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.