State of the Township Address 2019
Council President, members of the Town Council, Municipal employees, friends, relatives and fellow residents of Mount Olive, I once again thank you for the opportunity to report on the 2019 State of the Township of Mount Olive.
As I enter the final year of my second term as Mayor, I think back on all that we have accomplished.
For the seventh year in a row, we will be introducing a budget that will include no municipal tax increase for the residents.
We have made this possible through encouraging growth, taking on shared services and being vigilant on governmental spending;
At the same time, we have carefully managed the use of our current fund balance to insure financial stability for future years.
By working together and with the School Board, we have instilled a sense of community and pride in Mount Olive.
We have accomplished this through improved municipal and school facilities and what we have to offer our residents.
I often hear from residents and non-residents alike, how wonderful our facilities like Turkey Brook and/or our High School are, facts which are difficult to argue.
We have affectively found and utilized all forms of communication.
Before I first took office, I often heard that residents complain that they were unaware of what was happening in Town. Through the use of social media, radio, signs and newspapers, Mount Olive residents are always connected to the happenings in Mount Olive. Our communication efforts and successes are the envy of all of our surrounding towns.
We have attempted and in most instances been responsive to the individual municipal needs of our residents. Our municipal departments understand that we work for the taxpayers and in many instances have gone above and beyond to resolve individual homeowner issues.
Of course, all of the accomplishments could not have been achieved without the hard work and support of the Governing Body. We work collaboratively as a team in Mount Olive.
I would like to thank Joe Nicastro for his leadership in 2018 and look forward to working with him again this year in 2019. I congratulate Joe on his appointment to another term, I believe an unprecedented fourth consecutive term as Council President and thank him and the rest of the Town Council.
While I generally get the credit, the successes are equally shared with and earned by the Town Council. So too, I would be remiss by not highlighting the outstanding work and accomplishments of your Department heads and employees.
The Administration Department continues to coordinate all aspects of local government and is responsible for the day-to-day operations associated with all municipal activities.
As with any large organization, a significant amount of time was spent on Human Resources, hiring seventeen new employees and processing eight retirements. We will continue to look for dedicated individuals to best serve our Township. Additionally, a new contract was negotiated with the Mount Olive Township Public Employee Association, a new Personnel Manual was adopted and five Township employees received their Certified Public Manager Certification from Rutgers University.
The department also conducted several internal audits to review wireless communication leases and insurance plans, resulting in thousands of dollars’ worth of credits and back payments being made to the Township.
Legislatively, we supported policies and made changes to our ordinances to reflect the current environment and we will continue to make recommendations as we encounter issues throughout the year.
Remediation continues at the Cobblestone property as we look forward to Homeless Solutions bringing affordable housing to our residents. We have increased our effort to maintain Budd Lake with a more aggressive treatment plan and discussions have been held with the DEP and DOT to work together on continued efforts. A Sister City was entered into with Carpengna, Italy to enhance our business relationship with Fratelli Berreta, a community video was produced to highlight the Township and we are moving forward with bringing public sewers to a section of Old Flanders.
The Administration Department was also successful in negotiating a lease agreement which has been extended for 2019, with Centercourt Club and Sports for the use of their pool facility. Over 1,000 residents took advantage of the new service that was offered without impacting the budget or increasing taxes. The Private-Public partnership was recognized by the NJ League of Municipalities, winning the 2018 Innovation in Governance Award.
Our shared services continue to expand as more municipalities are relying on Mount Olive to deliver exceptional service. Being the provider has allowed us to generate additional revenue without jeopardizing our own services along with offering a sense of job security to our employees.
Over half a million dollars was awarded in grants from Federal, State and County agencies and we will continue to look for additional grant opportunities to help offset our expenditures.
Two Job Fairs were hosted to provide employment opportunities due to major layoffs in town and we will continue to be a proactive partner with local businesses and our corporate community.
The Finance Department, which consists of finance, collection and assessment divisions exceeded operating expectations. Our projected surplus balances in all funds are slated to be higher than prior year balances, most notably in our main operating budget which is expected to exceed last year by over $375,000.
