For The Very First Time: Your Virgin Montclair Council Meets

First Ward Councilor William Hurlock and Mayor Robert Jackson

The era of “Jacksonian democracy” commenced in Montclair as the 2012-16 township council under Mayor Robert Jackson got to work in its first conference meeting last night.   Rather than only having combined conference and regular meetings on the same evening, the new council is holding separate conference meetings alternatively between regular meetings, though conference pre-meetings before regular meetings will continue.

The agenda included reports from the council subcommittees and township administrators.  Mayor Jackson explained to the members of the public in attendance that he was hoping the new format would be more efficient.

The evening began, though, with a look at dissolving the Montclair Parking Authority (MPA) and replacing it with a public utility.  Mayor Jackson, who has studied the parking issue in a subcommittee that includes Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon and Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller, is interested in leveraging the parking assets of Montclair as a catalyst for economic development.  He noted, though, that the MPA is not entirely on the same page, and so he proposed a parking utility working with a separate entity for economic development as an option.  “I think that we need to move ahead in a different path,” he said.

Other councilors concurred that the MPA isn’t working for the best interests of the town.  Deputy Mayor Robert Russo offered an anecdote of an ice cream parlor on Bloomfield Avenue with three spaces in front of his eatery, each with a broken meter, as an example of lost economic activity.  Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager complained about the Muni meters in Upper Montclair Plaza being impossible to figure out.  “Maybe we do need to look a utility or another option,” she said.

The council also dealt with unfinished business from the previous administration and council, allowing Township Manager Marc Dashield and Township Attorney Ira Karasick to take the lead on various occasions.  Regarding the redevelopment of the DCH property, Karasick informed the council that it had to reach an agreement with the developer, Montclair Acquisition Partners (MAP), which seeks a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement.  The number of buildings on multiple lots, Karasick advised, might require specific PILOT agreements for each lot.  The developers of the proposed assisted living facility (ALF) on the site of the Church Street parking lot are also seeking a PILOT agreement, which would involve only one agreement, but the council must wait on that pending the outcome of developer Dick Grabowsky’s suit against the township for approving the ALF so quickly.

“They’d love to get their shovels in the ground sooner,” he said of both developers. “Also, the approval of these agreements kind of helps them finance them.”

Karasick told the council that it was up to them to analyze the financials to determine the best deal from the township. Mayor Jackson noted that a PILOT agreement would allow Montclair to keep 95 percent of fees paid with five percent for the county, compared to a ratio less beneficial to Montclair if taxes are paid instead.  Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville expressed concern that PILOT agreements would not be honored in light of the difficulties in collecting earlier payments.

“You’ll get a thorough analysis of what the financial benefits are before you have to make any decisions,” Dashield said.

MAP CEO Brian Stolar, whose application was “memorialized” by the Planning Board the night before, reported that his company was completing an agreement with the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) to get equity for the project, and he asked that the council amend at their next regular meeting a resolution passed by the previous council on February 21 to reflect the change.  Stolar was certain of his ability to move forward with the redevelopment.  “We’ve got all the firepower we need,” he said.

The council previewed seven resolutions already scheduled for consideration at their July 17 meeting, including an acceptance of the audit of the township’s finances for 2011.   Auditor John Luria of McEnerey Brady and Company of Livingston went through the highlights, reporting that the township was able to bring expenses down as revenue came in, but adding that the school tax went down.  Luria explained that surpluses had been generated through deferring the school tax, which his collected in a July 1-June 30 fiscal year and so is deferred by the township, which collects taxes in a calendar year.

“Any increase in the school tax from one year to the next, 50 percent was automatically deferred, which basically dropped to your bottom line, which is the fund balance,” Luria said.  “This past year, the school levy went down.  Because you were at your 50 percent prior to December 31, 2011, when it went down, you had to make up for that.  So you actually had to come up with $ 1.7 million, which reduced your fund balance, because the levy went down.”  Luria said that the increased revenues and leftover funds from completed expenditures allowed Montclair to absorb the difference and still increase its fund balance to $8.3 million.

Township Manager Marc Dashield (second from left) speaks at the July 10 Montclair Township Council conference meeting while new councilors Rich McMahon (left) and Sean Spiller and Deputy Mayor Robert Russo (right) listen.

