Council president, members of the town council, municipal employees, friends, relatives and fellow residents of Mt. Olive, I once again thank you for the opportunity to report on the 2023 State of the Township of Mt. Olive.
It is somewhat bittersweet that I report on the State of the Township as I enter my 12th and final year as mayor. Combining my time as both mayor and councilman, it has been an incredible honor to have served Mt. Olive for 22 years.
When I started my service, I was 38, had two elementary age children, was slim and had no gray hair. While I am once again slim, I now have three grown up children and my hair is fully gray.
My accomplishments, in connection with the efforts of all other elected officials, department heads, employees, volunteers and residents that have worked with me, are readily visible and substantial. Together, we created a sense of community, set an unprecedented standard of communication with the residents, and transformed Mt. Olive into a modern vibrant community with first class services and recreational facilities.
There is no question that together, we also made major improvements to the infrastructure of Mt. Olive which will benefit the residents and others for many years to come.
Most importantly, and one of the things I am most proud of, is that we have been able to hold the line on increases in municipal taxes the entire time I have been mayor. The same is true for next year. Once again, we will be introducing a budget that will include no municipal tax increase for the residents for the 11th consecutive year, all while continuing to improve the level of services that we provide.
I am pleased that no matter the obstacles encountered, Mt. Olive government continues to provide first class services to our residents, while maintaining the momentum in terms of civic improvements that have been the hallmark of my time as mayor.
I look forward to the next couple of years watching the next mayor complete the revitalization of the Seward House, develop and complete Valley Brook Park, the Budd Lake Beach Redevelopment project and the Pond View property.
I would once again like to thank Joe Nicastro for his leadership as council president in 2022 and look forward to working with him again in 2023 and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors after my service has ended.
Prior to discussing each of the department’s successes in 2022, I wanted to thank three individuals, amongst the many people that made it possible for me to succeed: Andrew Tatarenko, for on a daily basis, keeping the township headed in the right direction; Sherry Kolody, who’s efforts made it possible for me to never have to worry about the finances of the Township; and finally, Lisa Brett, who I considered defacto deputy mayor and who, throughout my entire tenure, always did a tremendous job representing the Office of Mayor in the community.
It is with great pleasure that I now report on the successes of each of the municipal departments:
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 post pandemic recovery efforts subsided, the administrations focus was to have all of our major projects on track, stabilize staffing levels to ensure all essential services are being delivered and mitigate issues caused with supply chain problems and increased costs of goods.
As with any large organization, a significant amount of time was spent on human resources, hiring and training thirty-five new employees in various departments. In addition, a new contract with the Mt. Olive Township Public Employee Association was negotiated and a Safety Incentive Award was received based on our safety training exercises and proper polices being instituted. As we enter into 2023, despite the job-related COVID-19 impacts, we will continue to look for dedicated individuals to best serve our township and provide a work environment that our employees can be proud of.
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. Most notably, the Towing Ordinance was updated to better regulate the operation of towers protecting both our residents and commuters. A model DEP noise ordinance was also adopted regulating excessive sound which is a hazard to the public health, safety and quality of life of our residents.
The past year was extremely busy on capital projects as the township budgeted over $10 million on capital improvement projects. A large pavilion at Turkey Brook Park was constructed at the activity field, a new soccer turf field was installed and resurfacing of the basketball and tennis courts was completed.
Of most financial and environmental significates, the Combe Fill North landfill solar project was completed and the township was able to re-coup a $2.3 million tax lien and re-generate tax revenue moving forward of approximately $50,000 a year, along with improving the quality of the environment for our community.
Long standing problems continue to be addressed at Budd Lake with the installation of three Eco Islands and increased HAB mitigation efforts through the utilization of a DEP grant. In addition, the township embarked on a long-term project in the Cloverhill Development related to removing overgrown shade trees and replacing damaged sidewalks.
Our shared services continue to deliver as our contracting towns show confidence in our services by renewing their contracts and adding additional services. In 2023 our Public Works Department will start collecting sanitation waste for the Borough of Netcong generating an additional $100,000 in gross revenue bringing our total revenues to approximately $600,000.
Over $1.3 million 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. Major projects include the rehabilitation of International Drive, the restoration of the Seward House, a purchase of a senior transportation bus, and the disbursement of Federal and State aid for COVID-19.
The Administration was also instrumental in raising donations for various events, coordinating programs such as the Table of Hope Food Drive and the DMV satellite site, organizing food pantry donations and continuously being the link between businesses and our local government.
The Finance Department, which comprises the finance, collection and assessment divisions increased fund balances in 2022 by continuously providing financially prudent advice and always keeping a keen eye on expenses and revenues.
