"2012 was some year," said Vic DeLuca in his State of the Township address at after being selected by his peers as mayor of Maplewood for a fourth straight term.
DeLuca was referring to the devastation that Hurricane Sandy unleashed on the town in late October, knocking out power for 96 percent of residents and causing roughly half a million dollars of damage. He dedicated the meeting to the township employees -- including police officers, firefighters, DPW workers, Town Hall staff, recreation department officials and library staff -- who kept the town running in the aftermath.
Natural disasters aside, the Mayor painted a mostly rosy picture of the current state of the town.
Economic development and the housing market in Maplewood are strong, DeLuca said. "In spite of a difficult economic environment, this business and development activity happened because Maplewood continues to be a community in which people choose to move, to invest and to operate their businesses," he said.
He cited the openings of a dozen new businesses, and the construction of the Station House (50 units of luxury rental housing at the former police station) and Maplewood Crossing (124 rental units next to DeHart Park on Burnett Avenue), as well as the renovation of the former Wyman Ford property.
DeLuca said the township will break ground on January 9 for a mixed-use residential and commercial property at the corner of Springfield and Burnett Avenues. He also mentioned two key projects on the horizon: the redevelopment of the Post Office building in Maplewood Village ("the most critical decision facing us"), and development of the former PSE&G building at the corner of Springfield and Boyden Avenues.
"Unfortunately 2012 was a difficult year with crime in Maplewood and surrounding towns," said DeLuca, who said the crime rate rose by 27 percent. In response to the uptick, the Police Department has made adjustments to the patrol division and crime suppression team, resulting in more arrests and higher clearance rates, DeLuca said.
(In an interview after the meeting, Police Chief Robert J. Cimino said the increase was mostly due to the burglary rate, which rose by 82% in 2012; he also noted that the arrest rate had increased by 34%. "Maplewood Police will continue to work to improve community involvement in crime prevention efforts, such as the Neighborhood Watch program, to assist officers in combating the crime of Burglary for 2013," Cimino said. Patch will have more on this in an upcoming article.)
Still, the Mayor's overall assessment was that "the state of the township of Maplewood is great."
He cited accomplishments including $1 million in improvements at the Maplewood Community Pool; installation of traffic calming measures and speed humps; roadway improvements, and the first phase of the Maplewood Bikeway Plan.
In 2013, the township will repair the river walls in Memorial Park, complete the Ridgewood Area Drainage Project, move forward with the River Greenway and the next phase of the Bikeway, and make improvements to the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, DeLuca said. In addition, the township will create a master plan for Memorial Park.
As for property taxes, DeLuca said the township committee would try to keep the rate of increase to two percent in 2013, but would have to first factor in all the costs associated with Sandy. The annual series of budget meetings kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 5.
Read Mayor DeLuca's full remarks here.
Earlier in the meeting, Kathleen M. Leventhal and Gerard W. Ryan each were sworn in for another three-year term as Township Committee members. (Leventhal's and Ryan's remarks are attached to this article as PDFs).
In her remarks, Leventhal -- who was once again elected as Deputy Mayor -- cited accomplishments including shared services; improvements to fields, parks and playgrounds; the Rahway Greenway Project; Maplewood Loves Wellness and various Green Team initiatives.
Ryan -- who said he is the longest-serving Democrat in the history of the Township Committee -- said he wanted to run again because the position is "incredibly rewarding and an enormous amount of fun."
He noted that he had faced a number of professional and personal challenges in 2012. "I’ve been able to get through them through the kindness and the support and the love of my friends, many of whom are here in this room today," said Ryan.
The meeting opened with the presentation of colors by Maplewood Troop 21, Boy Scouts of America, Color Guard (sponsored by St. Joseph's Church). Rev. Brenda Ehlers, associate pastor at Morrow Memorial Methodist Church, gave the invocation and the benediction; Morrow's senior pastor Rev. Chris Heckert gave the memorial prayer.