Secaucus Mayor-elect Michael Gonnelli detailed a plan at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting that he said would ease the transition from Mayor Richard Steffens’ tenure in office to his own.
Gonnelli, who was elected last month, takes over in January. He has already been working closely with Steffens on a variety of issues.
The plan assigns current and incoming Town Council members to various committees and creates liaisons to several municipal departments.
“Each councilperson has been assigned to take a look at things like personnel, programming, and budgets,” Gonnelli said the day after the meeting.
Councilmen Gary Jeffas and John Reilly will work together with Secaucus Police Chief Dennis Corcoran on the Police Committee. Bill McKeever, the new incoming 1st Ward councilman, will be the liaison to the senior citizen community and to the Department of Social Services, working closely with director Lisa Snedeker.
Councilman John Shinnick, a former school board member, has been assigned to the new Shared Services Committee. This new committee, Gonnelli said, “be a link to the school district. We hope to be able to keep costs down next year, partly by working with the school system to see where we can share services, rather than duplicating services and paying for them twice.”
Rob Costantino, the new 1st Ward councilman who is an accountant, will serve on the new Finance Committee and be the council liaison to the Chief Financial Officer Margaret Barkala and the Tax Collector’s Office.
Councilman John Bueckner, who was recently appointed to the Recreation Committee, will continue in that role.
Jim Clancy, who will likely be appointed by the council to serve out the remainder of Gonnelli’s term as 2nd Ward councilman, has already been assigned by the mayor-elect to be the liaison to the Volunteer Fire Department.
Steffens had previously announced other steps the council was taking to ease the transition. Since the election, McKeever and Costantino have been sitting in on the council’s closed caucus sessions, which are held prior to the public council meetings.
“We are also sending them to a one-day training program that’s sponsored by Rutgers and designed for newly elected officials,” Steffens told the Reporter on Wednesday.
Gonnelli estimated the training costs about $25 per person. “It’s really cheap,” he said.
NJMC tax-sharing discussed
Steffens noted that he and Gonnelli attended the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Mayors’ Committee meeting on Dec. 7, at which the local mayor’s discussed the NJMC’s tax sharing formula was discussed.
Since the 1960s, some municipalities in the Meadowlands District have been zoned for uses that do not generate much tax revenue – such as parks – while others, like Secaucus, were zoned for office space, which can generate a lot of revenue. State legislators believed it was necessary to spread the financial benefits of development evenly throughout the Meadowlands District and developed the tax-sharing formula as a way to do that.
Secaucus taxpayers currently contribute $3.2 million annually to the Meadowlands tax-sharing pool, and the town is the largest contributor to this pool of money. According to former Mayor Dennis Elwell, Secaucus has paid $63 million into the pool since 1973, when the tax-sharing formula went into effect.
North Bergen, Carlstadt, Lyndhurst, Moonachie, East Rutherford, Little Ferry, and South Hackensack are the other seven municipalities that contribute.
Jersey City, Kearny, Rutherford, North Arlington, Ridgefield, and Teterboro are the towns that receive money. In total, $7 million is transferred to the six receiving communities.
Because of the burden placed on the communities that contribute to the fund, some state leaders have initiated efforts to end it without penalizing the towns that benefit.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36th Dist.) has introduced a bill in the state senate that would place a tax on tickets sold at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. A portion of this tax would go to the six towns that currently receive money from the tax-sharing pool, and would allow the contributing towns to stop paying.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32nd Dist.) has introduced a similar bill in the state assembly.
“The revenue sharing bills have been languishing down in Trenton, especially since Gov. Jon Corzine was not reelected,” said Steffens. “But [State Sen. Nick] Sacco was [at the mayors’ committee meeting] and he was telling us that there’s now a big push to try to have it passed before the end of the year.”
Later during the council meeting Gonnelli introduced a resolution in support of Sarlo and Prieto’s efforts. The council approved the resolution.
Videotaping request gets two bids
Town Administrator David Drumeler said Secaucus has received bids from two companies that are interested in video taping the council meetings.
For three years, the Town Council has been on what has – at times – seemed a never-ending quest to get council meetings televised. Political infighting over what should be taped and aired stalled progress for more than two years. Advocates of taped meetings have long argued that televised meetings are important to keeping residents informed of what’s going on in their local government. Televised meetings, they argue, are particularly valuable to the elderly and people with young children, two groups who may not be able to attend council meetings on a regular basis.
Some members of the council, however, were concerned about airing uncensored statements from the community during the standard “public comments” period included in each meeting.
In the end, they reached a compromise that will allow residents to comment on specific ordinances introduced by the council, but will exclude the more opened-ended and freewheeling public comments section at the end of the meeting that comes after official town business has ended.
After the council voted to videotape its meetings last spring, logistical issues have further delayed getting televised meetings on the air. The town recently readvertised for videographers after not receiving any response from a previous request for proposals.
Two companies, Flanagan Productions and iKids, both located in Secaucus, recently submitted bids. Each one is being given an opportunity to demonstrate its videotaping skills.
On Tuesday, a videographer from Flanagan Productions did a test taping. At the council’s next meeting, on Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m., someone from iKids will do the same. Members of the governing body will then evaluate each company’s demo.
Councilman Shinnick, a member of the council’s Television Subcommittee, said, “We’re hoping to have this in place for the first meeting of the year. ‘d like to do this immediately and have this in place for the new administration.”
(Similar promises were made by members of the governing body last year before televised meetings took a back seat to political infighting among the council, the Tax Collector investigation, the 2009 budget, a resignation on the council, and the corruption scandal involving former Mayor Dennis Elwell.)
In September a video technician from the town’s computer and technology department did a test taping of a council meeting. Members of the governing body will use it as a benchmark to evaluate the demo tapes from Flanagan and iKids.
“This test will give us some idea of what we’ll need, in terms of technology, to get televised meetings underway,” Jeffas explained at the Sept. 8 council meeting.
If televised meetings ever become a reality, council sessions will be broadcast on Channel 36, a local public access station.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.