Friday, June 28, 2019

It's All About The Brush.....

Recently I have been on FB participating in discussions about our Brush Pick-Up Program.  There are some that reject my opinion that our Brush Pick-Up program is more than reasonable.  So I decided to do just a little research on brush programs from other towns to see where Lawrence Township fits in with providing this service to its residents.  The following are summaries of the programs of other towns.  NOTE:  Please feel free to visit the website for these towns to get a full picture if you are uncomfortable relying on my summary.
Ewing:  Provides curbside brush pick up for 2 months in the spring for residents.  Leaves and yard waste are required to be put in bags or tied and bundled as appropriate.  Branches and limbs should be cut in 4’ lengths and tied in bundles with a total weight not exceeding 50 pounds.

Hamilton:  Brush and branches pick up monthly except for November, December and January.  Placed curbside brush and branches are to be cut in 4’ lengths, tied and bundled or in containers and must be no more than 50lbs.  No stumps.
Princeton:  Brush, logs and leaves picked up March through November (except June) once a month.  Piles limited to 3’ x 3’, branches not more than 6” in diameter.  It looks like leaves must be bagged but I can’t tell from the website. 

Hopewell:  Brush is picked up 2 times a year (once in May and once in Sep/Oct). Brush pile size is 4’ wide by 4’ high by 15’ long.   Brush may NOT be left in the street, but on property near curb (but not on the sidewalk) and in the front of the property.  Limbs and brush must be placed with all butts (6” in diameter max) facing the road.  Small twigs must be bagged.  No tree stumps, trunks and limbs in excess of 6” will be collected. 
West Windsor:  Brush, leaves and yard debris (collected together) may not be placed out on street more than 7 days before pick up.  Tree trunks and logs not exceed 6” in width and 18” in length.  Size not more than 5’ in length.  No collection in January & February. 

Plainsboro:  Brush is picked up 4 times per year between March and October.  It does NOT include leaves, roots, stumps, tree logs.  If the brush pile contains any of these items, the pile will NOT be collected.   Branches not longer than 6’ and no more than 5” in diameter.  Must not be put out on street more than 7 days before the zone pick up date.
East Windsor:  Brush is collected once a month.  Limbs or branches not more than ½” to 6” in diameter but may be any length.  Pile (with no maximum length) must be placed between sidewalk and curb, not on roadways.  Chipping should be placed butt (thickest) end to the left when observed from the road looking toward the home.  Piles laid in parallel and not in tangled heaps.  Vines, briars, thorns and other vegetative waste with stem size less than ½” in diameter or less than 3’ in length must be tied in bundles and placed with household trash.  PW will not pick up any chipping that is improperly put at curbside or contains non-chipping items.  NOTE:  There are much more requirements, but I am running out of space here!!!

Robbinsville:  Brush picked up curbside once a month from April through November 11. All brush cut to a maximum length of 6’ and a maximum diameter of 6”.  Small twigs must be placed in open buckets and containers near the brush piles.  Logs, stumps, evergreen with roots or debris from land as well as commercial trimmings will NOT be collected with brush.   If you hire a tree company or landscaper to remove a tree, they are responsible to remove debris, including branches, trunks and stumps.  PW will NOT collect the voluminous amount of brush created by tree removal.   Brush piles placed in an orderly manner with all butts 6” max in diameter facing roadside.   The brush pile may not be greater than 4’. high and 15’ wide and is limited to one pile.   Must be place at curb not more than 2 days before scheduled pick up. 
Freehold (just because it makes Lawrence look great! ...shameless):  Brush collection 1 time per year.  Brush placed at curb (not in the street) by 6 AM on the first day of the scheduled week.  No call backs.  Maximum length of 8’ and maximum diameter of 8” and should not exceed 8 cubic yards (approximately the size of a mid-size automobile).  Grass, rocks, leaves, stumps, construction debris, fence posts as well as commercial trimmings will not be collected.  Brush pile put out not more than 2 days scheduled pick up.  

Lawrence:  Brush collection monthly from April through November. Brush pile placed on street curbside in front of the property.  Tree trunks and limbs in excess of 6” in diameter will not be collected.    Limbs should be cut to 3’ or less in length. Brush pile not larger than 3’ high and not more than 12’ in length.  All tree stumps are property owner’s responsibility.  Leave piles placed on street curbside in front of property in separate pile.  Brush piles should be put out the Saturday or Sunday immediately preceding the week of the scheduled zone collection.

I will leave it to the reader to decide where Lawrence is situated among the towns providing the service to their residents. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Odds and Ends as Summer 2019 Officially Begins!

