Delivering Services While Watching the Bottom Line
Fiscal responsibility isn’t just an endless series of cutbacks that amount to a race to the bottom. With discipline, we’re able to enhance services and improve public assets. During my tenure on the Council, we have cut the rate of tax increases in our town in half while maintaining and improving our standard of service. At the same time, our intense focus on efficiency has let us take on major projects to improve your town.
Over the last eight years we’ve worked hard to make Verona better with the following improvements:
- Hired more officers in the Police Department, reversing years of decline by attrition. Revamped leadership structure and scheduling for improved supervision and labor efficiency.
- Remodeled the Verona Public Library
- Major road repaving throughout the Township
- New accounting, payroll, and utility bill payment computer systems, including online bill pay
- Replacement of every water meter in the town to read meters in hours, not days
- New police / fire / EMS / public works radio system shared with the State of New Jersey
- Purchased new street sweeper to improve neighborhood cleanliness and reduce outside service cost. We also provide sweeping services to Caldwell to offset costs.
- Added curbside pickup of cardboard for recycling
- Purchase of new backhoe, mini-excavator, and loader to allow Public Works to work more quickly and efficiently
- Improved energy efficiency replacing all municipal building lighting with LED and replacing old air conditioning and heating equipment
- Replaced antiquated office telephone system with new Voice-Over-IP system to cut costs and improve reachability to residents, particularly during COVID work-from-home.
- Completed Asset Management Plan for the Water Utility to allow for forward planning for maintenance and upgrades
- Installed or replaced several backup generators at critical locations in the Township to allow continuing operations during emergencies
Watching Over Verona’s Development
I am very proud to have served on Verona’s Planning Board as a voting member during my council term. The Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment have substantial influence over the feel and character of Verona’s neighborhoods and downtown. I am proud to have worked through numerous redevelopment projects with the Planning Board. Careful oversight of developers produces high-quality projects that add to the vibrancy of our downtown and provide creative solutions for the redevelopment of vacant lots and buildings. In addition, we worked to produce Verona’s Steep Slopes Ordinance to protect the hillsides of the town from being cut into and blasted away to develop areas that should be protected while minimizing the impact on the average homeowner looking to improve their property. We have also implemented the first Tree Ordinance in Verona’s history to protect our shade tree canopy and prevent the clearcutting of lots.
The Planning Board has completed our Master Plan process and the Council is now due to develop new zoning ordinances to implement certain recommendations of the plan. I will continue to work on land use management to keep Verona’s small town charm in its neighborhoods while improving our downtown’s walkability, parking, and streetscape.
We created an Open Space Trust Fund with the approval of voters which allowed us to protect the two largest privately owned vacant tracts in Verona from development and will reduce our requirements for new Affordable Housing units going forward. Over 25 acres of land that was proposed for dense multifamily development totaling hundreds of units has been permanently preserved.
Protecting Verona From Flooding
New Jersey has been hit by storms of increasing intensity over the past few years and we must assume that this trend will continue. I am working with the Township Manager to ensure that we maintain and improve our stormwater management infrastructure. We have recently root-cut and cleared major wastewater trunk lines to prevent sewer backups due to flooding and have cleared large amounts of fallen debris from the Peckman River. I believe that maintenance of public infrastructure is a prime responsibility of our government and will continue to oversee this crucial process and ensure its adequate funding. We have formed a joint Flood Control Board in conjunction with Cedar Grove to effectively advocate for stormwater management improvements that serve both neighboring municipalities. We are working diligently with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to design a project to stabilize the banks of the Peckman and replace collapsed outflow structures to improve our flood control capacity.
Water Supply and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure
Verona owns and operates a large Wastewater Treatment Plant and its own water supply system and wells. While this is “out of sight, out of mind” to most of our residents, it is a complex logistical and regulatory endeavor to keep our utilities running. We have continued to improve our water supply system including tank rehabilitation work and well repairs. Our Wastewater Treatment Plant is in need of upgrades and repairs to meet modern environmental standards. My knowledge of project management and plant maintenance offers the opportunity for me to interpret the needs for these facilities and ensure that they are completed efficiently and in a timely manner.
We are currently well under way with design and permitting of treatment systems to remove PFAS from our well supplies to allow us to bring them back online. While numerous municipalities in New Jersey are dealing with PFAS issues due to very strict state regulations, Verona’s excellent project management process has put us in a good position to construct these systems quickly. In addition, we are also in design for a new booster pump station to serve the Claridge House buildings and finally resolve a low pressure issue that has been present since the buildings were originally built.
Emergency Services Facilities
Our First Responders have worked with deficient facilities for a very long time. We need to address all of them – Police, Fire Station #2, and Rescue. These issues go back to the 1970s or even earlier. We are diligently looking for options for relocation, reconstruction, or consolidation of these facilities. Large tracts of land in Verona are scarce and expensive, and we are trying to avoid removing productive properties from the tax rolls, but we must act soon as these facilities are not getting any better with age. The Council under my tenure as Mayor has established an Emergency Services Facilities Subcommittee which has worked hard to establish requirements and move this project forward. I am committed to resolving this issue.
Business District Improvement
My goal is straightforward: Fill every single vacant storefront. We have reconstituted the Verona Chamber of Commerce and established an office of Economic Development to promote the business community. We have improved our own internal processes to focus our town on being business friendly. When a business wants to come into town, the Township Administration works as quickly as possible to remove any roadblocks from their opening to preserve their startup capital and improve their chance of success. We as a Council celebrate every new business opening and make ourselves available to the owners.
I believe that while we have a great complement of downtown businesses, we can always do more to serve the daily needs of Verona residents while also developing our downtown as a regional destination. Through the new Master Plan, I will advocate for zoning changes that encourage the rehabilitation of long-term vacant buildings to return them to productive use. However, I will only do this in a way that does not create additional traffic and parking problems and that is reflective of the small town character and charm of Verona.