State offices will close today at 1 p.m., and will be closed tomorrow, after Gov. Christie declared a State of Emergency for the entire state.
Because of the pending storm, delivery of The Observer will likely be delayed tomorrow, Jan. 27. We will do our best to get the newspapers to all of our locations as soon as is possible, but they may not be in stores, etc., at the usual times tomorrow. We will, however, be sure to post our e-Edition on Tuesday for all to read. Be safe, one and all, and thank you for your understanding and patience.
Meanwhile, North Arlington has announced there will be no trash pickup Tuesday, Jan. 27.
Be sure to check back with The Observer for other storm-related announcements.
Above: Tina Feorenzo, Angelo J. Feorenzo and former Observer Publisher Lisa Feorenzo.
Angelo James Feorenzo, 75, of Toms River, died Thursday, Jan. 22, at Community Medical Center in Toms River.
Born and raised in Hackensack, he moved to Toms River in 2003.
Angelo and his brother, Anthony, owned Feorenzo Brothers in South Hackensack. He also worked for University Publishing in Rutherford for many years and enjoyed traveling and trips to Atlantic City.
Surviving are his loving wife of 39 years, Nancy; daughters Tina Feorenzo of Montvale, and former Observer Publisher Lisa Feorenzo of Kearny; a brother, Anthony Feorenzo and his wife, Mary, of Paramus; and cousin Judy Anderson and her husband, Edwin, of Toms River.
Visitation will be Sunday, Jan. 25 from noon to 4 p.m., at the Quinn-Hopping Funeral Home, 26 Mule Road, Toms River. A funeral service will be offered at 4 p.m. Cremation will be private.
Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.quinn-hoppingfh.com.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Deborah Heart and Lung Center at 212 Trenton Road, Browns Mills, N.J., 08015
By Karen Zautyk
Several years ago, Paul Rogers of Kearny visited a unique exhibit in Manhattan. Sponsored by a group called CANstruction, it featured wonderfully imaginative “sculptures” that students created from canned goods.
Following the project, the food would be donated to the needy.
We’d guess that 99% of the people who saw that exhibit left it thinking, “That’s nice.” And then went about their business.
However, Rogers is not 99% of people. He left inspired. He left determined to bring CANstruction to his hometown.
And what started with one man has expanded into an annual event involving high school and college students, political and community and business leaders — all united in a project that not only fosters creativity but raises awareness of the continuing problem of hunger. And, yes, there is such a problem in Kearny and surrounding communities. It may not be obvious, but it’s there.
We recall the 2013 CANstruction launch when a local pastor noted that his church’s food pantry fed an average of 100 Kearny families each month. Those attending — most of them people active in the community — actually gasped.
The 2015 CANstruction project, the fourth for the town, was formally announced earlier this month at an Optimist Club luncheon featuring guest speakers Mayor Alberto Santos, Kearny High School Principal Al Gilson, and Father Joe Mancini, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church.
This year, Mancini has graciously offered the auditorium at St. Stephen’s School on Midland Ave. as the site for the construction and display of the sculptures. If you’re not familiar with the project, be aware that an auditorium-sized venue is required. The sculptures can be massive. One year, they included a canned-food replica of the Kearny H.S. stadium. Okay, not actual-size, but pretty darn big.
Members of the KHS Engineering Club, supervised by teachers Melody La Rossa and Charles Polk, will design and assemble the structures, using canned goods donated by local merchants, businesses and organizations.
Since the inaugural Kearny CANstruction in 2012, nearly 72,000 cans have been contributed in total. Project co-chairpersons Rogers, a retired Kearny F.D. captain, and Julie Smith, branch manager of Valley National Bank, hope this year to surpass a 100,000 grand total. The odds are good, since donations have steadily increased year-byyear. In 2012, the tally was 19,965. In 2013, 23,500.
Last year, an amazing 28,515.
As usual, the theme for the annual project is a guarded secret and the public won’t know until the big reveal in the spring. But we shall report on it when it happens.
