What’ Going on in Summit, March 2017

What’s Going on in Summit
March 14, 2017

Dear Neighbor,

I hope everyone is safe and warm during this nasty snow day here in Summit.  To help with that case of cabin fever, please find below an update on some of the important events effecting our City.  Again, any opinions expressed are my own.  This is not an official note from the Common Council (CC) or the City of Summit.

Union County Budget:  Union County released its executive budget last month showing a tax increase of 2.9%, the maximum permitted under either the 1977 2% Appropriations Cap or the 2010 2% Levy Cap laws.  Both laws grant certain exemptions, which the county has utilized the last several years to raise the maximum over and above the 2% level.  During the Summit Taxpayers Night of Action on 2/23rd, two dozen Summit residents respectfully lobbied the Freeholders to adhere to the spirit of the law and come in under 2%.  The County manager is good at crafting budgets; however, his target appears to be what’s allowable, not what keeps our County affordable, which burdens municipalities and school boards to do even more heavy lifting.  Click here for their emails if you’d like to press your elected Freeholders to sharpen their pencils before approving this year’s budget!  Summit’s ultimate tax increase will depend upon how our share of ratables changed relative to the other municipalities in the county.  As stated in my last post, with our ratable base about flat, we shouldn’t see much more, if any, increase over the 2.9%, assuming the Freeholders pencils remain dull.
Board of Education (BOE) Budget:  The Board of School Estimates will vote to approve the BOE’s suggested budget increase of 0.9% for the 2017/2018 fiscal year at their 3/28th public meeting.  The budget (click here for an overview) continues to funds last year’s new positions while adding staff at the elementary and high school level.  The administration has been managing its health care costs aggressively, which means 64.4% of money spent goes directly to the classroom, a high number relative to many peer districts.  Reserves for capital projects have been replenished, technology investments remain strong and money to sports and arts have been maintained or increased.  The schools account for about 50% of our property tax bill, which will see that portion rise 1.4% for the 2017 calendar year.  Congratulations to the BOE, Superintendent Chang, our Business Manager Lou Pepe, the administration and all the principals and staff for delivering a fine budget.
Watchung Reservation Master Plan:  Many Summit residents were blindsided to hear of a Master Plan adopted by the Freeholders that includes mountain bike paths throughout Watchung Reservation, including north of I-78 behind Oak Ridge Avenue.  Over 300 people from Summit and neighboring communities attended a public hearing on 3/7th to discuss its unveiling, despite only hearing of it one week prior.  Before anything can happen, the Freeholders still need to approve any specific trail design and allocate funds for implementation.  We have been assured going forward that municipal officials, as well as the broader public, will be kept informed of future developments.  My above link to Freeholders emails work for this issue too!
Permitting Software:  Getting the necessary permits to improve a home or business in Summit has been a very manual process for far too long.  In an age where you can click to see where a package is anywhere in the country, it shouldn’t take countless trips to city hall to find out what the hold up on your permit is.  CC approved new software that will move what is permissible by state law online, and enable owners and contractors to track their permit application there as well.  Inspectors will be able to enter information remotely, increasing efficiency as well.  Hopefully the new software will be up and running by the summer, vastly improving the customer experience.

Local Politics:  With the announced retirement of Council Members Rob Rubino, Pat Hurley and Richard Sun at the end of this year, both the local Republican and Democrat Parties in Summit proposed a full slate of candidates for Council elections this fall.  John Dougherty (R) and Matt Gould (D) will square off in Ward 1, Mike Wattick (R) and Marjorie Fox (D) will challenge for Ward 2, and David Dietze (R) will vie against Beth Little (D) for the At-Large position.  While full campaign season is months away (thankfully), please listen to what the candidates have to say about local issues as we need an informed citizenry to ensure proper municipal government!
Uber Pilot:  Uber delivered a recent update as the 6-month pilot program, where the city subsidized rides to and from the train station, draws to a close.  One hundred people participated (there was a waiting list) in the first of its kind trial to free up parking spaces in our downtown, potentially mitigating the need for an expensive new garage.  Early results show only about 25% usage in the program, indicating an ability to expand its capacity.  Lot counts, which dipped initially, rose again, suggesting that there remains excess demand for parking assets.  Overall rider satisfaction was high, meaning commuters found it an effective alternative to driving themselves.  CC will further evaluate the data from our Parking Utility and Uber to determine if this initiative is worth continuing in the coming months.

I hope you found this update informative and remember, despite what it looks like outside your window, spring is just a week away!  Feedback is always welcome and keep the referrals coming.  They can contact me at mmcterna@gmail.com and I will add them to the distribution list.

Mike McTernan
Council President