Friday, November 13, 2020

Time to hunker down and fight the good fight!

Each morning when I come to work, I check my emails. Our Health Officer, Carol Chamberlain, provides me with an update on the new "positive" Covid-19 cases for each day. Over the past 2-weeks, our community has seen a steady increase in cases. Yesterday, there were 15 new cases reported. This is basically 2-3 times more than what we had been reporting in the last couple of weeks. For those that want to say it is because we are testing more....No, it is not. For those that want to say the cases are primarily with our elderly at assisted living facilities....No, it is not. 

 Although the time to understand that politics should have no part in our fight against this deadly and contagious virus was months and months ago, it does not mean we don't have the capacity to change our mindset and be unified in what we should do to protect ourselves, our loved ones, friends, neighbors and others we share this community with. 

It is clear that the freedoms that our Country has provided us for more than 240 years, make it difficult for some to accept and follow the instruction of others (our leaders and public health officials) who are charged with the responsibility of protecting all of us from this Pandemic. It is also clear that there are some people that will never accept this Pandemic as something to be united against UNTIL a family member or friend either dies or is hospitalized by it.

 We all need to take a moment...or two....to set aside whatever has caused you to this point to think that "this isn't real" or "the media is lying to us" or "we can't let this stop us from living our lives" and remember that no one is asking or saying that this is a permanent, new normal. It is not. Vaccines are on the way. We can see the light at the end of this tunnel and it is getting brighter each day. So now is the time where we hunker down more. Be more vigilant in our efforts to protect ourselves and others.

 This is what we need to do, and it isn't a big ask: 1) Wear a mask (it DOES protect you and it DOES protect others despite what people with a different agenda may say (what's up with the morning guy on NJ 101.5?); 2) Keep a safe distance from others whenever possible; 3) Wash your hands and keep them away from your face; 4) Reduce the amount of times you gather with others and make the groups as small as possible; 4) Support your local businesses as much as you can.....give larger tips if possible.....they are there for us when we want and need them, let's be there for them now; and 5) Work hard to find REAL information on this virus instead of listening to tv or radio hosts who may have an agenda that does NOT include protecting your health or the health of your loved ones.

 It is time for us to step it up and do all we can to reduce the spread of the virus. Okay, pontificating over.

Update:  On 11/16 we had 11 positive cases and on 11/17 we had 27 new positive coronavirus cases in our community.  We are in the midst of what the health professionals have been warning us for months.  Please...everyone...be on board with fighting this virus in a unified manner.   

Stay safe and well everyone!👊👊✌️




Wednesday, October 14, 2020

New Jersey's CARES ACT "Coronavirus Relief Fund" and Lawrence Township: Key Points to know and consider...

        I, along with many others, read with great joy and delight an article in Patch.com on October 13, 2020,  "Lawrence [is] To Receive $575K In Coronavirus Funding From NJ."  It is amazing news.... IF IT WERE TRUE....but it is not.   So now I have to write an article because posts on social media from residents have expressed great interest in how the Township will be spending this windfall of money that we are not receiving.  To give you the answer now (and save you from having to read the article), $575,000 is the maximum amount Lawrence Township is eligible to receive as reimbursement for qualifying expenditures.  That saying, the "devil is in the details" seems to come to mind.  

        The New Jersey's CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF Funds) is a fund purposed to provide counties and municipalities severely impacted by the pandemic with financial assistance "to maintain essential services and take the steps necessary to fight Covid-19."   The most significant negative financial impacts result from "extreme economic contraction, deficits in tax and fee revenues, and extraordinary increases in public safety and health and human services expenditures." In Lawrence, we can identify and relate to losses sustained from all of these categories.  We have lost millions in revenue from taxes (predominantly commercial rateables), as well as, hundreds of thousands of dollars from construction fees, recreation fees, and court revenue, to name a few.  But these costs are not what the CRF Funds are to replace.... these are not qualifying expenditures (i.e., what the Township may claim as "permissible" expenses related to our Covid-19 response). 

        To be very clear, the proceeds from this grant will reimburse counties and municipalities for money spent on Covid-19 costs; money that was not included in 2020 budgets.  Therefore, there should be no question where those proceeds, if received, will be applied.  But if you need to ask the question, the answer is that it will be applied to the budgetary funds that have been depleted due to the Pandemic.  It is not extra money to be spent anywhere a governing body wishes.  

