Montclair Township Council Discusses Federal Priorities, Block Grants, Historic Preservation

The Montclair Township Council
The Montclair Township Council

In addition to commentary from the public on the closed-door meeting with Board of Education members about the ongoing investigation of “Assessmentgate” (see Barista Kids), the Montclair Township Council finished up regular business for the year at its December 10 meeting, with only a finance meeting remaining for 2013, which will take place on Monday, December 30.

The ordinances for regarding the creation of a police director a salary for such a position were postponed until January.  But the council made good on a promise to bring  a vote to a resolution putting the council on record to urge the federal government to cut military spending and re-orient its spending priorities toward spending more money on rebuilding domestic infrastructure, creating new jobs, improving education, and increasing funding for special-needs education as well.

Deputy Mayor Robert Russo, a leading progressive voice in New Jersey, read the resolution, which was not on copies of the available printed agenda.  He noted that an increase in federal spending would alleviate the local property tax burden.

Ethel Owens of NJ Peace Action speaks before the Montclair Township Council.
Ethel Owens of NJ Peace Action speaks before the Montclair Township Council.

“There’s no money coming to our local communities from the national level because the money is really being spent elsewhere rather than here in our local communities,” he said. He cited a lack of federal money for more policing, which he said was vital to the idea of homeland security. Members of NJ Peace Action, including nonagenarian Ethel Owens, were grateful to the have the council’s support on the matter after having proposed such a resolution in September.

The resolution passed 6-0, with Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon abstaining.  “While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think it’s in our purview,” he explained.

The awarding of community development block grants (CDBGs), which Deputy Mayor Russo noted are funded at half the level of what it used to be—$300,000 for Montclair, as opposed to $600,000—was picked up from the council’s CDBG hearings from a week earlier. Members of the council plan to work out the allocations for the various applicants based on the priorities agreed to.

“They’re going to look at it, they’re going to evaluate it,” Township Manager Marc Dashield said of the council in relation to the information involving the grant applications. “All that information will be compiled, and then we’ll create the priority based on their evaluations.”

Of the four second-reading ordinances originally scheduled for a vote, only one, an ordinance establishing a fee schedule for Health Department vaccines and programs, was passed (6-0, with Deputy Mayor Russo temporarily out of the room). An additional ordinance, which authorized wholesale contract purchase rates to other water systems, was tabled when Dashield told Mayor Robert Jackson that he had received a letter from New Jersey American Water requesting a meeting. It was postponed until the December 30 finance meeting.

One first-reading ordinance caused a controversy.  An ordinance to designate the Watchung Plaza area an historic district, per the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission,  met with reservations from Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, who said she did not have any support from any store occupants or property owners in the designated area, most of whom expressed concern that it would produce an “undue burden” and make it hard to lease space out.  She only decided that she would vote for it to move the process along and encourage a hearing.

Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville wanted to know more.  She wanted to know if there was a way to designate a portion of the area as an historic district and still ensure any future development in keeping with the character of the area. Township Attorney Ira Karasick said that any designation meant that any development added to the area would get extra review and extra restrictions on design elements such as paint colors.  That was enough to cause Dr. Baskerville to vote no on the proposed ordinance despite Councilor Schlager and the rest of the council voting for it. A first-reading ordinance designating the Montclair Heights Reformed Church as an historic landmark, though, was passed unanimously.

The American Planning Association also took the opportunity to present a plaque designating Montclair Center as  Great Downtown. The council, Montclair Business Improvement District chairman Luther Flurry, and Planning Director Janice Talley received the award.

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  1. I congratulate the Mayor and the Council members for voting for a resolution to reorient military spending toward community needs. I also understand and appreciate Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon abstaining and his reasons for abstaining. But I believe communities, as communities, have a legitimate reason to engage with their state and federal government on how public money is spent.

    Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager asked important questions regarding the proposal from the Planning Board on Watchung Plaza. It is again folly from the Planning Board that could better be handled by the Zoning Board. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville made the only right vote.