And after it happens, all that food will go to the needy. This year’s recipients will be the food pantries of St. Stephen’s, St. Cecilia’s and the First Presbyterian Church, the Salvation Army of Greater Kearny, St. John’s Soup Kitchen and Apostle’s House Family Shelter, both in Newark.
“When the exhibits are all done,” Rogers told The Observer, “Rutgers Newark sends over a bus of soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball and swim team members. About 30 kids dismantle, count, sort, box and distribute the food.
“The shuttle bus goes back and forth for the day. Some of the students stay at the St. John Soup Kitchen and the Apostle’s House shelter to unload and fill the shelves.
“They work very hard, and they get a first-hand look at food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.”
Santos called CANstruction “an excellent way to bring community attention to hunger and to do it in a creative way.”
Praising the students who “plan, design and build the artistic structures,” the mayor cited the energy and talents they bring to the projects and the fact that CANstruction is an opportunity “for young people to lead the way” in raising awareness of hunger.
“Maybe people don’t see it, but it’s out there,” Santos said. There is definitely a need.”
As for CANstruction and the man who brought it to Kearny, Paul Rogers, the mayor noted, “This really is one of those great community stories regarding individual action” and what that can accomplish.
Well, now it’s official. An audit of the Belleville Board of Education for the 2013-2014 school year has confirmed what school officials and the district’s state monitor had suspected all along … that the district did, indeed, overspend its budget.
As best it could determine from BOE records available, the Fairlawn auditing firm of Lerch, Vinci & Higgins LLP has estimated that deficit at $3,712,426.
Jeff Bliss, a CPA and a partner in the firm, offered an overview of why it happened at a special BOE meeting last Tuesday and, as he proceeded, each revelation elicited groans from members of the audience filling much of Belleville High School auditorium.
Copies of a summary of the audit’s findings were available for public view at the meeting and the BOE also posted more detailed explanations from the audit on its website.
Bliss said the audit report contained a whopping 67 recommendations – an unheard of number for a typical school audit. Of those, 15 deal with what Bliss characterized as “material weaknesses in internal [fiscal] controls” which reflect “material errors in financial statements.”
Eleven are “repeats from the prior year,” he added. “A lot of policies were not being followed.”
Expenses for as many as 90 individual line items in the school budget were found to have exceeded revenues available, he said.
Bliss said the audit team was hampered in some instances because district records were incomplete, sketchy or even missing. Much of computer-stored education- and business-related information was “lost” and had to be manually reconstructed after the district server “crashed” at some point last year, he said.
Among some of the more alarming findings of the audit were that the district:
• Failed to pay quarterly claim reimbursement bills to the state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in a timely manner, thereby subjecting itself to penalty fees.
• Failed to remit federal and state quarterly payroll tax filings on time. Typically, Bliss said, it was “two to four quarters behind.”
• Failed to cover a short fall of $365,000 in its payroll agency account and money had to be transferred from another source to make up the gap, Bliss said. • Failed to monitor cash balances to prevent $1.4 million in overdrafts. “That’s not good business practice,” said Bliss.
• Failed to track payments to vendors involving two capital lease purchase projects made through a bank involving a $1,025,000 school roof repair and a $1,950,000 school security/network upgrade. “Transactions were not recorded in the district’s books and bills were not approved for payment by the board,” Bliss said.
• Failed to get monthly financial reports, budget line item certifications and fund status from its professionals.
• Failed in “many situations” to seek public bids for goods and services that exceeded the $36,000 bid threshold like a $72.000 contract awarded Clarity Technologies for computer supplies and IT support; failed in some cases to seek competitive quotations for contract awards exceeding $5,200; and failed to provide purchase orders authorizing those actions.
• Failed to put out for bid the hiring of cafeteria lunch aides at a cost of $180,000 – which, according to Bliss, was “outside” the contract awarded its food service management company.
• Failed to maintain a student census report as “the basis for which the district receives state school aid and some federal funding,” Bliss said. Although the district claims a student population of 4,700, “none of the records are available” to support that claim, he said.
