Montclair Township Council Holds First 2012 Meeting

Update and clarification, 1/11, 11:20 a.m.: Mayor Fried told Baristanet that his, Terry’s and Weller-Demming’s votes against the resolution awarding a contract to a new auditor for the township “doesn’t say that we wanted to stay with the present auditor, merely that we did not support McInerney”.

Last night’s Township Council meeting – the first of 2012 – proved to be an uncharacteristically productive one.  The council approved several new resolutions and passed an ordinance on first reading, and the mayor and councilors were able to wrap up business before 11 PM.

Township Manager Marc Dashield said he hoped to provide his 2012 budget expenditure recommendations by Friday, January 13 – “not a good sign,” he joked.  He would introduce the proposed budget by February 21, with a public council hearing in early February and presentations by the department heads in late February and early March, leading to a final adoption of the budget by April 17.

“One of the things that’s going to be different this year…is, we’ve made some really difficult decisions,” Dashield said. “ . . . really stopping the bleeding that we had with the fiscal crisis, and now it’s time to stabilize the patient.”  Dashield said that several policy decisions would have to be made with long-term budgeting that would look as far ahead as 2017.  He expressed a desire to set up the budget subcommittee to begin serious discussions about policy as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, two ordinances up for second reading were postponed.  The first, to amend the creation of a special improvement district in Montclair Center and allow assessments of tax-exempt properties within the district that have payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements, was proposed by Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville and was tabled at Dashield’s request after discussions with Montclair Business Improvement District manager Luther Flurry.  “This is not what the BID is looking for at the moment,” Township Attorney Ira Karasick explained.

Baskerville also agreed to withdraw another proposed ordinance to allow a C-1-zoned six-story residential building on the Pine Street lot adjacent to Whitfield’s Shell gasoline station at Pine Street and Bloomfield Avenue at the urging of Ross Padluck of the Montclair Mews condominium complex at 50 Pine Street.  Padlun reported that neighbors felt  “a little strangled” by the traffic and lack of parking caused by the new apartment building already erected across the street, and said he felt that such a tall, dense building like the proposed six-story apartment house would exacerbate the situation.

“We have a 130 homeowners at the Mews, most of whom commute to the Bay Street station. At this time, it’s very difficult to cross the street in the morning to get to the train, there’s a lot of traffic on Pine Street,” Padluck said.  He cited the blind spot created by the traffic and parked cars on Pine Street as well as the anomalous bend in the street as a cause for his overall concern.  Baskerville, who had discussed the issue with local residents, successfully lobbied to withdraw it and refer to the Planning Board a preference for R-4 zoning, allowing a less intrusive structure, in that lot.

“I’m not particularly opposed to development on that property,” said Padluck, who met with Baskerville about the matter in December. “Our end of town certainly needs development and . . . money invested into it.”

The development of the Wildwood properties also came up; Baristanet will have more about that issue later today.

Also passed was a resolution awarding a contract to a new auditor for the township.  Third Ward Councilor Nick Lewis reported that they had looked at several accounting firms that bid for serving the township and settled on McInerey Bradley and Company, which already serves the Montclair Board of Education. Despite the satisfaction with the previous auditor, Samuel Klein and Company, Lewis and Africk agreed that it was an opportunity to get a different firm to look at the township’s books with fresh eyes.

“They’ve still done work for Montclair, haven’t they?” said a skeptical Councilor-at-Large Roger Terry, referring to McInerey’s work with the Board of Education.

Noting the $11 million surplus the firm found for the school board, Murnick was looking forward to their services for the township.  “Let’s get them to work,” he said.

Terry, Weller-Demming, and Mayor Jerry Fried weren’t ready to make the switch and voted against the resolution.  The others all voted for it, approving the change.

With only Africk dissenting, the council approved a resolution to join a pact with several other Essex County municipalities in buying electrical energy for township use through the Essex County Aggregate Energy Procurement Cooperative, which shares electrical services in the interest of providing more energy for less money.  Essex County risk manager Frank Del Guardio personally lobbied for passage of the resolution at both the regular meeting and the pre-meeting, citing a savings of up to 25 percent in energy costs that would cost nothing to participate.  Africk refused to take the savings at face value without a staff review and voted against it.

The other major issue of the evening involved a resolution that sought to give citizens the opportunity to attend advisory committee meetings. Former Councilor Donald Zief, chairman of the public transportation advisory committee, said he feared that committees formed by private citizens would not be able to deliberate in confidence when they preferred to and did not want to be forced to allow the public to observe committee meetings all the time.  Councilor Lewis proposed a rewording that would encourage but not require committees to be open to the public and allow them the right to meet behind closed doors when they wish. The rewording passed 4-3 over the opposition of Murnick, Terry, and Weller-Demming, while the resolution as reworded passed with only Terry in opposition.

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