        At present, we do have qualifying Covid-19 related costs:  (1) additional salary and wages; (2) additional equipment (PPE, etc.); and (3) other miscellaneous costs.  The total of which through October 14, 2020 is approximately $88,000.  But we, as a Township, are aggressive in pursuing grant funding in all that we do because grant proceeds reduce taxpayer costs.  Through FEMA and other NJ grant sources, we have applied for and will most likely receive money to cover these costs (NOTE: We have already received some).  In addition, prior to passing our 2020 Municipal Budget, we understood that the Pandemic would result in additional costs to our operating expenses and included $135,000 into the budget so that 2021 would not have to absorb it all.  

        Accordingly, our Township is well situated to handle what 2020 brings us.  This Pandemic, however, persists with no real end in sight.  As a result, 2021 will have to be provided for.  Knowing that there is federal and state assistance available to us for these expenses is certainly helpful.  However, the loss of anticipated tax revenue and revenue from the other sources that fund our municipal budget continue to accrue and will have to be dealt with responsibly.  

        The resident taxpayers in our community need to know, understand and believe that the governing body and the professionals that manage our community finances will pursue every available grant to limit our losses, and do what is necessary to protect our ability to provide the services we all need, expect and deserve from our taxes.  

        Over the years, many in the community questioned the amount we hold in our Surplus Fund as being too much and applied pressure for us to use it for one reason or another.  Despite all of the fiscally prudent reasons to have a healthy surplus fund (i.e., better financing rates and higher returns on investments), the one that stands out right now is that it can be used for a "rainy day."  Our "rainy day" has arrived and its name is "Covid-19." 






  







Friday, September 18, 2020

Reassurance and clarification offered......

             Today, most of you have undoubtedly read newspaper articles about charges being filed against Lawrence Township Police Officer Andres Mejia.  The charges filed resulted from an extensive investigation under the direction of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.   It is my understanding that the investigation into actions by this police officer's handling of a  domestic dispute was prompted by facts revealed in an investigation by detectives in the Prosecutor’s Office into a murder occurring in Trenton in late August.

            Since I have taken the initiative to create a better line of communication between the municipal government and the residents of Lawrence Township, remaining completely silent about this matter is simply not an option if I am to have any credibility with you.   

            Of course, I cannot comment about the facts of the investigation leading to the charges against this officer, nor can I comment (more than I already have) about the ongoing civil action brought against the Police Chief and the Township by a small group of police offices in the PBA at a time when their union contract was being negotiated. 

            However, I can and I will continue to defend the integrity and honesty of Police Chief Brian Caloiaro and the many police officers who come to work each day honoring their oath and serving their community.  I also want to re-assure the community that there is no truth whatsoever to the claims of corruption and retaliation being made against myself and the Police Chief.  None.  I hate having to issue a response to these claims, but I feel like you deserve to hear from me and so do my family members and friends. 

            For members of the community that may question the integrity and actions of the Police Chief and me because of comments by an attorney being paid to represent his clients, I simply ask that you think for yourselves and reserve your judgment until these matters conclude....until all of the facts and evidence are made public for you to scrutinize.

            Please be mindful of an inconvenient fact that does not bode well for their attorney's claims: the criminal matter against this officer and the other officers were investigated under the direction of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.  The charges filed against this police officer and the others were filed by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, not the Lawrence Township Police Department.

I understand conspiracy theories are all the rage right now for all things political and otherwise, but I implore everyone to think this through and don’t lose faith in the leadership of our Police Department or the Township by unsupported claims.  By now, you must know that I write probably more than I should, and I could offer much more to you about these matters within our police department, but you and I will have to settle for what has been written...and for the facts to come out in due time.   

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Brief Description of our Community’s Affordable Housing Obligations

           A long, long time ago, before our lives were changed by the coronavirus, a common event played out at the door to my office in the municipal building.  A resident that I have known for years popped her head in and asked me whether it was true that affordable housing was going to be built at the Lawrence Shopping Center on the parking lot closest to Princeton Pike.  You know, the one where we take our kids to learn how to parallel park before they take their driver’s test.  I told her that there was some interest in that location by developers, but it turned out that due to environmental restrictions, nothing can be built there.  She said, “Good, we don’t need any more affordable housing in our town anyway.”  At that moment, I winced to myself (I think it wasn’t visible but I’m not sure) and pondered whether I should respond by telling her why her statement was profoundly…..ummm…..wrong.  I decided to simply smile, wish her a good day, and made a mental note that this was an important topic for an article.  Well here it is people!