The following is a brief report on some things a brewin’ in the Township.

1.       The Pit Stop property – Yaaaaaasssss! I received a letter issued from the NJ DEP and the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund (HDSRF) confirming that our application for funding has been completed and the Department found the proposal to be “technically” eligible.   What this actually means is that our application has been approved for completion of Remedial Investigation activities in the amount of $239,524 (subject to final approval by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority or NJEDA).   What this actually means (yes, I used the same words to begin this sentence as I did the last sentence….I have had better writing moments but speed writing is a dangerous game) the building is coming down and what is under the building will finally be investigated to determine what further clean-up efforts are necessary.  I repeat, the building is coming down!  The scuttlebutt in the NJDEP hallways is that final action by the NJEDA is a formality so we are looking good for future demolition work and contemporaneous partying while the building is taken out!  “What’s the time-frame you ask?”  Who knows?… far this has all taken a solid year of work and waiting to get this far.  But my sense is we are pretty close.  Stay tuned.  As I receive more, so will you.

 2.       Lawrence Road and Eggerts Crossing Road – A group of 4th Graders from Lawrence Intermediate School appeared before members of council at our public meeting this week and provided a “Walk This Way” report of the perils they observed on the roadway and sidewalks leading to their school off of Eggerts Crossing Road.   These kids were really amazing (and at times intimidating) in their delivery of the information and demands.  Which, upon reflection, were well thought out and made sense.  The primary issue was the lack of blinking school zone lights at the crosswalks.  This is a designated school zone intersection and should have these types of warning lights.  As I began to explain the Township’s efforts in working with the NJDOT (the State owns, controls and maintains Route 206), and that recently it appeared that these lights were going to be installed, Andrew Tunnard – the Assistant Commission for Operations of the NJDOT, dramatically came to the front of the meeting room to announce that the installation of those lights was in the works.  It was an immediate victory for the 4th Graders and all of the students who walk or ride their bikes to LIS.  Such a great civic lesson.    

 3.        Princeton Pike and Fackler Road – Anyone traveling Princeton Pike (northern section of town) near the intersection with Fackler Rd during the morning or late afternoon knows that this is a major traffic situation that needs to be addressed.  Yes, we live in the most densely populated state in the Country, and our population is not decreasing.   This translates into certain facts like roads that were once lightly travelled are now more intensely travelled.  Some call it progress, but more accurately it is simply human kind increasing in numbers.  This, of course, makes fixing traffic related problems extremely difficult and most often very expensive.  In order to try and solve this problem, the Council approved funding for a complete engineering/traffic study of this location to determine options to best address this public safety issue.  Some may reflexive say that installing a traffic light will solve the problem.  Ohhh…if things were that easy.  The installation of a traffic light in one location directly impacts the flow of traffic in the surrounding areas.  The study will look at the present configuration of the intersection and problem solve from there. 
4.       Fire Apparatus Purchase -  Lawrence Road Fire House, Slackwood Fire House and our Career Fire Staff have patiently waited for the moment that happened at our last council meeting; the acceptance of a bid for purchase of two custom built “pumpers” to provide service to the community out of those two fire houses.  It has been a very long process that included the valuable input by the Fire Companies, our Emergency Management Director, Jack Oakley, and our Chief Mechanic of PW, Clyde D’Angelo.  The lowest responsible bidder was Absolute Fire Protection Company, Inc. and the cost totals $1,177,027 ($588,513.50 each).  They will take approximately one year to build and deliver to our community, and will replace two vehicles that are very much ready for retirement!

5.       Colonial Lake/Acquisition of the Sheft Property – We have completed the due diligence period and have performed a Phase I Environmental Study of that portion of the Sheft Property that we intend to purchase.  Our environmental consultant has confirmed that there is no contamination concern that should cause the Town to abandon this acquisition.  As a result, Mayor Chris Bobbitt did sign the Agreement of Sale (the Shefts previously signed) creating a binding legal obligation between both parties for the transfer of title from the Shefts to the Township.  I expect the closing to take place in the next couple of months.  Some details you may be interested in:  5.9+ Acres of land for a total of $3.65 million with contributions from the County ($1,470,000) and the State ($211,132).  At closing $2.65 million will be paid to Seller and then 2 annual payments of $500,000.  Extending the payments over three years will allow the Township to apply for other grant opportunities and hopefully reduce our contribution from the Open Space fund.  Also, the agreement provides that the Township has the right of first refusal should the Shefts wish to sell the Colonial Bowling & Entertainment.  This could give us an opportunity to expand upon the recreational site.

