Council President, members of the Town Council, Municipal Employees, friends, relatives and fellow residents of Mount Olive: I proudly conclude my ninth year as Mayor of this wonderful Township, and nineteenth year as an elected official. I once again thank you for the opportunity to report on the 2021 State of the Township of Mount Olive.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us. On the municipal level, we recognized early on that the pandemic would have a drastic impact both in terms of the level of service the Township would be able to provide, and the loss of revenue that we would have to deal with both in 2020 and in fiscal year 2021. From the beginning of the year, we took drastic measures to cut back on spending, recognizing what we were likely to face as a result of the Covid-19 virus. Fortunately, those ultra conservative fiscal measures we adopted have resulted in the Township being positioned well and financially sound to undertake our responsibilities in 2021.
As in past years, the most important goal continues to be tax stability. Notwithstanding the pandemic, for the ninth year in a row, we will be introducing a budget that will include no municipal tax increase for the residents.
Notwithstanding the realization of no municipal tax increases for almost a decade, nothing gives me greater pleasure then the continued pride our residents have for this community. I am so very excited that our pride will be on display next year as we celebrate Mount Olive’s 150th Anniversary.
In terms of our facilities, next year I am looking forward to the installation of a new turf football field at Turkey Brook Park and the beginning of development of passive recreation at Valley Brook Park, across from Flanders Golf Course.
Of course, all of the accomplishments could not have been achieved without the hard work and support of the Governing Body. We work collaboratively as a team in Mount Olive. I would once again like to thank Joe Nicastro for his leadership in 2020 and look forward to working with him again in 2021. I congratulate Joe on his appointment to another term, I believe an unprecedented seventh consecutive term as Council President and thank him and the rest of the Township Council for their support and guidance. While I generally get the credit, the successes are equally shared with and earned by the Township Council. So too, I would be remiss by not highlighting the outstanding work and accomplishments of your Department Heads and employees.
Prior to discussing each of the Department’s successes in 2020, I wanted to specifically thank the Health Department for guiding our Township and the many municipalities they serve through these very difficult times.
The Administration Department continues to coordinate all aspects of local government and is responsible for the day-to-day operations associated with all municipal activities. Those responsibilities increased significantly during the pandemic as the primary goal was to ensure that all essential public services were delivered, Township employees, residents and visitors were kept safe, the Executive Orders were being followed and to oversee the Office of Emergency Management. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the daily challenges were overcome.
As with any large organization, a significant amount of time was spent on Human Resources, hiring seventeen new employees and processing three retirements. The pandemic posed challenges as new Federal and State leave programs were made available and work from home accommodations were implemented. As we enter into 2021, we will continue to look for dedicated individuals to best serve our Township and provide a work/life balance to ensure our employees can deliver the essential public services that you rely on.
Legislatively, we supported policies and made changes to our ordinances to reflect the current environment and we will continue to make recommendations as we encounter issues throughout the year. Most notably, the land use ordinance was revised allowing for an overlay zone to accommodate the development of a solar field at the Comb Fill North landfill.
Amidst the pandemic, projects continued that would best serve the residents of Mount Olive. Phase I of the Old Flanders Sewer project was completed, the Seward House received another phase of upgrades, and the dilapidated Blue Bird was condemned and demolished.
Of most financial significates, a new approach to transfer the tax certificate of the Combe Fill North landfill yielded a bid of $525,000, the $2,000,000 tax lien to be paid off and the re-establishment of property tax. Additionally, the Township owned fifty-seven acres was re-bid and sold to a developer for $6,750,000. Once these transactions are finalized, the revenue will increase our fund balance and stabilize taxes for years to come.
Long standing problems were also addressed. Odor issues from Mint-X ceased as we were successfully able to litigate our environmental and health concerns putting an end to all Mint-X production. In addition, significant headway was made with improving the water quality of Budd Lake as we continue to mitigate HABs and stormwater runoff. Furthermore, our shared services continue to deliver as our contracting towns show confidence in our services by renewing their contracts and adding additional services. The Township is the provider of fourteen shared services, generating over $500,000 in gross revenue.
Over $1,500,000 was awarded in grants from Federal, State and County agencies and we will continue to look for additional grant opportunities to help offset our expenditures. Major projects include the rehabilitation of Continental Drive, the restoration of the Seward House, the HAB mitigation grant and the Local Government Emergency grant.
Our office was also instrumental in coordinating various volunteer groups, promoting local businesses, keeping residents informed and soliciting thousands of dollars’ worth of donations for personal protective equipment.
The Finance Department, which comprises the finance, collection and assessment divisions maintained healthy fund balances in 2020 despite revenue losses experienced due to the pandemic.
In the Tax Assessment Division, the Township received over $728,000 in revenue from $36,000,000 in added assessments. We also settled sixteen County tax board judgments which resulted in no refunds. For 2021, our property values are expected to grow by $25,000,000 or almost 1%. We have the lowest number of pending state tax appeals in comparison to similar Morris County towns and are near the top in added assessment revenue increases.
