Friday, May 15, 2015

Denville Has One of the Lowest Debts in the County


At a recent Republican County Committee Candidates Night in Denville I was surprised by exaggerated remarks by my fellow Councilman, Kevin Scollans.   He claimed Denville has a major debt problem and there was a lack of transparency about it.  That is shocking to because Denville has one of the lowest debts in all of Morris County and Denville has an outstanding credit rating as well as lower municipal taxes.  New Jersey is one of the most densely populated states and Morris County has some of the highest property taxes.  This is a huge problem that all of us our frustrated with.  Denville’s local government has been working extra hard these past few years to dampen tax burdens.  We’ve done it with extensive grant applications, government efficiencies, township improvements that attract businesses and pressuring state reform.

As far as transparency, the municipal budget is discussed publicly for months at the beginning of each year.  The budget is available online and at Town Hall for anyone to review. 

If Councilman Scollans wants transparency, he should make sure he is transparent as well.  His claim left out how Denville bonds at an unbelievably low interest rate, unlike debt that you or I have from credit cards or mortgages,  This year we bonded for less that 1%.  That’s an exceptionally low interest rate!  At rates that favorable, we need to take advantage of responsible lending. Very similar to why it often makes good sense to mortgage a home within your means.  Low interest loans can  make good financial sense.  As well, some of our debt is the result of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene which destroyed the Valleyview Firehouse and other town infrastructure.  Once FEMA reimbursement is finalized, our debt will go down significantly.  That should have been mentioned.

Why does the town have debt?  More expensive items such as fire trucks, ambulances or long term capital projects can be very pricey. It would be irresponsible to hit taxpayers with that cost in one year.   Large Township improvements or a new vehicles benefit residents for many years, sometimes up to 20 years.  It wouldn’t be fair to force current Denville residents to pay a huge amount of money for something that will be used by our Township for many years ahead.    Could you imagine how high taxes would be on years where we need a new firetruck if we paid it in cash?  A current resident footing the bill for an item that many generations will benefit from in the future is grossly unfair.  Some loans are worth it because we have such low interest we can spread that cost responsibly over time without having a bank-breaking tax impact.  Each year during our budget workshops many Council members, including myself, carefully watch our debt schedule. We are fortunate to have a sensible Township finance officer, Mike Guarino, and an independent auditor who help keep Denville’s financial stability one of the best in the county.

Councilman Scollans is good volunteer in our town.  I’ve worked with him on many projects but I was completely surprised at his deceptive comments. As a Councilman he’s voted for every municipal budget, except one, since he’s served on the Council. If he was so concerned with the debt why did he approve all those budgets?

While I agree massively high-interest debts outside our means are reckless, however reasonable loans at historically low-interest rates, from a town with a stable financial structure, are wise.  Let’s not create issues for election-year politics and let’s not mislead residents about Denville’s debt, which is one of the lowest in the County.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 Municipal Budget

I was traveling on business last week when the Town Council introduced Denville's Municipal Budget so I wanted to post my views on the budget.


- About 2/3rds of your property taxes go to our schools (Regional H.S. and Denville)
- The Municipal Budget portion is under 20% of your overall taxes
- The Township is still responsible to collect all the taxes and pay the Schools & County after the collection.  This can obviously be a challenge because whether the taxes are collected or not, the Township still has to pay the School & County portion.  Often it has to front the money.
- There are many predetermined items in the budget due to State and Federal regulations, existing Union Contracts, etc..


First I support the municipal budget that was introduced.  I continually push for lower taxes and more efficient government.  We are improving greatly.   However, we will be faced with a small tax increase again this year.  It is just under a 2% increase, which is about 30 something dollars to the average Denville household.  However, I believe this is a responsible budget especially looking ahead at future years.  As well, the main reason for the slight increase is something beyond a Councilperson's control.  We had a huge tax appeal by one of our biggest ratables over the last two years.  It is fundamental that we pass a budget or else we can not do anything in town.  The governing body has to pass a budget.  I am very against when a Council member votes against a budget, unless they have shown very clearly how they would change the budget.


Franciscan Oaks, files an enormous tax appeal of several million dollars that was settled a short time ago with Denville's tax assessor.  Most townships could be put out of business from this tax appeal or would be forced to have an enormous tax increase.  However, credit to the Townships Administrator, Director of Finance and our Township Auditors,   we were able to quell that huge storm from conservative fiscal management over the last few years.  That appeal will be paid off this year.  If the appeal didn't happen, Denville residents would have seen a significant tax decrase of nearly $20 on the average household.


