Happy Spring, Montclair! I hope you’ve been out and about enjoying events in town. If you missed it, here’s my annual list of festivals and fairs.
We have a lot going on at the Council level and I wanted to update you on my thinking on a few issues as well as what I think the Council will do next week and in the months ahead. As you probably know, we did finally terminate our Town Manager two weeks ago. I anticipate we’ll be taking action on Tuesday regarding both future managerial and legal support for the Township. I also expect he will file suit soon against the Township and possibly me directly for being so outspoken about his removal since last year. I’m prepared and so it the Town.
In terms of other hot button issues: We will not be introducing the revised Lackawanna Development plan until June and we will not be voting on leaf blowers next week either. We will be voting on the budget. Please see below for more details on all of these.
A short swan song for Montclair Local’s last printed edition
If you haven’t already, please take a few moments to read my thoughts about a changing Montclair and how we navigate so many beliefs in what home should be, in the years ahead as we guide Montclair into its future.
We will be holding a public hearing and considering the adoption of our 2023 Municipal Budget (well ahead of most other towns in NJ). If you missed it, you can watch the budget presentation here. If you’re interested in how our budget process works, you can watch a webinar I hosted on it last year, here. In addition, to our operating budget, I hope that we’ll also be voting on a capital budget too.
At this time, my intention is to support both budgets. To be crystal clear, it by no means is an indication that I agree with every spending decision. But it is in fact a reflection of compromise and deliberation between staff, staff and the Council, and among Council Members (including the Mayor).
Some Key Points (Just the facts)
- Overall spending up 5% driven by inflation and additional headcount added
- The budget will result in less than a 2% increase on the 25% of your property tax bill that we control. The reason we can increase spending by 5% and hold the line on a tax increase of 2% is due to increased revenues from parking and PILOTS, use of final American Rescue Plan dollars, use of reserves and holding back some debt repayment (still paying $1M).
- In case you don’t know, your bill breaks down as follows:
- 25% Municipal Services (what we control)
- 1% Library
- 17% County
- 57% School District
- In case you don’t know, your bill breaks down as follows:
- Full time social worker added
- 3 firefighters added (offset expected attrition)
- Rent Control office fully funded
- Boost to Recreation Dept. funding
- Statutory $410,000 increase in library funding + carrying over $515,000 supplemental funding level from 2022
- Funding included for Vision Zero Task Force work, bike racks
- Funding included for Stormwater Infrastructure improvements
- Funding included for Update to Watchung Plaza Park
- Funding included for fixing Mountainside Tennis Courts
In my next newsletter I’ll share more information on our capital investment plans, which include snow removal capacity, stormwater work and municipal vehicles.
Zero Pedestrian & Cyclist Strikes by 2029
Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’m acutely focused on safer streets to prevent collisions with other cars, pedestrians, cyclists and those using other forms of transportation. This is a passion shared by Mayor Spiller, the majority of my colleagues and County officials like Commissioner Brendan Gill. Over the last few months we’ve met and have developed the framework for a Vision Zero Task Force, which the Mayor and I are introducing on Tuesday night. We believe that with an empowered Task Force and supportive funding from government and other sources, a Task Force, comprised of officials across government, community members, and subject matter experts, can pursue solutions that will eliminate crashes in Montclair in five years. Montclair Local is working on an in depth piece I look forward to reading. Montclair Patch also did a write-up yesterday.
Two More Cannabis Retailers Coming
Admittedly, it has taken us a while to learn how to establish and then regulate a cannabis industry in Montclair. But on Tuesday, we’ll be considering for adoption two Resolutions issuing licenses to the two final retailers (our law permits up to three and we already have Ascend). These Resolutions naming the two retailers will be posted on our website tomorrow night (Friday). This was a buttoned up, merit-based, formal process and I’m really pleased with the outcome, especially because one of the businesses is Black-owned and I think that’s very important when thinking about the legacy of drug laws and the communities who suffered the most from them.