Dashield also presented a report from IMAC Insurance in Belleville, who recommended a proposed resolution terminating Montclair’s agreement with the State Health Benefits Program, in which some groups in the insurance pool subsidize others so that all of them pay the same rate.  IMAC recommended switching Montclair’s public employees to Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, which they believe provides similar service and could save the township 11 percent over the year of the contract.  They strongly recommended passing it sooner than later to have it effective within two months.

Toward the end of the meeting, Dashield also addressed reducing debt, recommending a constraint on new debt in the next 10 years.  He proposed a 2-1 debt issuance ratio by capping school debt at $24.5 million and limiting municipal debt to $32.5 million.  He also said he was looking into canceling debt on completed improvements, including approximately $1 million in school improvement authorizations and cancel bonded debt based on grant funds received, reducing the debt by $3.6 million.

“This is great news,” Deputy Mayor Russo said.  “When you do this, it’s a tax decrease for the future children and taxpayers of Montclair.”

A debt management plan resolution will be ready by the July 17 meeting.

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  1. Given the history of most of the members of this council, I’m not sure the word “virign” is apt. Technically, yes. But…..

  2. “a report from IMAC Insurance in Belleville, who recommended a proposed resolution terminating Montclair’s agreement with the State Health Benefits Program”

    And so it begins.. You are officially witnessing Robert Jackson’s payback to the Essex County Democratic machine. Joe Divincenzo Jr. just left IMAC as the VP of sales. Just a few months ago he and Joe D Sr. tried to pressure the Board of Education into changing their insurance plan.. now they are going to work on Mayor Jackson who owes them big for getting him elected. Wow.. that didn’t take long. Follow the money.. This is how the machine works.

  3. “So it would be better to pay 11% MORE for insurance? really?”

    If IMAC thinks they can save Montclair 11%, why not have an open bidding process and get a bunch of different proposals? This is egregious political patronage at work.. nothing more.

  4. Taken from a 4/24/12 Star Ledger Article on Transparency & Municipal Insurance Contracting:

    “A recent state comptroller’s report estimates that the governing bodies of municipalities and counties can save more than $100 million on health insurance just by switching to the state health benefits plan.
    However, potential savings can be more than doubled by the further-reaching policy approach contained in the Citizens Campaign model. This includes expanding the insurance contracting process to include consideration of joint insurance funds and private carriers, ending the conflict of brokers advising local governments while being compensated by insurance companies, and applying these reforms to school boards and to all forms of insurance, including liability and worker’s comp.
    Versions of our model have been adopted in Camden, Paterson, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, Hoboken and Toms River — municipalities and school districts that are now beginning to realize millions in annual savings.
    Local government and school districts spend millions on insurance for health care, property, liability and workers’ compensation. But unlike most municipal contracts, insurance is exempt from competitive bidding requirements and most brokers are not covered by pay-to-play laws because they are under contract to the insurance companies, not the local governments.
    As a result, insurance contractng throughout the state has been rife with corruption, influenced by political power brokers and largely devoid of healthy competition among firms.”

    How about starting with this rather than someone’s relative, and be transparent.

  5. “Luria said the fund balance still increased to $8.3 million”. Is she saying the town had generated an $8 million surplus in addition to the school’s $13 million? $21 million in surplus generated while the unemployment rate is high, debt is climbing, tax rates continue to rise and the school rating drops.

    We have deals being contemplated away from the State Plan that look like political pay backs while other towns are saving a lot through using the State’s Benefit plan. Meetings are being held as conferences which means they won’t be televised. Principals sending kids to the school who don’t live in the town and not paying tuition. Audits being issued, but results not being published.

    Will this new council apply for State Aid that a few years ago resulted in $750 thousand of aid? Properly applying for it (ie. signing the application, which Fried’s group didn’t do in ’10 and then “let the date slip by” in ’11), grants permission to the state to come in and look at the town’s books if they so choose.

  6. Montclair will suffer for electing these fools. Let’s see where the debt is in four years. For all those who voted for them, you helped kill Montclair. Feel good about that?!?!

  7. concerned, i think the people who voted for these fools believe they have preserved what makes montclair “special”.

  8. Had others been elected, by this date, less than two weeks into their term, many of us would riding the for-profit trolley, shopping at Trader Joe’s in the South End and enjoying significantly lower property taxes.

  9. “Toward the end of the meeting, Dashield also addressed reducing debt, recommending a constraint on new debt in the next 10 years. “.

    In 10 years….enough said. We’ll all be dead by then. Incredible.

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