SUMMIT, NJ - Wishing she could invite the honorees to join her at the podium, Summit Mayor Nora Radest presented two proclamations virtually as the Summit Common Council gathered via Zoom to conduct its second meeting of September. The first proclamation heralded September as 'Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad Month' and the second recognized September 17-23 as 'Constitution Week'.
Declaring that “health and safety are paramount to a sound community,” Radest noted that -- since July 28, 1962 -- the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad (SVFAS) has “given an untold number of hours of service” answering more than 2,000 emergency calls or all types every year. It relies solely on donations to provide its services at no cost to patients or taxpayers, saving the city nearly $1,000,000 a year. The mayor added that the SVFAS has also provided heroic services throughout the pandemic, at great personal risk, and encouraged all citizens to donate to the squad.
In response, Bob Flanagan, SVFAS president, thanked the community for its support during the “darkest days of the pandemic,” offering kind words, meals, and enough financial support to offset the squad’s COVID-related expenses. He asked everyone to contribute to the annual fund drive, kicking off this week.
'Constitution Week' celebrates the 233rd anniversary of the drafting of what Radest called a “magnificent document.” Each year, the President, under Public Law 915, similarly proclaims 'Constitution Week'. Radest asked citizens to “reaffirm the ideals the framers of the Constitution had in 1787, by vigilantly protecting the freedoms guaranteed to us through this guardian of our liberties, remembering that lost rights may never be regained.”
Ordinances and Resolutions
Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman introduced a Law & Labor ordinance which would extend sidewalk dining from the current nine months to year-round, and establish fees and guidelines. This ordinance will be heard at the October 6 council meeting.
Greg Vartan, Ward 2 Council Member, moved a pair of Finance resolutions. The first authorized issuing a $2,375,000 bond note through the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank for the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties flood mitigation project. The project is essential to protect the wastewater treatment plant shared by Summit and other communities. This amount represents Summit’s share of the effort’s first phase. Ninety percent of the amount will be reimbursed by FEMA funds. His second resolution authorized issuing one-year bond anticipation notes in the amount of $10,032,000. Bond anticipation notes are issued in the short term until conditions are advantageous to issue bonds. They would cover capital expenditures of $5,299,000 in 2019 and $4,733,000 in 2020. Vartan noted that federal interest rates are anticipated to stay low until at least 2023, and that Summit remains the only New Jersey municipality with triple-A status from the three major credit ratings agencies.
Both resolutions passed on unanimous roll call votes.
Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu moved one Administrative Policies & Community Services resolution to adopt a social media policy governing public comments on the City’s social media accounts. Meant to “ensure civil and civic discussions,” it prohibits posters from being abusive, spamming, and demeaning others, to promote a “rational discourse between individuals.” Naidu predicted it would have no impact on 99.9% of residents, but called it necessary so everyone understands the “rules of the road.”
Ward 1 Council Member Danny O’Sullivan raised two Community Programs & Parking Services resolutions. The first authorized a negotiated contract worth $42,800.20 a year with TruGreen Lawn Care for athletic field maintenance services for 2020 and 2021. It includes an option of two, one-year extensions. The full amount may not be paid if all contracted services aren’t actually provided. As the company’s previous bids were rejected for clerical errors, and it was the sole bidder, state law permits the municipality to negotiate a contract. TruGreen has cared for the city’s fields since 2017. The second resolution declared a vacancy in the Parking Services Agency for a part-time parking enforcement officer.
There were three Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions moved by Council Member at Large Beth Little. The first appointed City Engineer Aaron Schrager as public works manager, a state-mandated role currently filled by DCS Director Paul Cascais. Similarly, Michael Caputo, public works superintendent, was named certified recycling professional, a position also currently held by Cascais. Both of these moves involve current employees taking on addition responsibilities without additional compensation. The third resolution declared a vacancy in the DPW’s Parks and Recreation Unit for a maintenance worker, considered essential for fall cleanup and snow removal work.
All resolutions passed.
There was a lively public comments period.
Jim Bennett, Fairview Avenue, put forth that the average power outage in Germany is 13.3 minutes per customer per year, largely because power lines are underground. He requested a full and understandable accounting of JCP&L’s response to the recent outage as soon as possible, both at the Council meeting and online. Council President Marjorie Fox responded that the utility is following its internal processes, first meeting with County offices of emergency management. It will then meet with the various municipalities it serves. Summit’s liaison, Carol Bianchi, serves in that role for 24 cities, and expects to meet with Summit in November. Naidu added that the ad hoc committee is investigating various solutions to determine which are actually achievable. Regarding underground power lines, the cost is likely prohibitive. He also noted that both the utility and the City manage vegetation around power lines, but that some downed trees were private trees, which must be maintained by their owners. Naidu said the plan is to determine what the City can do to improve its internal and external communications and its infrastructure, explaining Summit needs to be “systematic and thoughtful” to achieve results are both doable and cost-effective.
Diego Hoic of Argyle Court also wanted to talk about the storm response, asking how much Summit has spent on storm-related repairs since storms Sandy and Irene and whether JCP&L could show a detailed accounting of what it has spent on repairs and upgrades in Summit in that same time. Naidu said the City does keep track of storm management expenses. Getting those numbers from the utility would be harder, although he admitted they have not asked for those figures yet. Cascais explained that for every storm, the City keeps track of restoration costs. That data is may be used by the City to recoup some costs through FEMA reimbursements. Included are things like overtime, equipment costs, disposal costs, and other resources needed. The information is shared at the county, state, and federal level.
