The Verona Town Council met on Tuesday, February 20 instead of Monday because of the Presidents Day holiday.
Mayor Kevin Ryan reported that he went with other Essex County mayors to meet with New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, and learned about Murphy’s plans for treating property tax payments as a charitable donation to ensure that they remain fully deductible despite the new federal tax plan. Gov. Murphy also briefed the mayors on his plans for improving NJ Transit and shared services.
Deputy Mayor Michael Nochimson again pressed the Council to refurbish the structure on the Linn Drive field that is being used for storage by the Verona Eagles football program. Nochimson said that there had been an outside estimate that it would take $70,000 to rehabilitate the structure and asked if the Public Works Department could do the work instead. Township Manager Matt Cavallo said that DPW has fewer workers than it previously had and is now going into a busy season.
Nochimson also raised concerns about municipal employee overtime, which were echoed by Councilman Alex Roman. “We have not had the success that I would like to see so I think that is going to be a large area of focus for this year’s budget,” Roman said. “We need to get our arms around the root causes of our overtime costs.” Councilman Jack McEvoy stressed later in the meeting that the government reorganization measure approved at the February 5 meeting should also help to keep overtime down.
Councilman McEvoy said that he had been to an information session on medical and recreational marijuana put on by the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. He said he learned that medical marijuana may be a better alternative for pain management than opioids. McEvoy stressed that any decision on changes to marijuana availability in New Jersey are years away.
In other business, the Council continued to discuss the potential for a jitney to serve the Bay Street train station in Montclair, which remains too expensive for the Council to fund. “One jitney that would run morning and evening would cost about $100,000,” Cavallo said. Mayor Ryan noted that the developers of the Annin Flag apartments had raised the possibility of a service when that project was before the Planning Board and challenged area real estate professionals to come up with alternative. Cavallo said most of the exterior work on the Verona Public Library renovation is complete, interior work is moving ahead and the project is on schedule to be completed in November. There will be two changes orders coming to the Council soon, Cavallo said. The Council approved six members for the new Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and filled two spots on the Board of Adjustment that had been opened by retirements. Councilman Ted Giblin noted that Verona has had to stop running the senior citizens’ bus because we no longer have a driver. Candidates for the job must already have a CDL license with a passenger endorsement.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, there was a lengthy discussion of the revenues that Verona gets from so-called PILOT programs in response to a letter read by Verona resident Carol Thomas, who wanted to see more PILOT money shared with the public schools. Cavallo said that there was currently no way to write a PILOT agreement with a developer to mandate funds for the Board of Education and said that they idea that a PILOT costs the school district by keeping money off the tax rolls is “completely wrong”. Cavallo also stressed that the PILOT revenue is crucial to Verona because of our high debt burden and noted that, while the Council and the BOE did discuss sharing the costs of certain projects at their joint meeting, the BOE has not yet told the town what, specifically, those projects would cost. The capital projects that the BOE has eyed funding through additional referendums “far exceed” what Verona brings in from PILOTs, Cavall oadded.
You can view the the full agenda of the February 20 meeting here.