2024 State of the Municipality Address

Thank you for joining us today. I hope everyone had a Happy Holiday Season and I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Thank you to Father Jim Petroccione for providing the invocation, Kayla Wrigley for a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem and to Scout Troop 17 for suppling the Color Guard for today’s ceremony.   Thank you to Steven Ward, Tara Pettoni, Kara Deloreto, Danielle Lamonte and Kayla Wrigley for making sure everything is picture perfect for today’s ceremony.

I would like to offer my congratulations to returning Councilwoman Angie Cote and our new Council President Glenn Buie along with our newly elected Council Members Lou Maffei and Robbie Simpson.   I am confident that you will all serve the people of Denville extremely well. 

A very sincere thank you to our recently retired Councilmen John Murphy and Harry Fahrer for their many years of dedicated service to our community. It was a pleasure working with both of you. A special thank you to you both for agreeing to stay involved as volunteers. 

Thank you to the citizens of Denville for once again entrusting our beloved Town into my care.  I am truly humbled by your faith and confidence in me.  Most importantly, thank you to my wife Sharon, and my entire family for their constant patience, support, understanding and the sacrifices that they make which enable me to serve as Mayor.

Your Township Administration as always, will remain steadfast to its cardinal goals of proactive flood mitigation, continued downtown economic revitalization, upgrading our infrastructure, outstanding public health and safety, providing great senior, recreational and social programs, improving our efficiencies, all while running the Township in the most cost effective manner possible.

I will now provide you with a brief summary of our accomplishments and plans in each of those areas.

It has taken over 10 years, but we finally have the plans for a major Flood Mitigation Project, provided by the Army Corp of Engineers and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  The US Army Corps determined the 36 identified property owners that would have the option to take advantage of the $19 Million Dollar plan.  The project would raise their homes out of the flood plain or either Wet or Dry Proof of their homes or buildings.  The qualifying properties are all located in the Denville Park Section of our community.

We have been notified that we will be receiving a NJ DOT Transportation grant for $500,000 for streetscape improvements around the Bloomfield Avenue Bus Stop.  We are reviewing our options to expand the project.  Our plan is to continue the period lighting, curbs, brickwork and music to Bloomfield Avenue just as it is on Broadway and First Avenue.  This is an example where our persistence paid off as we have submitted an application through this specific highly competitive grant program every year for about 10 years.

We did not receive the TEA-21 grant we were hoping for streetscape renovations for Diamond Spring Rd.  However, through our aggressive grant writing efforts, we found another Federal grant and just submitted an application for the continuation of the Diamond Spring Road section of the Streetscape plan. We will continue to search until we receive a grant to complete the downtown streetscape.

In 2023, Denville started to utilize state-of-the-art technology to perform parking enforcement in our downtown area. We no longer chalk tires but instead utilize a computerized License Plate Reading (“LPR”) system, which is attached to a moving Police Department vehicle. Each time the vehicle drives down a street or through a parking lot (which could be multiple times each hour) the LPR tracks the amount of time a vehicle has been parked in a particular parking spot. If during any of the passes, a vehicle has been parked in a specific spot for a period of time exceeding the time limit, the system will notify the officer who can issue a violation.

Residents and business owners were well advised prior to the enforcement technology change and that all day free parking is available in the Lower Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot and the Church Street Parking Lot with 3-hour free parking available in the 1st Avenue Parking Lot and the Upper Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot. Furthermore, daily, monthly, semi-annual and annual parking permits are available for sale in the Municipal Clerk’s Office.

One of the benefits of the new technology is that we are able to monitor the amount of parked cars we have on the downtown streets and parking lots.  After reviewing the other Morris County areas downtown parking regulations and our parking data, I asked Downtown Denville if they would like me to see about extending the Downtown Parking limit to 90 minutes from 60 minutes, which seems to have been in place since the 1960s or earlier.  The Council consented to a two month trial period, it appears to be working alright so at our last meeting they extended the trial until the end of March.  Once we get all the parking surveys from the police we will determine if the 90 minute limit should be made permanent.