“Now that the deficit has been certified,” Bliss told the public, “the [BOE] administration is required to adopt a corrective action plan to eliminate the deficit.”
Newly chosen BOE President Raymond Kuebler pledged that the plan “should be done in a few weeks” and “will be presented by the monitor [Thomas Egan] to the state” for review.”
After some members of the public wondered whether there would be consequences for those deemed responsible for the deficit, Kuebler volunteered that BOE members have heard that, “There is an ongoing investigation going on, but nothing [official] has been brought to our attention right now.” He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, beyond the correction action plan there is the matter of how the BOE will deal with the overspending, aside from tightening its belt, as it has already done so, by voting not to renew contracts for a number of both non-tenured instructional and noninstructional employees for this school year.
Last week, the monitor, Egan, told The Observer that the district will be seeking a loan from the state Department of Education. “I haven’t finalized the dollar figure yet,” Egan said, “but you have to realize that the overspending is more like $4.7 million if you include the $1 million we had in reserve that we applied against the deficit.
“You’re going to need money for contingencies that may come up during the upcoming school year,” Egan said. “That’s what I’ll be discussing with the state as to the loan amount which would be an advance against future state aid, spread over five to 10 years.”
Ultimately, Egan said, that money – just the principal – would have to be paid back to the state and it’s up to the BOE to figure out how it would accomplish that. One possibility, he acknowledged, would be going to the public with a special school referendum but it would likely be a tough sell.
At last week’s meeting, while being quizzed about the current status of unemployment claims by Michael Mignone, the teachers’ union president, Bliss categorized the BOE’s mishaps as “a total breakdown of the system.”
Civic activist Jeff Mattingly was more blunt. He called it “a violation of trust – we were an ATM machine – we were abused in every way conceivable. It’s robbery, racketeering and there’s millions of dollars taxpayers are going to have to pay.”
“It is disheartening,” Kuebler agreed. “However, this board will be dedicated and committed to bringing this under control. We need to move forward and work together to ensure transparency.”
By Ron Leir
Roche USA, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical company that is marketing its 118-acre property straddling Nutley and Clifton, continues to seek a buyer for the site but has inked a tenant for part of the site.
Roche spokeswoman Darien Wilson said last week that the Tom Lyon, vice president of Roche Nutley (as the property is designated), has signed a “letter of intent” with Robert C. Garrett, president/ CEO of Hackensack University Health Network, for the leasing of one of Roche’s former research buildings for the operation of a medical school.
Terms of the lease remain to be negotiated, Wilson said.
At the same time, Wilson said, Roche — which last year paid $7.1 million in taxes to Nutley (supplemented by $2.7 million in special state transitional aid) — is “still in the process of identifying a buyer for the [entire] site.” Asked when Roche anticipated a sale, Wilson said: “We’re very close …. We expect to identify a new owner by middle of the year.”
Asked why the company was entering into an lease agreement for just a small part of its property (about 13 acres) before disposing of the whole site, Wilson acknowledged it could be considered an atypical approach, but that “all of the potential buyers were fully aware,” along with the Nutley- Clifton Joint Repurposing Committee, “that this was an opportunity that Roche wanted to pursue.”
Wilson said that talks with HackensackUHN “have been going on for a year and a half.” She added that the lease between the parties “would be assigned to whoever the new owner is.”
The new four-year medical school, according to a statement posted on the Hackensack University Medical School website, will be a joint venture by HackensackUHN and Seton Hall University and will be “the only private school of medicine currently in the state.”
The statement said the new facility would be an economic boost to the region by attracting other health-care related businesses and would “help curb the critical physician shortage that the state and the nation currently face. By 2020, it is estimated there will be a shortage of 2,500 physicians in the Garden State.”
Said Garrett: “New Jersey has long been known as a home to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and it is imperative we continue to support our future workforce through a premier school of medicine.”
Seton Hall President A. Gabriel Esteban said the university plans to integrate its graduate programs in Physician Assistant, Athletic Training, Occupational and Physical Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology and Health Administration, doctoral program in Health Sciences and Health Law to the new partnership.
