Summit Goals for 2013 Target Fiscal Responsibility, Austerity; Downtown, Communications, Better Use of Technology
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 • 7:03am
SUMMIT, NJ—Fiscal responsibility centered around austerity, continued cooperation to enhance the city’s central business district and improved government communications and utilization of the latest technology are among the goals the Summit Common Council will be focusing on in the coming year.
Council members, city employees and members of the public gathered on Tuesday in city hall to outline the bases of the council’s and the city’s aims for 2013.
Although governing body members are expected to vote on specific goals at their Wednesday, Nov. 7, session, the general targets for the coming year involve:
- Fiscal responsibility and continued austerity, including better control of taxes, increased opportunities for revenue generation and expansion of shared services both among city departments and with other municipalities;
- Improvement of communications with the public, within city government and with other agencies and communities;
- More effective use of technology to improve public safety, deal with emergencies and enhance the image and economic growth of Summit; and
- Continued cooperation with Summit Downtown, Inc., other organizations, business owners and residents to help the central business district and other city business areas to prosper and provide the best services to residents and those visiting the city.
On the fiscal front, according to City Administrator Chris Cotter, the city is very healthy, with a AAA bond rating, reinvestment in the city last year over $57 million, the assessed value of properties in the city up $21 million of last year and new ratables at One DeForest Avenue, the Equinox Fitness Center on River Road and Summit Place.
Cotter cautioned, however, that the increase in assessed valuation over last year is not yet finalized and those figures will not be firmed up until January.
One of the major financial challenges for the city continues to be taxes—chiefly on the Union County front—Cotter said.
While property taxes in support of city services rose .4 percent this past year, taxes in support of the city library were up 2.7 percent and school taxes .1 percent, he added, county taxes were up 11.2 percent.
In order to help Summit receive a fairer shake when it comes to taxes, Councilman Thomas Getzendanner repeated his call for a citywide revaluation that would take Summit away from a tax system based on 1993 evaluations.
This, he added, would help the city to line up closer to actual values and give it a leg up when the county determines the allocation of the tax burden to each community.
While agreeing a citywide revaluation may help the situation, both Council President Richard Madden and Council Finance Chairman Dave Bomgaars indicated it was not in the cards for the time being.
Madden said the city’s legal and financial advisors were against a revaluation at this time.
Bomgaars said the revaluation would have to wait for a better economic climate, and when done it should be repeated every year to keep Summit’s values in line.
Councilman Patrick Hurley said the city should pursue more vigorous efforts in the legislature to secede from Union County or look more closely at viable options for revaluation.
Although continuing attendance of Summit’s elected officials at county freeholder board meetings is desirable, according to Councilman Robert Rubino, the city should maintain a running list of resident volunteers who would rotate attendance at the county meetings to provide a continuing voice in county affairs.
Many Summit officials feel that, because most of the current freeholders come from the larger cities in the eastern part of the county Summit and neighboring suburban areas do not have as strong an elected voice as they should have.
Cotter also noted the citizen survey of 1200 Summit residents completed two years ago by a national polling organization found that services provided by the county to the city were rated the lowest among those provided by all levels of government.
The increased use of technology and its link with improved communications also were frequent topics of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.
Director of Community Services Beth Kinney outlined efforts to improve data flow and update both software and hardware as well as communicating better with the public through such vehicles as a new city website and some movement into social networking.
Mayor Ellen Dickson praised the new website and suggested it could be expanded to include more active participation by the city schools and other groups.
Officials praised Summit’s anticipated partnership with New Providence and possibly other communities in a combined emergency dispatch center. The Summit council probably will receive an initial agreement on that center in the form of an ordinance sometime next month.
However, Cotter said, because of the organizational steps remaining, the actual opening of the center may not happen until at least the end of next year.
Police Chief Robert Weck also said the various city departments should do more about sharing technology and, he noted, his department is working more closely with the schools and Karen Greco, their new public information officer.
Although the officials all praised the Code Red and Nixle emergency notification systems, they saw they need for enhanced communication to the public about the systems and the necessity for expanding their reliability, especially in disasters such as last summer and fall storms.
Meeting participants also said the city should take a more active role in promoting business, especially with the relocation of Merck & Co. Inc.’s global headquarters to Summit in 2014 and 2015.
Developer Robert Steelman said Summit should increase reinvestment advice to small business owners and get them more involved in the planning processes. He added the planning board should take another look at the master plan to make it more conducive to future growth in the city.
Although the development of a transit village near the Summit train station was seen as positive, parking continues to be a challenge, many at the meeting said.
Bomgaars suggested the city look at combined use facilities, such as those in Morristown and New Brunswick, that provide residences, shops and parking for both those living in the facilities and those using trains right at the train stations.
Councilman Gregory Drummond, who sits on the planning board, said the city needs to move quickly on another tiered parking garage, probably at the current Summit Post Office parking lot site, and the board needs to determine fairly soon whether such a facility should be operated by the city or by a private vendor.
Hurley, who chairs the council public safety committee, said the city also needs to do a more in-depth risk assessment so it will be prepared to deal better with crime or possibly even terror threats.
He said because of Merck’s prominence in the pharmaceutical industry it could become a target for such threats.
Merck’s location in Summit also could spur more tourism for the city, according to Rubino, who said the annual national pharmaceutical convention possibly could be lured to the city.
He also said “Weekends in Summit” could be promoted with the possible involvement of bed and breakfast establishments located in the area.