Good evening friends and welcome to the 2014 Reorganizational Meeting for the Borough of Essex Fells. I would like to extend a very special, warm, and heartfelt welcome to our visitors, the Honorable Jerome St. John, Judge in the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division (and equally prestigious, former Mayor of Essex Fells), the Honorable Mayor of West Caldwell, Joseph Tempesta, and former Essex Fells Council President and Councilman Thomas St. John.
It is refreshing, and indeed very welcome, that my comments at this year’s State of the Borough address will not be discussing the wrath of Mother Nature, or the need to thank FEMA, the State and County officials and organizations, PSE&G, various utility companies from far across this great and generous land of ours, and many, many others, for the natural disasters that did befall Essex Fells in 2011 and 2012 were, thankfully, absent in 2013.
Rather, the events and activities in Essex Fells, and of the Borough Council, were more along the description of “business as usual.” And although the “Enchanted Forest” was a little less, “forested” due to the storms, it remained, always “enchanted.” In 2013, our town once again enjoyed the very special Currier and Ives moment of skating and the skating races at the Pond thanks to the wonderful work of Tom Torter and the Skating Pond Committee, and this year, thanks to the spearheading efforts of Ron Ellis, our residents can now truly enjoy the Pond year round with the completion of the peaceful path encircling the Pond. We enjoyed the annual and time-honored fishing derby put on by the Essex Fells Fire Department. The Essex Fells Garden Club, under the leadership of Doreen Ward, worked year round to keeping our town the bucolic Borough that she is, held its Annual Plant Sale in the Spring and the Christmas Eve Sing several weeks ago, and very generously donated very substantial funds to help restore the Glen behind the Essex Fells School which had been severely damaged. We came together, once again, on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to our town’s five fallen heroes and the Chief John Kauffman and Essex Fells Fire Department returned to hosting its traditional Annual Memorial Day Picnic immediately after the Memorial Day Parade. The Essex Fells School, that magnificent “stone set in a silver sea,” was busy with not only educating our children, but also creating very special Essex Fells memories for the kids for years to come. I will never forget that on Veterans Day this year, the Sixth Grade class not only attended our ceremony at Borough Hall at 8:30 in the morning, but also invited our town’s veterans to join them in the media center to discuss their service to our country. It was truly a very special moment, and one that made us all so proud of our veterans and of our children. And as always, with each season, Essex Fells showed us her beauty, her grace, and her elegance.
And similarly described as “business as usual,” during 2013, your Borough Council, as always, was very diligent and busy in its charge of being fiscally and responsibly improving Essex Fells’ services and programs, while honoring the past and preserving the unique character of our town. 2013 presented many traditional and some unique challenges, but this governing body admirably met those challenges through hard work, creative thinking, and teamwork. I am proud of the accomplishments of this Council and all of them are to be commended.
The credit for our accomplishments also goes to the amazing efforts of our town’s administration – specifically our Borough Administrator, Francine Paserchia, Administrative Assistant, Brittany Thunel, and their staff, our assigned CFO Christopher Battaglia of Battaglia Associates, Essex Fells Water Utility Superintendent Jack Pohlman and the men of our water utility, Essex Fells Police Chief Vincent Kulik, Lieutenant Donald Allen, and the men and woman of the Essex Fells Police Department, Department of Public Works Superintendent Roger Kerr and the men of the DPW, Essex Fells Recreation Director Rob Lombardy, Essex Fells Fire Chief John Kauffman and my fellow Essex Fells Firefighters, and Borough Council Counsel, Martin Murphy. Since I took the oath of this office in 2002, I have closely worked with all of you, some on a weekly basis, and a few of you on a daily basis. I want to take this opportunity to publically thank you all for all that you do for Essex Fells and her residents – for your commitment to your professions; for your commitment to our residents. I not only enjoy every moment of working with you for the people of Essex Fells, but also, and very honestly and sincerely, say that I respect and admire you all for your dedication. Thank you.
And of course, Essex Fells would not be Essex Fells without her resident volunteers - those who give their time and talents to making the Borough such a special and wonderful place to live and raise a family. There are so many of you; please know that we all appreciate your efforts and time in giving back to the community you love. Thank you all.