A joint statement by HackensackUHN and Seton Hall said the new venture “will allow us to create a world-class network of academic, research and clinical expertise to educate the next generation of physicians to advance our reputation as a health science leader.”
None of this will happen overnight, the partners acknowledge. The school’s first class isn’t expected through the doors until fall 2017, according to HackensackUHN’s statement.
“There are a lot of steps they’ll have to go through before the school can open,” Wilson said.
For one thing, the six-story, 432,000 square foot Building 123 – designated as the medical school site – “will have to be fitted out as if it were a medical school” before the operators can apply for accreditation, Wilson said.
The partners are applying to the N.J. Economic Development Authority (EDA) for assistance in this process and the EDA’s approval “is expected to be finalized in early 2015,” their statement said.
Interestingly, Wilson said, the Nutley/Clifton property lines goes right through the center of Building 123 so the partners may have to seek local zoning and/or building approvals from both communities as they prepare to reshape the building to their needs.
Built in 1994, Building 123 is outfitted with a six-story atrium and roof-top solar panels, a 130-seat auditorium/conference rooms, tele-presence and video conference rooms, chemistry and biology labs and other research-related facilities, according to the Roche website.
The partners have signed a memorandum of understanding to create the medical school. Still to come is a formal agreement spelling out terms of the partnership.
County and local officials hailed the news as a big step forward for the region.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said the new venture “will be a tremendous asset both to the health care industry in this state but also will replace the economic void created [the loss of 1,000 jobs] when Hoffman-LaRoche relocated from the area.” It will also “create new jobs, enhance the housing market and create limitless economic development opportunities for local businesses.”
And Nutley Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers called the partnership “the culmination of a great team effort that will benefit our township for many years to come. … No doubt, this institution will attract people from all over the nation. This is the beginning of a great future for Nutley, in the area of jobs, economic growth and financial stability. We have a lot of work to do as we move forward. But this was a great way to start the new year.”
By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
Republican loyalist Brian Fitzhenry was rewarded for his longtime service to the party with an appointment to the North Arlington Borough Council last Thursday.
Fitzhenry, 50, a Jersey City native and St. Peter’s College alum who has spent most of his life in the borough, was named to fill the seat vacated by Mayor Joseph Bianchi when Bianchi mounted a successful campaign for mayor.
Fitzhenry, marketing director for NewRent Inc., a Kearny-based semi-trailer rental and sales business, was one of three candidates put forward for the empty council seat by the North Arlington Republican County Committee. He was nominated for the appointment Thursday night by fellow Republican Councilman Richard Hughes and was unanimously voted in.
The GOP now enjoys a 5-2 majority, including the mayor, on the borough governing body.
“I want to thank the Republican Party for having faith in me to do the job,” Fitzhenry said, after being sworn into office by Bianchi. “I also want to thank the North Arlington Volunteer Fire Department. It’s good to have two families. (He’s been a volunteer since 1991 and a former chief.) And I thank my family.”
Fitzhenry had two prior unsuccessful bids for public office, the first in 2004 with a try for Borough Council and then in 2013 for State Senate in the 36th District.
Still, the Republican is no stranger to public service, as he noted in his public remarks following his appointment. During the last 24 years, he said he’s been a member – and chairman – of the borough zoning board, helped acquire gear and equipment for the Fire Department and coached recreation sports. Currently an assistant fire chief with the volunteers, he is a former Board of Education member.
A key goal Fitzhenry said he has set to work on with the rest of the Bianchi administration is putting a lid on rising property taxes while continuing existing public services.
After congratulating the new appointee, Bianchi reminded the audience that, as the community’s chief executive, “You’re only as good as the people who surround you and with this council in place, I have the best. This is the tops. We have a great nucleus – young and old – to start the new year. These are workers and you can always access them. They’re here.”
In other municipal action, the mayor and council split on partisan lines on the appointment of James Herrmann as borough recreation director at $7,500 a year. Democrats Al Granell and Tom Zammatore opposed the move. Herrmann has four prior years of service in the post. Last year, a Democratic majority replaced him with Michele Stirone.
