Africk: Council is Glib About Spending $6M

Editor’s Note: Baristanet has corrected the final paragraph of this blog post to reflect the fact that Bob Russo is no longer president of the adjunct professors’ local union at Montclair State University. He was replaced two months ago by Bob Noonan. 

As this Council nears the end of its term, some members are determined to push as much through as possible.  Both spending, and pet projects such as the “Bike Storage Locker” proposal that the Mayor has been kicking around for years.  Under that proposal developers would be required to set aside space — sometimes substantial space — for the storage of bicycles.  Locked storage of bicycles.  Although no one has asked the developers about the impact such an ordinance would have on them.

Then there’s the spending.  Most of it could have waited the five weeks for the new Council.  The spending is significant.  Tonight, over SIX MILLION DOLLARS of new capital spending was approved!  Some towns agonize over spending $20,000.  Montclair glibly agrees to six million.

But what some people find infuriating is the inability of “management” to account for where all that money is going!  Purchases are lumped together.  Descriptions and totals vary depending on the report.  And when some citizen seeks an explanation, like Sandy Sorkin did tonight, they are mocked and ridiculed.

Council Murnick did a terrific job of questioning the manager.  He also led a discussion into the proposal, from the Manager, that gave increases to the 20 or so employees of the township (out of four hundred) who are the only ones that aren’t covered by union contracts.  The manager’s justification was two-fold:  a) let’s put together a “merit” program for people not covered under the union contract, or if not, b) it’s been “tradition” to give these people increases equivalent to that of the union, even though we don’t have to so let’s do it.  Mind you, some of those people are the highest paid in the Township.

Union contracts are just that, contracts.  They provide for increases over the years, as well as changes in benefits and work rules.  They apply to everyone in the union.

Employees not under union rules, do not get that “benefit.”

Hopefully, this next Council will bring a measure of accountability to Township affairs, and we’ll be able to track spending.

And to the biggest chunk of our expenses — union payrolls — hopefully this new Council with two union presidents one union president among its membership will be able to help us negotiate a mutually rewarding contractual arrangement.


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  1. “pet project” criticism from the chief advocate of the (now delayed, thus likely to go way over budget) Park Street Renovation?

  2. p.s. Three weeks (uh, so far…) of complete closure of South Park? Hopefully there will be businesses remaining on the street that this renovation is supposed to “benefit”. My prediction now, for Cary’s (“$750k. period.”) project, is two million. But that doesn’t include the restitution the businesses will surely seek if the not-projected-now-projected complete closure goes on.

    (remember the parking lot behind Starbucks?)

    Congratulations everyone!

  3. Has anyone walked by the South Park site? No one appears to be doing anything. Also check out the bricks that have gone down on the Southeast corner of south park and bloomfield, is it just me or were the prelayers not properly leveled?

    Lets get some predictions going in terms of final completion date. October at the earliest? Is it crazy to think it goes to next year? Maybe we will have broken ground on the ALF that no one in the entire milky way galaxy wants but out TC before its done. Who knows.

  4. Cary, its certainly evident that this town is in need of a new manager. The numbers were never accounted for, they never made sense. Half-truths and misinformation concealed bigger problems. Enough of the cloak and dagger BS.

  5. Powerball is $110 million tonight. If I win, I’ll give half to pay down Montclair’s debt, but only if our leaders stop increasing it.

    15 32 41 44 47 PB 24

  6. Thank you, Paine, for informing me about the Powerball drawing… and which numbers NOT to play.

  7. On a more serious note… I’d be interested who really thinks it is a difference that Bob Russo was replaced *TWO MONTHS AGO* as president of the union? Semantics.

    Also.. what the heck is the need for an adjunct professor’s union? Someone please explain.

  8. Cary,
    Why did you vote to repave Gates? We did S. Mountain, Union, Stonebridge already in the last year. That’s probably a half million we could have saved.

    Anyway, I was on Highland Avenue today and counted 1 muffler, 3 hubcaps and a bra in a 4 block stretch. Maybe this could be the new criteria for evaluating road conditions?