Shortly, you will be hearing from the Council Chairpersons of the various Borough’s Committees with specific details of all the highlights and achievements for 2013; and the successes are many, including:
· Successfully re-negotiating water contracts with certain customer towns and with New Jersey American Water Company;
· Concluding our Teamsters Union contract negotiations;
· Improving relations, communications, and partnering with PSE&G regarding the maintenance of utilities in Essex Fells in storms;
· Encouraging residents to use our webpage – www.essexfellsboro.com - and sign up for NIXLE so that they can get the needed information quickly on their cell phones in times of emergency;
· Maintaining and repairing the Borough’s physical plants and the Water Utility’s pumps and wells and water system;
· Installing new Federally regulated street signs;
· Hiring and welcoming new police personnel (Officer Joseph Ficci who officially joined us in 2012, but who graduated from the Police Academy in 2013) and other non-police personnel (assigned CFO Christopher Battaglia);
· Exploring and creating ways to reduce the tax burdens through the continued use of shared services with other municipalities;
· Installing new signs at the Recycling area;
· Pursing New Jersey Department of Transportation grants to maintain safe and secure roadways;
· And passing of comprehensive, through, and well-conceived ordinances; for example ordinances dealing with the installation and use of generators and the ability to conduct professional filming for movies, television, or commercials in town.
I do believe that, periodically, any State of the Borough Address needs to briefly touch upon where we have been, what has been accomplished, and what are some of the upcoming challenges and issues to be addressed. Over the last 12 years as your Mayor, my plan for the Borough of Essex Fells has been extremely consistent and focused on maintaining and improving the Borough services, while at the same time, meeting the fiduciary obligations to the taxpayers by controlling costs and exploring every feasible option to keep taxes low, all in a balanced and responsible manner to preserve our unique small town character. Each member of the 12 governing bodies with whom I have had the absolute honor and privilege to work with has joined me in this charge, for each understands that we are only bailees of this precious jewel called Essex Fells.
Over the course of the last 12 years, we have had great success in every aspect of Borough life, some of which are:
Police and Public Safety–
· Established close coordination with our Police, Fire, Water, DPW and Administration for the safety and welfare of all our residents following Hurricane Sandy and the October Storm of 2011, including dealing with our representatives from the County, State and Federal agencies all for the benefit of Essex Fells;
· Reviewed policies, procedures, and other considerations in order to keep our Police Department independent, in addition to providing the department with the best equipment necessary;
· Always being committed to proper education and training for Police personnel for not only the safety of the residents of Essex Fells, but also for the officers themselves;
· Remained committed to the “two car minimum” for patrols in town;
· Worked with the EFPD to establish lock-down and evacuation drills at our elementary school, the first for any such elementary school in the area;
· Worked closely with the Elementary School Administration and Board of Education to install cameras and establish proper procedures to increase student and faculty safety;
· Increased the role and involvement of our Emergency Management operations through coordination and communication with the EFPD;
· Encouraged the welcomed diversification of our police department personnel;
· Updated the police fleet and acquired new means of speed enforcement (our Harley Davidson); and,
· Fostered a close and trusting working relationship with all of the members of the Essex Fells Police Department.
Department of Recreation–
· Oversaw the acquisition, renovations, planning, design, and improvements to Essex Fells Fields, including working closely with the County for the financing and planning for the Field House; and,
· Encouraged the expansion of recreational activities and services offered to all residents.
Essex Fells Water Utility–
· Negotiated the successful renewals of the water utility contracts with our surrounding customer towns;
· Ensured that the necessary maintenance and upgrades are made to our water utility system; and,
· Negotiated with our outside water purveyor to build and establish a separate pump station to allow for additional water as needed in order to prevent utility imposed water restrictions.
Finance and Personnel–
· Planned for and completed - within budget - the renovations to Borough Hall and the other municipal buildings;
· Established the continued and periodic review of the Borough’s departmental operations and personnel evaluations and analysis;
· Entered into shared service agreements with other municipalities in order to keep taxes low (e.g., joint dispatch, municipal court, sub-code officials, tax collectors, tax assessor, deputy registrars, health services, animal control officer, recreational programs and services), and created new cost saving opportunities through careful and creative outsourcing (CFO);
· Successfully handled a tax revaluation and tax reassessments through frank and honest communications with Borough residents; and,
· Always remain open to exploring additional and creative ways to keep taxes low, while still maintaining the high level of municipal services that Essex Fells residents deserve.
