On January 3rd at the Annual Town Council Re-Organization Meeting, as required by law in our form of municipal government, I presented to the Council the 2023 State of Denville’s Municipality Address.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday Season and I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Congratulations to Angie Cote on being re-appointed as Council President. On a personal level, 2022 was a very difficult year for you, yet you performed the duties of Council President extremely well and I have truly enjoyed working with you. I can honestly state that each Council Member brings a unique perspective and opinion into public policy discussion for the betterment of our community. This Council continues to demonstrate that when our elected officials work as a team, the people of Denville are best served.
We are very fortunate here in Denville to have the three groups of individuals it takes to properly operate and provide quality services and programs to the community. I would like to thank the entire team of elected officials and appointed professionals for working together so effectively. Secondly our Township staff, led by our Administrator Steven Ward, along with our department heads and each of our employees who do a very fine and professional job every day. And last but not least, I want to express my gratitude for our many volunteers for their hard work and dedication to our community. It is their commitment that allow us to provide service that we may not be able to otherwise afford.
In 2022, despite the supply chain shortages and price increases left by the aftermath of the Covid 19 Pandemic we were able to complete many of the project we had planned or had started including:
- Through a NJ DOT grant of $148,000, we completed the installation of new cross walks, new curbing with handicap cutouts and a brick utility corridor along West Main Street and repaved the area of Main Street in front of the Clock Tower at the intersection of Diamond Spring Road and Broadway to Bloomfield Avenue.
- Working with Lakeland Bus Company, in an effort to encourage commuters to use the Savage Road Park & Ride Lot, we enlarged the entrance to the parking lot thereby increasing the turning radius to facilitate its use by today’s longer buses.
- When the decorative fountain by the Main Street bus stop basin leaked so badly the DPW had to shut it down for the necessary repairs, our Beautification Committee took the opportunity to restructure the entire garden around the fountain making for a delightful new parklike setting. It is truly amazing the number of beautiful flowers and decorations the Beautification Committee volunteers brings to our community nearly year-round.
- Remarkably the DPW repaired over 157 Catch Basin, in preparation of all of the scheduled road paving projects and general maintenance of collapsed basins, leaving, ending the year with just a few new Catch Basins that were just called in.
- As asphalt prices are closely connect to oil prices, in early spring when gas exceeded $4.00 a gallon, we made a calculated decision to concentrate on paving the roads first to be paved by New Jersey Natural Gas and then the State of New Jersey before starting our own locally funded paving list. Fully realizing the risk that we might not finish our list in 2022, we reaped the benefits of the price decreasing rather significantly and completed the vast majority of the roads on our locally funded list in late-October. We did holdout on paving the Lower Bloomfield Lot, and 2 streets in the Cisco Tract which we will complete in 2023.
- We recently completed the refurbishment and painting of the Beacon Hill Water Tank, the largest of water systems tanks. This project was completely paid for through our first ARPA fund installment of $800,000.
- The County finished the Palmer Road Bridge replacement. Not only has that extremely dangerous bridge been replaced our main involvement has been the replacement of the water main under the bridge. Replacing that water main is an important water utility infrastructure improvement easy to go unrecognized.
- The second phase of the Denville Brook Trail, Trail #6, has been completed, which runs 1 mile from the Openaki Bridge to Denbrook Playground. The trail was paid for with two grants totaling more than $315,000 from the Morris County Parks Commission, and people are already enjoying the easy, pleasant and scenic walk along the Den Brook.
- At Gardner Field, we finished the renovations to the basketball court, back tennis courts, built 2 new pickelball courts and installed new bleachers at the basketball courts. We also added a very basic small tee-ball field for 5- and 6-year-olds that we plan to enhance over time.
- We paved the road inside James F. Dyer Park at Cook’s Pond and removed the last of the old outbuildings on that property.
- The Township’s relationship with all of our schools is excellent especially in the area of school security, with each school either continuing to have a School Resource Office or Class III Officer assigned to it.
