The Montclair Township Council covered an array of topics at its February 5 meeting, and two perennial subjects – parking and water. Gary Obszarny, Montclair’s director of utilities, spoke to the council about both of them.
At issue regarding parking were the Fullerton and Bay Street decks and the fee increases proposed for both of them. A proposed ordinance would raise the parking fee at the Fullerton deck from two dollars an hour, as it is currently, to two dollars for the first two hours (or fifty cents an hour) and two dollars for each hour after. Resident Catherine Danatos said the current rate was unfair to members of the YMCA, who have to watch the YMCA clocks or their own time pieces to renew the meters in time. Sometimes YMCA members miss them by a minute and have to pay an exorbitant $60 ticket. She proposed that either the meter rates be lowered or free parking for Y members be made available. Meanwhile, the Bay Street deck’s monthly commuter fee would increase from $60 a month to $80 a month as of April 1, 2019 and to $100 at the start of 2020.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville asked how the proposed rate increase at the Bay Street deck was determined. Mayor Robert Jackson explained that most people who use the Bay Street deck are from out of town, and Obszarny said the increase was needed to keep up the lighting and elevators for Bay Street, along with general maintenance. Dr. Bakserville said more data was needed to figure out who used that deck the most, because she was concerned about local residents who use the deck because of its proximity to their homes. Obszarny insisted that most of them were out-of-town residents, adding that the lot has a long waiting list for permits because of its low rates.
Both Dr. Baskerville and Deputy Mayor / Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller believed more data was necessary to make a decision on both decks, and Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said he could put it on the agenda for the Economic Development Committee’s next meeting. But Mayor Jackson believed that immediate relief was needed for YMCA members at the Fullerton deck, whom Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo noted were mostly from out of town. While no vote was taken on the ordinance regarding Bay Street, the council agreed to pass a resolution that would lower rates on the Fullerton deck to 75 cents an hour for 60 days effective immediately to give the Economic Development Committee time to go over the data. Parking Director Emmanuel Germano said it would take a day longer to reprogram the pay stations accordingly than it would take to reset the meters; both could be done by Thursday, February 7. And with that, the council passed a resolution setting parking rates on the Fullerton deck at 75 cents an hour for 60 days.
Obszarny was more urgent in the need to raise revenue for his department’s water projects, mandated by state law. He spoke in favor of proposed ordinance that would impose a fixed surcharge on water use in order to inspect and change new water valves and replace mains to comply with the Water Quality Accountability Act. Obszarny’s agenda also includes mapping out the valves in the system and testing them on a regular basis. Given the high cost of compliance with what Councilor Russo called an unfunded mandate, the council is asking that the township professionals examine the financial issues and see if there is any possibility that the maintenance can be deferred to 2020. The ordinance, which Obszarny said would offset the projected costs of perpetual compliance with state law, is due for a first-reading vote at the February 19 meeting.
Also, Health Director Sue Portuese discussed with the council its continued role as the Board of Health. The Montclair Township Council acts as the town’s health board, unlike in other towns that rely on a separate board or an advisory board, and Dr. Baskerville, a pediatrician, said the council’s actions in that capacity have been relegated to watching the town health department advance ideas on administering health policy while the council has no voice. Portuese sought to offer suggestions to correct that situation, and she said that the council members could always contact her and bring her in to discuss health issues with them. Portuese also said she could relay recommendations to the council through Manager Stafford per their opinions. Dr. Baskerville supported these suggestions.
Also, representatives of Overseas Neighbors, the group handling relations between Montclair and its sister city of Graz, Austria, briefed the council on the upcoming visit of a Graz delegation to Montclair in 2020 for the 70th anniversary of the relationship. They advised the council to set an “appropriate time” for the visit, and Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon recalled the “unbelievable reception” the previous Montclair delegation to Graz received. Montclair’s association with Graz, for which Graz Park in the western entrance to town on Bloomfield Avenue is named, is its oldest sister-city relationship.
In public comment, William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission (MHC) asked when the process for approving the appointment of Peg Seip to the MHC would go through the process of approval. Seip, a former Planning Board member, has attended MHC meetings but has not yet been recognized as a full-fledged member. Dr. Baskerville accepted responsibility for the holdup, saying she erroneously forwarded Seip’s nomination to the Services Subcommittee instead of the Economic Development Committee as should have been done. She said that she was certain that the Economic Development Committee would begin the approval process for Seip soon. Scott accepted Dr. Baskerville’s explanation and confessed unfamiliarity with the flow chart of appointees and that the process was new to him.