|June 21, 2017
As we kick off summer, there are quite a few things happening in Summit since my last update letter three months ago. As a reminder, this is not an official note from the Common Council (CC) or the City of Summit.
Municipal Budget: CC approved the Municipal Budget at the end of April, resulting in a tax increase of 0.84%, the 6th year in a row that the rate of increase has been below 1%, even while continuing to invest in infrastructure and services, including a new Traffic Safety Unit, improved software to facilitate the permitting process and the funding of the private/public partnership to renovate the Community Center. As I related in an earlier WGOIS, Summit’s ratable base was slightly down this year and with an agreement with our largest taxpayer, Celgene, will be challenged for the next couple of years. CC and city staff will continue having to say “no” to some things while being creative in looking for ways to monetize city assets without changing the character of our City so our Municipal Tax rate, which is what CC controls, stays low.
Celgene Tax Agreement: The year before Merck announced it was selling its campus in Summit, the 80+ acre property was valued on the tax roles at above $500 mm. It sold to Celgene in 2016 for $90 mm. The last 4 years, the City has been ratcheting down the valuation of the property to reflect economic reality in order to minimize the potential exposure to a tax appeal. The agreement confirms the city’s past assessments and creates a path to a valuation of $180 mm market value in the year 2020. I believe this is a good agreement for the Summit given the circumstances and I am thankful for Celgene’s willingness to work with the City. Hopefully the annual drop in the valuation will be offset by other investments in residential and commercial improvements as has been the case the last couple of years. But overall, expect a relatively flat ratable base through 2020.
Broad Street West Redevelopment Process: CC asked the Planning Board (PB) last month to consider different parcels in the area of Broad Street west of Maple Street (around the firehouse) as areas in need of redevelopment. The area was chosen amongst other things because of its proximity to the downtown, the city owns 60% of the land there, and importantly, the area does not abut residential neighborhoods. If the Planning Board ok’s it, the designation would allow the city to engage with developers using various incentives to help control the type of development in the area. Importantly, this would not include eminent domain. The process is just beginning, and will include many public meetings looking for input from citizens on what they would like to see (or not see) in the area, all consistent with the just approved Master Plan. Development in that area would add to Summit’s ratable base, lowering the tax burden on existing residents and businesses.
Train Service Disruption: Amtrak begins the long overdue track work on the Hudson River Tunnels this July 10th. The Morris and Essex line, with the exception of four trains arriving in Penn Station prior to 7 am, will be rerouted to Hoboken with a fully revised schedule. NJ Transit will add bus service leaving from designated stations, cross honor all rail passes on buses, ferries and PATH, and offer customers a reduced fare in exchange for the inconvenience and stress heaped upon its ridership. Hilltoppers can bookmark a city website that will give updated information on schedules, fares and NJ Transit announcements associated with the disruption. In addition, a private bus carrier has approached the city about the potential of running a bus into mid-town. The website will have information as that develops.
Affordable Housing: The judge has conditionally approved the City’s settlement with Fair Share Housing, shielding the City from builder remedy lawsuits for the next ten years. Last month CC approved the PB changes to our zoning laws to include overlay zones, designating affordable housing set asides to any potential development in those areas, effectively continuing past City practice. There will be a public open house at City Hall on June 26th, at 6:30 to answer any resident’s questions on the new agreement.
Morris Avenue Bridge Update: NJ Transit’s repair and replacement is proceeding apace after the work disruption last summer. Completion date now is thought to be April 2018, about 7 months later than the originally scheduled September 2017 projection. There is some optimism that NJ Transit has set a purposefully low bar, so if the weather cooperates, perhaps it can be done sooner. Fingers crossed.
Detective Tarentino Fund: The tragic death of Detective Matthew Tarentino saddened our entire community. The police department is planning to host a of celebration of Matt’s life in the fall. For those wishing to support Matt’s wonderful family, click here to donate to a fund set up by the PAL. Please be alert to other fund raisers around town to help Vickie and the kids going forward.
BOE Update: Last month, Mayor Radest appointed Donna Miller to a three-year term, replacing retiring board member Emile George. This month, the Mayor announced that Peggy Wong would fill the remaining one year term of Debbie Chang, who is moving from Summit. At the reorganization meeting, Rick Hanley was elected Board President, with Debra McCann being slated as Vice-President after being sworn in for a second three-year term. I am sincerely flattered as President Hanley is going to imitate WGOIS with his own newsletter, updating what is happening with the school system, the BOE and other educational topics of interest to the community.
Enjoy the summer and please watch out for kids as we drive around town! As always, I hope you found this update informative, feedback is always welcome and keep the referrals coming. They can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add them to the distribution list.