In the Finance Division, the 2021 audit was completed for the 14th year in a row with no audit recommendations, along with no recommendations for the LOSAP, JIF and arbitrage audits. The best practice checklist was completed satisfactorily to obtain our final allotment of state aid and we met our continuing disclosure requirements. Our banking relationship was renegotiated to maximize interest rates which resulted in a back adjustment of $25,000 to the township. We also recently completed our $12 million bond sale which resulted in a premium to the township of more than $550,000 that was used to reduce bond principal and we reaffirmed our AA + bond rating. Finally, we migrated to a new budget preparation program to improve efficiency and provide more transparency to the public.
In the Collection Division, we were responsible for collecting over $117 million in property taxes, water and sewer rents. Our tax collection exceeded 99% which we have been able to do since 2014. A successful tax sale also resulted in over $385,000 in premiums which will return to the township in five years pending no lien redemptions. A new credit card processing system was also implemented which will substantially reduce fees to the township and our residents.
In the Tax Assessment Division, the township received more than $1.2 million in revenue from added assessments. We also settled one county tax board judgment which resulted in no refund. For 2023, our property values are expected to grow by $55 million or almost 1.5%. We have the lowest number of pending State tax appeals in comparison to similar Morris County towns and are near the top in added assessments.
The Mt. Olive Police Department continues to put forth effort into building and maintaining relationships with the community and providing police services in a manner that provides for a positive impact on quality of life within the Township. This was accomplished by again receiving accreditation through the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police for the fourth reaccreditation since initial certification in 2013, reaffirming our policies and procedures are kept up with national and industry best practices.
The Police Department continues to maintain its own Communications Center. Callers to our dispatch center speak with highly trained, knowledgeable, and certified Communications Officers who are familiar with the community. This insures prompt response by all emergency responders to critical incidents and routine calls for service. In addition, walk-in residents get to speak with a Dispatcher in-person 24/7 to address their concerns. The Police Department is in the process of seeking accreditation for our Communications Center.
Initiatives to connect with the community to build trust and legitimacy continue to be a priority for the Mount Olive Police Department. The Police Department continues to take college interns and maintains the Ride Along Program for high school students interested in a career in law enforcement. The Police Department created and distributed its 5th Edition of Cop Cards thanks to the assistance of MOMAC. In addition, the Police Department sponsored and participated in several community events such as National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, Bag for Hunger, Touch a Truck and senior luncheons. The Police Department also partnered with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to host a Firearms Buy Back Day program and hosted a DEA National Prescription Drug Takeback Day.
In the school system, the Police Department continues to collaborate with school administration to enhance safety, security and training for all school personnel and providing a dedicated Mount Olive Police Officer during school hours.
The New Jersey Attorney General mandated the implementation of Body Worn Cameras in Police Departments. All Mount Olive front line uniformed Police Officers are presently equipped with body worn cameras. This year also saw the United States Supreme Court rule in favor of permits to carry firearms which has increased the number of permits issued throughout the year.
The Mount Olive Police Department continues to maintain its capability to respond to and investigate all incidents, offenses and crimes. From January through November 15, 2022 Mt. Olive Police Officers made 186 arrests; 41 of these for DWI and eighteen 18 for drug offenses. Officers conducted 4,394 motor vehicle stops and issued nine hundred and 991 citations.
Though Mount Olive is not free of criminal activity, I am proud of the efforts of all members of the Police Department, civilian and sworn, to maintain the quality of living within Mount Olive.
Department of Public Works
In the Roads Department, another successful year of paving was accomplished by resurfacing over fifteen roadways, notwithstanding the increased cost in asphalt, and improving drainage in four areas prone to flooding.
The Parks, Building and Grounds Department continued to address the original HVAC systems in the municipal building by replacing two units and is preparing for a new HVAC system in the Fleet Maintenance Garage.
In the Water and Sewer Department, engineering plans continue for the installation of water lines in the Pershing Estates Development and PFAS mitigation in the Pinecrest Water system. The Carlton Hills Water System and Cloverhill Sewer Treatment Plant were also rehabilitated.
The Sanitation Department continued with another successful town wide large item cleanup, new garbage trucks were delivered, and we are making plans to start sanitation pickup in the Borough of Netcong.
The Fleet Department continues to handle all maintenance issues for township owned vehicles and held a successful public auction bringing in over $90,000 in revenue.
The Recreation Department was focused on the theme of Infinite Possibilities by offering fifteen events, which included a new concert in the park series. Programs for children and adults also increased and included science, engineering, art, dance, fashion design and much more. Summer brought camps in sports, music, film and a new special needs camp was launched last year. The Pirates Cove Splashpad continued to be popular with visits from more than 38,000 guests. A ticket booth for recreation events was added at Turkey Brook Park, pickleball lines were added to our tennis courts and an outdoor fitness park has been added to Flanders Park.