We have hired an Architect to design the architectural plans to renovate the Union Hill 2 Room Schoolhouse.  The building was a school from 1908 to 1957 before being turned into the Board of Education Building.  In 1913 town meeting were held at the school before a referendum was held to separate Union Hill & Denville from Rockaway Township.  Our Plans are to bring the building to code, return the outside of the building to what it was and to modernize the interior for public meeting space for Library & Township programs and community meetings and events. We applied and are awaiting the results on a Congressional grant for funding we understand that we have passed the first 2 of 3 phases.  If successful, the congressional grant could cover up to $1 million of the renovation costs.

The repairs to Well #5 were more extensive than originally thought to be.  The cracks in the well casing forced us to re-drill a new well.  The work is in its final stages and they are in the process of having the water tested as we need to make sure the water meets all the State regulations before we put the well on line.

I will be asking the Council to allocate at least as much money in road paving as last year as we continue to try to keep pace with our road paving program. We anticipate providing our recommended list to the Township Council in the next couple of days in advance of our January 22, 2023 budget hearing with the Engineer.

There is a supply chain back-up on the long awaited water meter replacement, which we will conduct throughout the entire Township. This phased project, which is anticipated to take approximately 5 years, will put a state-of-the-art radio-controlled water meter that will eliminate the need for a water meter reader to physically go read the meter at each house. We have been putting the capital funding away for more than 12 years for the meters and anticipate eventually bringing in a contractor to install these meters. Currently, the DPW is performing the installations on a limited basis with the meters we have received to date. Ultimately, this will enable us to give better service to our water customers, such as almost immediate large leak detection, and do-so with less manpower.

Based upon a review after a 2021 NJDEP mandate, Denville is fortunate that we do not have lead water mains in our water system. We only have 12,220 feet of galvanize steel pipes on a select number of streets in Lake Arrowhead, in the Peck Meadow neighborhood and a few streets in Mountain Lakes that we service. Prior to 2031, we will have to replace all the galvanized pipes.  To achieve this objective, we anticipate grant funding to become available and are exploring other options such as the infrastructure bank. Township Engineer John Ruschke is in the process of developing a comprehensive replacement plan and cost estimates.  

Township Engineer John Ruschke is in the process of developing a comprehensive replacement plan and cost estimates.  As mentioned above, we are focusing our water meter replacement program in areas where we have galvanized water mains to better be able to identify those property owners with private lead or galvanized service lines. The Township is required to ensure these private property owners upgrade their service line from lead or galvanized by 2031. 

With the cooperation of Rockaway Borough, we have applied jointly for a state grant to build a sidewalk on Franklin Avenue between Knoll Drive in Denville and Route 46 in Rockaway.  Hopefully we will receive this grant and make it a safer area for the Morris Knolls High School Students.

There are four things that are on the horizon that are not in our direct control:

  • Lackawanna Crossing – NJ DOT and NJ Transit are battling out engineering details on the improvements to the access road.
  • Franklin Avenue Bridge- NJ DOT and NJ Transit are working out cost and design details, while the Township is working with adjacent property owners on easement agreements.
  • Openaki Bridge – The dam was stabilized this past summer by the County with the new homeowner is participating. This is good news for the dam being rebuilt but will likely add years to the project completion timeline.
  • Lenape Island Bridge – The County is working on plans to replace the Lenape Island Bridge. Maintaining the Historic Archway is our primary concern, which we have expressed to the County on multiple occasions.

Work has begun and is nearing completion on Phase #2 of the Veteran Field Expansion Project which will add a second turf field with additional parking.  Based upon the progress of the contractor, we anticipate the field will be opened this spring.

Funded through a $340,000 Morris County grant construction is on the way for the 2nd phase of a trail which will eventually go around the Ayers Knuth Farm.  Unfortunately, our 2024 grant application was not approved this year.  We will re-submit an updated application and try again in the next funding cycle.  