With respect to the tax assessment division, the Township received over $600,000 in revenue from added assessments and settled forty six (46) County tax board judgments and two (2) State tax appeals which resulted in no refunds. For 2019, our property values are expected to grow by $24,000,000 or almost 1%. We have the lowest number of pending state tax appeals in comparison to similar Morris County towns and are near the top in added assessment revenue increases.
In the collection division, we implemented a WIPP tax and utility feature that allows residents to view and print tax bills and project interest for payment purposes. We also provided the residents with an additional payment option through the use of VISA. Our tax collection, which collects over $105 million each year, exceeded 99% which we have been able to do since 2014. A successful tax sale also resulted in over $300,000 in premiums which will return to the Township in five years pending no lien redemptions.
In the purchasing area, we completed twenty five (25) bids, one (1) request for proposals and used three (3) national cooperative contracts saving the Township thousands of dollars.
In the finance division, the 2017 audit was completed for the tenth year in a row with no audit recommendations along with no recommendations for the LOSAP audit, the JIF audit, the pension audit and the arbitrage audit. The best practice checklist was completed satisfactorily to obtain our final allotment of state aid, continuing disclosure requirements were met and the local budget examination was complete with no issues. All non-vested LOSAP accounts were closed resulting in an additional $40,000 to the Township and our bi-yearly bond sale was complete resulting in almost $500,000 of premium to the Township. Finally, we participated in union contractual negotiations, tower rental analysis, the Old Flanders sewer assessment project and the annual water and sewer study.
The prevention of crime, crashes and negative quality of life issues remains the focus of the Mount Olive Township Police Department. To do that effectively we need the support of our community. The Police Department is determined to maintain and build those positive relationships by offering a number of community initiatives. The most notable ones are National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, Keeping Seniors Safe, Touch a Truck and Law Enforcement Against Drugs.
The Police Department has also strengthened its partnership with the Mount Olive Township Board of Education by hiring Special Class Officers and assigning School Resource Officer to the High School and Middle School. We look forward to our collaborative relationship working to improve school safety.
The Police Department is determined to be an approachable and responsive Department providing the highest standard of professional service. The Department has been an accredited agency through the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police since 2013. Continued accreditation requires reaccreditation every three years. This past year our Police Department went through the reaccreditation process successfully. Accreditation confirms that the Police Department’s policies and procedures meet best practices standards. Our Accredited status represents our commitment to the Mount Olive Township Community in providing the best possible service.
Department of Public Works
The Parks, Buildings and Grounds Department assisted the Recreation Department in all twelve (12) special events. Additionally, the Department supported the various sports associations by providing assistance on the following improvements: New fencing was installed for the soccer and lacrosse programs, drainage and field grading improvements at Russ Nagle Field, new ADA bleachers were installed for the football program and a state of the art soccer turf field was constructed at Turkey Brook Park.
With the re-opening of Budd Lake, extensive improvements were made to the beach area. Over 250 tons of new sand was brought in, electric was installed along with water and sewer connections for a new bathroom trailer, parking lot improvements were made and a water aeration system was installed in the swimming area.
Other park improvements included finalizing construction on the new maintenance garage, rehabilitating the walking path and installing a new paver patio at Flanders Park, installing additional fencing around the gazebo and splash pad and repurposing an old equipment trailer to be used as a mobile stage during special events.
In the Roads Department, employees had a very challenging year keeping up with pot hole repairs left by a long winter season with numerous snow events. Approximately $2,000,000 was used to cover 22.4 lane miles of roadway. International North, Pleasant Hill Road and the Indian Park development among some of the improved areas. Improvements were also made to drainage issues throughout town including Spring Street which was funded with a Community Development Block Grant
The Water Department rehabilitated two Overlook water towers and are working on a similar project for the Sutton Plaza water tower next spring. The public water system was also extended to areas that had their well water compromised by the Comb Land fill.
The Sewer Department took on some major construction projects as well, expanding the Cloverhill Sewer Plant office building and replacing the filtration system at the Flanders waste treatment plant.