Ryan Felmet of Madison Avenue was “attending” his first Council meeting. He described power lines cutting through the trees on Kent Place Boulevard, and asked what Summit could do as it faces the onset of winter. Naidu thanked Felmet for facilitating conversations with Chatham Borough about coordinated outage-related matters before deferring to Cascais. Cascais said the City forester performs an annual tree survey to assess the health of Summit’s urban forest. JCP&L has the right-of-way to trim trees within 10 feet of its infrastructure; the City works with the utility and frequently brings potential problems to its attention. He emphasized that Summit is a Tree City USA and “trees and wires can coexist.” Radest added that many of the recent problems were caused by privately owned trees over which the City has no control, and that it can only encourage property owners to look after their trees. Felmet also described a perceived slowdown in mail delivery, saying some pieces in his neighborhood have been delayed by up to a week. Radest replied she’s spoken to the postmaster twice, having heard from multiple residents and even noticed issues with her own mail. She explained the Federal Government had changed funding procedures, not allowing overtime, so that if a mail carrier didn’t finish preparing all the mail for that day’s delivery, uncompleted items would have to wait for the next day. She believed the Postmaster General had now rolled back that directive and the situation is improving. She added that some carriers were not working out of fear of the coronavirus, compounding the problem.
Sally Wright, Mountain Avenue, reported her daughter’s bike was stolen outside the CVS in Summit around 6 p.m. on Sunday. While admitting the girl had neglected to lock her bike, Wright was concerned at the relatively high number of recent bike thefts there lately. She suggested the DARE program produce a video on bike safety and security which could be streamed to children taking online classes. She applauded the responsiveness of the police, but requested an increased police presence in known theft hot spots as well as more secure bike racks. Fox pointed out that there are bike racks in the Deforest lots across the street, while the CVS is private property so it would be the store’s responsibility to install racks there. Cascais agreed to explore areas where additional racks could be added on public property, although the narrow sidewalks around the drug store make that more difficult. Police Chief Andrew Bartolotti acknowledged that five bikes were stolen in that area in September. Detectives have been working the cases, and the chief indicated they may have had a breakthrough.
Eileen Kelly, Woodland Avenue, asked about outdoor heater guidelines for small businesses downtown, given the advent of chillier weather. Radest said Summit Downtown Inc.’s Nancy Adams has been in touch with restaurants to update them. In open areas, propane heaters may be used; in enclosures like tents, only electric heaters may be used, and those require a DCS permit, although Radest said the permitting process is not a cumbersome one.
Dorrie Gagnon, Bedford Road, expressed her concern over not having seen police at recent special events in the City recently, or even a day-to-day presence. She also pointed out there is no longer a police presence at the Morris / Weaver intersection even as the new Oratory building has brought more traffic. Bartolotti explained the Morris / Weaver intersection is not a designated crossing post; officers who had been at that intersections were there for traffic control. Currently, Summit has a shortage of crossing guards, and four or five officers are temporarily assigned to crossing posts right now. He assured Gagnon, without giving away too many details, that officers are out there, but using different deployment methods.
Radest’s mayor’s report opened with the news that the state Department of Health has reported the highest level of positive COVID test results since the spring. She observed it could be part of the normal ebb and flow of the virus, or it could be related to increased “high-risk activities around the Labor Day weekend.” Summit had 12 cases in June, 11 in August, seven in July, and 18 so far in September. She encouraged everyone to continue to wear masks, wash their hands, and keep socially distanced.
The mayor reminded everyone that the deadline to register is October 13, and that all active registered voters will automatically receive a mail-in ballot for the upcoming general election. Those ballots must be postmarked by November 3 or dropped in secure collection boxes. Provisional voting will be available at polling places. More information can be found at unioncountyvotes.com.
Radest closed by recognizing the death of former Council member Dr. Michel Bitritto on August 29, recalling her work as a feminist, humanitarian, and the first female Democrat elected to the Summit Council. Bitritto was the past president of the NJ Women’s Political Caucus and active in numerous other groups. She is survived by her husband and daughter. Radest recollected how supportive she was when Radest was considering her own run for office.
The Department of Public Works will begin its annual road paving project on September 28 with work on Elm Place, Risk Avenue, and part of Franklin Place.
Curbside leaf collection will take place from October 5 through December 4 or the first significant snowfall, on regular garbage collection days. Leaves should be placed curbside in biodegradable bags, not piled in the street, and should be free of yard debris.
Rogers put out a call for school crossing guards to work 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. and 12:15 to 1 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, when school is in session. When the pandemic allows the school day to return to normal hours, the afternoon shift will be 3 to 3:45 p.m. Guards are paid $34 per day.
The DCP has reported that the Family Aquatic Center had a better season than expected with no COVID-19 issues. From July 1 to September 7, it averaged about 498 patrons a day, better than 2019’s average 440 patrons a day. The number of memberships sold this year was up from 2019 as well, and the Center ended the season exceeding its budgeted income by $27,000.