  9. Frank, the First Ward is no longer part of the town. We have enough money, we can just do it ourselves. I guess you didn’t get the memo.

  10. Actually, it wouldn’t be hard. More than half our open space is County parkland. We have a more County Roads per capita than 42. We would have 3 train stations, 2 water pumping stations (sell services), etc etc. I’m sure we could make a deal to buy the Bellevue Branch and use as our Library/Town Hall. Watchung Plz could be our downtown and UM could be our uptown. Imagine the fun bidding out our fire/police services to either Little Falls, Clifton, Cedar Grove, Bloomfield or Glen Ridge? Montclair would be the cheapest. Maybe we could lure Carl B to move and become our Mayor?

  11. Cary,
    Just wanted to let you know I drove by and thought of your comment last week:
    “Hope it will turn out better than the solar lights, at $13K each, that can’t connect to the grid and many of which don’t work because they are UNDER the tree canopy. Did someone think Montclair’s leaves, like everything else, are “special” and perhaps transparent?”

  12. Frank, it seems like every ‘hood in MC that shares a border with a neighboring town has tossed around the idea of seceding out of Montclair.

  13. Based on conversations I’ve had with the Mayor it’s clear that most members of the council have no interest in the First Ward or it’s constituents. They completely shut out Rick and Cary and CCM and OBAC.

    When he was trying to get signatures for his move the election petition he told me that most of his ward is comprised of renters and they are under represented (can you really say that after this election?) and it’s more difficult for them to get out to vote and run for office. (They are “busy” was one of the answers I got when I asked why that would be the case). Then he proudly said that he was now a renter too and when I rolled my eyes and laughed and pointed out that most renters don’t own a 1.2mm home a block away he shook his head because it was clear I didn’t ‘get it. I have had a number of theses head scratcher conversations with council members and it’s clear they have some kind of personal agenda but it’s so I’ll defined and mired in thinking that has little to do with sound public policy decisions that I can only hope the next group can’t be as bad. I won’t hold my breath.

  14. JG, that reminds me of the (thankfully outgoing) Council member who, in response to my email about taxes, told me that he felt my pain because his taxes were going up to $30K. Sorry, that means you house is worth well over a million and you do not feel my pain. I still shake my head about how these people can be so “liberal” yet so oblivious to what the average person is going through.

  15. latebloomer, there are conversations I’ve had that would make your hair curl. And I had a similar conversation to the one above with Nick Lewis. He feels our pain. Jerry is a “renter”. Out to seek justice for all the other renters who can’t make it to the polls in May.
    KWD thinks selling Wildwood – giving away Wildwood – as an AH property is social justice. The pools, the community center (oh, we will have one before they leave) the crazy development in downtown. Honestly, I would rather see Bobbi Brown and Plofker in charge.

  16. Plofker? Well, I wouldn’t go THAT far! Maybe Bobbi, though. Actually, that WAS Lewis I corresponded with. I’m just astounded at the tone-deafness of people who refuse to see the impact of their actions on middle-class people who are struggling to stay in this town.

  17. I still shake my head about how these people can be so “liberal” yet so oblivious to what the average person is going through.

    The poor and the wealthy have much common ground in this town. One benefits from spending, the other is immune from high taxes. The ones in the middle are having trouble affording liberalism

  18. Dear late,

    There is a stunning amount of hypocrisy ….

    On the one hand, we have Councilors outraged over a fifty cent increase in pool passes, and who demand that subsidies and assistance be made for all who claim they can’t afford the recreation programs. And now we’ll have hardship assistance under the tree ordinance.

    So the new Assisted Living Facility comes along, with monthly fees STARTING at close to $5,000 per month and going to $10,000 per month and these same people say it’s a good cause because the elderly can now “age in place” without having to leave from Montclair.

    So, fifty cents is too much, but $120K per year is “looking out for the elderly?”

  19. Frank R.

    You truly are one of the great people I’ve enjoyed meeting with and talking with.