          First, I will tell you all that a topic as expansive as affordable housing obligations in the State of New Jersey is one where experts have written books that rival the length of Leo Tolstoy’s  “War and Peace.”   For me to condense the topic into something more manageable will require me to simply hit some of the highlights, which will most assuredly leave out much of the technical aspects on the subject matter.  But my hope is you know more than you did before you decided to read further.

          Every community in the State of New Jersey has a continuous obligation to provide affordable housing to meet its present and future needs.  The New Jersey Supreme court concluded it was a constitutional obligation in its landmark 1975 decision now referred to as “Mount Laurel I.”  It was further codified by the legislature in the Fair Housing Act of 1985 (known as “Mount Laurel II”). This requires each municipality to adopt a “Housing Element and Fair Share Plan” (more commonly known as our “Affordable Housing Plan”) for development and redevelopment of housing within the community.   How a municipality determines its need is by using established criteria and guidelines which, in the business, is referred to as “methodology.” 

In 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court established a judicial process for municipalities to gain approval of their housing plans.  This means that in order for a municipality to be in compliance with our constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing, it must convince a Judge and the designated Special Master that the needs of our community will be met with the plan as proposed.  To be very clear, this is not a “wink-wink” situation where everybody doesn’t look too closely, and an approval is issued.  Far from it, the proposed plans are closely scrutinized and often criticized as….lacking.  The time, effort and energy that goes into creating an “Affordable Housing Plan” cannot be overstated. 

          As residents of Lawrence Township, you can all feel a sense of pride to be a part of a community that has been essentially leading the way in meeting our obligations to provide affordable housing as compared to other communities in the state.  We have addressed our constitutional affordable housing obligations in the First Round (1987 - 1993), Second Round (1993 - 1999) and most recently in the Third Round (1999 - 2018)(the first community in NJ to do so).  

          In an oversimplification, our obligation and present need is 696 units (dwellings).  Trust me when I tell you that the methodology used to determine our obligation is mind numbing.  But 696 units is the number to get you all in the right mindset.  Our obligation is to create (through and by private developers) 696 dwellings (single family houses, town homes, condos, rental apartments, age restricted and/or homes for persons with disabilities) for our community to serve those who qualify and need housing. 

          This is no easy task.  Throw in the NIMBY effect, and it should become clear that the conflict and struggle to meet the needs of our community are real and perpetual.  But they are also important, honorable and socially responsible, and we will do it not just because we are required to but because it is the right and just.



Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Zombie Property (aka "The Pit Stop"), Part II!

Hey Everyone!

On April 10, 2019 I started this blog with an article on the Pit Stop.  To refresh your memory, you may read the article again now.  I will wait...…...

Alrighty then... After 3 years of diligent work involving engineers, NJDEP staff, environmental consultants, grant applications, title searches, research, negotiations... you name it... it happened, we received a check in the amount of $239,524 from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Municipal Grant Program.  This grant money is purposed for us to continue with the environmental assessment of the property which includes the razing of the long vacant building (to study the ground soil underneath it).  We do have our environmental company on the ready, and we hope to have this work started in the next couple of months.  I will make sure to inform you all when the building is scheduled to come down.  Maybe a little party with some refreshments are in order as we watch?

To follow up on my April 10, 2019 article, the end-game for the Township is to get the property cleaned through grant funding, acquire title to the property after clearing title, and then create a passive park area for the community to enjoy and be proud of.  For far too long, this site (so prominently situated in our Town) has languished because of its complicated title history.  Millions of dollars of liens against it, and an owner that is a now defunct LLC with it's only member deceased.  To say this was quite a... errr.. "situation" is an understatement!

But I do want to publicly thank the governing body (Mayor and Council Members) who pushed for and supported the work that it took to make this happen.  I also want to publicly thank our Municipal Engineer James Parvesse and Brenda Kraemer (Engineer and Grant Wizard!) for their focused work to bring us to this point.  In addition, the staff at the NJ DEP have been excellent to work with.  They agreed with us very early on that this is exactly the type of project that the grant money is designed for...and they helped us greatly to make it happen.

