Editor's Notebook: Sept. 12 Borough Council Meeting
● By Rebecca K. Abma
Midland Park Borough Hall
Carmine DeFalco, of Finecredit Inc., presented a Shop Local rewards program that borough officials are interested in implementing in Midland Park. The economic development initiative rewards residents with property tax credits for shopping at local participating merchants.
Finecredit first rolled out the program last September in Marlboro with 15 participating merchants. Over the year, the Shop Marlboro program expanded to 48 merchants. In the first eight months of the program, reward shoppers accounted for more than $360,000 in sales and the community saved more than $20,000 off their taxes, DeFalco said.
"This year, the program is on track for $1 million in sales and between $60,000 and $70,000 in tax rebates," he added.
Start up costs for the borough would include the individual cards, which cost $1 each for 10,000 cards and is typically picked up by a bank or other sponsor. Participating businesses pay $10 a month for the program, which provides marketing for the program and provides banner advertising for individual businesses. The program also helps businesses to attract new customers and retain them as well.
There is no cost to residents to participate, however, Finecredit takes a 25% service fee on transactions. For instance, if a participating customer spends $100 at a participating a restaurant that offers a 10% rebate, $7.50 would be put in the customers tax account and $2.50 would go to Finecredit.
The mayor and council asked DeFalco several questions, including if it would be possible to combine the program with other communities. DeFalco said it could be set up for up to four participating municipalities at a time. Mayor O'Hagen said he would distribute information to other nearby mayors to see about having a joint program.
If Midland Park decides to participate in the program it needs to have at least 15 participating merchants. Council President Nancy Peet, who proposed the program at the request of a group of residents, said she would continue to seek input from businesses and gauge community interest.
Ridgewood Water Company Billing Problems
David Scheibner, Business Manage for Ridgewood Water Company, came to the meeting to address residents concerns over billing issues over the past year. While no residents were present to question, he admitted changes to the system did not go as planned.
In the late 1990s, the company upgraded meter technology to a telephone-based billing system, he explained. At the time, they were using Utility Billing Services (UBS) which had started out of the Elizabeth Town Gas company and was used by many other utility companies across the state. Meters were read over phone lines directly through the phone company exchanges in Ridgewood and Wyckoff.
By the time the water company had completely transition to phone meter reading, and phased out house-to-house meter readers, a switch in telecommunications took place. In 1999, the telecom industry was deregulated, and by 2004, homes were switching over to the Optimum Triple Play services with digital phone service, which is not compatible with the system. As a result, many customers have been receiving estimated water bills.
The problem was exacerbated last summer, when the latest company to take over the old UBS system switched things up. After a few months of trying to work through the glitches, Ridgewood Water decided to try another billing provider.
"It didn’t go as well as we would have liked," he said. A plan with a new company was formalized last October, with an aggressive conversion. Unfortunately, there was a problem transferring the data and by the end of 2012, there was not a functional billing system in place.
Scheibner said the company set up rudimentary programs to fill the gap, but there was a gap in billing from the fourth quarter of last year until recently.
Council members drilled the utility representative with concerns, but he replied that with 20,000 customers, "we don’t have the staff to jump on those customers at the first point when something isn’t right."
He also expressed concern that the system could not handle calls from all the residents who want to upgrade their meters to the newer system.
The council asked for better communication between the utility and its customers and also requested Ridgewood Water Company determine an action plan for moving forward and report back to the council soon.
During the liaison reports, Mayor O'Hagan reported that the engineer for the Lake Avenue Bridge replacement program assured him the bridge would be ready for vehicular traffic on Oct. 1 of this year.
Municipal Judge Charles Ryan has submitted his resignation, ending his three year term prematurely. The mayor submitted current borough prosecutor Richard Brady to replace Ryan for the remainder of his term, which ends in December. Part Time Prosecutor Joseph P. DeMarco will be promoted to fill Brady's term. Peter Jeffer will continue as the public defender. The changes will take place at the discretion of the various attorneys to ensure none of their cases are jeopardized in the switch, the mayor said.
The Board of Health is also getting two new members, one regular and one alternate. The replacement will fill in a vacancy created by the unexpected death of William Van Dyke. Mayor O'Hagan recommended Chiropractor Lori Nuzzi, the new president of the Midland Park Chamber of Commerce, while the Board of Health put forth Pam Cavinaugh to serve in the position. The council agreed that one will serve as a member and the other as an alternate on the Board of Health.
The police department is looking to reinstate a crossing guard at the crosswalk at the High School on Prospect Ave, near Nativity Church. Meanwhile, the police are monitoring crossings at Prospect and Hampshire, which officials say are a hazardous crossing due to diminished visibility at that point road.
Watch the full meeting at MPK Press's Livestream Channel at this link.
Work Session Presentation on Property Tax Card Rebate Program
Council Meeting, Part 2
Council Meeting, Part 1