The DPW has paved the driveway at Gardner Field along Field #1 and also plans on paving the entire driveway to Todd Johnson field once the work on Well #5 is completed.  We also replaced the second set of guard rail on Savage Road along McCloskey Field #7.

We are working with the Board of Education to replace the retaining wall and stairs at Todd Johnson Field. We are working with the Board of Education to replace the retaining wall and stairs at Todd Johnson Field. The DPW did the demolition and will build a new retaining wall now that the contractor has installed the new steps.

The New Pickleball courts have proven to be very popular. We averaged about 60 tennis badges yearly until this past season when we sold over 500 tennis and pickleball badges.  We will be recommending several rules and regulation changes for the 2024 season as well as the possibility of creating some multi-purpose courts.

For many years we have looked for ways to install AED’s at our fields but could never find a way to keep them secure while having them accessible.  I asked the vendors at last year’s League of Municipalities if there were any advance towards making public AEDs more secure and accessible. I was told no advances were made.

Last December when Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, suffered a cardiac arrest on the field, OEM, Director Wesely Sharlpes, Recreation Director Nick Panetta and I researched this in more detail and found a company intriguing options.  It took some time but we now have at least one secured AED at Gardner, Veterans, VFW, Pocono, Knuth Fields, and with the cooperation of the Board of Education, one at the Valleyview School ballfields.  We are accepting donation to install an additional one at our larger complexes: Gardner Field and Veterans Field.

For over 82 years our Fire Department has handled all our First Aid calls for 24 hour a day a 7 days a week. That was until September 2021 when Denville was the last Morris County community that could make that claim. At that point it became obvious that it was just too much of a strain on the available daytime volunteers. 

The Town Council and I are extremely proud that The Denville Volunteer Fire Department was able to maintain a 24-7 volunteer First Aid as long as they did.  Today they continue to provide us service along with a paid service from Morris County and Saint Clare’s Hospital.  It is our hope that new volunteers will join, and the Denville Fire Department can return First aid to full volunteer service to the community at some point in the future.  For the last year the Fire Department has been proactively recruiting volunteers and thankfully has had some success, but we are not where we need to be.  Anyone interested in being the ultimate volunteer for our community can stop in at Main Street Firehouse on any Monday night.

Congratulations to Police Captain Jeff Tucker on his retirement and thank you for his service to our community both on the Police Department and for all his work running the PAL.  Congratulations to Captain Scott Welsh, Lieutenant Fred Jackson and Sargent Zack Lancaster on their promotions.

Denville has fulfilled our 2015 court ordered Affordable Housing obligation and is maximizing the income off these developments for each of our public utilities. We passed a tree ordinance where developers are responsible for planting a certain amount of trees on sight, in Denville Parks or pay cash into a dedicated Township-controlled tree fund. 

In 2023 we revised our Master plan.  We took what we learned from past affordable housing cycles and have implemented changes in preparation for the 2025 process.

The Planning Board has done a great job of updating our vision of 21st century Denville in preparing the Master Plan.  This new Master Plan does NOT forget our roots, heritage or the quant and charming downtown character that has made us Morris County’s favorite downtown destination year-after-year.

The 4th round of Constitutionally-mandated Affordable Housing obligation is just 18 months away.  Sadly, Up until the week before Christmas, our Governor, Senate President and Assembly Speaker have not addressed it and have shown no interest in wanting to do so. 

After years of no action by the State Legislature, in a Lame Duck Session Assembly Speaker Coughlin & Assemblywoman Lopez, Chair of the Assembly Housing Committee and Senate President Scutari & Senator Singleton member of the Joint Committee on Housing Affordability have sponsored Bill A4/S4251.  The proposed bill would radically change how Affordable Housing is distributed throughout New Jersey and, from our review, not for the better for municipalities like Denville. The 70-page bill was not posted for public review until less than 24 hours before being ushered through the Assembly Housing Committee, where it passed on its way to adoption.  It seems clear, the bill is being rushed through during the holidays in a lame duck session of our State legislature in order to intentionally limit public comment and likely opposition. 