In the Collection Division, we were responsible for collecting over $110,000,000 in property taxes, water and sewer rents. Our tax collection exceeded 99% which we have been able to do since 2014. A successful tax sale also resulted in over $181,000 in premiums which will return to the Township in five years pending no lien redemptions.
In the Finance Division, the 2019 audit was completed for the twelfth year in a row with no audit recommendations, along with no recommendations for the LOSAP, JIF and arbitrage audits. The best practice checklist was completed satisfactorily to obtain our final allotment of state aid and we met our continuing disclosure requirements. All non-vested LOSAP accounts were closed resulting in an additional $51,000 in revenue, banking services have been renegotiated, e-signatures are now accepted on purchase orders and the operating budget has been reduced by 19%. A historical bond sale was conducted for almost $10,000,000 that earned a low interest rate of 1.25% and a premium of $245,000 to be retained by the Township. Finally, reports were prepared using the new FAST online module, we continued to assist and finalize the Old Flanders sewer assessment and the annual water/sewer study was prepared.
The Mount Olive Police Department successfully navigated the challenge of maintaining sufficient staffing during the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts continued uninterrupted in preventing crime, crashes and negative quality of life issues. The police department also provided safe environments for our community to express their First Amendment Rights where it concerned racial injustice and political advocacy. Though the pandemic impacted our ability to connect with the community with police sponsored events, we did establish a Police Chaplain Program to continue building relationships in the community.
The Mount Olive Police Department is a community oriented police department that utilizes data driven technology and intelligence to direct resources. The Mount Olive Police Department is committed to following nationally recognized best practices and maintaining accreditation through the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
Department of Public Works
In the Roads Department, another successful year of paving was accomplished by resurfacing over twenty roadways and improving drainage in eight areas prone to flooding.
The Parks, Building and Grounds Department continued to address the original HVAC systems in the municipal building by replacing three units. Improvements were made to the dog park with the addition of water fountains and agility stations. Additionally, a new pavilion at Turkey Brook Park was installed.
In the Water and Sewer Department, engineering plans continue for the installation of water lines in the Pershing Estates Development and a new communication monitoring system is being designed for wells and pumps for the Morris Chase, Tinc and Sand Shore water system. Additionally, a forty-five year old filtration system at the Cloverhill Sewer Treatment Plant was replaced along with several pump replacements to sewer stations on the Budd Lake System.
The Sanitation Department continued with another successful town wide large item cleanup and seamlessly took over trash collection for the townhouses at Morris Chase. New sanitation and recycling trucks were purchased, expanding our one arm bandit fleet, and a “Breast Cancer Awareness” campaign was launched offering pink recycling cans to the public.
The Fleet Department continues to handle all maintenance issues for township owned vehicles. All department vehicles remained up and running at their full capacities during the pandemic, ensuring the response of all essential frontline workers.
The Recreation Department, which was hit hardest operationally from the pandemic, started with a successful Ski and Snowboard program for Mt. Olive High School students. Additionally, programs were offered during the winter spanning from basketball to painting. Starting in March, virtual programs and socially distanced events took shape. Twelve new virtual programs were offered from Coding for Kids, STEM, cooking classes and art programs. A Drive-in Movie, Foodie Fest, Oktoberfest and new Air and Land Remote Control event were safely done giving our residents a much needed escape from the pandemic. All of these events would not have been possible without the great support of our local business sponsors.
After receiving guidelines for aquatic events, the Budd Lake Beach Park opened in June along with the Mt. Olive Pool at Centercourt Sports.
Recreational youth sports were also able to start again with strict COVID-19 pandemic guidelines in place.
Plans have started for celebrating the Township’s 150th Anniversary in 2021. Over one hundred businesses have already sponsored banners around town for the yearlong celebration. Visit the Recreation website, Facebook and Instagram to see the online catalogs for spirit wear, commemorative items, photos and books.
Like all health departments across the county, ours has dedicated most of its human resources this year towards fighting the COVID-19 global pandemic. Since late February, the Health Department has investigated approximately nine hundred cases of COVID-19 in Mount Olive and over forty-five hundred when including the other towns that we serve. This includes investigating and helping to control outbreaks at long term care facilities, group living facilities, our public schools, daycare centers, and local businesses. Daily, the Department has provided advice and assistance to these entities so that they can stay open for business. To sustain these efforts, the Department leveraged existing resources and relationships and was able to onboard six contact tracers from the NJ Department of Health. The Board of Education also provided six of its school nurses to assist in case investigations.
In addition to conducting case investigation and contact tracing, the Department’s Environmental Division has been working non-stop with our Office of Emergency Management on the interpretation and enforcement of State Executive Orders and directives. Our Health Officer, along with several other Health Officers in the State, worked with the NJ Department of Health to create a funding formula to equitably distribute $5,000,000 to local health departments to offset the costs associated with fighting the pandemic. Mount Olive received over $180,000 this year due to these efforts and the Department anticipates similar funding in 2021.