    The solar lights by Rand are a “symbol.” This town is big on “symbols.”

    Wildwood is chosen over properties in the second ward that could offer many more affordable units because Wildwood is a symbol.

    It doesn’t make a difference whether a project or idea really works because they are symbols of a “greater cause.”

    Wonder why no one talks about another environmental symbol, the biodiesel project for public works. Increased costs and ruined the equipment.

  20. Walleroo, I’m more than willing to see my taxes benefiting the poor. Just don’t make idiotic decisions- eg., South Park, Wildwood- that waste my money while benefiting no one except developers.

  21. Latebloomer, exactly. It’s the smug “we’re doing it for a good cause” mentality that makes no sense. When the pool issue came up, I wrote to each council member suggesting that those of us who would like longer hours and would like to keep all our local pools could pay a bit more and perhaps be asked to contribute a few dollars more toward a fund for those who could not afford passes. NO was the answer, because it wasn’t about the money, it was about sparing people the embarrassment of having to ask for a free badge. Or, the embarrassment of “friends” of kids who don’t live in town being asked to show a badge. So let’s raise taxes rather than pool fees. And I was actually told that if I didn’t like the hours I could join the pool club in Clifton. Huh? I don’t want to go to Clifton, that’s why I bought a house here, within walking distance to a pool!

    We need cash, so let’s sell Wildwood. On second thought, let’s just give it away so two families – from OUT OF TOWN – can buy here, rather than looking at properties that could accommodate more families, including those that live here.

    I could go on, but I must go earn my keep.

  22. I agree with you, bloomer, and I think many, many people in this town would agree as well. But the ones who vote, apparently, don’t give a hoot about people in the middle being squeezed, and view anyone who talks about getting spending under control as a racist and/or a conservative.

    But I’m tired of hearing my own voice on this subject, frankly.

  23. Walleroo – .

    ‘The poor and the wealthy have much common ground in this town. One benefits from spending, the other is immune from high taxes. The ones in the middle are having trouble affording liberalism’.

    This quote is so good! This is the true story that the NYT should have written about our town, instead of the fabrication Kate Zernike came up with.

  24. Nick Lewis may have been tone-deaf when he commiserated about high taxes by citing his own, but $30K (or more) is a lot. Just because you used to be able to afford a big house and its accompanying taxes doesn’t mean you can afford to keep paying that much every year, and it’s only going up. Sure, some people are so wealthy that their tax bill represents just a rounding error on their net worth, but I really don’t think that’s true of many people in town. Everyone is getting squeezed.

  25. Montclair didn’t win the Powerball jackpot on Wednesday (4 7 26 53 59 pb 32). The jackpot increases to $128 million. We’ll keep trying to hit it to address the town’s huge debt, estimated at $220 to $230 million.

  26. Well, Oliver, it’s tone deaf because a person with any sensitivity would have just said, “Yeah, I’m feeling the pinch, too” instead of citing his $30K tax bill. And he would not have pushed for the senior center, which I believe our email exchange was about.

    And, jerseygurl, talk about “let ’em eat cake”! The pool club membership would be $2450 for a family of four, plus $550 more for each additional child, plus fee for “au pair”, plus initiation fees. Why would they assume one could afford that?

    I truly believe that bunch thinks everyone is at least as well off as they are, with the exception of the “truly needy”. I hope the next bunch is in touch with reality, but I’m not holding my breath.

  27. latebloomer, the Mayor assumed I could afford the pool club because I live in Upper Montclair. I would guess that if they decided to close a pool, the first one to go would be Mountainside, because in their eyes everyone north of Watchung Avenue has money to burn. They do assume just about everyone is as well off, with the exception of the truly poor and that anyone who doesn’t see things their way is a whiner or a member of the Tea Party. That’s why they roll their eyes at council meetings when any of the residents here gets up to complain about something.

  28. That’s funny jerseygurl. I was at a meeting back in 20010 (I think) where Roger Terry said he wasn’t that well off. I can only dream of collecting a pension in the six-figures until death after my retirement. Talk about being woefully out of touch.