We are working with the New Jersey League of Municipalities, The New Jersey Conference of Mayors and our Affordable Housing Attorney on possible ways to slow down and limit the damage to this Bill.  

There is no doubt NJ needs to supply more Affordable Housing.  I receive the calls from the people in need.  However, NJ is the most densely populated State in the country.  The State should be concentrating on preserving open space to protect our environment, and developing blighted properties in need of improvements.  Our approach has been to try to strike a balance between conserving land and investing in local smart growth strategies.  Denville has preserved over 1,300 acres of land as permanent open space, which represents about 17% of all Township land.  As such, Denville has done everything possible to place ourselves in the best possible position to defend against additional development in future rounds. However, if the proposed legislation is adopted, the Township will have little say in determining its 4th round obligation as well as very limited appeal rights.

In the past round, Denville was able to maintain its immunity from builder remedy lawsuits by successfully settling our 2015-2025 obligation in 2021. By fighting in court for five years, at a cost of $500,000 Dollars, the Township was able to reduce its 3rd round obligation from 1,786 affordable units proposed by our adversaries to 196 affordable units, which is actually only 148 affordable units due to credits we were eligible to receive for certain rental units (please note the proposed legislation will eliminate all bonus credits). Currently, those developments are in various stages of the approval or even construction process. More information on Affordable Housing opportunities in Denville, will be available in the Hub Times Newsletter that will be mailed out shortly.  

We have been proactive in every area of our budgeting, fiscal management, planning our infrastructure, management of personnel and technology. We have worked extremely hard to successfully manage all of the areas of the budget under our control.  2023 was a very exciting year. We sold at public auction a 16.45 acre parcel of land on Vanderhoof Ave, which is located between Rt. 80 and the Industrial zone in Rockaway Borough for $6.435 million dollars.  The Town acquired the property at no cost, in 1984 in a tax foreclosure.  It was never part of our Open Space plan because of its location and its being zoned Industrial.  We learned just owning it put Affordable Housing obligation pressure on us.  About 6 acres will be disturbed with the remaining acreage being untouched because of easements and wet land buffers.  

The sale of the Vanderhoof property combined with paying off the Town Hall debt instrument, and the financial plan we have designed and implemented over the last decade has put us in an exceptional position financially. We saw this fruit of our labor when Moody’s bestowed an Aaa Bond rating on the Township. All this, has enabled us to develop a plan which puts the Township on a path to zero debt by the end of the decade.  It is essential that we use the money from the sale of the acreage wisely and for the long term good of our community.  It is important to recognize the outstanding work done our CFO Jessica Falce, former CFO Mike Guarino, Administrator Steven Ward and wise financial plaining provided by our Auditor Ray Sarinelli.

Since becoming Mayor, I have been blessed to have a great team on the dais, on our staff and many talented and dedicated volunteers.  I am very appreciative of our Township staff, led by our Administrator Steven Ward, Police Chief Frank Perna and Public Works Director John Egbert along with all our department heads and each of our employees who are all hard working professionals.  

I would like to thank the entire team of elected and appointed officials for working so well together.  I especially like to thank the many dedicated volunteers.  Through the collaborative efforts of all of these individuals, Denville is able to offer an incredible amount of quality services, programs and events far greater than most communities.

Over the next four years we have many plans and goals.  We have a team up to the task of completing these projects, while keeping our tax rate low and remaining financially prudent. As I conclude my address, I respectfully request the Township Council grant advice and consent to the resolution of the Mayoral and Administrative appointments.  We are very fortunate to have great people working together that continue to make Denville the finest place to live, work, raise a family and retire.  Thank you and may God continue to send his blessings to the people of Denville and may God bless the United States of America.

 

Thomas W. Andes

 

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