First, the good news: Verona Township Manager Matt Cavallo announced at the Monday, February 5, Town Council meeting that, for the second year in a row, there will be no increase in Verona Pool fees. Cavallo also said that Verona will be sending the engineering specifications for an expansion to the Verona Pool’s upper parking lot to Cedar Grove and Essex County soon. Registration information for this summer’s pool season will be going out soon from the Verona Recreation Department.
In reports from the individual Council members, Mayor Kevin Ryan noted that the Verona Rescue Squad recognized Fred Santoro for 40 years of service at a dinner on January 27. The Council presented Santoro with a certificate of appreciation for his efforts, which included responding to 5,937 Rescue Squad calls. Ryan also said that he was among the officials who participated in Sustainable New Jersey’s Mayor’s Climate Summit on February 3. Attendees heard about New Jersey’s plan to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Gov. Chris Christie withdrew New Jersey from the multistate cap-and-trade program in 2012.
Councilman Michael Nochimson requested higher fees on dumpsters used in home renovation projects. Cavallo said Verona’s fees are comparable to those in other towns. Nochimson also drew the Council’s attention to reports on the dangers of marijuana legalization and asked that the Council look at restricting marijuana distribution in town. New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, campaigned on full legalization of marijuana and, in January, signed an executive order to ease regulations on medical marijuana. Cavallo noted that there are two full legalization bills pending in the state legislature and that both include a clause that would allow municipalities to create rules to regulate distribution in the first year after full legalization is adopted. “We could restrict the distribution all we want at this point,” Cavallo added, “but it is still illegal.”
Councilman Nochimson also raised the idea of vacant building tax to put pressure on the owners of some properties to them rented. In response to a question on this from Councilman Ted Giblin, Verona’s township attorney, Brian Aloia, noted that Montclair now has such a tax.
Councilman Alex Roman returned to an idea that he had raised late last year, to create tax abatement program for existing commercial buildings that are renovated. Roman’s idea would spread out any increase to assessed value over several years, which he asserted would encourage more property owners to upgrade their buildings. He asked that the Council consider the approach after the town-wide revaluation is completed.
The most significant action at the meeting was the vote on Ordinance 2018-05, which puts a formal structure around Verona’s government. The measure sets out the structure and duties of a series of departments–administration and economic development, building and inspections, community services, finance, public works, tax assessor, police, fire and municipal court. With the organization rules in place, department heads will be able to write job descriptions for their staffs and Verona can begin performance reviews of municipal employees. The ordinance is a companion measure to the salary ordinance adopted at the last meeting. Councilman Roman noted that Cavallo “has put hours and hours into defining how this town is supposed to work. It is a major step forward to put this all into place in one ordinance.”
“I’ve been sitting here since 2011 and one of my great frustrations was the lack of any organizational clarity,” added Mayor Ryan. “I had numerous discussions about that with the prior manager, which didn’t always go well. One of the reasons that we have a new manager is that at least three of us got frustrated with the lack of clarity.” He noted parenthetically that the new ordinance also gives him a tool to evaluate how well Cavallo is doing his job. The ordinance was approved by a vote of four to one. Councilman Nochimson objected to the measure because he wanted buildings and grounds and public works to be merged.
The agenda for the February 5 meeting is here. You can watch the full meeting below.