But the Dems did not contest the appointments of Firefighter (and former chief) Mark Zidiak as OEM (Office of Emergency Management) coordinator for three years at $2,500 a year, Lori Fischer as secretary to the Rent Leveling Board, Barbara Octubre to the Library Board and Fitzhenry to the Planning Board.
Borough Attorney Randy Pearce advised the governing body that the Dec. 29 council appointment of Kathy Kartanowicz to the Library Board was “done incorrectly” because it “should have been a mayoral appointment” and it “was not listed on the [meeting] agenda.” The only way to remedy it now is by someone filing a legal action with the court and getting “a judicial determination.”
Brian Intindola, of Neglia Engineering, the borough’s new consulting engineering firm, told the mayor and council that he’ll work with the county ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator to get approval for work to be done on new disability access corner ramps for the North Arlington side of Jauncey Ave. as a precursor for paving that street. “If you don’t have your ADA ramps, your paving gets held up,” he said. The borough must lay out the money for the ramps and then apply for county reimbursement, he added.
In other business, the council heard a pitch by Bergen County Freeholders Maura DeNicola of Franklin Lakes and Steve Tanelli of North Arlington asking the borough to get behind an advocacy effort for county residents with disabilities, who, DeNicola noted, “are one of the fastest growing segments of our community.”
Tanelli agreed that with the increasing numbers, “it’s almost becoming an epidemic.” But, he added, the county offers a helpline to these constituents. “They have a lot of programs I never knew existed and a lot of them are free. Try to buy in so we can answer the call.”
Bianchi recalled that the borough had been seeking a grant to provide a recreation program for those with autism but had been shut out. At his mayor’s urging, the council passed a resolution to create a committee to work with the county to explore avenues for county and/or state grant funding to support those with special needs. The committee members will include a council liaison selected by the mayor, representatives of the Planning Board, Health Department, Recreation Department, OEM, the Board of Education and the business community. So far, 21 municipalities in Bergen have signed on.
And the council deferred action on a request by Ridge Park/Arlington Park Apartments for a capital improvement rent surcharge over and above the allowable 30% for 10 vacant apartments that are being upgraded pending additional testimony by the applicant.
Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., hosts a Book Club meeting Feb. 2, 6:45 to 7:45 p.m., in the conference room to discuss “The Shack” by William P. Young. For more information or for help in locating a copy of the book, call the reference desk at 973-566-6200, ext. 219 or 220. Admission is free.
West Hudson Brave Women Fighting Breast Cancer meets the last Friday of every month, 7 to 9 p.m., at the East Newark Senior Center, 37 President St. For more information, call Emma at 201-998- 6828, Rosa at 201-246-7750, Fatima at 973-485-4236 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Salvation Army, 443 Chestnut St., offers computer classes Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to noon. The fee is $30 for 12 hours of instruction. The course includes instruction in basic computer skills plus Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. For more information, call the office at 201-991-1115 or Pete at 201-889-1352.
Kearny UNICO sponsors a bus trip to the Tropicana Casino on Sunday, Jan. 25. The cost is $30 with $25 in slot play back from the casino. The bus leaves from American Legion Post 99, 314 Belgrove Drive, at 8:30 a.m. Refreshments will be served at the hall at 7:30 a.m. To purchase tickets or for more information, contact Chapter President Lou Pandolfi at either 201-368-2409 or lpandolfi@ verizon.net.
The Humane Society of Bergen County, 221-223 Stuyvesant Ave., is offering a supply of dog food, both canned and dry, to anyone who cannot afford to feed their dog, due to unemployment, disability or any other financial difficulty. Just stop by or call 201-896-9300 for more information. Hours are: Mondays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Knights of Columbus Council 2396 has rescheduled a Tricky Tray, for Friday, Feb. 20, at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. The $10 admission includes coffee plus one prize sheet of tickets. No alcohol is permitted. No tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call Steve Cortese at 201-657- 0800 or Sal Russo at 201-446- 7244.