The Sanitation Department continued with another successful town wide large item cleanup and expanded residential services by allowing grass, leave and brush drop off at the township recycling center on Saturdays. A new recycling APP, funded by the DEP, has also been made available to help residents stay informed of the pickup schedule.
The Fleet Department continues to handle all maintenance issues for township vehicles which was expanded to include the fire and rescue vehicles. The garage space was also increased by creating three (3) full surface bays and a successful auction was conducted which resulted in the sale of twenty (20) obsolete vehicles.
The Recreation Department held 12 special events in 2018 with more than 57,000 attendees, 387 business sponsors and over 100 volunteers. Three new events debuted, including the Bubble Palooza 5K, Sounds of Summer Weekend and the Chili Brewfest.
During the school year, 80 children’s programs were offered with 1,300 participants and there were 21 adult programs with 566 participants. A summer camp was also offered with fourteen (14) programs with 544 participants.
As stated earlier, Budd Lake Beach reopened in 2018. A donation from the Katharine E. Jensen Memorial Foundation made it possible for residents to have free memberships – 456 beach memberships were issued, and there were over 1,600 daily visitors throughout the year.
The Recreation Department was also kept very busy coordinating the Township Pool program which came together very quickly and was a huge success. We issued 375 memberships, approximately 2,000 guest passes and had over 10,000 visitors during the summer season.
Pirates Cove at Mount Playmore opened on Memorial Day Weekend and closed at the end of Labor Day. There were about 23,000 visitors throughout the season.
The Recreation Department has updated their website to be mobile friendly and revamped their on-line registration program to be easier to navigate. Social Media videos were added to the marketing plans for events and E-newsletters are sent weekly to over 8,000 people.
The Health Department convened a group of approximately 30 community partners to create the Mt. Olive Health Improvement Coalition. The Coalition has begun work on a community health assessment. This assessment includes an analysis of existing health data and collection of primary data through Key Informant Interviews, Focus Groups, and a Community Survey. The data will be used to assess the current health status and the health needs of the Township. Once this is complete the Coalition will begin working on designing interventions to address those identified needs.
The Health Department’s Deputy Director obtained his Health Officer’s License. This additional State License enhances the Health department’s ability to provide additional administrative oversight; increasing the department’s ability to attract additional public health shared service contracts. This reduces the department’s financial burden on the Township of Mount Olive Taxpayers.
We have also negotiated and will be entering into a new shared services agreement with the Borough of Mine Hill to provide public health services and have expanded our contract with the Borough of Wharton to provide Animal Control and are in the process of negotiating a shared service with Washington Township for Senior Transportation.
The Council designated our Animal Control Officer, Frank Nelson, to serve as the Township’s Humane Law Enforcement Officer in accordance with new regulations from Trenton that transfers the authority of the NJSPCA to municipalities. Animal Control also held two rabies clinics and vaccinated over 440 dogs and cats.
The Health Department continues to coordinate the Township’s annual holiday gift program. This year, gifts to 50 children and 24 Mt. Olive families were distributed. This program is only possible because of the generous donations of our residents. We thank them along with the Lion’s Club, Ledgewood Baptist Church, Mt. Olive High School, Budd Lake Chapel, Saint Elizabeth’s, Mountain Top Church and others who kindly donate gift cards so that we can help needy families.
The Department increased its efforts toward the protection of local public health. Throughout the past year the Environmental Division has worked with NJDEP, Aquatic Analytics, and other respective Township Departments in the surveillance of Hazardous Algae Blooms (HABs) within Budd Lake. Public notifications, increased water sampling, recreational bathing facility closures, and the participation in HAB related meetings and trainings were also initiated to ensure the public health protection of recreational facility users. The Division also initiated its Proprietary Campground Surveillance Program, aimed at ensuring suitable levels of public health and safety within the Township’s Campgrounds.
Due to the demand of our senior population needing transportation, our Senior Transportation Program continues to grow with a 50% year-over-year increase in the number of medical appointment rides.
The Health Department also participated in, hosted or sponsored Older American’s Month activities, including, lunch at Stroudsmoor, Mini Golf, an Ice Cream Social, Bocce Ball Tournament and our 42nd Annual Senior Picnic.
