Bloomfield Council Stalled on Open Space Change

The Bloomfield Council failed to pass an amendment to the township’s Open Space Trust Fund at last night’s council meeting, with the vote tied 3-3.

The amendment would have allowed the township to use funds from the Open Space Trust Fund for maintenance of town parks and historical sites within the township, in addition to the acquisition and maintenance of new property for open space. The amendment to the ordinance would set aside $265,000 per year to be used for maintenance of public parks. The establishment of the Open Space Trust Fund was approved by public referendum in 2001, and currently holds approximately $1.9 million.

Councilman Nick Joanow strongly objected to funds from the Open Space Trust Fund being used for maintenance of existing township property. “The Open Space Trust Fund was created in 2001 explicitly for the purpose of conservation of open space, not to be used for maintenance. A referendum is an election, the will of the people. I am absolutely opposed to money being removed for maintenance of town property.”

Township Attorney Brian Aloia stated that the referendum was non-binding and that the wording of the ordinance did allow the town to use the funds in the way that was proposed. Councilman Bernard Hamilton also spoke in favor of using the funds for maintenance of township property.

Joanow disagreed, saying that the intent of the original ordinance was for funding to be used for maintenance of property newly-acquired for open space, not existing properties owned by the township.

Joanow moved that the council vote instead to hold a public referendum in November to expand the existing ordinance to include historic preservation, and also to change the funding formula to stabilize the amount each homeowner would pay to the original dollar amount rather than at a rate based on property evaluations, which would prevent homeowners’ taxes for open space from rising solely due to property revaluation. Councilman Carlos Bernard seconded his motion. However, the Mayor and Councilmen Hamilton, Chalet and Venezia voted against it. Councilwoman Peggy Dunigan was absent.

The Mayor then asked the council to proceed with the vote on the original amendment. Although the Mayor and Councilmen Hamilton and Venezia voted in favor, Councilmen Bernard, Joanow and Chalet voted no, and the motion failed to carry.

Prior to the start of the regular meeting, 5th District Freeholder Brendan Gill spoke briefly to introduce himself to the public and provided contact information.

During the public comment period, one person spoke about a proposal to charge a fee to out-of-town residents who are involved in vehicular accidents within the township, which had been discussed at the previous council meeting, but was not on the agenda last night. He questioned how residency would be determined – by the vehicle’s registration or the driver’s license of the driver. He also expressed concern that the ordinance, if passed, could deter people from coming into town and doing business. The town administrator said today that the crash tax proposal will come before the council at its next meeting.

The council appointed and swore in Sam Infante as Provisional Fire Official/Fire Subcode Official. In addition, the Mayor appointed a number of people to the Library, Recreation and Planning Boards. John Marek was sworn in as a member of the Board of Recreation, and John Zitka was sworn in as a member of the Planning Board.

The council passed a resolution honoring all of the 2011 retirees from the Fire Department, and a resolution in memory of former Deputy Municipal Clerk Christina Renga, who died in January at age 91.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance to exceed the Municipal Budget Appropriation Limits.

The council also voted to amend and supplement a section of township code relating to sewer stoppages, making it clear that the homeowner is responsible for stoppages between their houses and the sewer main in the street.

Two concerned residents had spoken about this amendment, expressing concerns about exorbitant cost if homeowners were responsible for digging up the street, and all of the costs associated with the repairs, such as blocking off the street, police presence, etc.
Township Engineer Paul Lasek stated that the township would continue to work with the homeowners in these situations and that the purpose of the change in wording was to eliminate situations where a privately-hired plumber could have cleared the line all the way to the main but stops at the property line, forcing the township to come finish the job. He said the intent was not to cause the homeowner to have to hire someone to excavate the roadway.

The council awarded professional service contracts to a number of contractors. Some of the proposed contracts had only one bidder, which was a concern for Councilman Joanow, who said he had no basis for comparison to make a decision.

The next meeting of the Bloomfield Council will be a conference meeting to be held in the Mayor’s Conference Room in the Law Enforcement building at 7 p.m. on February 13, 2012.

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  1. The Open Space Trust Fund referendum may have been non-binding but the facts are that in 2001 the people spoke and they wanted a fund wqhose purpose was toto Purchase Open Space. Not a fund to fund the DPW maintenance of public parks, or roads, or historic conservation.

    The initial request from the Township Administrator was to divert $440,000 per year from the Open Space Trust Fund to fund the Bloomfield Department of Public Works.

    The $265,000 per year is more than the Open Space Trust Fund takes in in a year which is $221,000.

    What’s next? Diversion of the fund to take money from the Open Space Trust Fund to repair potholes in the open space of Bloomfield’s roads?

    A disclaimer – I am the Bloomfield Open Space Trust Fund Committee Chair. An advisory committee who was not consulted.

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