Initiative and Referendum and thus never been built ,the Township wouldn't need $400,000 to renovate it. The Township debt has increased 837.5% in 14 years.On average the debt's been doubling every 4.7 years .Township debt $130,000,000 in 5 years? Why not ?
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Sue Freivald Great comments.
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Mayor Parisi said the current Municipal Budget "reflects rising pension and benefit costs, while contending with falling revenues ." An article said Police overtime was "through the roof." However, we must keep in mind that West Orange has suffered through 3 catastrophic weather events, which created a tremendous amount of largely unanticipated Police overtime.The Township has been unable to collect well over a million dollars in fines and court costs, so it has hired a private collection agency. Successful tax appeals are continuing. Let's face it, it's a very bad economy. Undoubtedly due to a huge reduction of the personnel of the D.P.W., services like street cleaning have been greatly reduced, and the streets around here are in horrendous condition, and have been for years.Trees need to be trimmed and maintained. Unfortunately,the Mayor and Council had to make some difficult choices regarding town services. Mayor Parisi looked into bonding for the lump sum payouts to retirees, but his request was turned down. REGARDLESS of the reasons, the Township of West Orange has no money, it's BROKE !! Elected officials ! Do what you absolutely, positively gotta do, and NO MORE !
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Here's the arithmetic lessons for today: Dr. Cavanna's 5 months of compensation for doing nothing plus attorney fees = $200,000 to light the football/track and field facility at the high school. Hiring private food and drink vendors at the high school fields = A savings of at least $50,000 on the snack bar, for many people the arrangement would provide closer locations to buy food and drinks, greater variety of offerings, and guaranteed revenue for the schools { vendors would pay a portion of the proceeds to the schools } end of lesson
john anthony prignano December 21, 2012 at 09:13 PM
How about giving some business owners an opportunity to make an honest buck ???
john anthony prignano December 22, 2012 at 06:09 PM
If it's established that the majority of people using the Francis Byrne County golf course are from West Orange, should West Orange taxpayers pay directly for the course's maintenance, renovations and improvements? If sections of Pleasant Valley Way are most heavily used by West Orange residents, should West Orange taxpayers directly assume the costs of maintaining those sections of the road?
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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