The IT Department took on a handful of projects to add security and to better protect the Township’s network. Specifically, a new layer of protection was added with a WatchGuard Firewall which provides intrusion prevention, gateway antivirus and an Advanced Persistent Threat blocker which monitors all traffic providing real-time protection against network threats. The network is now protected by three layers of security against malware and ransomware attacks.
All township employee mailboxes have been migrated to the cloud, providing advanced security and reliability to protect township email from known viruses and spam. Adding yet another level of protection to the Sophos Email Security platform which blocks thousands of new threats discovered every hour.
The backup service has been updated which protects the township’s data against local disasters and data loss by again using the cloud to cost-effectively get our data off-site. This allows us to securely and efficiently replicate the township’s data for off-site protection on a daily basis.
A new sever was also installed which manages all alarms, panic buttons and door access within the building along with a no-cost upgrade to all township phones and network switches which allows for a significant speed increase. The upgrade allows for better manageability, quality of service, data transfer and mobility. In the event of an emergency or township outage, any township IP based phone can work remotely with an internet connection which is ideal for emergency calls.
The Planning Department was successful in appearing in front of Superior Court for the Final Hearing to secure approval of the Township’s Housing Element & Fair Share Plan in accordance with a Settlement Agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center. Upon favorable recommendation of the court-appointed Master, the Judge approved the Settlement and granted Third Round Substantive Certification which protects the Township through the year 2025.
This settlement and the Housing Element & Fair Share Plan, reduced the Township’s affordable housing obligation from over 1,200 units to 634. As part of the requirements to achieve substantive certification from the Court, the Planning Department prepared comprehensive changes to the Township regulations concerning all aspects of affordable housing.
The Planning Department also assisted in drafting changes to Township regulations concerning food trucks and other transient-type merchants to enhance performance requirements while also providing greater flexibility for such merchants along with drafting a new ordinance to require registration of vacant and abandoned properties.
With a full-time licensed planner on staff in 2018, the Township has been able to save thousands of dollars as site plan review and attendance at Planning Board meetings is now handled by our planner instead of being charged to an outside consultant.
Application fees for Planning Board matters exceed $40,000 and a total of 270 Zoning Permits were issued. Additionally, over 400 OPRA requests were addressed by the Planning Department staff.
The Township Planner, who is also the Zoning Officer and Property Maintenance Officer, issued several dozen warning letters and violation notices for various infractions particularly for uncut grass over the summer months. In an effort to resolve such matters with the Township residents and businesses, it was possible to avoid issuing summons to Municipal Court in all but a handful of cases.
Finally, we have begun the legal process of demolishing various dilapidated structures to make the Route 46 corridor more attractive and more conducive to future business development.
Renovation projects and new developments continue to keep the Construction Department busy. Over 1,900 permits were issued generating over $1,000,000 in permit fees. Ninety four (94) permits were for new homes with the remaining balance going toward new furnaces, pools, decks, alterations and additions. The Department also conducted close to 6,000 construction inspections.
The Fire Marshal’s Office enforces fire safety regulations to every commercial building and business in the Township, along with providing a shared service to Chester Borough, Hackettstown and Allamuchy. Over 1,800 businesses are inspected annually. In addition to the commercial inspections, the Fire Marshal’s Office conducted 686 smoke detector inspections in private dwellings and have investigated over 20 fires in 2018.
This is only a snap shot of the many achievements and accomplishments our Township Departments and employees have achieved this past year. I will continue to strive to make Mount Olive Township the best place to live, work and raise a family. I consider every member of the community a family member. The pride that you have shown me, the dedication for our community and the support that we have for one another is over whelming.
I know there are still many things upon which we need to improve and promise to do my best to accomplish those. I look forward to and ask for the residents’ support for many years to come. In closing, I would like to thank the Township Council, our Business Administrator, Andrew Tatarenko and all of our municipal employees for a job well done in 2018. May the New Year bring you good health, happiness and prosperity.
With Gratitude and appreciation,
Mayor, Mount Olive Township