  29. Cary, yes, it makes no sense to be so concerned about the poor and then push for an ALF that only the well off can afford. Elderly can’t afford their taxes, but they can afford $10K a month for a place to live?

    JG, I am as far away from a Tea Partier as you can get, but this Council has been like a MAD Tea Party. From the senior center to the South Park boondoggle that will never earn its keep, to the Wildwood project- also aimed at helping the needy, all 2 of them- their decisions careen wildly and are only consistent in their lack of sense. We have discount rates for the pools, but we can’t embarrass people by suggesting they use them?

    Let’s hope the incoming Council has a bit more sense. I didn’t vote for them, but I hope I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I don’t mind paying taxes for the things that count.

  30. “anyone who doesn’t see things their way is a whiner or a member of the Tea Party”

    This attitude does seem fairly well entrenched. Worse, lies about this were a central part of our incoming council’s winning election strategy. I don’t envision this changing any time soon therefore.


  31. Thank you Cary – same here. I think you have a little Irish in you.

    But, you didn’t answer my question…did the council just bond for the paving of Gates Ave? Can you find out? Tks!

  32. “Cary, yes, it makes no sense to be so concerned about the poor and then push for an ALF that only the well off can afford. Elderly can’t afford their taxes, but they can afford $10K a month for a place to live?”

    The ALF developers are also counting on a significant inflow of govt monies to help pay the bills for “some” of the residents. – Makes one wonder why they picked Montclair and White Plains ?? It’s all part of a $$ formula.

  33. Do you have more info on this, johnqp? I’ve been looking into assisted living for my mother. You have to pay out of pocket, spend every cent you have, and sell your house. Once you are destitute, Medicaid will kick in. Some of these places will kick you out if you can’t pay their hefty prices. And they do not accept Medicare.

  34. Let me correct my earlier comment – While I am not 100% certain about the ALF owners counting on gov’t dollars, my gut tells me that it is probably a big factor in picking Montclair as a location

  35. latebloomer, you are correct. My mother-in-law is in an ALF on Medicaid. They went not-for-profit and opened up a percentage of their beds to Medicaid patients. They pay the facility $1,300 per month, which is considerably less than they charge non-Medicaid patients. And yes, Medicaid recipients are allowed to retain $2,000 in assets.

  36. I don’t mean to pick on gurl, but this is an illuminating situation she describes. Medicaid is for the indigent. I think there is something wrong with our system that indigent parents are cared for by the state when they have affluent relatives who even own second homes. I don’t fault gurl or her family, but this kind of thing is what’s unsustainable. Care for the indigent, in my opinion, should only be provided for those who truly have no one in their family upon which to rely and no where else to turn.

  37. If the ALF gets built, it will most likely eventually flip to not for profit status – and then goodbye to prime location rateable.

  38. ROC, you have no idea how much has already been paid into her care, and for how long. (15 years). And that she is incapable of living alone even in our home with home care. Tried it for 2 years. And how much I pay for my own remaining parent to enable her to stay in her own home with some care and to pay for her long term care insurance.

    Trust me, I have saved for my own retirement ( I don’t have a public or private pension) despite having to care for two sets of parents and what’s left of my retirement portfolio will allow me to live modestly in a third world country. Yes, part of that portfolio is a second home now worth about $275k – after cap gains and a brokers fee that would give us about 3 years of care and then my mother in law would still have to go on Medicaid. So we should go broke too, and use up all our assets and then what, we’ll wind up on Medicaid eventually too.

    I think there is something wrong with our health care system too. People shouldn’t have to go broke to get care.

  39. And johnqp is right. The really well off will be able to care for themselves or aging parents and the vast majority of people won’t be able to afford $5k to $10k a month so in order to fill beds, this ALF will likely start accepting Medicaid patients and their revenues will fall very short of their projections and it’s very likely they will be a non profit one day. There go our ratables.