- We took the opportunity to preserve what is purportedly the oldest home in Denville at 560 Openaki Road. This property has a rich history which goes back to at least the 1750’s, owned by John Losey as a half-way house for travelers, while the upper room was used as a school room and later a Tavern house. Denville’s folklore places George Washington near this house during the Revolutionary War, at a nearby barn where he had his horse re-shoed. In the winter of 1780, in search of food and supplies for the vanquished troops camped outside Morristown. The tavern house would have been a likely resting place for Washington and his entourage. Hard evidence of Washington’s stop at Losey’s gristmill can be found in the Congressional Register in the early years of the 19th century, when John Losey’s grandson, Jacob Losey, and his business partners, petitioned Congress for reimbursement for the grain taken for use by the Revolutionary War soldiers. We are currently securing the house for winter and working with the Historical Society on our future plans as a potential mixed use Museum Annex.
- We are working with the library to renovate the old 2 room schoolhouse at 501 Openaki Road. We have preserved a precious part of Denville’s history and by turning the 2 classrooms into all-purpose rooms, we will help give the library much needed room for additional program space. This will in no way alleviate all their space needs but will help in the short term. The 2022 budget included funds for architectural concept plans to be developed. USA Architects submitted their plan options to a subcommittee made up from members of the Library Board, Town Council, and Administration. The Library Board and Council will be meeting at the end of January to discuss the options and course of actions we may want to take to preserve the building and utilize it as a community room.
- Designs have been made and finances are in place for a new all-purpose rectangular turf field with lights and a parking lot at Veterans Memorial Field. Specs are being finalized and it will be out for public bid in the coming week or so. It is our hope that we will award a contract this winter with work commencing this spring.
- Our Planning Board’s calendar is full. Reviewing the court-mandated applications related to our affordable housing obligation.
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.
We have made some significant strides with the Army Corp of Engineers to bring a significant future Flood Mitigation program to Denville. Although not the direction we had originally hoped, there is still a path to Flood mitigation relief for many local property owners. The key to receiving Federal funding we learned is a complex formula based upon the federal government’s return on investment in comparing the mitigation costs vs. the flood insurance payments during a storm.
Our plan of building larger-scale flood infrastructure was generally disqualified by the Army Corps in large part due to their extremely conservative cost estimates. However, the Army Corps found that raising homes, performing wet and dry flood-proofing of homes and businesses in a targeted area had an excellent return on investment.
Although we had hoped to cross the finish line with the Army Corps several years’ ago, staffing issues on their end and the continual reassignment of new staff seems to have accounted for our multi-year delay to get to this point. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am in constant contact with Congresswoman Sherrill’s Office who has advised that the Army Corps is aiming for potential early spring 2023 public presentations.
This is still a very exciting proposition and puts the Township in a great position to have the federal and state government potentially fund up to $12 million dollars to perform some of the most comprehensive flood mitigation improvements in the history of our community. So, when we are looking at acquiring that $12 Million Dollars, we must put frustrations to the side and remain ever diligent and persistent.
We have submitted a TEA-21 grant application for Downtown streetscape improvements for Diamond Spring Road. This is the same grant that we received 3 times previously to perform the streetscape on Broadway and First Avenue which brought Denville $1.6 million. This is a very competitive grant program and have been turned down twice before on our Diamond Spring Road application but will not give up until the entire downtown is complete. In order to separate us from the pack, our application is shovel ready and we have proposed more than double the required matching funds to show our local commitment to the project.
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 21, 2023, budget hearing with the Engineer.
The DPW is planning on paving the driveway at Gardner Field from Field #1 to Todd Johnson field. We are working with the Board of Education to replace the retaining wall and stairs at Todd Johnson Field, replace the guard rail along Savage Road and add trees along Savage Road and along the Riverview School Parking lot at Field #5.