· Enlarged the participation of our residents to properly remember the supreme sacrifice of our five fallen sons on Memorial Day and to thank and acknowledge our town’s veterans on Veterans Day;
· Created the Essex Fells Veterans Committee;
· Continue to host “Seniors Coffee with the Mayor” meetings and created the Senior Resident Advisory Committee;
· Created the Essex Fells Historical Society - which will be having its first 2014 meeting next month – all are invited – there will be a reading assignment and quiz! Please check the website for details;
· For ten years, the Borough wrote and distributed the Essex Fells newsletter; then designed, implemented and now regularly updates the Essex Fells webpage (recently recognized as one of the best municipal webpages in the State);
· Proactively passed one of the most strict ordinances in the State regarding cell tower restrictions in a municipality;
· Successfully negotiated and found the proper solution to the town’s Mount Laurel litigation; and,
· Communicated effectively with county, state and federal elected officials for the betterment of Essex Fells.
Department of Public Works–
· Worked closely with the DPW in order to ensure that all of the town’s roads, sewers, and public lands, including the new Essex Fells fields, are properly cared for;
· Ensuring the continued improvements to roads and water drainage system via NJ DOT grants;
· Supported and coordinated with DPW during Hurricane Sandy and the October Storm of 2011; and,
· Established close working relationships with County, State, and Federal elected officials and with PSE&G regarding storm procedures.
Those are just a few of the accomplishments that we have made since 2002. Yet, as we are reminded at the end of Coppola’s brilliant film, “Patton,” “Sic transit gloria mundi” (“All glory is fleeting”).
Today and going forward, we on the governing body face many tough challenges in 2014 and beyond, some of which are:
1. Maintaining Essex Fells’ Unique Character - While at last year’s Fishing Derby at the Pond, I was approached by someone who told me that she grew up in Essex Fells and moved away over 40 years ago. She then stated that she wanted me to know that the town is as beautiful as she remembered it, that the traditions like the Fishing Derby warmed her heart, and that the residents she met that day were as nice as the residents she and her family knew so long ago. She was so happy to see that all that is wonderful about Essex Fells has not changed. For me as Mayor, that is the nicest compliment anyone can ever pay our town. My challenge, and my charge – our challenge, our charge – is simply that – to deal with the necessary, good, or even thrust upon, changes that have to occur in our little Borough, but to always deal with them honestly, with the right perspective, and in such a way as to have the least impact on the very special “feel” that makes Essex Fells so “Essex Fells.” I often say that Essex Fells is “the town that time forgot,” because of its unique, and even romantic, character of small town America where neighbor knows neighbor and where we really do all care for one another.
2. Emergency Management – Hurricane Sandy and the October Storm of 2011 taught us all the importance of proper emergency management planning, coordination, and communication. We have learned much about all three, and going forward we will continue to learn more and implement procedures to be even better prepared when the next disaster strikes. The Borough has put in place the Nixle system, which is surpassing the Reverse 911 system in terms of effectiveness and immediacy, and all residents are encouraged to enroll their cellphone numbers on the Nixle system (information can be found on our webpage). By doing so, any subscriber can get immediate texts to their cellphones from me, as Mayor or Emergency Management Coordinator, or our Chief of Police in a fast and very efficient way. Further, we have requested grants and assistance through FEMA through their programs for costs and expenses that the Borough suffered in the past two years, in addition to purchasing generators for our Municipal Hall and Service Building. This is certainly a work in progress, but with the team in place of our Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works, Water, Administration and Mayor/Emergency Management Coordinator, and with our relationships with the County, State, and Federal authorities, along with PSE&G, we are constantly improving and fine-tuning our response to such disasters.
3. Creating or Updating New Borough Ordinances - Given the power outages recently suffered, many residents purchased or are considering purchasing full home generators. We wanted to make sure that the generators are properly located and connected in a safe manner; therefore, working with our code official and engineer, the Borough crafted and passed an ordinance regarding the safe installation and location of home generators. Other ordinances that need to be created or updated include those affecting dish communication devices, solar panel placements, outdoor lighting, and fencing regulations.
