2020 Annual Address by Mayor Mike Kelly
I want to start this State of the Township address by recognizing and thanking all of our current and former Township Committee members, all of our dedicated Township employees, all the volunteers who serve on our boards and committees, and all our engaged Township residents. The care and attention you all give to the Township is vital and appreciated.
ThIs 2020 Township Committee consists of three Democrats and two Republicans working together for the betterment of our community. As our first action of the New Year, we have picked a bipartisan leadership team of a Republican Mayor and a Democratic Deputy Mayor. We cannot say it any more clearly – this Township Committee intends to represent all residents, we intend to listen to all views, and we we look forward to working for you as an efficient and productive Township Committee.
And as your Mayor I am proud to report that the state of our Township is healthy and strong.
We are strong administratively. Our new Township Administrator Bob Hoffmann joined us in February with an abundance of new ideas, a wealth of experience, and a responsive customer service style of leadership.
- We are strong in caring for our people and for our environment. During this past year the township switched to an all-organic lawn treatment for all our parks and playing fields to protect our children from herbicides and pesticides. Our single-use plastic bag ordinance adopted last year will go into effect on March 1. It will reduce litter and even more importantly it will reduce micro-plastics which have been found locally in the Passaic River, which is the source of our drinking water. Let us hope that the State Legislature follows the lead of Chatham Township and a growing number of other municipalities to address this problem in a uniform, state-wide manner.
Moving forward, our goal in 2020 is to make our Township even stronger. We will do this by focusing on every issue with a consistent strategy that emphasizes planning and communication.
In 2020, we will initiate a multi-year comprehensive financial planning process. The bylaws which are on the agenda for adoption later this evening will formalize a new process where recommendations for short-term and long-term goals will flow upward from our employees, our department heads, our Fire Departments and our Emergency Squad. These goals and objectives will be combined with those coming from the Township Committee and, when vetted, will shape both our operations and capital budgets. We will work toward a budget presentation that isn't just numbers, but also includes the goals and objectives those budget numbers are designed to reach.
Another bylaw change on tonight's agenda will require each of our professional consulting positions to be reviewed on a rotating basis every three years. We think we have some of the best lawyers, planners, engineers and financial consultants around, but it's just good business to formally review each position on a regular basis.
A key priority for 2020 will be to support the Planning Board in updating our Township Master Plan. Some of our Master Plan elements are 10-12 years old and are in desperate need of an update to deal with such pressing issues as traffic, affordable housing, sidewalks, the condition and use of our public buildings, our recreational facilities and our infrastructure.
One of those special recreational facilities is the Colony Pool, a hidden gem of our community. Last year its membership grew by 7% and our goal in 2020 is to implement programs that will encourage an additional 10% membership growth. Our long-term goal is to grow our membership so that the Colony Pool becomes self-sufficient in 5-7 years. I invite everyone to check it out this summer for your selves and your families.
Shared services with neighboring towns are a big reason why our tax rate today is no higher than it was 12 years ago in 2007. We need to continue to review shared service opportunities to expand and improve services to township residents while controlling costs.
One example: Chatham Borough is exploring the possibility of a parking deck as part of its proposed Post Office Plaza redevelopment. Many details of the plan are still undetermined. But Chatham Township would welcome a discussion of financially supporting a sensible increase in parking near the railroad station if it would help Township commuters.
When it comes to shared and regional services, we also need to improve our planning and communication with Morris County. For example, our single-stream recycling contract with the county was once a money-maker for the township but is now a money-loser. Ten years ago we were earning up to $20,000-$30,000 a year in profits from the sale of our recycled materials. Last year, we had to pay Morris County $70,000 to process our recyclables – a swing of nearly $100,000. This collapse is due partly to global recycling markets, but it's also due to our failure to deliver clean, separated and uncontaminated recyclables. Our contract with the county expires at the end of 2020 and we need to talk seriously about changes that will work better for our budget and our environment.
We also need Morris County's help dealing with increased traffic on our county roads. The traffic backups caused by the traffic light at Southern Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue, and the traffic light at Southern Boulevard and River Road are just two of the problems that need to be addressed.
We need to do a better job planning for infrastructure improvements and letting the public know what expenses might be waiting in our future. We will formalize our road repaving schedule, publicizing road conditions from worst to first so residents will know when their street will be repaved and why others are being done sooner. Our sewer treatment plant is nearing the point when it will need a significant reinvestment to replace equipment that dates back to the 1960s and 70s and is wearing out. And our storm water system gets more complaints than any other municipal service. It was built to handle 25-year storms, and lately we seem to be getting 100-year storms on an almost annual basis.
No forecast for 2020 would be complete without a discussion of Affordable Housing which is the biggest challenge facing the Township in the coming year.
There are two basic ways that any municipality can meet its Affordable Housing obligation.
Under the first option, a community can avoid any upfront financial costs by zoning enough land to allow developers to build all the Affordable Housing required by the courts. Under this strategy, which is called the Builder's Remedy, Chatham Township's obligation of 200 affordable units would require zoning for 1,000 or more total units because only 15%-20% would be affordable. The construction of 1,000 or more new dwellings in the Township would have a tremendously negative impact on traffic, school enrollment costs, tree removal, water runoff and increases in overall density, which is why the Township Committee more than a year ago decided against this option.
The Township Committee decided – again, more than a year ago -- to pursue the second option known as 100% Municipally Sponsored Affordable Housing. Under this option, a community faces higher expenses up front because it must provide land for its required number of affordable housing units and must cover some costs not funded by the builder or by tax credits. But we only have to provide for our obligation of 200 affordable units instead of more than 1,000 market and affordable units. This will have dramatically less negative impact – both short-term and long-term – on the Township.
That strategic decision to plan for 200 dwelling units instead of 1,000 or more was easy. The hard decision facing us in 2020 is where to put the last 100 of those affordable units. We also have a Municipal Building which is far bigger than we need and we have a Police Building that no longer complies with state standards. We don't have the answers yet to this three challenges, but we will resolve them with planning and communication.
We don't have any time to waste. The Township Committee will hold a series of special meetings in January to prepare for Affordable Housing and the other important issues I've just mentioned.
- On Tuesday, January 7, we will meet to evaluate information from our professionals and give direction to our Township Attorney who on Jan. 10 must file a formal request for a time extension on the Affordable Housing issue.
- On Thursday, January 16, the Township Committee will hold a special work session focusing on issues other than Affordable Housing. The agenda will include short and long-term goal setting to help staff craft the final budget.
- And on Thursday, January 30, the Township Committee will meet to conduct its regular business. We anticipate we will discuss additional information on our Affordable Housing progress, prior to our February 14 court appearance seeking a time extension.
- All of these meetings will be public and will start at 7:30 p.m.
2020 is the start of a New Year and a New Decade. Let us work together with civility, cooperation and creativity to find the opportunities that will make Chatham Township even healthier and stronger than it is today. Thank you all. I look forward to working with all of you. Happy New Year!