Based upon a review after a 2021 NJDEP mandate, Denville is fortunate that we do not have no lead water mains in our water system and only have 12,220 feet of galvanize steel pipes on a select number of streets in Lake Arrowhead, Peck Meadow neighborhood along with a few of the streets we service in Mountain Lakes. Prior to 2031, we will have to replace the galvanized pipes and anticipate grant funding to become available and are exploring other funding options such as the infrastructure bank. The 2023 budget will include a request for funding to develop a replacement plan.
We will begin the long-awaited water meter replacement project throughout the entire Township. This phased project, which is anticipated to take 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 10 years for the meters and anticipate bringing in a contractor to install these meters. This will enable us to give better service to our water customers and ultimately do so with less manpower.
Nationwide, for a host of reasons, we have seen the increasing difficulties the police departments are having enforcing the law. We are fortunate in Denville. Outside of the recent auto thefts, which almost always are facilitated by people leaving their keys in the car, our number one complaint is cars speeding. We recognize the best way to reduce speeding is Police presence on the road. In the 2022 Budget we added a police officer and anticipate that shortly after the New Year, with the Police Academy complete, we will be at full complement. Not only will we see the additional officer on the road, but we will also see additional community policing in our downtown business district.
Starting in 2023, Denville will start utilizing state-of-the-art technology to perform parking enforcement in our downtown area. No longer will we chalk tires but instead will utilize a computerized License Plate Reading (“LPR”) system, which will be 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 are advised 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.
We are constantly looking at ways to improve our efficiencies. To cut cost by eliminating a step in the process, a product or time in the process. Sometimes like with the water meters it might take years of planning and several other internal office changes that allows for a decrease in personal at retirement, when duties can be merged. One such example we may see in 2023 is a lock box system for utility payments, where utility bills are calculated and mailed by the Township but returned to a third-party provider who processes the payments, transfers the money and an account file to the Township.
2022 brought its challenges. Denville’s leadership worked our way through the supply chain shortages and price increases that were left by the aftermath of the COIVD-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the financial plan we have designed and implemented over the last decade of paying more with cash, paying down our debt, improving our ratable base and finding more grant opportunities has been executed successfully. We saw this fruit of our labor when Moody’s bestowed an Aaa Bond rating on the Township during the Pandemic. In September 2023, the final Bond payment will be made, the Town Hall will be paid for. This alone will result in a significant drop in our annual debt service payments and will put us in an even stronger financial position.
Any piece of land not classified as protected as preserved on our Open Space Inventory is a liability to the Township when Affordable Housing totals were being calculated during the past round. That is why the Town Council and I decided to sell 19 acres of Industrial-zoned land not on the Open Space Inventory. The Township obtained the property in the 1980s as part of a tax foreclosure. The property is located on Vanderhoof Ave and is parallel to Interstate 80 and will be an excellent ratable. At the auction held in September 2022, the high bid was accepted at $6.435 million dollars. The real estate closing is anticipated to occur in February 2023.
Once we close on the property, I will be asking the Council to adopt a formal policy limiting the use of the proceeds from the sale to paying off existing debt and funding future one-time capital purchases without new debt being authorized. We have created a plan that could put the Township in the position of being debt free by the end of the decade.
If managed properly, the use of this funding will provide the Township with a golden opportunity to improve its already exceptional long-term financial standing for at least the next decade. By establishing a formal policy, I want to ensure we don’t squander this opportunity.
We have been proactive in every area of our Budgeting, Fiscal Management, Planning our Infrastructure, Management of Personal and Technology. We have worked extremely hard to successfully manage all of the areas of the budget under our control. Municipalities are constantly in a position of trying to protect ourselves from what harm may be coming from the State of New Jersey. On Friday (December 30th) we just started getting the State Budget Numbers for 2023 and besides a 24% insurance increase in the State health insurance Premium. We are looking at $251,000 increase in our pension payment. So, these two-line items in the budget alone will have a significant impact on our Property Tax Bills. There are only so many line items in the budget we can control, despite our best efforts we enter the budget process with the State putting us in a significant hole.
