“Tonight we’re pleased to introduce our budget on time once again,” announced Councilman Robert Costantino at the Town Council meeting on March 25, “a budget that does not increase your municipal taxes, for the third year in a row.”
The council then voted to introduce the $49.8 million budget. It covers spending for calendar year 2014. It will be up for a public hearing and final approval at a future date.
Costantino provided some of the completed budget plans. “Included in this budget is the full funding of about $1.2 million in projects, so we don’t need to bond for that or borrow for that,” he said.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli said that some of the improvements will be funded from surplus money.
“Some of the improvements we’ll be doing are $25,000 at the Senior Center, $100,000 for a new senior bus, pedestrian safety upgrades, $45,000,” he said. “The Clarendon Little League field will be completely rebuilt.”
Other plans include “a new playground a Huber Street School, which is on school property but it’s open to the public, and we’re doing paving and flood mitigation,” said Gonnelli.
At the meeting, the council introduced an ordinance for a $2 million renovation of the ice rink, a facility that is about 35 years old and currently costs approximately $175,000 a year to operate. “Right now we have to make about a foot of ice,” he said. “With the new system we’ll be making about an inch of ice. So we anticipate that between the impact fee and money that we’re going to save alone in utilities, we will clearly and easily pay off or pay back this debt. It’s a much-needed improvement for the kids.”
“Included in this budget is the full funding of about $1.2 million in projects.” –Councilman Robert Costantino
Costantino pointed out that some town expenses and debts had gone up, such as a $400,000 increase in bond payments due this year as a result of backloading. Thus, the council needs to save in other ways.
“You hear us throughout the years talk about all these savings, these little ways to save money, and this is where that comes into play,” he said. “I’m proud to say I think we’re ready for those things. We have money for a rainy day, we’re being fiscally responsible, and we’ll have more on this in a few weeks.”
Requiring more open space in developments
The council introduced an ordinance at the meeting repealing and replacing Chapter 135 of the Code of the Town of Secaucus. “This ordinance has been a long time coming. Probably ten years,” said Gonnelli. “We’re actually changing the zoning requirements and making it so that there’ll be more open space, at least 30 percent open space on residential housing projects.”
“We had a subcommittee meeting on this with the attorneys and we pretty much revamped our zoning ordinances,” said Councilman Gary Jeffas. “We just looked overall at what was going on and what we thought was a good direction for some zoning issues in the town that have been problematic over time and did our very best to address some of those. A lot are the same but a lot changed.”
Among the revisions are refinements to building heights and setbacks. The ordinance next goes to the planning board, which has 35 days to review it and provide comments, then the council will introduce it, with a May 13 public hearing scheduled.
A copy of the full, lengthy ordinance is available in the clerk’s office, with a short summary to be provided in the future.
Duck Pond study
“On tonight’s agenda we also had resolution 10, an agreement with Rutgers University, and that is to fund a study of the entire duck pond,” said Gonnelli. “It will be a study of the pond itself, the water, the sediment, the embankment… aeration, the species of fish in the pond, plant life.”
“These guys do this throughout the state in freshwater ponds,” he said. “This is really a jewel, to have a pond like this in our community, so the $6,000 investment will go a long way.”
Costantino provided an update on another item on the agenda: changing the mobile communication device policy for town employees. “In the past, those who had a phone shared a big pool of minutes and it was a rather expensive bill for the town.”
Going forward, those with a smart phone will be reimbursed $75 a month and those with non-smart phones will receive $45 a month in an effort to save money. “Hopefully 50 percent of our cost will be reduced,” said Costantino.
Activities and other matters
As reported earlier, this year the town pool will be available to Secaucus residents only. Improvements are planned, including additional cabanas and a birthday party area for kids.
Councilman Mark Dehnert announced scheduled upgrades to the kiddie pool, which will be renovated with a pirate theme.
Regarding the ongoing testing for environmental contamination at the Keystone Metal Finishing plant, Councilman Jeffas reported that five residences had been tested so far.
“The second round is happening April 1,” he said. “Letters went out to 18 residents on that, both from the DEP and the town, encouraging people to cooperate.”
“Hopefully by the next meeting we may have some of the results from the first five samplings,” he continued. “It’ll probably take a couple of meetings after that before the April samplings come in and we have a better idea of where we stand.”
The second town forum with the Secaucus High School Junior State of America (JSA) is scheduled for April 2 at 7 p.m. “I would encourage as many people to come out as possible,” said Mayor Gonnelli. “It’s really a great time. The kids ask some really interesting questions. It’ll be here in Town Hall.”
“I encourage people all the time to ask questions. Too few people come to council meetings,” he said. “This is an opportunity always to get up and ask questions. It’s the only way we’re going to hear what’s going on in town that we’re missing, or something that we’re not addressing properly.”
Councilwoman Susan Pirro announced that the United Way store in Secaucus is changing its hours, and effective this week it will be open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Also another Mystical Celebration to benefit the Secaucus Emergency Fund will be Sunday, May 4 from 12 to 6 p.m.,” she said. “There’ll be psychic readings, mediums, tarot cards, all kinds of fun things there.”
Awards and checks
“We had something that happened in town that we really felt this individual needed to be rewarded for,” said Gonnelli. “So we came up with the first-time-ever ‘Home Town Hero Award.’ And it’s going to go to Steven Papa.”
Papa, a trainer at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, was on the field when a 15-year-old boy went into cardiac arrest. “His heart stopped, he wasn’t breathing,” said Gonnelli. “Steven had the foresight to run from the field to his office, get an AED (automated external defibrillator), get back, and brought the young man back to life.”
“He had the foresight, he had the courage, and he also had the knowledge to do what he had to do,” said Gonnelli, presenting Papa with a plaque from the town.
Also during the meeting the Secaucus-based organization wrap4asmile presented a short video to make people aware of their mission.
“One of the focuses of the program is packing hygiene kits that we distribute to the homeless community and military serving overseas,” said Director of Program Development Cathy Wolf. “To date we have distributed over 100,000 hygiene kits. And the majority of them have been packed by our children, our kids in town.”
Several of the kids spoke briefly about their involvement in the eight-year-old organization, which also provides food and clothing to needy individuals. “Through giving back to the community we’re hoping to improve leadership skills for our youth,” said Wolf.
Mayor Gonnelli spoke about the Secaucus Winter Blast preceding the Super Bowl. “We had a very successful Winter Blast,” he said. “And we actually got our checks. Our first check was for $27,000. That was reimbursing the town’s expenses. And the second check was $24,340, which went to the Emergency Fund as part of the fundraising event.”
Lisa Snedeker, director of senior and community services in Secaucus, distributed checks to several organizations that participated in the event. Receiving money were UNICO, the fire department, K&S Social Athletic Club, and Spectrum Works.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.