Lyndhurst American Legion Post 139 Rehabilitation Committee holds a ward party for veterans at Chestnut Hill Extended Care Facility, Passaic, Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 2:30 p.m. This event is sponsored by Joan Waltman in honor of her brother Reid M. Waltman who served gallantly in the U.S. Navy in World War II and is enjoying retirement. Post members play games of chance with hospitalized veterans and distribute treats to them. Anyone interested in sponsoring a ward party is invited to call John Deveney at 201-438-2255.
Lyndhurst Police Emergency Squad holds its annual Tricky Tray fundraiser Feb. 19 at The Fiesta, 255 Rt. 17 S, Wood-Ridge. Doors open at 7 p.m. Drawing starts at 8 p.m. A variety of ticket packages are available at different prices. For more information, call 201-804-2469, email email@example.com or visit lyndhurstnj.org.
Lyndhurst Department of Parks and Recreation sponsors a trip to Caesar’s Casino in Atlantic City Friday, Jan. 30. Tickets are $22 each. To buy tickets, visit the Parks Department or call 201-804- 2482 to reserve a seat.
The N.J. Meadowlands Commission announces the following events:
- The Third-Tuesday-of-the- Month Nature Walk through Laurel Hill County Park, Secaucus, co-sponsored by the Bergen County Audubon Society, is set for Jan. 20, 10 a.m. to noon. Admission is free. Participants are asked to sign a standard liability release that is good for NJMC/ BCAS events year-round. To register, contact Don Torino of the BCAS at greatauk4@ gmail.com or call 201-230- 4983.
- Join NJMC staffer and veteran rock journalist/author Brian Aberback Sunday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m., for “Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Meadowlands.” He’ll offer a slideshow presentation covering Frank Sinatra’s Hoboken roots and the Jersey City doo-wop scene to present-day hard rock guitar virtuoso/Carlstadt native Marc Rizzo and more. Admission is $6; $5 for MEC members.
Pre-registration for both programs is recommended and appreciated. Register online at www.njmeadowlands.gov by clicking on “Events,” by bringing a registration form to the Environment Center, or by mailing the form to Meadowlands Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, P.O. Box 640, Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071. Make checks payable to Meadowlands Environment Center. Program brochures, which include the registration form, are available at the Environment Center or may be requested by email by visiting firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no phone registration.
For more information, call 201-777-2431. Those interested in receiving email alerts about NJMC public programs are asked to email email@example.com or call 201-460-4619.
Lyndhurst Library Children’s Room, 355 Valley Brook Ave., hosts the following events:
- Winter/Spring Storytime, for ages 3 to 4 1/2, is available for two sessions at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will be offered every Thursday from Feb. 19 to May 14. Registration deadline is Feb. 13.
- A snowman craft, for pre-k to grade 3, will be held Thursday, Jan. 29, 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Pre-registration is required.
To register for programs, call the library at 201-804- 2478. St.
Michael’s Angel Academy, 624 Page Ave., hosts an open house with registration for the 2015-2016 school year for its pre-k-3 and pre-k-4 programs Wednesday, Jan. 21, 4:30 to 7 p.m. Use the Page Ave. entrance, next to the Angel Academy sign. For more information, call 201- 438-3809.
North Arlington Seniors Inc. (Tuesday Club) sponsor a trip to Sands Casino in Pennsylvania Feb. 5. The bus leaves at 9 a.m. Non-members are welcome. Call Rose Florio at 201-991-2423.
North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Road, announces the following events:
- A screening of the documentary “Inheritance”(90 minutes) is set for Friday, Jan. 23, at 11 a.m.
- Story Time, open to ages 2 to 5, is held every Wednesday at 11:45 a.m.
- Lego Club, open to grades 1 and up, meets Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m.
No registration is required unless otherwise noted. For more information on library programs, call 201-955-5640.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Nutley Police Chief Thomas Strumolo announced today that the Nutley Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force are investigating what appears to be a murder/suicide, according to reports.