  40. I wasn’t trying to address obviously, your private issues and situation. I’m sure I’d do the same thing as you under the current system, but in Medicaid there is no family means testing. Our system should be structured so that in general it should be the family’s responsibility, not the taxpayer’s, in my view.

  41. Well, ROC, I think a means test for family becomes a very slippery slope and a far better solution would be an overhaul of how we pay for care in this country. And I’m going to guess that it’s the wealthier segment of the population that uses trusts to protect their assets that takes the greatest advantage of the system. It’s a terrible system, and the burden of having to pay for care for aging parents would financially bankrupt the majority of the families in this country if it were not for Medicare and Medicaid.

  42. “It’s a terrible system, and the burden of having to pay for care for aging parents would financially bankrupt the majority of the families in this country if it were not for Medicare and Medicaid.”

    I was not speaking of Medicare, but Medicaid. Often these are conflated for rhetorical reasons, as you’ve done here.

    Why should my taxes go to pay for the care of a parent for someone who owns a second home (at whatever cost) or even wealthier people. I cannot afford a second home. I have no problem paying to care for the truly indigent. I know people much more affluent than myself whose parents are declared indigent and rely on taxpayer support.

    You’ve also presented a false choice. There is quite a lot between support of one’s parent and the “slippery slope to bankruptcy”.

    I’d venture to guess that for many of Montclair’s residents it might be painful to pay $1200 per month for their parent’s housing, but they could withstand it.

  43. “You’ve also presented a false choice. There is quite a lot between support of one’s parent and the “slippery slope to bankruptcy”’.

    No, I did not present a false choice. Yes, there is quite a lot between support of a parent and the need for a facility.

    ALF’s and nursing homes cost more along the lines of $ $50k – 100k per year, not $1,200 a month. I think that would be a financial burden even for the majority of people in Montclair, and would certainly beyond what most people in this country could afford since most of them don’t earn that as a gross income.

    “Why should my taxes go to pay for the care of a parent for someone who owns a second home (at whatever cost) or even wealthier people. I cannot afford a second home. I have no problem paying to care for the truly indigent. I know people much more affluent than myself whose parents are declared indigent and rely on taxpayer support.”

    The current means test is that the person who needs the care can only have $2k in assets. Not the person’s brother, or sister, or cousin, or child. So your issue is with the current means test. Otherwise you’re suggesting that anyone who spends down all their assets on facility care and is left with $2k, should not apply for Medicaid, but should look to an immediate family member to provide anywhere between $50 to $100k per year until they no longer have any assets too?

  44. “So your issue is with the current means test.”

    Yes. The family not the taxpayer should bear the responsibility of the care of their parents. Amazingly enough many many cultures all over the world manage to take care of their parents housing needs without spending 50k-100k.

  45. Well, ROC, that’s what care costs in this country. This is not a discussion about housing, I agree with you on that. Housing and care in a facility are two very different things.

  46. And in this ROC world, what would the means test be for someone who needs to place a family member into a care facility (not all people in care are elderly)?

    Do you think someone fairly typical here living in, day a $750k home and earning $150k a year should be expected to pay down their assets until they too have no home and only $2k in assets and an income? Move the wife and kids into a small apartment to pay for care for a brother who has alzheimer’s at the age of 50? Or a sister who has ALS ? Or a parent who can’t live unassisted? That’s the slippery slope. What’s the test? How much in assets, how much in income? Do you sell your family home and jeopardize the health and well being of your children to pay for another family member? I think the vast majority of people even in this town would burn through what they have if they had to pay even the low end of facility care.

  47. In ROC’s world, we all live in large extended families in a central building built of sticks and animal pelts. The men spent their days hunting while the women stay behind to tend to the young and the old and, when the men return, cook the meat and serve it and clean up afterwards.

  48. This facility is one of the “Luxury” Assisted Living Facilities that are now being built. They have increased services and amenities.

    I’ve seen the demographics for this location, and it was chosen because of the proximity to, well, wealth. There are many families within, say, 3 1/2 miles that can afford the fees.