When looking back over the years I have been on the Council, We have had the slightest tax increases in Denville's history, short of some years that there has been no tax increase.  However, nearly every time there was no increase in the municipal budget, the township was hit with a very large tax increase the following year. Generally I am weary of budgets that have no increase whatsoever during a time where so many other costs are going up.  This historically has appeared to be politically motivated in years past from my perspective.  There would be a no tax increase during an election year but then the following year the budget would be in horrible shape and require a huge tax increase.


Many of the other costs of the municipal budget are difficult costs to control such as negotiated union employee contracts, benefits and health care (which is greatly rising everywhere).  Additionally , we have managed to maintain Denville services very efficiently over the last few years without interrupting quality.


A budget also must be looked at over several years.  While we had a small increase this year, there are signs that next year can be a very positive year in terms of Denville's budget.  I really am hopeful for potentially a budget next year that barely has an increase.  The reason why I think this is possible is because it is likely that Saint Clare's hospital will go private and pay taxes and we will most likely have a large new ratable with the residential area in development by the train station.

The Budget is now introduced and will be open for public comment at the April 7th, 2015 meeting 7:30pm at Town Hall. The budget is available here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Denville Properties Being Revaluated

The County Board of Taxation has ordered a revaluation of all Denville properties.  This is NOT ordered by the Township, The Mayor or the Council.  The township has not be revaluated in 15 years.  The Administration is required to help facilitate the means of the revaluation.

In the next few weeks you will be receiving letters from Appraisal Systems, a contracted organization that will conduct the revaluation.  There will be field reps coming to your neighborhood.  A rep takes information about your property and then eventually Appraisal Systems will determine a value.  You will be able to see the value from that appraisal and have the opportunity to question or provide information before the final value is set and give to Denville's Tax Assessor.


Constitutionally, you do not have to let anyone in your home without a warrant but it is the best way for the appraisal to be completed.  If you are unavailable for an interior inspection, it can be rescheduled.  If field reps are not able to inspect the inside of your home they will assume the highest value of interior conditions.  They will be inspecting in the next few months.  The field reps will be showing ID and you will have know their names and what they look like via notification from the mailing and from Appraisal Systems website.


Some will go up, some will go down, some will stay the same based on the value of your home.


Once an estimate is determined by the Appraisal Systems, you can review the estimate via their website.  You will have the opportunity to schedule questions or dispute with them before the valuation is finalized.


There will be several meetings over the course of this process run by Appraisal Systems explaining more details.  The first public meeting will be at Denville Town Hall, Monday April 20th at 7:30pm.


There is more info available at Appraisal Systems website.  As well, this is a very informative presentation on how the process works.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rehabilitating an Abandoned Factory

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Abraham Lincoln

For many years along Estling Lake Road, there has been an abandoned factory.  It has been a constant eyesore for the neighborhood.  As well, it has attracted vandalism, trespassing and environmental issues.

I personally have always been a proponent of cleaning up areas like these.  A proposal came forward to rehabilitate the area through a state program that benefits Denville greatly.


It was an eyesore.
Abandoned, prone to vandalism and an environmental disaster.

It would have never been a park.
The area was zoned for industrial use.  Meaning another factory or industrial facility could relocate there will very little the town or neighborhood could say about it.  I personally don't think we need 100+ employees commuting to that small road and building.  I don't think we need trucks operating 24-hours a day at that location.  And the way it was currently zoned, that could have happened.


Remaning zoned for industrial is not an option.  Another industrial plant in that location would be far worse.  By doing nothing, an industrial plant could open there with little restrictions.

It allows for greater environmental cleanup.
Zoning for residential use forces the area to be cleaned to a higher environmental standard.  If we kept it industrial, the requirements for environmental cleanup are less.  Having this area cleaned is crucial for the neighborhood and the surrounding waterways.

It allows for an access road to be constructed.
There is only one way in and out of Estling Lake Road blocked by a train line.  And when there is a major crisis like a fire or a major storm that blocks that road, there is no way for emergency vehicles to get through.  By choosing to be part of this state rehabilitation project, we are able to receive money from the developer that can be specifically used for neighborhood improvements.  An access road is a tremendous cost.  There would be no way Denville could afford this without being part of this program.  As well, if this area was kept "industrial", a factory could have moved in adding the same amount of traffic (if not more) but no access road would be created.  This would be a huge loss and danger

Residents take pride in neighborhoods
Again it would be ideal to just have a nice open park in the area but that will never be possible.  It was zoned industrial.  A small residential development is the best option.  I believe having residents living in this high-end apartments will provide neighbors who care more about their surroundings that workers who just come to the area for their industrial job.