The Senior Transportation Program continues to serve residents despite the obstacles COVID-19 has presented. Over the past year, staff made over fifteen hundred trips taking our seniors to their medical appointments. They also delivered over twenty-four hundred meals to homebound, low-income seniors. Despite the reduction of ridership experienced this year, the future of the program appears very bright. The Health Department applied for and will receive funding through the Federal Transit Administration grant. This funding will be utilized to further expand the scope of services provided by the program.
The Health Department continues to assure that our presence is known in Trenton. After fifteen years of serving on the Board of New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials, our Health Director has stepped down and our Deputy Health Officer has filled his shoes and was appointed to the Board in November and continues to serve on the New Jersey Department of Health’s Public Health Licensing Board. This appointment will ensure that public health needs of the Township of Mount Olive and its contracted municipalities will continue to be considered in future state public health planning efforts.
During the early months of the pandemic, the IT department successfully deployed a secure remote desktop platform to all Mount Olive Township and Police Department employees. The platform allows up to two hundred fifty employees to work from home while keeping business continuity in their departments. All employees had training on the remote application and were given a take-home device. The IT department continuously monitors and provides support for the remote application and township employees.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the IT department implemented a web-based video conferencing tool for all virtual township meetings and webinars.
The IT department continually broadens security awareness to all employees with interactive training, educational courses, email security guidelines and best practices. Simulated phishing cyberattacks under the guidance of Morris County JIF’s Cyber Risk Management Program are conducted yearly to strengthen email security awareness for all employees.
The Planning Department’s key accomplishments for the year included the work on the General Development Plan review with the Planning Board for the eventual development of six hundred eighty-six residential units consisting of single family homes, townhomes and apartments on one hundred twenty-six acres in the FTZ-4 zone. This project will include one hundred thirty-eight affordable units towards the Township’s affordable housing obligation.
Other development projects of note include the approval of a new solar array facility on the former one hundred acre Combe Fill North landfill made possible by the creation of a special Redevelopment Plan designation, the demolition of the former Boat House Restaurant on Sand Shore Road to make way for a new restaurant and residential apartment at the same location, the conversion of the former Sam’s Club building to an Amazon distribution facility, and the redevelopment of the former Budd Lake School property on Rt. 46 to a self-storage facility.
The number of Zoning Permits issued totaled five hundred twenty-five including two hundred seventy-two done remotely between March and July. The Township Planner, in his role as Zoning Officer, also worked directly with restaurants and eateries in the Township to fast tract and simplify Outdoor Dining Permits in response to the COVID-19 indoor dining restrictions.
The Township Planner worked with the Land Conservancy to produce an updated Open Space and Recreation Plan which was adopted by the Planning Board as part of the Township’s Master Plan, initiated efforts to amend zoning regulations to provide greater flexibility for homeowners to install fences and to enable homeowner associations to be alerted to zoning permit applications from its members to ensure compliance with its rules.
The Township Planner, in his role as Municipal Housing Liaison, responded to inquiries and coordinated efforts between the developer of Mountain Ridge Estates and the Township’s affordable housing consultant to assist in the application process for the fifty-four affordable units now under construction. Over three hundred applications have been submitted to date.
In his capacity as Zoning Officer, twenty-six property maintenance notices were issued, twenty-eight zoning violations, and four summons resulting in appearances and fines in municipal court. The Department registered thirty-three vacant and abandoned properties collecting $11,500 in recording fees and processed over four hundred OPRA requests.
During the past year, the Construction Department has collected over $800,000, issuing over sixteen hundred construction permits and over twelve hundred certificates of occupancy.
The Department conducted over five thousand inspections and will continue to bring the best possible service to the residents, business owners and contractors of Mount Olive.
The Fire Marshal’s Office enforces fire safety regulations to every commercial building and business in the Township, along with providing shared services to Chester Borough, Hackettstown and Allamuchy. Over eighteen hundred businesses are inspected annually along with nine hundred seventy residential inspections generating over $308,000 in annual revenue. The Fire Marshal’s Office was also responsible for investigating forty fires throughout all the towns we provide service. A recent audit by the NJ Division of Fire Safety was completed and the office received exceptional remarks.
This is only a snap shot of the many achievements and accomplishments our Township Departments and employees have achieved this past year. I will continue to strive to make Mount Olive Township the best place to live, work and raise a family. I consider every member of the community a family member. The pride that you have shown me, the dedication for our community and the support that we have for one another is overwhelming.
I know there are still many things upon which we need to improve and I promise to do my best to accomplish and make as my priority in the New Year. I look forward to and ask for the resident’s support for many years to come. In closing, I would like to thank the Township Council, our Business Administrator and all of our Department Heads and Municipal Employees for a job well done in 2020. May the New Year bring you good health, happiness and prosperity.
With Gratitude and Appreciation,
Mayor, Mount Olive Township