    “Great Downtown” seems a bit over the top for Montclair Center. The center is what it is. Plaques and directional signs are just clutter. If Montclair wanted “a great downtown,” Sienna and Centro Verde would never have been approved, traffic would have been reoriented, and zoning enforced.

    The largest problem with Montclair Center is that there is no “center” development. Church Street works because people are comfortable walking there. The plans for development should focus on a smaller center, easily accessible, and easily and comfortably walkable.

    Would that we all had the youth and wisdom of nonagenarian Ethel Owens.

  2. “There’s no money coming to our local communities from the national level because the money is really being spent elsewhere rather than here in our local communities,”

    Tell that to the employees at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, GD, Rayth, UT, Oshkosh Trucking, L3 Comm who work in defense contracting. Many are high skilled engineers and union jobs. This is one of the highest paid industries in US!

    Plus most, if not all Mutual Funds, Pension Funds, 401k’s invest in these businesses.

    They produce cutting edge technologies that save lives by reducing human necessity on the battle field, stealth technology, communications equipment for better operations.

    Keep blowing smoke!

    The US will have its least amount of combat troops deployed around the world in less than 14 months. There is already a draw down plan in place. Even still, this world is full of bad people and Hundreds of BILLIONS of $’s a year should/need to be spent on defense. We must as a nation stay vigilant, the Middle East is as unsteady as it has been since the 60/70’s. The Arab Spring will take years to settle. Russia is becoming a Fascist State with a Supreme Leader. China is growing its military and power scope faster than any country in the world. Dwarfing our spending!

    The Federal Government wasn’t purposed for funding allocations for local projects or spending. Large scale/interstate projects are different, but they are usually grand in design and driven by serious demand.

  3. “A world full of bad people” include people in Montclair. kyle41181 can you imagine how many people (in America alone) will be put out of business if we win the war on drugs? Or suppose people stop smoking cigarettes, just how many people in the country, in the world – and how many corporations – would go under?

    The money used to produce merchandise that has not other purpose than killing other human beings could be used to develop other industries and other jobs and other 401k’s.

    Glad to see you all over the world making peace with guns.

    The Federal Government does, in fact, pump a huge amount of Federal dollars into local communities. Think about why Montclair is “buying” into the Core Curriculum (as just one example).

    You defended yesterday a lawless Board of Education with fantasized arguments that completely contradicted facts and human rights. Today you praise the good of the weapons industry for personal wealth. No one expects rational discussion will convince you, but perhaps (at times) it is worthwhile injecting a modicum of reality into what you say.

  4. kyle41181 stated “Russia is becoming a Fascist State with a Supreme Leader. China is growing its military and power scope faster than any country in the world. Dwarfing our spending!”

    Time for a reality check:

    United State’s military expenditure for 2013: 682.1 billion dollars
    China’s military expenditure for 2013: 166.0 billion dollars
    Russia’s military expenditure for 2013: 90.7 billion dollars

    Take one billion dollars from the military industry: what could that do for class sizes in public schools across the country?

    Take a second billion dollars from the military industry: what would that do for feeding hungry children across the country and reducing the Achievement Gap?

    Take a third billion dollars from the military industry: what would that do for homelessness in America (many of whom are veterans for fought for your mutual fund)?

    (You might even be able to skim off a few thousands dollars so that your children could have math textbooks this year.)

    Hillside School dresses up its children once a year in Prudential Cares t-shirts. Ask the families of US solders who have died fighting for your 401k just how much Prudential cares. Is this an industry you suggest needs “support”?

  5. I would argue that our bloated military budget, and our constant interventions throughout the world, are making us less safe, not more. Our drone strikes which are killing children are making us new enemies every day. The time is way past due for us to spend our money on the people in our country who need it, investing in environmental projects that will slow climate change, putting people to work fixing our crumbling infrastructure, investing in education (and NOT the Broad St. curriculum), and stop increasing the wealth of the huge corporations who benefit from the military.

  6. The resolution passed 6-0, with Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon abstaining. “While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think it’s in our purview.

    Well said Rich! #thisguygetsit

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