“There will be no increase in the municipal budget,” announced Councilman Rob Costantino at the Town Council meeting on March 22. “That’s definite.”
The proposed municipal budget for 2016 is $53,348,385.23. A detailed breakdown has been posted online on the town’s website, secaucusnj.gov, along with a user-friendly version. Following the introduction of the budget at the meeting, the council will meet with the town auditors and finance team to go over it in detail and make any necessary adjustments.
“We always try to get the yearly budget passed and adopted on a timely basis,” said Costantino. “This week we’ll be sitting down and going through it to make sure that next year’s projections are on target, and look for any future issues and plan for them.”
The township strives to be fiscally responsible not just in the current year, but looking ahead to ensure that budgets don’t suffer in the years to come.
“In years past, prior to us, there were a lot of Band-aids, a lot of one-shot deals just to get the budget flat,” said Costantino. “And that impacts future budgets. What we’ve tried to do, especially recently with the Meadowlands money and some other things, is to make sure that the future budgets are as solid as the current one, and not put a lot of pressure on the future.”
A button has been added to the town website allowing residents to ask questions directly of any department in town, including the mayor.
“We’re lucky,” said Costantino. “We’re very fortunate that there’s a lot of industry. We have a thriving community. People want to be here.”
The public hearing on the budget will take place at the council meeting on Tuesday, April 26. More detailed information will be available at the public hearing.
The municipal budget impacts one portion of resident taxes. County taxes are another portion, as is the school budget.
The school budget is up 2 percent, announced Mayor Michael Gonnelli at the council meeting. “They’ll be adding six-and-a-half new teachers in that budget, which is important to staff the middle school next year.”
The high school/middle school is nearing the end of the expansion project that will see new classrooms, administrative offices, gymnasium, and more.
The township is also anticipating taking ownership of an additional school currently run by the state. “We’re in negotiations with the state to acquire a special needs school on Mill Ridge Road,” said Gonnelli. “There are only six students in it now. They’re going to be closing the school this June.” If the township acquires the school it will be converted to a pre-K facility.
Improving quality of life
“The mayor put together a Quality of Life Committee,” announced Councilwoman Susan Pirro. “The mayor’s always looking for ways to make things better for us.”
“We meet monthly and talk about issues that affect the public,” said Gonnelli. “A lot of the talk this last meeting was about mosquitoes and street lights. We noticed a lot of street lights out. It impacts the neighborhood.”
Committee member Christine Smith from the Board of Health will research the process of reporting to PSE&G about street lights that are not working. Other members of the committee are Town Administrator David Drumeler, Police Capt. Carlos Goyenechea, Township Atty. Keri Eglentowicz, Inspector Michael Berckes, and Drug-free Coalition Coordinator Tania Guaman.
“There’s always speeding,” said Gonnelli, noting issues brought to the committee’s attention. As a result, Capt. Kevin Flaherty will place an officer near the high school parking lot to monitor vehicle speeds. “There’s always parking. There’s dog poop, which is an issue especially around schools.”
Additional signs may be posted at the dog park near Clarendon School and on the greenway, along with bag stations, to encourage cleanup. Residents may also receive warnings about failing to pick up after their pet.
In anticipation of mosquito season and to eliminate standing water for breeding, Property Maintenance Inspector Robert Zych will visit the industrial zone to ensure that draining ditches are being kept clean of standing water. Inspector Berckes will monitor the residential zone.
The township also approached the turnpike about cleaning the ditches along the entire length of County Avenue and work has begun there already. Some additional cleanup work was done in Schmidt’s Woods to address a broken pipe, facilitate drainage, and eliminate standing water.
Among the other issues raised by the committee were reminders to license cats and dogs with the Health Department, and to remove doors from refrigerators, washing machines, or any other objects with latching doors when leaving them out on the curb for DPW pickup.
Residents with issues of concern can reach out to a municipal department directly by utilizing the new “Ask a question” button on the town website at secaucusnj.gov.
“It gives you a choice of who you want to talk to,” said Gonnelli. “You click on that person and you send them an email. When I get it I answer it immediately.”
Money, jobs, and safety
Because a state of emergency was declared in New Jersey following the major snowstorm in January, the township can receive reimbursement for certain expenses from Jan. 22 to 24. April Lee, who helped the town maximize reimbursements following Superstorm Sandy, has been retained to work with public works, police, fire, and OEM to recoup as much money as possible from the winter expenses.
“We hired a young girl by the name of Tara Acquaviva to do job placement for us,” said Gonnelli at the council meeting. “Tara visits companies throughout town and submits resumes and has been very successful in her short tenure here.” So far she has placed town residents in 12 full time jobs and 15 temporary positions. Resumes can be provided to her at Social Services, 101 Centre Ave.
Councilman James Clancy offered an update on the fire department. “In 2015 the volunteer fire department made 951 calls for the entire year,” he reported. In January and February of 2016 they made 135 calls, including a major auto accident requiring the Jaws of Life to extricate victims, at least one of whom died.
“Tower 2 is running their sixth annual fundraiser, which will be Sunday, April 24 from 11 to 3:30 p.m. at the Burger Stop on 333 Meadowlands Parkway,” added Clancy. The cost is $10 for adults, $7 for children and seniors, children 5 and under free. “The price includes a buffet, soda, cake, coffee, and tickets can be obtained from the 7th St. Firehouse on Sunday mornings or Monday evenings, or you can call (201) 330-2073.”
Also upcoming is the annual senior citizen prom, sponsored by SAIL (supporting active independent lives). It will be held Thursday, April 7 in the high school cafeteria from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the Senior Center, 101 Centre Ave.
The March 22 meeting included a moment of silence for the victims of the Brussels terror attacks, which occurred earlier that day. Councilman Gary Jeffas reminded Secaucus residents to be ever vigilant and if you see something, say something. “Secaucus is a small town,” he said. “Thankfully we’ve had no incidences such as this but it holds true for the smallest of venues versus the largest of venues. So just always keep your eyes open and err on the side of caution.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.