2023’s theme for events and programing is Inspire, as we inspire others in continuing to build community, wellness, fitness, enrichment, arts, music, volunteering and fun!
The Health Department continues to be a leader throughout the county as workforce development and vaccination grants secured from the State Health Department have enabled the Health Department to fund two full-time positions to function as Community Outreach Coordinators. These positions have enhanced the Department’s ability to respond to the needs of the vulnerable populations within the five municipalities under its jurisdiction. A lot of this work has been in the communicable disease area, including COVID-19. With the additional resources, the Health Department was able to hold 19 vaccine clinics in Mt. Olive and perform homebound vaccinations, offering COVID-19 and influenza vaccines to any resident with interest. The grant funding also assisted with returning most of the current staff back to their pre-pandemic activities; ensuring that all of our community’s needs are addressed.
The Health Department continues to assure that our presence is known in Trenton. The Department’s leadership serves on the NJDOH’s Public Health Licensing Board, as well as the New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials. Their work in this area has helped assure an equitable distribution of more than $40 million dollars going to local health departments throughout the State. From this funding, Mt. Olive is anticipated to receive approximately $350,000 in 2023. This funding is intended to further support workforce development efforts and strengthen public health infrastructure on the local level. The Health Department will continue to advocate for and utilize these resources to enhance the quality of life of Township residents.
The Senior Transportation Division, through a shared service agreement, is now providing transportation services to Washington Township as our program continues to grow and provides “quality of life” trips for seniors as the result of a NJ Transit grant received last year.
The IT Department continues to provide security updates to the technology infrastructure throughout the Township. Through our partnership with Altice, a Public, Educational, and Governmental Access Channel for local cable television broadcasting of our meetings is now available increasing our transparency and communication efforts.
In addition, the IT Department proactively monitors firewall, VPN, web filter, and anti-viruses for incoming and outgoing vulnerabilities and threats. Security awareness is continuously expanded by providing interactive training, educational courses and email security guidelines to all employees by simulating phishing cyberattacks throughout the year. All policies and procedures are adhered to under the guidance of the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund’s Cyber Risk Management Program.
The Planning Department is responsible for assisting the Planning Board with all development applications, enforcing the Township’s zoning and property maintenance regulations, and ensuring that Mount Olive’s Master Plan and affordable housing efforts stay current. To this end, twenty-three Planning and Zoning Board applications were processed and reviewed by the Township Planner. New development approvals included the repurposing of a vacant bank on Route 46, a new “Memory Care” residential building at Paragon Senior Living Complex, off-site parking for Amazon delivery vans on Gold Mine Road and the residential planned unit development on Continental Drive.
Significant progress was made in drafting the new development standards for the redevelopment of the former Cobblestone Nursing Home site to accommodate new single-family homes. Habitat for Humanity, with substantial financial support from the Township’s Affordable Housing Fund, will be submitting plans for ten dwellings early in 2023 for Planning Board review. The anticipated ten dwellings will be available to low and moderate-income households and will be credited towards the Township’s affordable housing obligation. In addition, preliminary work has begun to review and update the Township’s Master Plan and development regulations.
In regard to Zoning, 60 property maintenance and zoning violation notices were issued, all but twelve were resolved before issuance of a summons. In addition, over 430 zoning permits have been issued.
During the past year, the Construction Department has collected over $1.2 million, issued over 1,600 construction permits and conducted more than 7,000 inspections with the continued goal of bringing the best possible service to the residents, business owners and contractors of Mt. Olive.
The Fire Marshal’s Office enforces fire safety regulations to every commercial building and business in the township, along with providing shared services to Chester Borough, Hackettstown and Allamuchy. More than 2,700 commercial businesses and 650 residential homes were inspected. The Fire Marshal’s Office also provides 24/7 emergency response and investigated 38 structure fires.
As indicated at the outset, it is bittersweet reporting on this, the last of my State of the Township addresses. I can only hope that the legacy of our accomplishments during my time as Mayor will be positively remembered and improved upon. The pride that you have shown me, the dedication for our community and the support that we have for one another is overwhelming.
It has been a tremendous honor to have served Mt. Olive for better than two decades. In closing, with one year left in office, I look forward to finishing in a strong fashion, and would like to thank the Township Council, our business administrator and all of our department heads and municipal employees for a job well done in 2022. May the New Year bring you good health, happiness and prosperity.
With Gratitude and Appreciation,
Mayor, Mt. Olive Township