The Montclair Township Council received reports from residents and public employees on, respectively, parks and technology at its October 9 meeting. Only three legislative items were passed, including an agreement for use of a street sweeper in Montclair Center, a grant application submission for improvements to Trinity Place and Myrtle Place, and a resolution that could but not necessarily will change protection drug coverage for Montclair employees.
The council heard from citizens expressing interest in allowing dog owners to let their dogs run free in a temporarily designated area in Edgemont Park during off-hour periods. Residents Cary Chevat and Leland Montgomery suggested this could foster a sense of community among dog owners and also make the dogs themselves calmer and more sociable. Chevat and Montgomery said dog owners could congregate and trade information about veterinary services, and their presence would make the park safer by sheer numbers, benefitting other residents using it either late at night or early in the morning. It would also allow dogs to exercise and interact with each other, benefitting their overall well-being. An off-hour period between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. is being proposed for a six-month trial period.
Chevat and Montgomery said a similar program was tried in New York City in parks where dog parks are not provided, and the use of these parks during nighttime off-hours saw an increase of people using the parks at those times and contributed to an overall sense of safety. They envisioned a similar positive effect on Edgemont Park.
Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, whose ward includes Edgemont Park, asked if a temporary fence was being considered for the proposed dog exercise area. Chevat and Montgomery said they didn’t see a need for that, noting that dogs usually stay together in packs, and that owners with roaming dogs would be discouraged.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville asked if dogs’ registrations would be checked. Chevat and Montgomery said they weren’t interested in policing canine activity during such a period, and they emphasized that this would most likely not be necessary, as dog owners tend to be greatly responsible for their pets.
Chevat and Montgomery said they had consulted with the county, which recently opened a dog park in North Caldwell, about the idea, but members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) were not happy that they had not been previously consulted. William Scott, a PRAC member, said the committee received no information about the idea, and he said PRAC wanted to make sure they would be able to advise the council on the issues. Mayor Robert Jackson said this was the first time the council had heard about it, and he said he understood that this was only an idea being voiced, not a plan being decided on. Chevat and Montgomery, for their part, said there was never any intent to bypass the process of putting a proposal forward for use of a public facility.
Scott asked Chevat if he could have the information on the dog exercise area idea before the next PRAC meeting on October 11. Chevat said there would be no problem in that regard.
Meanwhile, Fire Chief John Hermann and Montclair Information Technology Director Tony Fan, the township’s technology expert, briefed the council on plans to expand the township’s technological footprint. One idea is to use credit card machines and payment apps to make it easier to pay municipal fees and fines. With regards to the fire department, Chief Hermann said his department was in the process of getting a new communications system that allows updates to be shared by firemen on the road to make them more effective in firefighting.
The fire department is also pursuing the use of emergency drones to get real-time information on fires and also to go into the fires themselves with infra-red sensors to determine the exact location of a fire in a building and get a reading of the heat generated. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo balked at the idea of drones being all over Montclair, but Chief Hermann said they would be strictly regulated and used only in emergencies; Township staffers are getting extensive Federal Aviation Administration-mandated training, including Deputy Planning Director Graham Petto. Deputy mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller was glad to hear from Fan that the various information systems were being integrated in a cost-effective way.
The council considered a resolution authorizing the township’s civil employees to take part in a prescription drug plan under the state health benefits program. Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said the township’s insurance consultants recommended that Montclair join the plan. The resolution does not require Montclair to join the plan but instead gives it the right to enter into it before January 1, 2019, allowing civil employees to have the same coverage that police and fire employees currently have. Manager Stafford said a gross savings of $750,000 was possible, with the savings divided between the employees and the township. Mayor Jackson said he had heard of no complaints from police and fire employees about the plan, but Dr. Baskerville pointed out that some civil employees may have more need for prescription drugs than policeman and firemen, who are by nature healthy in order to respond to the rigors of their jobs. She said she would need more information before she could support the state plan. Manager Stafford reiterated that the resolution only gives the town the right to enter into the plan, which has been presented to twin employees, as opposed to requiring it to join. Satisfied that she would be able to see the information on the plan in greater detail, Dr. Baskerville voted with the rest of the council to approve the resolution.