Denville has fulfilled our 2015 court ordered Affordable Housing obligation and is maximizing the income off these developments for each of our utilities and funds. The 4th round of affordable housing obligations is 2 1/2 years away in 2025, or just 30 months and sadly, our Governor, Senate President and Assembly Speaker have not addressed it and have shown no interest in doing so.
Meanwhile we have taken everything we have learned from the 2015 and past rounds and are currently putting the finishing touches on updating our Master Plan. We are doing this in preparation for our 2025 constitutionally mandated Affordable Housing obligation process. In preparing the Master Plan, the Planning Board has done a great job of updated our vision of 21st century Denville. This vision 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. I expect to have the Planning Board’s approval of the Master Plan sometime in March 2023.
We were all extremely disappointed when we heard of the closing, sale and demolition of Saint Francis Residential Community. Denville grew from a rural farming community with not much more to it than a Railroad and Canal, around Saint Francis. It would have been nice if the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in Wisconsin gave Denville the opportunity to be part sale of the property.
However, we only learned about the sale after it was basically a “done deal.” Springpoint, who is the new owner of the Oaks and Saint Francis Property has always been a good member of our business community. I have had communications with the upper management. They know our concerns, desires, that at the end of the day we want them to have a great project that the people of Denville can join them in being equally proud about and is truly a win/win for the entire Denville community.
There are three 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 as we wait.
- Franklin Avenue Bridge- NJ DOT and NJ Transit are working out cost and design details.
- Openaki Bridge – The new homeowner is participating, which is good news for a dam being rebuilt but will likely add some years to the project completion timeline.
The Hub Times Newsletter is being mailed this week to every home in Denville. (IT was the first week of January and is available at the Town Hall Administration Office)
- It includes an update on the progress of all the projects of the court mandated Affordable Housing developments.
- A Parking Map of Downtown Denville
- A Calendar with all the Garbage and Recycling Pick up dates for 2023
- Information on how residents can sign up for Nixel alerts.
As I stated earlier Denville is fortunate to have a great many volunteers and we are very thankful for their hard work and dedication to our community. It is their commitment that allow us to provide service that we may not be able to otherwise afford. There is always room for more help on almost every Committee, the river can never be clean enough, there are always more people who could use some help, we can make our parks and recreation programs better and the Downtown can never have enough beautiful flowers.
But where we really need some help is at our Fire house. For over 81 years our Fire Department has handled all our First Aid calls for 24 hour a day, 7 days a week. That was until September 2021 when Denville was still the last Morris County Community that could make that claim. At that point it became obvious that it was just too much on the available daytime volunteers. This year we needed to reduce the load once again.
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 Hosptial. 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. We put an AD in the latest issue of the Hub Times trying to recruit targeted volunteers, not just teenagers but also young people who were once members of other Departments who just bought a home in Denville and young retirees. Once we get the new message board by the clock tower installed, we will have Ads placed on it from time to time. Four of my five children have volunteered, and they all found it to be a rewarding experience. Anyone interested in any committee please contact my assistant, Danielle Lamont at 973-625-8300x 223 or email@example.com.
I am sure by now we all know what happened in the Buffalo Bill’s game. Damar Hamlin collapsed after making a tackle. The Recreation Committee and I have been looking into AEDs for our Ballfields for years. We always thought it was a good idea, but being all of our Police Cars are equipped with AEDs and the fact that we could never figure out and no vendor could ever tell us how to make the AEDs accessible to the public and at the same time keeping them secure, so they are available when needed. Our worst nightmare would be someone being in need and the AED not being in the box because of vandals.
When I was at the New Jersey League of Municipalities in November. I passed an AED booth and spent some time talking to the Salesman on just this and unfortunately, he had nothing for me.
I received an email which made me start googling and to my refrained joy I found a company in England that makes something that has some strong possibilities. Naturally cost is an issue but we are Denville and that can be figure that out. I already put the Recreation Director on gathering more information on it. I would hope and expect to receive buy in from all of our partnering sport organizations. I am an advocate for doing it, but only if we can do it correctly.
I would like to thank the entire team of elected and appointed officials for working together. 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 and dedicated professionals.
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.