    There are also people who have sufficient equity in their homes to sell it and use the proceeds to pay the monthly fee. I’m sure there is some calculation showing the “average person” lives at the facility for three years, for example, and with equity in a large house at $500K or much more this can be used.

    Then there are those fortunate people to have bought long term care insurance.

    What’s troubling for me though is this particular site. I just don’t think its best for Montclair, but given how long its been on the market II would imagine its “best” for the seller and buyer.

    My responsibility, though, is to the town.

    As to the spending on repaving, and the spending in general, I had asked the Manager for a full accounting, something that has proven elusive in the past. I fear that there are all sorts of “special” goodies in the spending package, including demolishing an abandoned gas station that is under environmental remediation. It apparently is “unsightly” to some (399 Orange Road, I believe). Who knows how much that cost.

  49. I was able to view the video of the TC meeting this week. Mayor Fried asked, with a snide smirk, the town attorney about the feasibility of two resolutions on the Wildwood Ave town property for sale; two resolutions exactly the same except one offers to sell two “affordable” lots and the other all four lots at market rates. I guess he was trying to make a point that the “Affordable” label was a code word for some unworthy objection to the sale. Fortunately Rich Murnick did not let him get by with it and said, with two lots selling for $20,000 in the affordable version it would be a worthless test. Now that the 2 lots are offered to HomeCorp for $20,000, let us see how the opportunity to buy the market rate lots goes. Since there is no way to predict how the building will go, I would think the market rate lots would suffer greatly if they would sell at all. “If I buy this $600,000 new home next to the two restricted dwellings, what can I expect in future value when I want to sell? And can I even get a mortgage with this uncertainty? And assuming there is a lender for every possibility but at a price, what is the added cost to borrow considering this uncertainty of future value?” We have flood insurance and low credit score down payment requirements. Will there be “Living Next to Restricted Property” insurance as more towns try to deal with the housing issues? As we increase shared services across town borders, why would not the “affordable” mandate preceived by towns also cross borders? It’s not 1st ward versus 4th ward, it’s a wide circle encompassing the vacated county property in Cedar Grove. Plenty of room to build affordable mixed with market rate. Problem solved. Even room for an express bus stop and super market.

  50. Wild,

    I do not believe the actual number the Council will sell the lots will be $20K each. I believe it will be zero.

    The Wildwood proposal is NOT about building affordable housing. It is about building affordable housing in the FIRST WARD.

    A premium to do this will be paid. The town will lose out on perhaps $700K, plus tax money every year.

    And the affordable housing applicants will lose out because instead of our being able to off three times as many homes in the second ward, they only get the smaller number.

    But as I’ve said, this is a “symbol.” That this Council is willing to spend taxpayer money, in effect, to show we support affordable housing everywhere.

    The town people should have a right to speak on this issue. How many would vote to spend their money in this fashion?

  51. Well said Cary. I realize that the symbolism you cite is evident. As caretakers of the township property, the next council surely will want to do the prudent thing. If not, their malfeasance to duty could play a part. If “affordable” housing is the essential force, a mere two houses when hundreds of families are eligible in a 50 mile radius really is imprudent when the thousands of dollars could house dozens, some of whom by sheer chance might come from Monclair. The symbolic smirk on Fried have to defeat common sense and public good. I refuse to believe there will be two councils in a row so destructive.

  52. Meanwhile, we didn’t win Saturday night’s Powerball jackpot. We had 26 29 30 36 54 PB 5 (W# 13 14 41 49 59 PB 14). The next drawing is estimated to be $146 million, which can partially address Montclair’s debt of $230 million.

    Disclosure: I receive a fee of half the jackpot for running Montclair’s debt reduction program.

  53. Whoa; today my Zillow- Zestimate came through. Down 10%, over $40,000. I wonder what part factors like the Wildwood lots sale, 2012 tax re-val, the national economy or the local bonded debt has played. Or was it the expectation of a new council? I better get my weed trimmer out and cut the weeds in the lot to protect my home value.

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