A man and a woman were found dead in the 300 block of Hillside Avenue. Both were suffering from apparent gunshot wounds, reports said.
The investigation is active and ongoing, according to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas S. Fennelly.
Additional information will be released as it becomes available.
By Ron Leir
A renewed push for a rail link. More tax abatements.I nfrastructure improvements. These were some of the priorities for 2015 and beyond highlighted by Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos as the town held its municipal reorganization meeting last Tuesday night.
Town Council members Albino Cardoso (First Ward), Jonathan Giordano (Second Ward), Eileen Eckel (Third Ward) and Susan McCurrie (Fourth Ward) – all elected in November – were sworn into office. For Giordano, it marked his first time sitting on the governing body.
The council has a vacancy in the First Ward, created by the resignation of Councilman Alexa Arce, who gave birth to her first child – a girl named Alessandra Klein – at 11:22 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Arce has two years’ remaining in her term.
Santos said the Kearny Democratic County Committee will meet soon to vote on three nominees to present to the council for a final selection that “should be made by the end of the month.”
And, by the end of February, the mayor said he hopes to have in place a committee to begin planning for Kearny’s 150th anniversary which the town will observe in 2017.
Cardoso – who celebrated his 60th birthday last Tuesday – pointed to the town’s creation of a new municipal parking lot in the First Ward at 101 Kearny Ave., repaving of sections of Highland Ave. and other streets in the ward the start of commercial reconstruction on Passaic Ave. as improvements achieved during 2014.
Eckel cited the development of the Library Reading Garden and the leadership of Library Director Josh Humphrey as having “exceeded our expectations.” He and his staff, she said, “have put us up against any library in Bergen County.” Eckel also credited the Fire Department with “working hard to keep us safe,” despite fiscal restraints.
Santos urged his council colleagues to “look beyond the next election cycle and lean times” to “commit to a shared vision of building our future that will benefit our residents in the years to come.”
To that end, the mayor said he intended to focus his energies on the following priorities:
• Completing the design of a “long overdue” storm water pump station to stop flooding along Devon Terrace, Hoyt, Tappan and Dukes Sts.
• Resurfacing potholestrewn streets, many of which “are deteriorating faster than we can pave them,” he said.
• Undertaking an extensive makeover of the Gunnell Oval complex off Schuyler Ave. If the town can find the estimated $14 million-plus to elevate the site to mitigate flooding and install a new turf field, “the Oval will be enjoyed by thousands of residents in the years to come,” Santos said. Also on the drawing board are upgrades for playgrounds in back of Washington School and on Hickory St. and the development of a dog run in Riverbank Park.
• Completing negotiations with the N.J. Meadowlands Commission (or its successor organization) on the further raising of the former Keegan landfill and eventual conversion to town recreation fields.
• Reversing the “depletion” of the town’s public safety ranks. “We need to make sizeable progress in closing the gap for both our Police and Fire Departments,” Santos said, particularly given the pace of retirements in both departments.
• Ensuring that Kearny “remains affordable.” Since 2008, by restraining municipal spending with a 2% cap, Santos said the town has seen signs of progress in comparison with neighboring communities. For 2014, he said, Kearny’s average property tax of $9,282 was lower than Harrison and Bloomfield, about the same as North Arlington and “we’ve narrowed the gap with Lyndhurst.”
In 2014, the mayor noted, the town granted its first PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to a corporate property owner, Kearny Point Industrial Park, which will be “a key part of raising revenues for the coming year and [an action] we will have to increasingly rely on for the coming years.”
• Reviving the idea for a commuter rail station in Kearny. Had Gov. Christie not killed the proposal for an ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel, Kearny would have seen a rail station surface at Bergen Ave., Santos said. Now with the Port Authority talking about scrapping overnight PATH service, coupled with P.A. surveys pointing up the need for repairs to existing rail tunnels and frequent overcapacity on PATH, Santos said the time is ripe for reminding state and federal officials that Kearny should be on track for a rail connection.
“I’m confident we will make progress on achieving these priorities for the generations that will come after us,” he said.