Mayor Pote's 2015 Address:
Good afternoon to all of you.
Let me begin my remarks by saying how honored I am to have been elected by the public to serve you for the next four years! Today I start my 11th year as part of Watchung’s Governing Body, and it has been and continues to be a privilege to serve with and for all of you.
In 2014 we accomplished a great deal, had a few setbacks, and are now preparing for the year ahead. We continue to manage for you a budget that respects our 2% tax levy cap, as well a responsible level of debt service that balances between fiscal responsibility while still investing in our required infrastructure to ensure that Watchung is maintained as a great place to live.
Last year we resurfaced Washington Rock Road, a large portion of Anderson Road, and Cedar and Lakeview along with making drainage improvements and installing Belgium Block curbing on Cedar and Lakeview. We invested in sewers on sections of Johnson Drive and Valley Drive.
We invested in Mobus Field, replacing our worn equipment with a new playground for our kids (although I have seen some adults playing on there as well!!). We also performed some drainage work, and cleaned up the pavilion with help from townspeople and a Boy Scout Eagle project. Mobus Field opened its heart to several great events, including an even better Memorial Day Picnic and Harvest Festival, thanks in part to a lot of people including our own Linda Monetti, our Recreation Commission, DPW, and Tom Herits.
The Mobus Field area was also the site of a new Farmer’s Market we established this past year, over 6 weekends, in part to draw together more of our community. They were a great success and we look forward to having them again this year! Watchung’s Shelini Parikh took the lead on making this happen, and along with our CFO Bill Hance and our Green team, also earned Watchung “bronze” status in in New Jersey’s “Sustainable Jersey” program. Thank you to them, and to Freeholder Pat Walsh for the “nudge” I got to pursue Bronze status shortly after taking over as Mayor.
I promised you last year at this time that we would make further progress towards being more prepared as it relates to readiness in the event of another incident, like Super Storm Sandy. Well at this time, I am proud to say that with the huge investment of time by Gary Greves, Skip Bell, Tom Atkins, Joe Cina, and others, the Borough has now revised or created (but have completed) well over 20 annexes, which are the detailed procedures that we in the Borough would follow, depending on the nature and type of incident or emergency in town. The Borough also has completed its task to install permanent generators at the Police Station, Fire House, and Borough Hall. Having lost the ability to continue to piggy back on Warren Township’s Nixle system (and we thank them for having allowed this), our Chief Joe Cina negotiated a new contract for our own Nixle text and reverse 911 system.
Speaking of contracts, this year we signed a negotiated Police Contract with PBA Local 193, running from 01-01-13 through 12-31-16. We are proud to have just sworn in two new police officers in December, Officers Cruz and Migliore who, with them aboard, bring our police force to a much-needed full staff. At this time I want to thank our Police force and its leadership for being there at every major event or meeting and for being proactive in your approach. Local holiday shopping this year was again safe and secure because of the police’s planning and presence in our shopping areas.
Another promise I had made was that the Borough Council and I would start some much-needed but wise investing in the Fire House. The second garage door has been put in, as well the entire floor and apron has been redone to greatly improve the safety conditions for our fire personnel. The air ventilation system has been replaced. And now in 2015 we look to make some other much-needed improvements, possibly including the replacement of 40 year old bathrooms. We have just ordered new fire department ice rescue equipment, long missing from this town with two beautiful but potentially hazardous lakes. At this time I want to thank our outgoing Fire Chief Tom Carlucci, and welcome again our new Chief John Erber. I look forward to efforts to increase membership, and thank the Fire Department for their continued volunteerism and commitment to the town.
In 2014 the Borough applied for and received 7 grants totaling an excess of $280,000. We thank the County, State, and Federal government for their support.
In regards to the library, with the very recent completion of the structural review of the existing structure, we the Mayor and Council, in the near future, will need to assess what that means, and will determine what the next steps are for how we should invest in a library reconstruction project that is both cost-effective and meaningful to our town. We look forward to more progress in 2015. And I thank the public for their continued expressed interest in our library.
In 2014 we faced several other challenges, the most apparent of which was the tragic loss of a newly sworn in police officer, Christopher Hoffman, who was killed while off-duty in a motorcycle accident. While very new to our Borough, it was just like losing a friend or family member. And his untimely death made us once again take pause and reflect on previous losses.
