At the annual Maplewood Township Reorganization meeting on Jan. 1, 2013, newly reinstated Mayor Vic DeLuca delivered his 8th State of the Township address. The transcript of the address is published below in its entirety. Also at the meeting, Kathy Leventhal and Jerry Ryan were sworn in as Township Committee members.
More coverage on the day's activities will be coming later on Patch.
Happy New Year to all!
Congratulations to Kathy and Jerry on the first day of your new terms. Our community thanks you for your years of service and looks forward to working with you to accomplish even more over the next three years.
I want to thank my colleagues for electing me as Mayor for another year, my eighth. We have worked cooperatively to get the job done and meet the challenges we’ve faced.
The Township Committee could not do what it does without the support of three special people – Township Administrator Joseph Manning, Township Clerk Elizabeth Fritzen and Township Attorney Roger Desiderio. We appreciate your service to the community.
And I want to recognize our department heads and Township employees who do a terrific job in serving the people. Please stand so we can properly thank you.
A couple of days ago I mentioned to a friend who lives in town that I had to prepare the State of the Township address. He thought things in Maplewood are “pretty darn good.” Well I won’t disagree with my friend but do want to kick it up a notch and report to you that the State of the Township of Maplewood is great.
But 2012 was some year. As you heard earlier, we are indebted to so many for keeping us safe and secure during Sandy, the storm of a lifetime. My colleagues stepped up and together with our emergency management team provided the leadership that got us through those very trying times. Sandy made such an impact on our lives and our community it is hard to remember what else happened last year. But we were busy.
We approved 25 ordinances, roughly one per meeting, and passed more than 200 resolutions. We celebrated our 90th anniversary as a township with a community photograph on Memorial Day. In November we reviewed the proceedings of the first meetings of the Maplewood Township Committee held in 1922. We were privileged to have former Township Committee members join us to reflect on Maplewood’s rich history.
Another thing we did last year was cut a lot of ribbons. There were over a dozen business openings throughout town. We started last January with 7 Eleven and ended the year at GiGi’s Cupcakes. Construction started this summer on the Station House, 50 units of luxury rental housing at the former police station, and on Maplewood Crossing, 124 rental units next to DeHart Park on Burnett Avenue. In November a new owner began renovating the former Wyman Ford property and is locating a national retailer there. And on January 9th we are breaking ground for a mixed-use residential and commercial property at the corner of Springfield and Burnett Avenues.
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.
The housing market is strong. From January through November, the average selling price of the 230 homes sold in town was $468,000 and the days on the market averaged to about two months. On the commercial side there is an equally robust interest in Maplewood. The movie theater just signed a 20 year lease, plans are still underway to renovate the Woman’s Club, a new 7 Eleven is about to open and we are in discussions with a national company about locating their corporate headquarters in our industrial area.
In the fall, we launched a professional retail recruitment campaign, targeting 250 companies that are looking to expand or locate in Northern Jersey. We are already getting a good response from our outreach. And last January, we started a “look local first” initiative that targets local businesses for Township purchasing.
Without question, the most critical decision facing us is the redevelopment of the post office building in Maplewood Village. We’ve held two community meetings to gather public input and contracted with a multi-disciplinary team from Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab to give us their best thinking on development possibilities. We’ve been in discussions with Kings to move across the street to a larger supermarket space and to put new retail stores in the building it currently occupies. We will be back to the community early this year to share those ideas.
Another very important development decision concerns the former Public Service Electric and Gas building at the corner of Springfield and Boyden Avenues. This nearly four acre site is one of the largest in Maplewood and the right type of development must take place there. PSE&G is negotiating with five potential developers and we expect a decision very soon.
Health issues were on our agenda in 2012. We passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking in Maplewood’s public parks and facilities. Under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Leventhal, the Township sponsored Maplewood Loves Wellness to help residents explore local options to enhance their health and well-being. And in a broader sense of personal and community health and safety, the Township Committee was the first governing body in New Jersey to pass a resolution calling for stronger, national gun laws. As we mourn the death of the innocent in Newtown – 20 first graders and 6 adults – it is time for action that requires increased background checks and bans assault weapons and high capacity bullet magazines.
Maplewood continues to be a leader in environmental sustainability. Green Day was more successful than ever before. We worked with PSE&G to install new street lights that use less energy. Curbside recycling was increased by 8 percent, going to every other week rather than twice a month. We put plans in motion for the Rahway River Greenway, a green corridor that will connect Maplewood and South Orange. We approved a complete streets policy that incorporates pedestrian and bicycle use in road reconstruction projects. Additionally, we are proud to say that we met the required environmental metrics to earn Bronze Certification from Sustainable Jersey, a distinction we will hold for the next three years.
And how about those chickens? In 2012, three families registered with the Health Department to raise chickens in their backyards and by all accounts it was a success. We will now consider an ordinance allowing backyard chicken raising on a permanent basis.
Okay, so did anyone else ride down the new slide at the Maplewood pool? Last year, we made over $1 million in improvements at the pool, including the very popular slide. We paved a good portion of Prospect Street, and West Parker Avenue and Hickory Drive. We installed new rest rooms and a ramp at the Library to make the building more accessible for those with disabilities. The first phase of the Maplewood Bikeway Plan was implemented with road markings and signage going up along the route. Traffic calming measures were installed at the Wagon Wheel in the Maplecrest neighborhood and speed humps were put in the Jacoby Street area around Seth Boyden School.
