Only Jersey City has more Indian-Americans, with approximately 8,000 living there. But in terms of ratio per total population, the township of North Bergen, with its approximately 5,000 Indian-American residents, has more.
So it only makes sense that when the Indian and Hindu communities celebrate the respective beginning of their New Year this weekend that North Bergen should take the time to honor those residents.
Before the respective communities celebrate their New Year and the Hindu holiday of Diwali with religious ceremonies and then a plentiful feast, the North Bergen Board of Commissioners presented the Indian leaders of the community with special proclamations honoring the New Year.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco presented Amil Patel, representing the North Bergen Alpha BAPS Temple on Tonnelle Avenue, and Professor Bharatkumar Bhatt, a priest from the Govinda Temple in Jersey City, with special proclamations honoring the Indian and Hindu New Years.
Recognized for achievements
The presentation took place before the regularly-scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday night.
"We certainly have a large number of Indian-Americans within our community," Sacco said. "I've been involved with the Indian community for quite some time now. I've been to the BAPS Temple and attended the Indian festivals and celebrations. They've become a vital part of the community and I'm happy that we're taking the time to recognize them for their achievements."
Sacco said that the Indian-American community has stepped forward in all aspects of the township, especially in education.
"Over the last few years, we've seen several members of the Indian-American community graduate with high honors from North Bergen High School," Sacco said. "Some have even gone on to become valedictorians. They are usually excellent students."
Sacco said he felt that honoring the Indian community during their New Year festivities was the proper thing to do.
"We have a very diverse community in North Bergen, with all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and nationalities," Sacco said. "The Indian community is just one of several. They're a stable population and a very important part of our township, and this was just a simple way to honor them."
Amil Patel, who is also a North Bergen resident, said that he has always felt at home in North Bergen, always felt welcomed by the rest of the community.
"It's a very good feeling to be honored by the people of North Bergen," Patel said. "We always have more Indian people coming into the area. India is a democracy and so is the United States, so we're able to bring the two countries together. I find that the people of North Bergen have welcomed us more than anywhere. We're very appreciative [to be] here."
Professor Bhatt was also grateful to receive the proclamation. He asked Commissioner Allen Pascual to light a ceremonial candle before the meeting took place. There was also plenty of Indian food passed out as well. "We've found out that Americans are our brothers and they're willing to help each and every one of us," Prof. Bhatt said. "We have such a nice and beautiful relationship with the people here. Indians and Americans are like brothers. I am especially thankful to receive this honor."
Commissioners make more changes to budget
In other news from the commissioners' meeting, the commissioners passed a resolution that calls for more amendments to the recently adopted 2007-08 municipal budget, changes that were made because state grants were received after the budget was originally introduced in September.
The largest of the added grants came from the New Jersey State Urban Enterprise Zone Fund to the tune of $1 million that will eventually provide sewer and drainage improvements from 83rd Street to 91st Street off Tonnelle Avenue, the general vicinity where the multi-million dollar Vornado commercial development is underway.
The area, which will eventually bring a host of nationally-known retail stores, like Wal-Mart, Staples, Sleepy's and Applebees, to North Bergen, will eventually bring millions in tax revenue to the township. The project is expected to be completed sometime in 2009.
"The developer [Vornado] has cooperated with the township, knowing that the sewerage system there needs an upgrade," North Bergen Township Administrator Chris Pianese said. "It is work that is being done in conjunction with Vornado. The town has committed to improve the drainage in the area and the state UEZ was receptive, because of what the project eventually brings to the zone."
The amended resolutions also called for a $17,000 grant from the Public Health Priority Fund, a $10,000 grant from a state UEZ Administrative fund and $3,300 from the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program.
The commissioners passed a resolution that enabled Intercontinental Construction Contracting of Passaic and PMK Group of Cranford to receive $32,782 for the last work orders on construction of the township's municipal pool complex that opened earlier this year.
"These are the last bills that we agreed to pay regarding the pool," Pianese said. "It's work we wanted to have done, but couldn't until the pool was closed for the season."
One of the upgrades will be to the "splash park" area, where the existing surface will be replaced with a cleaner, safer one. Other approved work includes winterizing the pool.
The commissioners also passed a resolution that amends a Sept. 26 resolution that called for the purchase of two new street sweepers with state UEZ funding. However, it was learned that the township would have to foot 20 percent of the approximately $396,000 allocated to the purchase of the sweepers, so the resolution was amended to accept $317,000 in a grant, with the township paying $79,000 out of the municipal budget for the sweepers.
The commissioners also passed a resolution that enables Goldman Beale Associates to remain as the township's municipal financial advisor for a rate of $250 per hour and not to exceed $25,000 annually. It is another two-year contract with Goldman Beale.
The commissioners also passed a resolution allowing the township to assume $7 million in debt from the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority in order to prepare for the sewage and drainage agreement the MUA and the township has with the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission that will begin next year.
The township's new plan regarding handicapped parking spaces was introduced in an ordinance. It will be officially voted upon at the next scheduled meeting.
"We researched the inventory on all the handicapped parking spaces and broke them down into three lists," Pianese said. "There are the active spaces, the eliminated spaces and then those that have to be removed. We've investigated it thoroughly and anyone not worthy of a handicapped spot, we're taking the acts to remove them. The ultimate goal is to free up at least 25 spots."
The new ordinance will also call for anyone with a registered handicapped parking spot to re-register every two years.
The commissioners also introduced an ordinance that calls for the refinancing of $12 million in municipal bonds in order to receive a better interest rate.
"We're refinancing existing bonds at a more attractive interest rate," Pianese said. "We're getting an interest rate of approximately 4.5 percent and refinancing where we had 7 percent. It's going to save around $500,000. We're basically selling new bonds to pay off the old ones."
The commissioners also approved the payment of bills totaling $4.071 million to assorted vendors and businesses.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org