We wish Officer Mike Bouchard well in his retirement. And at this time I want to thank the Watchung Rescue Squad for not only remembering Officer Hoffman and former Police Chief King at the recent Tree of Lights and the fantastic fireworks event we had, but for their dedication throughout the year to all of us in town. To the Rescue Squad I again state that your consistency and stability does not go unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.
In 2014 we faced the challenge of falling parts of the rock wall behind both the Department of Public Works Garage, as well the Police Station. While the police station area was immediately re-secured through a reinforcement of the existing netting and metal apron, the falling rock by the Department of Public Works was both significant and damaging to our structures, and posed an on-going danger to our DPW employees if not rectified. With the potential cost in excess of $1M to secure that area as the town did years ago behind the police station, the Council and I felt we needed to investigate some less costly alternatives. Weldon Materials, Inc., came to our aid, creating both a trench and a berm around the area where rock could fall, all this with minimal cost to the Borough. This represented an outstanding public/private partnership with great monetary savings to our residents and taxpayers.
Speaking of challenges, in 2014 the Borough was made aware of an oil pipeline, called the Pilgrim Pipeline, which potentially could be running through parts of Watchung. This pipeline, being put in by several investors with no previous oil pipeline experience, would be bi-directional, with pipes having a diameter of 16”, up to possibly 24”. This pipeline would carry crude oil sourced from North Dakota, through New York and New Jersey where it will be refined in Linden and returned through New Jersey up to New York.
Your Governing Body took the first steps towards refusing permission, by being only the second town in the State to pass a resolution opposing the Pilgrim Pipeline from coming through its town. We held a public forum in November to discuss with the public the potential environmental impact of such a pipeline. In December I also held a Mayors Roundtable, where Mayors or their representatives from 15 of the 30 affected towns came to Watchung, who we invited to discuss this issue with the U.S. Department of Transportation, who manages the safety of these “transportation lines”.
It was a great discussion, and our efforts in Watchung I am told have been a catalyst for action now in several other towns since our meeting last month. Public Service Electric and Gas has stated that it is not in favor of putting the pipeline near their power lines, where Pilgrim has originally designed they would go. And several serving us in Trenton, who are with us here today, have publicly stated their opposition to such a pipeline. But I know we will have a lot of work to do in 2015 to maintain this momentum and to ensure that a pipeline does not run through Watchung.
In 2015 we will continue to closely manage this pipeline issue.
Another on-going challenge we continue to face is deer management, and based on survey results collected at the end of 2013 – which indicated that a very large majority of responding households feel the Borough should be doing more to manage the deer – I will continue to work with our Council to hopefully find a better solution, to mitigate the deer’s destruction and reduce the chance of injury on the road.
At this time I want to thank my fantastic Borough employee Team who have been through an awful lot this past year and who have achieved a great deal. Whether it be our Administration, Clerk’s Office, Finance, Department of Public Works, Engineering, Construction, Tax Office, etc. all of you have done an incredible job. A special thanks to Tom Atkins our Administrator, and Michelle DeRocco our Borough Clerk, who collectively represent the glue of our Administration.
I want to thank Tom Herits, our engineer from Maser Consulting, Albert Cruz our legal counsel from DiFrancesco’s and Bateman’s law firm, and Lee Purcell from L.T. Purcell Associates. These gentlemen not only work for the Borough, they passionately invest of themselves to ensure that the best solutions are reached.
As I stated in my message the night of our Volunteer Dinner in December, all of you who volunteer in our town are making a tremendous difference! The thousands of hours you have put in make Watchung a better place to live and work. We as a community benefit from your love for, and commitment to, the Borough. We cannot do it without you.
And speaking of volunteerism. I want to personally and publicly thank each of you on the Council for your time and efforts this past year. I think we have accomplished a great deal, and have a lot to be proud of. But with Winter here, and Spring, Summer and Fall not so far behind, we have a new year upon us that will require our own recommitment to a new year of work, as well the recommitment to each other to make things work effectively and efficiently. I promise to do my part. I look forward to the year ahead with all of you.
In conclusion, I was honored to have been elected at the end of 2013 to finish Gerry Mobus’ term as Mayor through this past December. It was a great opportunity. I feel privileged and humbled to have now been reelected by you for another four years. I strongly believe that with much effort, we the Borough will dig deep to accomplish a great deal more. I look forward to the challenges which lie ahead. I am grateful for all of your continued support, and am privileged to be the Mayor of the great Borough of Watchung. I will continue to work to make you proud.
God Bless all of you, and to all a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year.