In 2013 we will continue with our roadway improvement program, 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. We also will write a master plan for Memorial Park that keeps in mind the Park’s historic significance.
In a couple of months we will say goodbye and thank you to Fire Chief Joseph Richardella. He is a skilled and accomplished professional and I want to publicly express our appreciation for all that he has done for Maplewood. His department was busy in 2012, fighting nearly 100 structure fires and responding to over 1,200 emergency medical service incidents. When we lay our heads down to sleep at night or leave in the morning for school or work, we count on the Maplewood firefighters to protect us and our property. They are a dedicated force and we thank them for their commitment to our community.
I do not know what more to say about the Public Works guys. They proved themselves over and over again leading up to and in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. They worked 7 days a week for more than a month to open up our streets, take trees off our homes and get our town back to normal. We depend on them for more than most people know, especially to plow and salt our streets when it snows so we can go about our business. I want to express our gratitude for their excellent work.
I want to give a shout out to the men and women in our police department who keep us safe twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. They take their responsibilities seriously and perform their work in an exceptional manner. Unfortunately 2012 was a difficult year with crime in Maplewood and surrounding towns. Through November we experienced an increase of 27 percent in the eight major crime categories, from 371 offenses in 2011 to 472 in 2012. Among the major crimes are homicide, arson, robbery, auto theft and larceny. Chief Cimino and his leadership team made adjustments to the patrol division and crime suppression team to respond to spikes in criminal activity. These changes have resulted in more arrests and higher clearance rates by the detective squad.
In 2013, Township Committee Members Marlon Brownlee and India Larrier will undertake a community building/crime prevention initiative to increase the partnership between residents and the police department. All of us have a stake in keeping our community safe and we need to serve as eyes and ears on our blocks and in our neighborhoods to help the police do their jobs more effectively.
I don’t have to tell you about property taxes. This year is an election for governor and the entire state legislature. We need to make sure the state’s tax structure is fully debated and real tax reform proposals are put forward. For the past two years, the Township Committee has balanced the service needs of our residents with keeping tax increases low. In 2011 there was no tax increase for the average homeowner and last year we kept the increase to two percent. For 2013 we intend to do our best at keeping the rate of increase to two percent but we have not yet factored in all costs associated with Superstorm Sandy. Our first budget meeting is this Saturday at 9am and I can assure you we will scrutinize all facets of the proposed spending and revenue plan.
So this brings me to Sandy. We had plenty of warning and were well prepared. But when we woke up on Tuesday morning without power and heat, it was a shock. Trees were down everywhere and dozens of streets were impassable. Of the 9,500 PSE&G customers in Maplewood, 9,100 lost power, about 96 percent. Luckily our downtown and the Maplewood Library were spared. The library was our “Beacon in the Storm,” offering a place for comfort, companionship and charging. On a typical day, about 1,000 people patronize the library building. On the Wednesday after the storm, 4,000 people came through the doors. About 3,000 did the same on Thursday. Thank you to our library director, Sarah Lester, and the entire library staff for the great work you did that week.
Town Hall was another place with power. About a hundred folks each day came to get warm and powered up. It also was our operational center for emergency response. Each day we met to review progress and develop a game plan to bring us back to normalcy as soon as possible.
As you know, we had a presidential election in the middle of this crisis. Two of our six polling stations ended up being powered by generators and we cleared areas around the sites so people could park and vote. Over 11,000 Maplewood residents voted that day without any incidents or problems. We pulled together to make it happen and I want to give special recognition to Liz Fritzen for her work on getting the election to run as smoothly as it did.
Sandy, like Hurricane Irene and the Halloween snow of 2011, was a time when government mattered to almost everyone. Citizens wanted to know that their elected leaders were acting on their behalf and taking steps to promptly and professionally address the emergency. I can assure you that our employees and the Township Committee were, and continue to be, up to the task of keeping you safe and secure and getting problems resolved as soon as possible.
We also know that these are learning opportunities for us. We will make changes to our emergency management plan so that we are doing the best we can before, during and after an emergency. One change is we will enter into a partnership with Seton Hall Radio – WSOU at 89.5 FM – to be our emergency broadcaster. Another is to ensure we have sufficient generator capacity to keep essential buildings functioning.
So what’s in store for 2013? Crime, taxes, development and civic life will be top concerns. We will address the rise in crime and create opportunities for more and better police and community teamwork to keep us safe. We will work with other municipalities to look for solutions to the property tax problem and to get real relief from the state. We will proceed with a responsible plan for economic development and continue fine tuning our “community brand” as a welcoming, diverse place to live and raise a family. We will support arts and culture as critical components of our civic life and build closer ties between businesses and arts groups. We also will celebrate the many fine food establishments in town and enhance our promotion of Maplewood as a place to eat and have fun.
Many of you here today are volunteers who make a difference in the lives of our residents and the life of our community. We want to express our appreciation for all that you do. I urge all our residents to get active, stay involved and join the effort to tackle the challenges that lie before us.
Today we start a new year, the 91st for Maplewood. I’m excited about our prospects and our future. I hope you are too.
Thank you very much.