The work, however, is nowhere near done.  We have much to do to get us to the end line!  There was a lot of work happening out of sight of the public...now you all get to see the work that will be done at the site as proof that progress is being made.  Stay tuned!






Thursday, July 16, 2020

Appreciating the Firefighters that serve our community...

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."  Nelson Mandela.

Yesterday, our community experienced a very involved fire at a home on Lanningan Drive.  Our career and volunteer firefighters responded to the call and came upon what most people would seem terrifying.  But these guys just geared up and did what they were trained to do.  I can't imagine what it is like to enter a building that is on fire, and I wanted to take this moment and express deep appreciation for the men and women who serve our community in this way.

We had a younger fireman experience entering a building with a fully involved fire for the first time.  I asked Jack Oakley, our Director of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, what it was like to do this...enter a building on fire...because I wanted to reach out to the fireman (a rookie no more) and to acknowledge his actions yesterday.  Jack described it to me as follows:

"Upon arriving at the scene, the adrenaline is pumping, you are gearing up and stretching the line (the hose) to the front door.  Crawling in the house...it's hot and smoky, and putting water on the fire produces steam which lends to zero visibility.  But once you are done, you are tired but you have a sense of accomplishment that you put out the fire and saved people or property."

(Jack didn't know I was posting this....so I hope it is ok)

This reminded me of one of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes on courage that I started this post with.

I am told that the fire was put out swiftly limiting the property damage, and family pets were saved as well.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this all with you...and publicly acknowledge and thank our firefighters for their service to our community.  Well done!


Monday, July 13, 2020

The Municipalities File Their Motion to Intervene...(NJDEP v City of Trenton and TWW)

I wanted to take a moment to inform you that Lawrence, Hamilton, and Ewing have joined together to file a motion to intervene in the case captioned NJDEP v. City of Trenton and TWW which commenced last month.  The details of which I explained in a blog article dated, June 19, 2020.  

A "motion to intervene" is a legal process in which a party (or parties in our case) request to participate in a civil action that has been filed by one party (the "Plaintiff(s)") against another (the "Defendant(s)").  The "intervenors" must prove to the court that they have an interest in the case, and that any disposition of it (i.e., settlement or judgment) will impact them in some substantive way and, therefore, they should have the opportunity to protect their rights and participate in the case.  

There are, of course, other legal considerations for a Judge to consider before making a decision, but what I have described is the main element.  It is my opinion that the facts and circumstances involved clearly indicate that the Court should allow the Townships to intervene and participate in the matter.  But I am not the Judge, so we wait for a decision.  

I am providing you with a copy of the "letter brief" that the Townships submitted along with their motion to intervene.  A letter brief is a document submitted to the Court by a party that provides the legal and factual arguments to convince a judge to decide in that party's favor on whatever issue is being presented. In our case, the issue is whether to allow the Townships to be permitted to participate as a party in the civil action against the City of Trenton and TWW.  

The link to that document is here: https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:495868b6-a952-4473-9b07-4d1211e1bc54

The letter brief includes the following observation, "The right to clean water is a human and constitutional right.  This is not negotiable.  It is clear that Trenton and TWW have repeatedly and egregiously missed benchmarks in fulfilling their obligation to provide safe and clean drinking water for the customers of TWW, which include residents of Plaintiff-Intervener Municipalities.

For those of you who want to review the pleadings (i.e. documents filed by a party in support of their motion), I am providing the following links:

The Motion to Intervene:  https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:d5d680de-2c99-4f1c-bbc8-71a7965eeb2f

The Certifications of Counsel in Support of Motion:  https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:d45a3103-90fd-404b-9534-281f6cab4726

Exhibits attached to Motion (including Complaint): https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:e48bedc7-b523-4d3d-9fe4-c6bc5ce9066e

If you want to know the specifics regarding what the Townships are demanding, you should review the complaint which is provided in the above link.  

I will keep you informed as we progress through this process.  As of today, August 13, 2020 is the date set by the court as the hearing date.  Stay tuned!






Time to hunker down and fight the good fight!

E ach morning when I come to work, I check my emails. Our Health Officer, Carol Chamberlain, provides me with an update on the new "pos...