Montclair Township Council wrapped up its business for 2016 in just over an hour at its December 20 meeting. Twenty-four out of 25 resolutions were passed unanimously, along with three ordinances on second reading. The three ordinances in question, respectively, were fixed salary ranges for various township offices, created new offices and fixed salaries for those new offices, and refunded a township bond ordinance providing for the advance refunding of all or a potion of general improvement bonds and school bonds with an appropriation of $19 million. All three had been passed on first reading on November 29. Chief Financial Officer Padmaja Rao said that adoption of the bond ordinance does not mean that the township has to forward any funding but, rather, it will put it in a position so that if market conditions are favorable, they can act quickly and provide necessary funding. In an unrelated observation later in the meeting, Mayor Robert Jackson spoke of Montclair’s financial health, stating that the township’s debt was $179 million going into 2017, down from $183 million from a year earlier and down from $223 million when he and the council’s current members all took office in 2012. The mayor added that Montclair remains one of the few municipalities in New Jersey to have an AAA bond rating.
Also passed unanimously were two first-reading ordinances, one adopting a new zoning map and the other assigning construction code and sub-code enforcement duties to the Department of Community Services. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo was especially supportive of the latter measure, calling it a good-government imitative aimed at making local government more responsive to township residents.
Some of the 24 passed resolutions, uncharacteristically, prompted more discussion than usual. Of particular interest to the council were two resolutions related to parking, one authorizing the purchase of 545 solar-powered single-space meters for lots and the other authorizing the purchase of two parking pay stations at lots. Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller asked if the solar-powered meters were a replacement of meters with the latest technology, and if the township was looking at replacing individual meters with multi-meter apparatuses. Utilities Director Gary Obszarny said that the individual meters were preferred because customers like them in order to have the option of whether to pay with cash or with credit cards. “If one meter goes down, he added, you don’t lose the whole lot or a whole section of a lot.” Councilor Russo asked how the meters would charge on cloudy days; Obszarny said that they are fitted with capacitors to recharge the batteries within. They also have modified-pricing features to change rates for special events or to provide free parking during the holidays. The meters should be installed by the end of January, weather permitting.
The pay stations, Obszarny told the council, would replace the two aging stations at South Park Street and be compatible with the new meters and make it more convenient to park with a ParkMobile smartphone app. They replace pay stations that were installed when the rebuilding of South Park Street was completed in 2010.
Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock expressed concern over one resolution rejecting bids for restoration work to be done at the library’s Bellevue Avenue branch, but Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said that the bids for the project exceeded the allocated budget and had to be scuttled. Mr. Hurlock expressed regret over the fact that restoration work on the library, particularly with regard to the window frames, had fallen behind schedule and wondered if the project could be expedited.
“It could be expedited,” the manager said, “but it would really depend on the leadership team of the library to set their calendar . . .. [We could] facilitate their bidding process for them, so as soon as they’re ready to do it, we could put it out to bid and put it on the street and have a short window as permissible by law.” Currently, there is no permanent replacement for outgoing library director David Hinkley, though a search is underway. Mr. Hurlock said he wanted someone still in the library administration to assume the responsibility of getting a bid approved to get the restoration work started, and Manager Stafford said he could help that process along.
Meanwhile, several resolutions re-appointing for 2017 municipal legal positions and authorizing for 2017 professional service contracts with various law offices and a tax appraisal company were passed, along with one resolution appointing John McCullough as a second alternate to the Board of Adjustment and Enjolean Daye as a third alternate to the same board. But while Joseph Angelo was re-appointed assistant township attorney and municipal prosecutor for the 2017 and Peter Russo was re-appointed municipal public defender for the same, a resolution re-appointing Ira Karasick as township attorney for 2017 was put off. Ironically, Karasick himself had advised the mayor and council on the resolutions covering employees and contractors – all part of a consent agenda – when Mayor Jackson asked what would happen if certain appointments were not made. Karasick explained that employees like himself, Angelo and Peter Russo would keep going as holdovers, while the contractors would not be paid should their contracts expire. Because no one would be paid before the council’s next meeting on January 10 anyway, Karasick said it was up to the mayor and council whether or not to delay any of these resolutions. After some thought, the mayor recommended that the township attorney’s re-appointment be pulled for the time being. He did not explain the reasons for his recommendation.
Only one resident – animal shelter volunteer Peggy McMillan – offered public comment. She said that the shelter continued to offer special care to animals and worked with prospective pet owners, such as a 90-year-old man who wanted to adopt a cat and had to be vetted for someone to take the cat in the event of death or incapacitation, and she remained wary of whether or not Manager Stafford would recommend outsourcing its duties. McMillan said the shelter was still a vital part of the community, and that its continued presence off Walnut Street was far more important than the ratables a different establishment on the property could provide.
Mayor Jackson also thanked all Montclair residents who gave financial or moral support to the family of murder victim Sarah Butler toward the end of the meeting.