6.       Brush Pick-Up Program – Ugh….  Just an FYI to all, Council Members and I are considering modifying some of the regulations in the ordinance to address resident concerns.  We are considering making the brush piles bigger for the months of April/May/June (to 20ft), suspending pick up in July/August and then starting up again with current size for brush and unlimited leaf pick up during Sept/Oct/Nov.  Our Public Works Director Greg Whitehead will be appearing before council at the July meeting to discuss the current status of the program.  Suspending pick up will allow our PW Department to address the other needs in the community (maintenance of parks, recreational fields and roads).

           I have been called stupid, an idiot, my decision making asinine as a result of the changes made to the program….you name it, I along with our PW people have been called it.   They tell me this all a part of the job…..but I don’t think it should be.  Common decency should be the standard way we address each other, but I digress.   Trust me when I tell you I don't sit in my office and try to come up with ways to anger people so they lash out me!  The one thing I will tell everyone in this community is that decisions are not made in a vacuum.   I have tried…I guess unsuccessfully to some….to explain the reasons for the need to now enforce the brush pick-up guidelines in order to save this service for the community. 

          There are those that believe it is the municipal government’s obligation to pick up and discard brush waste that comes from private residential property owners.  No.  It is not a governmental obligation.  This is a service that this Town has chosen to provide to its residents.   A government obligation is providing police protection, fire protection, health protection, construction regulation, etc.    Many towns do not provide this service because they have done the analysis about how costly it is in terms of manpower, equipment and disposal.  Whether you know it or not….and you probably don’t….we have serious needs to increase our police force and our fire department.  By State law, a municipality cannot increase its municipal budget by more than 2% each year.  On January 1 of every year for the past couple, we are at approximately 1.5  % without adding anything.  This is just from contractual obligations relating to cost of living increases etc.  So when people call and complain that our parks and playing fields are not being maintained properly or inspections are not being done fast enough by our construction department, or ask where is police enforcement of speeders on the roads ?, or how long does it take to respond to a fire by our volunteers or career staff?.... I simply ask all of you to think about these things while you demand that the Town continue the non-regulated brush pick-up service (i.e., the good ol’ days when you could dump anything you wanted on the road any time most convenient for you).  Setting aside the financial aspects of this, there are legitimate public safety (for pedestrians and cyclists) and environmental concerns (storm water management and flooding) when large piles of brush are allowed to remain on our streets for extended periods of time.    We have to set and follow rules in our community.  If the regulations don't meet your particular circumstance completely, it is unfortunate...I agree.  But the idea that the municipal government must solve your individual problem for you, is something I just don't agree with.   Let the hate begin.   I live at an intersection with nowhere to put brush for pick-up so I have to haul it myself or have a landscaper remove it and drop it off at the Township's ecological center (where it is accepted for free).    It's a bummer for me.  It's not convenient.  But it is my situation and I have to deal with it.   

           There is no doubt that the brush pick-up program is a valued program in our community.  It is also a strain on our resources.  It just is.  I see if from my vantage point.  You may focus on how this all affects you personally, but I along with the elected officials have a fiduciary obligation to focus on what is in the best interests of our community.  There is more to consider.  And the answer isn’t just to hire more PW employees and buy more PW vehicles and pick it all up!  That is not a financially prudent decision based upon all of the concerns we have to address as a community.  Despite all of this, our elected officials are committed to providing this very valued service in a responsible manner.  We have to make difficult decisions, withstand the firestorm of push back but also be willing to listen and make the adjustments we can that address concerns and allow for the service to continue.  That is the dance.....  I promise we have heard you and will be as responsive as we can. 

DISCLAIMER – These are my personal reflections on the brush issue, not our elected officials who may or may not share my opinions. 

I wish everyone a very happy Summer!

                                                                     Sheft Property Purchase

Friday, June 14, 2019

What I know now but didn't know then....

                To all those who only want to read something by me that is Township related, this article is one you may just want to pass on.  This one is more about my personal reflections on how we relate to each other in our community.  It is equal parts reflective, mushy and personal just to give some warning to those curious persons who choose to continue.

                I had a life altering moment happen to me a little more than 5-years ago when my Mom passed away from cancer.  From the onset of what we all thought may have been the flu, to the diagnosis of multiple myeloma, to her death was only several weeks.  She was 79 years old and very much adored by many.  A cool lady.  Anyway, the “life altering” moment was my first experience with the deep pain of a death of a loved one.  Coming from a large family with many aunts, uncles and cousins, over the decades of my life I have lost many members, and felt the sadness that you expect.  But nothing like the loss of my own Mom.   When I reflected on this feeling (that still hasn’t really gone away), I understood for the first time the quiet pain everyone you come across may be feeling or struggling with.  No one walks around with a sign that says, “I have deep sadness because [Fill in the blank] died” or “I am sick, and maybe you can’t see it, but I’m in pain” or “my life has been filled with challenges and tragedy that you can’t possibly understand.”  We just can’t see it, but most of us live our lives with it. 