Assuming State approvals go through, this will bring the total number of Cannabis businesses, including cultivation and manufacturing, in Montclair to five. I’d like to see this new industry to have some time to get established and for all of us to gain insights and lessons from that timeframe before we revisit zoning and quantity of licenses again.
Standardizing 5G Deployment in Montclair
Hideous, isn’t it? Well, we’re not going to let 5G deployment in Montclair go unchecked or look like this.
Fun Fact: If your phone says 5G, it doesn’t mean that you’re on a 5G network. Telecom companies have yet to actually deploy 5G in Montclair. On Tuesday we’ll introduce an Ordinance to put the Township in control over critical elements of how 5G apparatus is eventually installed in Montclair. This will ensure that the big companies can’t just come in and do what they want. Critically, we’re going to be dictating everything from the types of poles that can be used in specific zones and districts, to their height, to how far apart they must be and how the accompanying equipment must be contained, maintained, and possibly concealed. We’ve taken a lot of time to get this right and I’m excited about ensuring there is order and standards for this deployment and it doesn’t become the wild west. Historic areas will have decorative poles, residential areas will get subtle additions to existing telephone poles and our downtown commercial corridor will get smart poles. We’ll also be requiring the companies to maintain the equipment, including removing grafitti.
A Bus Shelter at Acme
Listening to our Seniors, Deputy Mayor Hurlock, Councilor Russo, Councilor Schlager and I are introducing a Resolution on Tuesday to approve putting a bus stop shelter on Valley Road in front of Acme. After Township approval, it goes to the County for approval (it’s a County road) where Commissioner Brendan Gill has already signaled his support. It then goes to NJ Transit for their approval and for them to install. This is something I’ve already discussed with them and they’ll be awaiting our approvals to get going. We want to pursue this to give seniors shelter from the sun on hot days when they may be waiting for a bus after grocery shopping.
Update on Leaf Blowers
My position right now is: Hold and get more information. A ban is therefore not imminent as I am the swing vote on this issue. (Read on if you want more of an explanation)
With the Township budget, Lackawanna Plaza, Vision Zero, stormwater, 5G, internal staffing and a host of other issues, this issue has not been my top priority. But I have still dedicated a lot of time listening to advocates for the ban, property owners and some landscaping companies. Presently our Public Works team has been purchasing and testing commercial grade electric devices. They’ve tried two brands and so far do not feel there is something sufficient to replace gas powered yet. But they’re onto three or four additional brands. Between their own research and our discussions with places like Larchmont, NY and Maplewood, NJ who have full bans; a few of my colleagues and I are trying hard to understand which electric devices truly get the job done and what is available at scale for the industry, our own government and the school district, to make a switch.
I am 100% in support of banning these devices as soon as is practical and before 99% of all other towns in New Jersey. They are toxic for the environment and the workers who use them. They’re disruptively noisy. They are excessively over-used on the silliest things. Every speck of grass or dirt doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t) be cleared using a blower. In fact, mulch-mowing and leaving some natural debris on the ground is actually healthy.
But I’m also getting fierce pushback from landscape companies promising to cancel contracts and stop servicing Montclair, including providing snow removal services. That gives me pause. My own very eco-friendly landscaping company has said the same. I’ve also heard from a lot of residents who are supportive of making the switch and will pressure their companies to do so but are pleading with me not to ban these devices without a responsible transition timeframe for fear of increased costs. With a massive new school bond, increased taxes and increased utility costs, I am sensitive to that.
The good news is that from May 15th to Oct. 15th gas leaf blowers are illegal to use anyway. So enjoy those quiet five months and we’ll keep working on this in that time. At the same time, please consider how you manage your property. Talk to your companies. Ask them to start investing in electric equipment. Set different expectations with them around pristine yards. If you’re comfortable leaving grass clippings and some leaves on the ground and in beds for natural fertilizing and species support, tell them that too. It would be really nice to see a dramatic drop in the use of devices because the thousands of you who contract services told the companies who do the work, that you want to see a lot less of the gas-powered use.
Consider joining me at one of two upcoming fundraisers to support my political committee.
(Click each invitation to be taken to the event page)
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41 Watchung Plaza, Suite 318
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