From the Mayor’s Desk

Despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad of controversial issues facing our State and Nation, good things continue to happen in Denville.  In late-August, Denville had the honor of being named the most family-friendly suburban community in the entire United States by Realtor.com.  Remarkably, that was not the best news Denville received on that particular day. Coincidentally, on the very same day, Moody’s Investor Services conferred a Aaa bond rating on the Township of Denville, the best and highest rating they issue. This speaks to Denville’s exceptional financial position, and places our community among an elite group of less than 24 municipalities in the entire State of New Jersey, that have achieved a Aaa bond rating. In a long-term bond sale, conducted shortly after the Aaa rating was conferred, the Township was able to borrow money for capital improvements at the unprecedented rate of 0.8625%. Achieving an Aaa rating was no easy task as it took years of planning, self-discipline, and the implementation of a strategic plan by our Administrator, Chief Finance Officer, Auditor, Township Council, and myself. In their report, Moody’s noted that Denville’s financial position actually improved during the pandemic. As one important factor in the rating is the demographic financial stability of the community, with the assistance of our local residents and property owners in 2020, we saw our total tax collection rate exceed 99% for the first time ever.

 

Another milestone the Township completed in 2021 was the successful settlement of the litigation, dating back to 2015, required to establish our Township’s affordable housing obligation for the period of 2015 – 2025, and protecting the Township from the possibility of a builder’s remedy lawsuit by having our plan accepted by NJ Superior Court. The litigation was long and costly but certainly worth it as our adversaries initially were attempting to have the court impose a new obligation of 1,786 affordable units, which based upon a 1 to 5 ratio of affordable to market rate units, would have resulted in a total housing obligation in excess of 8,900 units. Ultimately, the Township successfully settled with our adversaries for 196 affordable units, of which 48 were bonus credits. Therefore, in the end, our obligation of 148 new affordable units was a mere fraction of the amount initially faced. Due to the prolonged nature of the litigation, one of the development, Estling Village Apartments,  has already been completed, the Toll Development on Franklin Avenue has commenced construction and we anticipate we will see construction start on one or two of the projects in 2022. Ultimately our goal was to keep our housing obligation as low as possible, which I believe we achieved. All of the approved projects were subject to many months, and in some cases, years of negotiations in order to reduce the size and scope of the developments. 

 

My administration has continued to stay true to our cardinal objectives, which include: Economic Development, Flood Mitigation, Road and Infrastructure Repair, Fiscal Responsibility, Public Safety & Public Health and the enhancement of Senior, and Recreational and Social programs. The following are a few of the recent highlights for those objectives:

Our 2020 grant application to expand the downtown streetscape improvements onto Diamond Spring Road Streetscape Project was not approved. However, we will apply again in the next round of funding in 2022. This past fall, we were forced to replace all of the plum trees, that had been planted in our downtown area, as a result of a deadly fungus that infected that species across the region. In 2021, we paved the upper Bloomfield Avenue Parking Lot, and I will ask the Township Council to budget funding in order to pave the lower Bloomfield Avenue lot in 2022. We are aware there are a few downtown streetlamps that are not working and have ordered replacement parts. However, the original manufacturer of the street lamps, who was selected as part of the mandatory low-bid process we are required to follow on public projects of this nature, has proven to be slow and extremely unreliable in providing us with replacement parts. Besides having the necessary repair parts on order, we also have ordered extra common parts including a complete decorative street pole replacement of each model, so we can make repairs more quickly in the future.

 

Since 2015, we have been working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to devise a project that fits within their cost-benefit analysis threshold, and provides much needed flood mitigation assistance to the residents and business owners in our Township. The plan currently being evaluated includes home elevations as well as other flood-proofing measures for up to 117 homes and commercial buildings in the downtown area. The Army Corps has indicated they will be looking to schedule a public meeting to explain the program, which is 100% voluntary, in the coming months.

 

The Township has also developed a Drainage Master Plan, and has begun to work on the list of historic and chronic drainage issues we experience in our community. Furthermore, the Township has continued to resurface Township roadways at a historically unprecedented level. Each year we have been able to pay for more paving in cash, in an attempt to reduce our reliance on borrowing and move toward more of a pay-as-you-go method of capital financing. The Township also continues to aggressively seek grants, was recently awarded $255,000 from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to resurface Pocono Road in 2022.

Work has begun on the upgrade to the Gardner Field rear tennis court, which includes the tennis wall and basketball court.  While some of the work has been completed, our efforts have been victimized by the Pandemic, with some of the skilled labor and parts needed not available until Spring 2022. We anticipate this project being completed and the improved facility re-opening in early- to mid-2022.

 

The Path and Trails Committee received a grant, in the amount of $95,656, from the County of Morris Parks Commission for the Den Brook Trail Phase I, which was completed in 2021. The Township just received word that we will be receiving $220,220 for the construction of Phase 2 of the Den Brook Trail that we plan on constructing this Spring, which will provide for a continuous one (1) mile trail along the Den Brook, from Openaki Road to Mount Pleasant Turnpike.  

 

Another great success, has been how well the Township and Board of Education have worked well together.  The Valleyview School Fields were unusable for years and the school teams were bused to Gardner Field to utilize those fields.  In a “Shared Service” agreement, the Township and the Board of Education, split the cost of the new Valleyview School fields. With this collaboration we also share responsibility for any future maintenance of the fields.  This agreement will work well, as the school needs the fields Monday through Friday until 6:00 PM, and the Town typically needs fields after 6:00 PM on weekdays and on the weekends.  This is the third time the Town and the school have displayed outstanding cooperation on large scale endeavors.  The first was when the Board moved into the Town Hall, and the second being the arrangement of the Class 3 Police Officers in our schools. In this case, the town hires retired Police Officers at a lower salary rate and provides equipment and training. The school reimburses the Township for the cost of the Class III officer’s salary.  Based upon this excellent relationship, we now have a sworn armed Police Officer in every one of our Denville Schools, who provides protection to our schoolchildren, teachers and other school staff members.  We also have a similar type of arrangement with Celebrate the Children, Morris Catholic High School, Morris Knolls High School, and the Morris County Vocational High School, with each school having a School Resource Officer (SRO), which is a regular uniformed Officer.

 

The Township’s five (5) labor associations collective negotiations agreements expire on December 31, 2021.  After a series of very open, respectful, and spirited negotiation meetings, we came to a voluntary settlement with the Police, the Town Hall Supervisors, the Town Hall Staff and the DPW workers for a four year agreement.  Each of the settlements are fair to both the employees and taxpayers alike.  These contracts are part of our financial strategy that will keep our community on a stable financial path.

 

I would like to congratulate Councilmen Glenn Buie, Chris Golinski, and Gary Borowiec on being re-elected to the Council, and I would like to welcome our new Council Member, Chrissy Kovacs as well as our new Council President Angie Cote.  I would also like to congratulate Councilman Doug Gabel, who has stepped down after 10 exceptional years as a member of the Council.  Doug will be remaining active on several township committees.  On behalf of the Town Council and the Township Staff, I wish you good health, a happy and prosperous New Year.

 

 

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