An OPTION for the neighborhood to have a sewer hookup
Since a residential development will be constructed there will be a sewer line run to the property for the development.  This also means that area residents can choose to hook up to this line without having a tax assesement for installation of the main line to the area.

Tax Deferment Pays Denville More in the Long Run
As part of this program, Denville will grant the delay of certain taxes to the developer.  However, this doesn't mean a tax break or any kind of favoritism.  It is in a way "a payment program" that actually generates more money for Denville in the long run.   Because of the State rehabilitation program we are able to defer the property tax until further along the development.   However, the taxes which will Denville receives are much greater later, generating a much higher ratable for this property which provides Denville funding for Denville's resources down the line.

A complex with low impact to our schools
This development is only about 100 units and catered towards commuter rental.  That demographic usually means a low impact of added children to our schools, thus adding a burden on our school system.  Years ago, there was a developer that wanted to build nearly 400 unit along the hill.  This is the best option for  development and will keep another worse development from being constructed.

COAH benefits
The development counts towards state requirements for affordable housing.

Obviously, with any decision like this, there is not a perfect solution but weighing the risks vs. benefits I support this rehabilitation program.  I find the benefits are much greater than the risks but acknowledge those risks must be carefully monitored.  As stated, this can't stay an abandoned factory and I don't feel another industrial plant is appropriate either.  There have been large residential developments proposed in the past for this property.   But this one is much smaller and will help prevent large obstructions like that from being at this location.  As well, being able to put a much needed emergency access road could never help without this rehabilitation program and development.


So in summary, 1) the abandoned facade has to go 2) the environment has to be cleaned  3) the only way to get an access road was this development 4) the best way to provide a sewer option was this 5) an newer industrial plant is also not an option 6) waiting for a larger residential project is not an option and 7) doing nothing is not an option

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Traffic on Route 53


Traffic is always a problem.  It's one of the most common issues brought to my attention in Denville. Naturally, as our population grows, we have more people traveling through our town.  You may have noticed an increase in traffic on Route 53 northbound in the early commuting hours.  I have.  I sit in it everyday.  It is awful.

This is most likely due to the increased and endless construction on Route 80 and Route 287.  However, Route 53 is a State road so any traffic remediation would have to come from them. Traffic studies would be performed by them as well.  Denville has requested studies along Route 53 but these were mostly towards the Morris County VoTech.


In response to a few comments regarding the intersection of Route 53 and Indian Road I have asked Denville's Administration to mention the issues to our contacts at the Department of Transportation.  As well,  I asked that the Denville PD keep a monitor on the "gridlock" that has been occurring.  Perhaps the State could simply add a "Don't block the box" sign along Route 53.   I also encourage residents to reach out to their State Representatives, Assemblyman Bucco and Senator Bucco.  They have always been extremely helpful in representing Denville's concerns.  The more avenues we approach about this situation the better.  The Township and residents will see better results if all of us reach out through our various means and channels.


As far as the rest of Route 53, there may be traffic challenges ahead.  There are properties that will be sold, occupied and rented that may increase or decrease traffic.  We are unable to forbid existing structures from occupying or even developing at certain locations that are already planned and designated for use.  There will be an additional development by the Denville Train Station where the abandoned cardboard factory once was.  But traffic studies and modifications were required and we can not cease a property owner from selling a property designated for use to a buyer to occupy.  I personally think a residential property at the factory was a much better option than it becoming another operational industrial building flooding our town with outsider commuter traffic that often has little regard for a neighborhood they don't live in. (I will outline that in a separate entry on this site)

As well, I'm sure there are developer's and investor's proposals with potential plans for various spots on Route 53, as there are for most roads.  That's business.  However, that does not mean that just because a developer has an idea for something along that road it will ever happen.  To immediately dispel a rumor, there is nothing officially proceeding via Denville's government for the old Redmond Press location !  As with any available property, I'm sure there are plenty of people with plans but nothing has gotten to the Town Council, Planning Board or Board of Adjustment. Be cautious of rumors based on hearsay.  No need to create unnecessary hysteria :)  I'll continue to keep everyone updated about Route 53 on this site and Facebook  and Twitter.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Removing Historic Piers?

In 2013, the Denville Town Council approved the funding of an in-depth engineering study into Denville's Rivers and Flooding issues.  This was the first of its kind ever performed specifically for Denville.  It was performed by our contracted engineering firm, Hatch Mott McDonald, an engineering firm with extensive experience in flood mitigation and river maintenance. The firm was originally hired by previous Mayor Ted Hussa's administration and was maintained by Mayor Andes administration.