4. Controlling proper housing structure size on Borough lots – Thanks to the foresight of past Mayors, Councils, Planning Boards and Zoning Boards of Adjustment, Essex Fells was the leader in establishing the “Floor to Area” standard for construction of homes. This has been instrumental in allowing the Borough’s homes to be by in large proportional to the properties. Going forward and working with the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Essex Fells needs to discuss what restrictions it should consider on the size of homes that could be constructed on very large properties which, although meet the Borough’s FAR, could be so large as to be out of character with the town’s atmosphere and nature;
5. Historic Home Preservation – Again, with working side by side with the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Historical Committee, and interested in-town professional architects, the governing body needs to re-new its efforts to create an Architectural Advisory Review Board to either try to prevent the loss of the unique, historic homes that have such an important place in our town’s history and landscape, or exert motivation or guidance on the owners to maintain as much of the historic structure as possible;
6. Tree and Trotter Tract Preservation – Three factors have had a terrible impact on the beautiful trees that have graced our town: time (meaning that most large tall trees live for about 80 to 100 years, and given the developmental history of our Borough, many of our great trees have reached the end of their lifespan), the October Storm of 2011, and Hurricane Sandy. The Council needs to take aggressive measures to put into place a firm plan on how to re-forest, care, and maintain our Borough properties with the trees that we either have already lost or will lose in the coming years. I have already been in contact with a forest consultant to discuss how best to replant and maintain our borough properties, including the 80 acre Trotter Tract, and we will be working with other great organizations in town, including the Essex Fells Garden Club, Friends of the Trotter Tract, the Essex Fells Conservancy, and interested residents to ensure that our town remains the bucolic, special, heavily forested town it has been for many generations to come.
I have no doubt that we on the governing body will meet these challenges and successfully over come them, as long as we are true to three basic principles:
1. Focus on and act only to accomplish our charge: to maintain and improve the Borough services, while at the same time, meeting the fiduciary obligations to the Essex Fells taxpayers by controlling costs, all in a balanced and responsible manner to preserve our unique small town character;
2. Remember that we are only trustees of this ever so special place; that we must only and always act for the betterment of the current and future residents of Essex Fells; that our beloved 1.3 square miles is so special that its protection unquestionably takes priority over personal interests; and,
3. That we need to prepare “the next generation” to accept the torch of Borough governance and responsibility; that residents with “skin in the game” (e.g., those who will be living here for the next 30, 40 years who may have young children in school or are involved with the many wonderful Essex Fells clubs, committees or foundations) consider what their contributions will be to our town and we need to actively and vigorously encourage and welcome their involvement in bringing their ideas and visions to bear on the future of Essex Fells. Let not the current state of politics in New Jersey dissuade any one of the next generation from wanting to become involved in the care of our beloved Borough; Let them be motivated and called by the virtues of public service. For the future of our beloved Essex Fells will be in their hands, as it was placed in ours years ago.
That said, come, let us to the task. The business of the Borough awaits.
Twelve years ago (on January 2, 2002) I was sworn in as Mayor of the Borough of Essex Fells for the first time. In preparing my State of the Borough address for tonight, I re-read the comments I made that night. My remarks were filled with honest and sincere feelings of enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead, an impatience and excitement about going forth with the governing body and administration to meet those challenges head on, and with a promise to you all that I would do my best to earn your trust and confidence each day and work unceasingly to honor and respect the cherished trust placed in me to fulfill all of the duties and responsibilities of the Office of the Mayor of the Borough of Essex Fells each day, every day.
Twelve years later, please know that the enthusiasm for the challenges still rages; the impatience and excitement still burns; and the promise to earn your trust and confidence each day, every day, is unbroken and everlasting.
I would like to thank the people of Essex Fells for their confidence in me and for reaffirming all the good work that we together have accomplished during the last twelve years. I have never, ever, considered the Mayor’s office as an office that you “win,” rather; it is an office that you “earn,” and one that you must earn every day. Thank you for having the confidence and trust in me to allow me the absolute privilege to continue to be your Mayor and to represent and lead this wonderful town for another term. I look forward to the next four years with unbridled enthusiasm and excitement. You have bestowed upon me a magnificent honor, “a glorious burden,” and one that I will work tirelessly to uphold.
I would also like to thank my dear friends for their friendship and support – over the years they have been members of – not the Council or a Cabinet - but actually more of a “kitchen cabinet” by freely sharing with me their thoughts and concerns for our beloved Borough, and I have drawn great insight and strength from your friendship and support.
You don’t do a job like this without the love and support of one’s family. My heartfelt thanks goes to my family - my wife Jill, for her constant – though at times, possibly reluctant – encouragement; my son Ted – for his absolute and blinding confidence in believing that I will never leave this chair until I’m dead; and my daughter Kelly – for her remarkable ability to always make me try harder to make her proud of me, as only daughters can do to their fathers, but most importantly, to all three of you, thank you for your ever-constant love, support, and understanding. It means the world to me.
And so, our well-established goal has always been to bring Essex Fells’ services and programs up to date and to establish a plan for our future, while honoring our past and preserving the unique character of our town. So it has been, so it is now, and so shall it continue to be.
God bless these United States, God bless Essex Fells, and God Bless you all.
View the State of the Borough Address 2014