Belleville Mayor Michael Melham is known for his elaborate State of the Township addresses each year, creating multi-media and a party-like atmosphere to highlight many of the initiatives he’s undertaken.

This year was no different, as the mayor took center stage at Nanina’s in the Park on Monday night in front of a large room of supporters to provide an hour-long update. Melham’s remarks went across the board, focusing on the stable municipal tax rate, ongoing smart redevelopment and a pro-cop message.

Likely the definitive moment of Melham’s speech came toward the end, when he shared a story about his father, Richard, who received a plaque in 1979 for helping purchase the first-ever bulletproof vests for the Belleville Police Department. Times have drastically changed, the mayor said, noting criminals are now using high-powered weapons that can easily blow through those antiquated vests of yesteryear.

That is why the mayor, through his non-profit Michael Melham Civic Association, presented a ceremonial check to the president of the Belleville PBA for $10,000. The money will be used to purchase armored shields for patrols cars, the mayor said, adding he hopes that others in the community follow suit and make donations to support Belleville’s finest.

As part of his many acknowledgements, Melham singled out Sen. Britnee Timberlake (D-34), who took office in January after serving in the Assembly.  “Senator,” he said, “we get along for a reason. We don’t back down, (and) as a matter of fact, we tend to double down!”

In terms of redevelopment, there was plenty of news to share.

“Economic growth needs access to adequate parking,” the mayor said. “And we know parking is at a premium all over northern New Jersey. By using developer community contributions to acquire land for metered and permit parking lots, we can enhance local commerce by turning once neglected areas into thriving commercial hubs.”

To that end, he said, the Township Council is embarking on several aggressive projects to acquire land across Washington Avenue and Silver Lake for public parking lots.

“And we are just getting started in Silver Lake,” he said. “Ripe for revitalization, after supporting the existing light rail with parking, it will be perfectly positioned to become the charming, bustling business district Belleville has long deserved.”

Franklin Street, with its existing commercial zoning, has the bones to become a vibrant downtown area that truly reflects the spirit of the neighborhood, Melham said.

“I do not foresee large, residential mixed-use buildings in Silver Lake, rather lively streets, bustling with restaurants, cafes and bars that attract both commuters and locals, possibly also transforming into a pedestrian-only zone on weekends to host live music and farmers markets,” the mayor said.

The narrative that modern buildings are bursting the seams of our schools is a myth — a complete fabrication unsupported by the hard, indisputable facts, the mayor said, adding “those who spread such misinformation are either blissfully unaware of the realities or, worse, intentionally deceptive to serve their own ends.

“If we face overcrowding in our schools, look to the district’s re-registration process that was neglected for the past four years or the repurposing of classrooms for all the new administrators earning six-figure salaries,” he said.

Melham also called upon the Belleville Board of Education to re-take control of the school district from the state.

“This is the moment,” he said. “The present situation — tax increases, test scores trailing state averages, and math proficiencies in the single digits — should not and cannot be the status quo.”

Several noted this portion of the speech received the most applause.

In a message to the school board, Melham said: “As you search for a new schools superintendent, I recommend getting back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. And while we are at it, let’s focus on regaining our financial independence by asking the state to remove the state monitor.

“I firmly believe that this board would be much better at managing our affairs than unelected bureaucrats.”

Regarding redevelopment, Melham said most of the housing developments under construction were birthed by decisions made in a previous administration.

“Not that I’m shying away from our economic successes, I’m certainly not,” he said. “After all, our redevelopment team has spared no effort in enhancing the projects passed down to us.”

In his concluding remarks, the mayor said Belleville is neither reinventing nor reverting — it is reinvigorating.

“We are not the Belleville of yesterday nor the mirage of a new Belleville — we are simply the essence of a Better Belleville,” Melham said.  “Together, we don’t just aspire to a BetterBelleville—we are the architects of its certainty.”

Elected officials from other communities were present for the event, including North Arlington Mayor Daniel H. Pronti and Councilman Kirk Del Russo.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.