September 14, 2017
I hope everyone enjoyed their summer and have navigated re-entry back into the fall as well as can be expected! Quite a few things happened over the summer that’s worth updating. As a reminder, this is not an official note from the Common Council (CC) or the City of Summit. Any opinions or mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Atlantic Health System (AHS) Agreement: On July 25th, CC approved a settlement with AHS, the parent company to Overlook Hospital, over our differences regarding the taxable nature of their property in Summit arising after the City of Morristown successfully challenged AHS over their tax-exempt status two years ago. AHS will contribute an additional $794,000 annually to Summit for the next seven years, with some money allocated for community health programs as well as programs benefiting children and seniors. Importantly, this agreement is substantially more than that proposed under the “Bed Tax” legislation from Trenton last year which CC opposed, but which has subsequently been the basis of many settlements by municipalities across the state. In addition, as a contribution, the money stays in Summit, rather than 30% of it going to Union County as property tax. The City also avoids further costly litigation. Moody’s has already stated it’s a credit positive to the City’s current top AAA bond rating.
New Teacher’s Contract: On July 20th, the Board of Education (BOE) approved a new contract for our teachers covering a three-year period starting this fall. Breaking down the school budgets of the last several years, an increasing share of our tax dollars has been going to retaining and rewarding the excellent teachers we have here in Summit, which I believe has the biggest impact on our children’s education. This contract, importantly completed before the old contract expired, continues that trend, with a headline increase of 2.8% per year. The BOE and school administration has done an excellent job of finding savings in health care and facility maintenance to be able to allocate more resources towards teachers while at the same time keeping tax increases well below the 2% level, an important benchmark.
Community Center Update: After literally years of discussion, planning and fundraising, the much-needed renovations and expansion to our Community Center began with a ground-breaking ceremony on September 13th. The $6.5 mm expanded facility, the result of a public/private partnership between the City and many local businesses and citizens, will be a lynch pin for our community for years to come, serving Summit residents of all ages. Click here to see some schematics of the future Community Center. Construction should take a little over a year, so expect an early 2019 completion date. In the interim, offices of the Department of Community Programs will relocate to Cornog Field House next to Memorial Field.
New Parking Initiatives:
CC continues to look for ways to improve the efficiency of our parking system and is currently analyzing and implementing in stages recommendations from the parking assessment the city commissioned last year. Hopefully everyone received instructions in the mail on how to register your vehicles for digital permits by the October 1st deadline in order to park at the commuter lots or use the transfer station. This will streamline the back-office process of permitting as well as making enforcement simpler. Register here or call 908-522-5100 to set up an appointment to navigate the sign-up in person. CC also approved the further instillation of parking kiosks to replace meters along some streets and substituted some short-term spaces with employee parking spots in others. There has been some concern about some of these changes, especially along Summit Ave., which hopefully can be addressed. Finally, CC approved changing the fee at the Deforest Lots to $50 for parking over 5 hours to discourage out of town commuters using these prime shopper spots. Please, if you end up inadvertently overstaying your time there, speak to the people at Parking Services. This isn’t meant to penalize Summit residents, just to discourage these spaces being used by non-shoppers.
Campaign Posturing: Labor Day traditionally kicks off campaign season, which unfortunately sometimes results in questionable candidate statements. Sadly, I feel I need to respond to one such video making the rounds on social media that addresses “wasteful spending” by CC. It is a time-honored political ploy to attempt to burnish one’s financial credentials by focusing on a single line item in a budget (ours totals $64 mm), rather than pointing to specific deeds that demonstrate a career devoted to fiscal rectitude. Last year, one candidate opposed spending $27,000 on gateway signs for Summit, without any mention of the arguments around branding and marketing that accompanied the decision, even as he supported other costly programs. This year, CC’s supposed largess is centered on a $300,000 “cobblestone” project for Beechwood Road in the downtown. In a unanimous and bipartisan vote, CC approved the repaving with stamped decorative concrete, not cobblestones, as part of a larger, once in a generation downtown improvement and beautification project. In the Internet Age, if we want a future downtown that has stores, it is imperative that there is a reason someone will leave their computer and shop in our community. The beautification of Beechwood proposal has some engineering hurdles that in my mind will ultimately determine whether it is executed upon, but the concept focuses on making an investment in our downtown that enhances its character, creating a destination for people to congregate that helps our local businesses thrive amidst the online world we live in. Personally, my vision for Beechwood would be to eventually transform all or part of it into a pedestrian only area, similar to venues in places like New York, Miami, and Boulder, all vibrant retail locales. The views expressed in the video lack any understanding of the underlying purpose of the project, and more importantly, any ideas on what they would do instead to help our businesses. It is easy to criticize, it is harder to have a constructive idea. And please, if there are potholes or broken playground equipment as the video implies, use the SeeClickFix app to report the problem to our Public Works area and they will fix it. The City budgets money for that sort of thing already. Be part of the solution rather than just complain about it.
I am proud of the CC record the last several years. The service oriented budgets and resulting minuscule tax increases achieved do not happen by accident. It takes considered, sometimes difficult votes like not approving more firemen, which would cost millions, not thousands, to ensure those results. Please feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts, comments or questions, but especially with any good ideas around the topic!
Remember school is back in session, slow down!! 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.