                This happened at the time I was the Judge for Lawrence Township.  It literally changed the way I viewed everyone that appeared before me that seemed angry, withdrawn, and disrespectful or scared.  Before experiencing what I was going through with the loss of my Mom, I would have engaged these people in a different, less empathetic way….maybe you can say more judgelike.  Demanding respect for the court and taking action that would establish my “control” of the courtroom. Or even meeting anger with anger.   But now I was much more reflective and reserved and consciously made efforts to be empathetic, respectful and compassionate.  Not in dereliction of my responsibilities as a judge, but definitely more aware of being human and understanding the people before me all have a quiet story that I knew nothing about.  I recall times when staff members would say to me that I was “too easy” on that guy because he was so disrespectful to them or me.  And I would just respond that they didn’t know that person’s story, and it’s ok to choose kindness and compassion over revenge or proportionate penalty. 

                For those that are reading this and can relate, you know the feeling that comes and goes when you least expect it.  The roller coaster ride of emotions that only seems to lesson just so slightly over time.  You definitely become part of a silent club when it happens to you.   Think of all of the people who appear perfectly and physically fine but may have had terrible childhoods, who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction, mental illness, have financial troubles they know they can't overcome.  Whatever it is.....we all have something...and we all handle these things differently.  Some better than others through no fault of their own.  

                I am certainly not saying I walk this Earth treating everyone one like I am the Dali Lama.  I certainly have moments that I regret and work hard to make better.   But wouldn’t it be great if we all were a little more aware of this quiet pain we all have?  It would lead to each one of us being more patient with others.  To be more compassionate, respectful and understanding.  When someone is angrier than they should be in a given situation, you may find it helpful to take a quick moment and tell yourself something more is going on with this person, and do what you can to deescalate it.  I think we all come across people that are mean, angry, or disrespectful for reasons that confound us, but my hope with what I’m writing is that we all try to understand there is most likely more “there” than we can ever know.  
                None of this would be a problem or even worthy of note if we all were kind and thoughtful.  That may be too much to expect, but we can all do our part.   Whether it is resident to resident, resident to municipal worker or municipal manager to taxpayer, we can all always choose respect and kindness and still communicate effectively.  Or...we can at least try! Let’s file this blog article away in my “reflections of a 50ish year old man folder.”

Friday, June 7, 2019

Off the Top of My Head report on Lawrence stuff!

An “Off the Top of My Head” report on Lawrence Township stuff!

One of my favorite Lawrence residents (who contributes in many positive ways to our community) emailed me and asked for an update on the Township that she can share with her group that she was reporting to.  Like….what’s happening in my world?  So I riffed off some items that are in the hopper…. and it dawned on me…..I just wrote my next blog article! 

The following are some things that are either topical in the community or things we are working on that may be of interest to you.  Honestly, this is off of the top of my head stuff and is not supported with concrete facts and data.  Read this as if you dropped by my office and asked, “So what’s up on all things Lawrence Township?

1.      Trenton Water Works – I continue to be very confident that TWW is improving in its operations and in its communications with the Township and its customers.  We are working together to add a 911 feature from TWW to its customers should there be any need for emergency notification about the water supply.   This is NOT in anticipation of future problems but an effort to improve lines of communications (a response to a common complaint from customers).

The water line replacement project (i.e., replacing the water lines from the curb to the house) is proceeding and should start in the next couple of months.  The costs to the homeowners will be made directly to the Township Tax Collector (with the payment plan option or in full…customer choice)…but the details of that are being worked out with the State, TWW and the Townships … and information will be shared once it is all firmed up.  TWW recently came to the Township for a community forum, and it was very informative and the reporting was all positive.  Someday soon we will not have to “think” about our water.

(Shameless) DISCLAIMER:  The Township does not own, control, maintain or is responsible to regulate the TWW….BUT….we do have a fiduciary obligation to advocate for our resident customers of this utility and we do diligently.  We are looking over their shoulder and making sure they meet their obligations as required by law.

2.      Shopping Center – Obviously the fa├žade work is proceeding nicely.  New stores are being added as tenants.  A beautiful new sign will be installed to replace the present sign on US 1.  LA Fitness should be breaking ground shortly.  The food store issue still remains unconfirmed….but as soon as a lease is executed….that information will be shared with all.  If we all have a common interest in seeing the LSC succeed, then we all need to support the stores doing business there!

