Council President, members of the Town Council, Municipal Employees, friends, relatives, and fellow residents of Mount Olive: I proudly conclude my tenth year as Mayor of this wonderful Township, and twentieth year as an elected official. I once again thank you for the opportunity to report on the 2022 State of the Township of Mount Olive.
It goes without saying that 2021, like 2020, was a difficult year for all of us. We can only hope that things return to normal soon, whatever the new normal may happen to be. I am pleased that no matter the obstacles, Mount 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.
As in past years, the most important goal continues to be tax stability. Notwithstanding the pandemic recovery efforts, for the tenth year in a row, we will be introducing a budget that will include no municipal tax increase for the residents, while continuing to improve the level of services that we provide.
In terms of our facilities, over the next couple of years I am looking forward to the development of passive recreation at Valley Brook Park, the Budd Lake Beach Redevelopment project and our most recent open space purchase of 5 Pond View Drive.
Of course, all 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. Although I may sound like a broken record, I would once again like to thank Joe Nicastro for his leadership in 2021 and look forward to working with him again in 2022. I congratulate Joe on his appointment to another term, I believe an unprecedented number of consecutive terms as Council President, so many I have lost count. I thank Joe and the rest of the Township Council for their support and guidance. While I generally get the credit, the successes are equally shared with and earned by the Township Council. So too, I would be remiss by not highlighting the outstanding work and accomplishments of your Department Heads and employees.
Prior to discussing each of the Department’s successes in 2021, I wanted to specifically thank the Health Department for their continued guidance and the extraordinary efforts by our first responders in keeping our community safe as we focus on our pandemic recovery.
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. Those responsibilities stayed elevated as the primary goal continued to ensure that all essential public services were delivered, Township employees, residents and visitors were kept safe and pandemic recovery efforts were being instituted. Amongst all this, daily challenges of local government were overcome, and progress continued in multiple facets.
As with any large organization, a significant amount of time was spent on human resources, hiring thirty new employees and processing six retirements. The Township Personnel Manual and Handbook were updated as required by our insurance carrier and we negotiated a new contract with the Mount Olive Township Public Employee Association. As we enter 2022, 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, several DEP model ordinances were adopted regulating the importation of soil and amending the stormwater management standards to be consistent with the green infrastructure Best Management Practices.
The past year was extremely busy catching up on projects delayed due to the pandemic along with commencing new projects which were budgeted for in 2021. Phase I and II to rehabilitate Continental Drive were completed, a large pavilion was constructed at Turkey Brook Park, the Cobblestone structure was demolished, the Sutton Plaza Water Tank has been painted, the Old Flanders sewer project is now complete, and the football field complex was given a complete upgrade receiving accolades from across the region.
Of most financial and environmental significates, the Combe Fill North landfill solar project is underway, gaining recognition from the State as the 2021 recipient of the Innovation in Governance Award. This project will provide clean power for over 4,000 homes, create new jobs, re-generate tax revenue moving forward of approximately $50,000 a year and pay back the existing $2.3 million tax lien which removes a thirty (30) year tax burden, along with improving the quality of the environment of our local community.
Long standing problems were also addressed. The water quality of Budd Lake continues to improve as we mitigate HABs and stormwater runoff with the installation of a new eco-island. Furthermore, our shared services continue to deliver as our contracting towns show confidence in our services by renewing their contracts and adding additional services. The Township is the provider of thirteen shared services, generating over $500,000 in gross revenue.
Over $3,000,000 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 Continental Drive, the restoration of the Seward House, a purchase of a sanitation truck, implementation of body worn cameras and the disbursement of Federal and State aid for COVID19.
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 2021 by continuously providing financially prudent advice and always keeping a keen eye on expenses and revenues.
In the Tax Assessment Division, the Township received over $769,000 in revenue from added assessments. We also settled nine County tax board judgments which resulted in no refunds in addition to settling two State Court tax appeals with minimal impact. For 2022, our property values are expected to grow by $25,000,000 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 assessments.
In the Collection Division, we were responsible for collecting over $110,000,000 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 $1,000,000 in premiums which will return to the Township in five years pending no lien redemptions.
In the Finance Division, the 2020 audit was completed for the thirteenth 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. All non-vested LOSAP accounts were closed resulting in an additional $26,000 in revenue, banking services have been renegotiated to maximize interest rates and electronic applications have been established for our financial requisitions and time & attendance platforms. A historical bond sale was conducted for over $4,000,000 that earned a low interest rate of .4% and a premium of $32,000 to be retained by the Township. In addition, reports were prepared using the new FAST online module, a cloud-based solution has been implemented for our financial software, upgrades were made in our purchasing procedures and we assisted in completing the annual census report. Finally, and most notably, we are diligently following up on all the Federal and State reporting requirements related to the American Rescue Plan funding and other COVID relief grant programs.
The Mount 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 third reaccreditation since initial certification in 2013. In addition, the Police Department sponsored and participated in several community events such as National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, Bag for Hunger, Safety Day, and Touch a Truck. Their presence during large scale Township activities has also strengthened the relationship between residents and the department.
