Editor's Notebook: Aug. 8 Borough Council Meeting
● By Rebecca K. Abma
Pedestrian safety, open space funding, borough communication, the local business community and Ridgewood Water bills were the main topics at the Aug. 8 meeting of the mayor and council. Despite a light agenda, the public comment section lasted for more than an hour.
The council passed a resolution to submit documents to apply for a $47,500 matching county Open Space grant to build a pavilion at the Dairy Street recreation area. The idea of a pavilion was first discussed publicly during the June 27 council meeting and was further discussed at the July 25 meeting leading to public question at the meeting about the proposed structure.
Residents questioned the rationale behind and the need for another pavilion, considering the one in Wortendyke Park is used just twice a year.
According to Borough Administrator Addie Hanna, many people have requested cover and shade in the Dairy Street recreation area. The section is widely used by people of all age groups, and the pavilion would be placed near the playground, tennis courts and ball fields. Residents will be allowed to reserve the pavilion through the Rec Department.
A First Street resident asked the council if the borough could use its open space funding to repair the high school track. "I feel like it would be a great use to every age group from senior citizens to children at the school and all ages in between. I don’t know if this is something you have thought about, but I would really like to see the council pass a resolution to ask the residents what they would like to do with the Open Space funding.
Borough Administrator Addie Hanna explained that open space funds can only be used for the projects they were approved for in the grant application. She added, "We are told the schools can apply for the same types of grants."
The mayor added that the borough would need to have permission from the school to consider such a project. The resident replied that she has discussed it with the schools as well. "Obviously if all you all put your heads together, you can get this done," she said.
Local Business Community
Several residents approached the council to ask what can be done to support and encourage the local business community, in the absence of an active Chamber of Commerce.
"We, the town, do not do anything in particular to promote business," Mayor O'Hagan replied to a Goffle Road business owners questions. "The Chamber of Commerce's job is to promote business in town. It is totally independent of the mayor and council."
The mayor further noted that the Chamber isn't "out of business" but rather, has been inactive for several years. "The same person has been president for decades and apparently not too many other people — in other words nobody — is willing to take on that role," he said, and was quickly corrected by former Mayor Ester Verheilig, Chamber of Commerce member and publisher of the Villadom Times, who informed the council that a new Chamber president will soon be taking the helm, and plans to hold a Chamber meeting in October.
Current Chamber President Chris Rossi "got the job when he was young and enthusiastic. Now 20 years later he is burned out on it," Verheilig said, adding that for the past several years when Chamber meetings were held, the same handful of people attended. "We’d have a venue and speaker and no one would come. It was embarrassing. We would have a merchant host a networking event and the same five people would attend."
Enough people are here now and "all the people who have been complaining all this time can come in and brainstorm ideas and take committee positions," she added, but declined to publicly name the upcoming Chamber President.
A Godwin Avenue resident commented, "It is sad to see our town be come a drive through. It would be wonderful if we could be a destination shopping area again."
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Peet reported on her continued research into a Property Tax Credit program that would allow residents to receive tax credits by shopping at local vendors. In May, Peet first reported on the program, which was brought to her attention by a group of active parents in Midland Park.
Peet said she intends to hold a meeting with the business community about the program in the fall and hopes the new Chamber president will take an active role in helping to implement the program, which would be a win-win for both business and residents.
Public Safety Concerns
Several residents spoke at the meeting about concerns over pedestrian safety, especially with school starting back up next month.. Between an issue of parents double parking at Highland School pick up, overgrown shrubbery on sidewalks and a lack of sidewalks on busy roads, speakers pointed out several dangerous and potentially deadly accidents waiting to happen.
One Erie Avenue resident asked the mayor and council if it would be possible to investigate putting sidewalks on his street, while a Godwin Avenue resident asked what could be done about overgrown shrubs that cover the sidewalk and force pedestrians into the street. Another resident expressed concerns over sidewalks in need of replacing and another resident reported cars speeding in 25mph zones.
Council President Peet invited anyone with safety concerns to contact her about a new Citizen's Safety Advisory Committee that is forming. The intention of the group is to bring public officials, community groups and concerned citizens together to draw attention to public safety and to brainstorm solutions to problems. Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about the program should contact Peet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ridgewood Water Bills
A Waldo Avenue resident came before the council to ask for guidance in dealing with Ridgewood Water Company. The utility switched billing platforms in January and did not send out bills from November until May.
His November bill was around $90 while his most recent bill was more than four times that amount. The reason: A pipe in the crawl space had burst and was leaking water. Absent a bill showing an abnormal increase in water usage, there was no way for him to know that he was wasting water. He said he feels that the company should be held accountable for not allowing him to properly monitor his usage.
The council reported similar problems with the water company, including a story of a resident who received estimated bills for at least five years, then one day received a bill in excess of $4,000.
Officials suggest inviting Ridgewood Water to an open meeting to answer resident concerns and address how things will improve moving forward.
A First Street resident asked the council to consider making council email addresses readily available for borough residents, and noted the school board is easily accessible via email. Mayor O'Hagan replied the best way to contact borough officials is to call borough hall, leave a message with the person who answers the phone, who will contact the appropriate official and get back to you. "It's the fastest way for us to do things," he said.
Currently, the only emails available for borough officials are the Borough Clerk-Administrator, who's email is email@example.com, and the mayor, who's email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The mayor said he prints out, copies and distributes emails he receives to other council members, when appropriate.
"If anyone else cares to give it to you, it is up to them," the mayor said. Borough Attorney Robert Regan followed up with saying that it is not a good practice to use personal emails for borough business, because doing so potentially makes all emails in that account public records and subject to the Open Public Records Act.
When asked if the borough could provide business email addresses for the public to use to contact officials, Council President Peet said she thought that was a great idea and requested one, agreeing with a resident who noted how nowadays, it is easier to email.
"Not everyone is able to pick up the phone during the work day to call borough hall when it is open for business hours, which is why an email makes sense," a Godwin Avenue resident told the mayor.
Also under borough communication, Peet questioned Hanna regarding why the new borough website has not been updated. In May, the borough launched a revised website www.midlandparknj.org to replace the old site at mpnj.com.
At the time, officials said the new webmaster, John Sondley, would update the site weekly, meeting agendas would be posted in advance of meetings and meeting meetings would be posted once approved by the governing body. Currently, the most recent council meeting agenda available is July 11 and the most recent council minutes are from May.
The most recent Zoning Board agenda posted is from December 2012, and minutes from the January 2013 meeting are available. The Planning Board page has not been updated since the end of last year. The Recreation Board minutes are current, however the meeting dates posted on the website are outdated.
The borough administrator said she would check with borough office personnel to ensure agendas, minutes and other updates are being sent to the webmaster on a timely basis.
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