(Before and After shot of the extensive back-up caused by the piers)

After the first phase on this study, which was unveiled at several public meetings, there were some sobering results.  Short of multi-million dollar programs that Denville alone could never afford, there were not many "home run" solutions to eliminate the risk of flooding throughout Denvile.  However, there were some small steps that could make a difference to minor flooding.  Flooding like we experienced from Hurricane Irene may not be preventable but smaller floods can be mitigated.

Some of The Study's Suggestions Were:

- Flap Valves (just completed)
- Desnagging (currently in process from a grant the town received)
- Continual Extensive Cleaning (performed twice a year for the last few years with nearly 200 volunteers each time)
- Storm Drain Repair & Cleaning (recently completed)
- Coordination of Area Lake's Dam Release (currently petitioned as a law via the State Legislature but also granted from Shongum Lake by a Court Order that Denville pursued)


All of these small improvements were attainable by Denville with smaller costs spread out over the course of several years.   This is probably the most attention to flood mitigation Denville has ever been given, most likely the most progress on flood mitigation in several years.  In addition, Denville completed the herculean task of buying out homes, in a devastated heavily flooded area, using FEMA funding.  We were the first town in the state to take advantage of this program.   The bought out properties will now be a park (and retention basis) along Riverside Drive, soon to open in a few weeks.

A small step that would help mitigate some of the flooding that occurs along Diamond Spring Road was to remove large structures that reside in the river by the La Cucina restaurant.  This would not prevent major floods like the one Hurricane Irene caused.   However, it will help the minor flooding that many may experience during less severe storms.  Whether you are flooded by 1 inch of water or 6, it is devastating to a homeowner.  I have helped clean the river along those piers, the buildup and backup along those piers is extreme.  Despite cleanup efforts, the buildup continues and impedes the river's flow.


The entire council approved the funding for all of these efforts including the pier removal.  However, the contingent was that the Administration needed to follow proper State environmental and historic processes.  The Administration did that and the State approved the project.  The Administration also agreed to provide historic markers in the area as well as keep one pier which was not a threat to the river.  The benefits of protecting our residents homes outweigh the historical significance of the unmaintained cement covered piers.  I am a huge supporter of historic preservation.  In fact, I produced and pitched a historical documentary series to the History Channel and other outlets many years ago.   I appreciate and value historic preservation.  However, we need to protect our residents first.

(Another shot of the build-up which impedes proper river flow)


1) Even someone without a historic scholastic background can observe the historical portion of the piers has already been heavily compromised.  Whatever original structure once existed appears to be solidly covered in more modern cement.  (One removed, perhaps the original structures can be uncovered?)

2) Those piers accumulate enormous snagging along the river and other than River Cleanup Volunteers, no other organization has volunteered to maintain the piers.  Not the Canal Society, Not any historical society, no one !

3) Removing 2 of those piers was determined to help flood mitigation by a professional engineering firm with extensive experience and credentials in flood mitigation.  I am offended by the few opponents to this program who have no credentials or expertise in this area.

4) The entire Town Council approved the funding of the removal of these piers provided the above conditions are met. 

5) During the removal, there will be state officials present including an archeologist monitoring the process and result.

6) Once removed, the remains of the piers are available for any interested party.  As well, the Administration has offered to work with any organization to recognize the historical area with markers or other informative displays.  Something that is greatly lacking in the area.


I am still in support of the removal of these piers, provided the process outlined is followed.
I also support and encourage any organization to utilize anything that can be salvaged from within the cement blocks for historic preservation.  Let's preserve history but also provide a safe environment for our neighbors.

(images courtesy of George Strothers)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Houses Are Down, Now What?

Within the next few months the final of the 11 homes purchased along Riverside Drive, as part of the flood buyout program, will be demolished.  It has been an unbelievably long and trying process to get these homes closed and then the process of gaining approvals from the utility companies and contractors to remove them but we are almost there.

The next step is "Rain Gardens".  This will essentially be a natural environment that will also act to absorb and maintain water without impervious coverage.  This can be maintained with attractive landscape and a natural surrounding.  The township can provide support through our Department of Public Works and other services but a project this big will require massive community involvement, ideally from that neighborhood.

The Denville Administration and Township Council will now begin exploring the funding of this endeavor as well as appropriate planning.  Once that is complete we are hoping to have some of our volunteer organizations helping creating an attractive Riverside area that protects and preserves the neighborhood from excessive flooding.

Please consider being part of this process.  I will keep you posted on the progress and needs over the next few months and look forward to working with the neighborhood again !