The Montclair Township Council unanimously passed the township’s budget for 2015 with no drama or fuss. Indeed, more time was spent by Montclair Water Director Gary Obszarny and attorney Jason Santarcangelo discussing a resolution to authorize a contract to sell water to the New Jersey American Water company and a series of amendments to the township’s abandoned-property ordinance, respectively.
As for the budget, Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford reported that it is increasing a modest 2.3 percent over 2014 spending, with increases only for snow removal, the library tax, and police salaries. The budget totals $79,996,438 in appropriations. The municipal tax rate is rising only 0.83 percent. Stafford also announced that since 2009, the debt has been reduced by 15 percent, or $32 million. He added that even though Montclair had the right to defer the school tax, he chose not to do so, opting for a more conservative approach.
The council heard from resident Robert Bunta on the water issue in public comment, and he said he agreed with the comments of resident William Scott, who was in the gallery this evening, from the previous week’s conference meeting. Bunta declared that there should be an opportunity to opt out, and he said he viewed the deal in selling a resource so vital to human life with trepidation. He wished for a deal that would only be good for two years rather than ten, with the understanding that the township’s needs would come first, especially in case of droughts. Stafford said that the terms of the contract offered an opt-out with a year’s notice, and it included a force majeure clause that frees either party from the deal in the event of circumstances beyond both parties’ control that prevent them from honoring their commitments – such as war, civil disorder, or a natural disaster.
Obszarny provided more answers for both the public and the council. Mayor Robert Jackson said he understood that the amount of water being sold was a small percentage of Montclair’s total usage, and Obszarny confirmed that it would be 5.5 percent of the township’s projected firm capacity, based on the assumption that the Glenfield Well may go down. The mayor asked how much revenue would be generated, and Obszarny said that the deal would generate $419,000, all of which would be re-invested in repairing and improving the township’s water delivery infrastructure – pipes, mains and the like. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville asked how future water needs would be met. Obszarny explained that the parallel ten-year deal to lease water from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission would help increase firm capacity, along with gains from the redevelopment of the Lorraine Well, to provide a firm capacity of 7,884,000 million gallons of water. Satisfied with the details, the council passed the resolution unanimously.
Santarcangelo, who is advising the council on handling abandoned houses, went over the various amendments to the abandoned-property ordinance. The overall objective of the amendments is to develop stricter standards for the upkeep and rehabilitation of the abandoned properties, such as sealed and painted windows and doors, with the township having new means to enforce their maintenance and getting owners and lien holders to do so in a more expedient matter. The amendments also aim to raise registration fees for the properties to encourage their rehabilitation and sales.
Santarcangelo said that a bank could theoretically owe up to $10,000 on such a property after eighteen months, which would be a “significant chunk of money” for a bank to pay for a house that isn’t being occupied. That was encouraging news to Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, whose own ward has several abandoned houses, including a house at 327 Grove Street that has been vacant since 2008 and has caused as much consternation in the neighborhood as the ten houses on nearby Christopher Court did when that development was completed in . . . 2008. Santarcangelo reported that the old brown house on the corner of Grove Street and Prescott Avenue had a vacant property registration filed for it on May 11, and that a title search was ordered for it. There are 82 structures in Montclair that are currently unoccupied. The amendments passed unanimously on first reading, and Mayor Jackson was optimistic that the process in dealing with the propertied would be expedited.
In other business, residents of Oxford Street submitted a parking petition for signage for two-hour parking on Tremont Place from Monday to Friday in the interest of establishing consistent parking rules for the block anchored by Oxford Street, Walnut Crescent, and Cambridge Road. The petition was submitted to be forwarded to the Traffic Parking and Advisory Committee (TPAC) in advance of its meeting on the morning of June 17, which the residents, led by Angela Engstrom, said they were unable to attend. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, a TPAC member, said the committee had had it on the agenda but had not received an official petition from the local residents before this. He added that he would make sure the petition would be delivered to the meeting. A TPAC endorsement would allow the council to introduce an ordinance in early July, with a second reading possible by August.
First Ward Councilor William Hurlock missed most of the meeting to attend his son’s graduation from Mount Hebron Middle School, but he arrived in time to vote on eight of the eighteen resolutions on the agenda, including change orders for improvements on Glenwood Avenue and Fernwood Road, approval of the budget for the Montclair Center Special Improvement District, and a contract for purchasing a new evaporative condenser tower at the Clary Anderson Arena. He was not present for the vote on the budget, the water sale resolution, or any ordinances, all of which were passed unanimously on first reading. The other two ordinances ban stopping or standing along Lloyd Road near the Montclair Kimberley Academy and amend land-use rules. other resolutions passed included awarding contracts for brickface crosswalk imprint removals and a new traffic signal at Park and Chestnut Streets.
Also, Chris and Sharon Egan of Egan & Sons were congratulated by proclamation on their tenth anniversary in business. Councilor Schlager credited the Irish pub and grille for helping to revitalize the Walnut Street area.