I want to share some updates on tomorrow’s Council agenda as well as on a few other things too. We’ll be taking final votes on the Municipal Budget and Rent Control. We’ll also be voting to prohibit vehicles from making a left-hand turn or from going straight across the Watchung Plaza intersection from Watchung Plaza Rd. (with the UPS store on your right). We’ll be re-appointing our Public Defender, Alternate Public Defender, Chief Prosecutor and Substitute Prosecutor. And we’ll also be voting on a new Native Vegetation procurement law. Please read below for key information.
2022 Municipal Budget
Some Key Points (by no means exhaustive)
- Municipal Taxes, which represent approximately 25% of your property tax bill, will increase by 2% this year. For the average property tax payer (with taxes around $20,000 per year), this equates to approximately $100 more per year. [$5,000 (25% of $20,000) x 2% = $100]
- The Mayor and Council salaries will remain flat at $10,000 per year
- Almost uniformly, “other expense” budgets for municipal departments are flat to last year. This includes police and fire, which I get a lot of questions about. However, overall salary and benefit expenditures are up, largely driven by contractual wage increases for existing employees.
- The budget for the first time includes funding for administering of rent control in Montclair, at a cost of approximately $125,000 for 2022 (likely to increase in 2023)
- The library budget is increased from $3.1M in 2021 to $3.4M in 2020 (driven both by statutory increases from higher tax receipts as well as an increase of ~$95,000 in discretionary funding over last year). For me this is the new floor on funding and we need to pursue more robust investment in materials and programs as well as much-needed capital improvements in the years ahead
- We’ll continue paying off debt in effort, among other efforts, to maintain our AAA credit rating which allows us to keep extraordinarily low interest rates on debt
The Municipal Budget is a compromise resulting from a push and pull between staff and the Council and then among Council Members. What is challenging for someone like me, new to municipal budgeting (I have private sector and state experience here), is how hard change is and how detached the process seems to be from long term strategic planning, benchmarking against successful work/staff ratios elsewhere and making decisions based on data that we don’t even seem to be capturing — something true for many municipalities. I continue to believe there is tremendous opportunity to modernize the process, make it much more transparent and engaging and certainly make it easier for people to follow. If you want to learn a bit more about municipal budgeting, please watch the seminar I hosted earlier this year:
Rent Control 2.0
It is expected that the Council will unanimously enact what I call Rent Control 2.0 for Montclair. I think it’s very important that folks know what is in this law so I hope you’ll take the time to read these FAQ’s I wrote.
This is a very big deal as this will enact a rent cap of 4% on most rental units in Montclair (2.5% for seniors). It represents a grand compromise between landlords and tenants as well as among me and my colleagues. I don’t take doing this lightly and knowing first hand how to run a rent control office, as I did in New York, my chief concern is how we set up a rent control board, officer, policies and procedures to ensure we’re creating a good experience for tenants and landlords in this town, going forward.
This isn’t going to make rental units less expensive. But it will blunt the degree that the rent increase trajectory was on. Now we need to do the same thing on property taxes: blunt the growth trajectory.
Watchung Plaza – Right Turn Only
Also on the agenda is a final vote to make a right turn only from Watchung Plaza onto Watchung Avenue. This move follows the result of a traffic study as well as analysis by both Municipal and County engineers who have made this recommendation. This is only a first step as a much more thorough analysis is undertaken by County and hopefully State officials for a complete revisit of this intersection. I’m not the traffic engineer here but in my mind, the best way to reconcile all of these points of entry to this area and maintain the ability to go in each direction desired, is probably a modest traffic rotary like the one at Church and Valley.
Restoring Native Vegetation
The United States is experiencing a biodiversity crisis with pollinator populations facing steep declines, including the loss of three billion birds since the 1970s. Instigated by a local environmental champion – Jose German-Gomez (who we’re naming the act after) and our Town Parks & Recreation advisory committee — and inspired by years of work by other champions in town from members of our Environmental Commission like Suzanne Aptman to leaders like Deb Ellis – Founder of the Essex County chapter of the NJ Native Plant Society; I along with several of my colleagues are proposing a new law around the procurement of native trees and plants by a municipality.
As a start, the law will require that 70% of plants and trees that we procure going forward be native to our region of the United States. And we’re asking the Environmental Commission to report to the Council each year on how we might increase these numbers as the marketplace evolves to make more of these species available to us. The law includes species native to the mid-atlantic and northeast regions of the U.S. given that climate change has been forcing species to migrate north over the last decades.
While this is an exciting first step, it would be made that much more impactful if private property owners joined this broader effort. To that end, I want to ask everyone with private property to consider two things going forward, to help restore and protect our local eco-system:
1) Try to plant native vegetation on your own property where possible, ideally deer resistant vegetation. Talk to your landscape company or do some research on your own on the Native Plant Society of NJ website to learn more.
2) Avoid planting invasive species listed on the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team “Do Not Plant List”
Slow Down and Never Pass a School Bus
My inbox and tags on Facebook (email is always better) are just full of requests for speed and traffic studies all over Montclair. We clearly have several design flaws and we are slowly reconciling those (Bloomfield Ave., Watchung Plaza as examples)… but the common denominator in all of this is dangerous and/or distracted driving.
Recently I spoke with Montclair Police Officer John Bossolt about one particularly egregious behavior: driving past or around a school bus that is stopped to let children on or off. Just since October of 2018, our Police Officers have issued 334 summons to drivers doing this in Montclair. Montclair is known for giving out parking tickets — maybe not so much about how many of these tickets we give out too. That said, I do hope to see stronger enforcement of basic traffic laws around town. The reckless driving is out of control.
New Website for Engagement and Accessibility
Switching gears, recently I launched my new website, peterformontclair.com. I’m particularly excited about all of the accessibility features I was able to include for people with various disabilities. It will continue to be a hub of information including my blog, latest news stories, integration of social media and third party resources. I hope you’ll check it out.
I hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend. Later this week I intend to put out an email about Earth Day and all the things we can all be doing to be the change we both wish to see in the world and that we desperately need. Get ready for the strictest plastic bag ban in the United States to take effect in NJ in just a couple of weeks.
Be good to each other.