3.      New Township Website – We continue to work on our new website which will be more user friendly and provide many options for residents to do “township business” online.  We have set up a kiosk with a large computer screen near our construction office that allows residents to use our current website for information and is proving to be very popular.   We also added online payments for taxes recently and residents are using that option more than we anticipated so they must be enjoying the convenience factor.  Our target goal for the new website to go live will be October if not sooner.

4.      Brush Program - Ninety per cent (and possibly more) of our residents have been complying with the new brush program and have experienced no real hardship.  Registering the landscapers that do work in our Town has been very helpful with the enforcement of the new program and they have all been very cooperative.  We do, however, have a very vocal ten per cent (or less) who find enforcement and the new restrictions ……not satisfactory.  A group did come to a local meeting and others have called my office and PW to voice complaints and concerns.  Council and I knew that there would be some push back….and the need to adjust the program to address some resident concerns.  A community conversation is always a good thing.   We have listened and believe that there is an opportunity to further improve the program to address some of the unique situations around town.   We are focusing on making the size of the brush piles bigger in the beginning of the season (April and May), possibly suspending pick up of brush in July and August, and pick up smaller brush piles in October and November while collecting all of the leaves (in separate piles).  Just some ideas to maintain this service because we are not going back to the free for all days of dumping anything and everything at any time you want.  Those days can be fondly remembered by residents (not PW) but we will not be going back to them.  Public safety, effective use of public resources, and community appearance will not be sidelined.

5.      Solar Program -  The municipal building, the police building and the public works building will all have solar panels installed (car port style for the municipal and police buildings and roof style for public works), and once completed it is expected to greatly reduce our carbon footprint and energy costs.  That work will be started in the next couple of months.

6.      Colonial Lake – The preliminary due diligence period has been completed by the Township and the contract for the purchase of the property are being signed by the parties.  The Mayor has already signed for the Township and we are waiting for the Shefts to countersign.  The Survey work has been ordered as well as the title work.  A closing should take place sometime in the fall if not sooner.  Then the cool work to make that lake and park great for all of the residents to use will begin!

7.      Route 206 the entire length of Lawrence Township will be repaved by the State over the next several months with the work occurring at night.  (So I am preparing for the phone calls from residents complaining about the noise at night….).  But the work at night is done to minimize traffic and safety concerns so hopefully the residents along 206 will understand that the noise is temporary, and what we get in return is a pristine roadway.

8.      Eldridge Park – The Township budgeted for, and the preliminary work has been started, to install an electrical panel in the park so that “Movies in the Park” and other activities will have an electrical source.  Homeowners were donating their own electric by long extension cords so this will be a nice addition to the park and its users.   I love that park and it is definitely targeted for more improvements in the future.

9.      Fire Houses – Our 2019 municipal budget provided for the upgrade of our 3 fire houses (Slackwood, Lawrence Road, and Lawrenceville).  The halls will be improved, and eventually we will have them open for more community and resident use.  The volunteer’s member rooms and bunk houses will be renovated as well as a part of a plan to increase membership in our volunteer ranks.  In addition, the Township is starting a Pay-Per-Call program that will provide a small payment (e.g. $5 per call) to volunteers responding to fire calls.  This incentive payment plan will provide volunteers with bi-annual payments.  Our volunteers perform an incredible service to our community and save tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.  These volunteers deserve our full support and appreciation.  We are trying to strengthen their numbers and we believe these efforts will help. 

10.  The Pit Stop – Oh man…. We are so close to a decision from the NJDEP.  We will all rejoice when that building is razed.  Maybe a wine and cheese party (or beer and pretzels…whatever) should be had to watch the building go down.  Thoughts?

11.  Our Police Chief Brian Caloiaro graduates this week from the prestigious FBI Academy for Law Enforcement Officers.  His selection was an honor, and our PD and community will benefit from this additional training.  Lt. Timothy Drew did an awesome job as Acting Chief of Police. 

12.  Brunswick Streetscape – The work on the design/plans for the public streetscape on Brunswick Ave. has begun.  Meetings with the Planner, Mayor and Township Officials have occurred.  A public meeting(s) will be held to share the plans and receive feedback.  What to place in the new round-a-bout will be an interesting challenge!

                                    Photo cred to Unique Harmony Photography, Lawrenceville, NJ 

My Deepest Apologies to Rich and Frankie and their families.

On the front page of the Trentonian newspaper today there was an extremely odd and poorly written article that was intended solely to dispar...