In the school system, the Police Department continues to collaborate with school administration to enhance safety, security, and training for all school personnel. Attorney General guidelines were also implemented with the purchase of Body Worn Cameras which was fully funded by a grant which will ensure financing for the next ten (10) years.
In the Communication Center, redundancies have been built in for the safety and continuity of operations along with having our dispatchers highly trained and familiarized with all aspects of Township operations. Residents continue to have in-person service 24/7 to address their concerns.
Overall, the Police Department continues to maintain its capability of handling all calls for service, crimes, and investigations as almost 200 arrests have been made, 2,800 motor vehicle stops and 900 citations issued.
Department of Public Works
In the Roads Department, another successful year of paving was accomplished by resurfacing over twenty roadways and improving drainage in four areas prone to flooding. NJ Natural Gas also paved an additional forty roads which the residents benefited from.
The Parks, Building and Grounds Department continued to address the original HVAC systems in the municipal building by replacing four units and improvements were made to the splash pad flooring and activity field.
In the Water and Sewer Department, engineering plans continue for the installation of water lines in the Pershing Estates Development and the Carlton Hills water filter media is scheduled to be replaced. A contract has been awarded to rehabilitate the Clover Hill sewer treatment tank and the Department assisted in closing out the Old Flanders Sewer project.
The Sanitation Department continued with another successful town wide large item cleanup and new recycling trucks were delivered which continued the conversion of our one arm bandits.
The Fleet Department continues to handle all maintenance issues for township owned vehicles and held a successful public auction bringing in over $50,000 in revenue.
The Recreation Department was able to rebound nicely from the pandemic, offering many recreational opportunities throughout the year which all revolved around the Township’s 150th Anniversary. Each of the fourteen events reflected the theme “150 years – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”. The Township partnered with the business community to sponsor commemorative banners throughout the town and the Mount Olive School District developed a video presentation showcasing performances, interviews, and events. Commemorative items were offered yearlong including posters and books designed by Tim Jacobus and the late Bill Strum.
As the pandemic restrictions eased, thousands of residents participated in events such as the Fairy & Pirate Festival, Remote Control Air & Land, Laser Tag, Carnival Week, the Food Truck Festival, Sesquicentennial Bash and Oktoberfest. Outdoor camps also resumed and were popular all summer long.
Other forward-thinking events were offered such as Geocaching, StoryWalk Trails and a new augmented reality program will be available at Mount Playmore and Flanders Park designed to keep children and parents engaged in healthy and energetic activities.
Moving forward, over nineteen events are planned for 2022 with the addition of a Township wide block party, cultural events, and E-sports programing. Mount Olive Recreation continues to provide safe and fun opportunities for our communities physical, emotional and social well- being.
Like all Health Departments across the County, ours continued to focus much of its efforts this past year again toward fighting the COVID19 pandemic. This includes investigating and helping to control outbreaks at long term care facilities, group living facilities, our public schools, daycare centers and local businesses. To help sustain these efforts, the Department continued to leverage existing resources and was awarded over $300,000 from the NJ Department of Health in part to hire two full-time COIVD19 Specialists and additional nurses to vaccinate residents.
Despite the obstacles, the Senior Transportation Program continued to serve residents allowing them the ability to get to their much-needed medical appointments and providing for social events throughout the year. Over 2,100 trips were taken, and 2,400 meals delivered. In addition, health clinics and child health exams resumed.
The IT Department continues to provide security updates to the technology infrastructure throughout the Township. The existing surveillance camera system at Turkey Brook Park has been upgraded along with securing 130 mobile devices protecting township-sensitive information while in the field. 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 an amended site plan for the solar array facility now under construction on the former Combe Fill North landfill and a 90,000 sq. ft. production facility for Fratelli Beretta, their third building in Mount Olive.
The Township Planner, together with the Township’s Engineer and Environmental Consultant, continue to work with the design professionals for the new residential community in the FTZ district to ensure consistency with the objectives set forth in the General Development Plan regulations. This development will include 138 affordable units to be credited towards Mount Olive’s obligation.
The Township Planner has also been working with Habitat for Humanity to draft a plan for the redevelopment of the former Cobblestone nursing home site. These units will also help address the Township’s affordable housing obligation.
The Planner, in his role as Municipal Housing Liaison, responded to inquiries and coordinated efforts between the developer of Mountain Ridge Estates and the Township’s affordable housing consultant to assist in the application process for the 54 affordable units, of which half are now built and occupied. Construction on the remaining buildings is in progress.
In his capacity as Zoning Officer the Township Planner issued 75 property maintenance and zoning violation notices. All but eight were resolved before issuance of a summons. In addition, over 340 zoning permits have been issued and 24 vacant and abandoned properties have been registered.
During the past year, the Construction Department has collected over $1,300,000, issuing over two thousand construction permits and over sixteen hundred certificates of occupancy.
The Department conducted over seven thousand inspections and will continue to bring the best possible service to the residents, business owners and contractors of Mount 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. Over nineteen hundred commercial businesses were overseen by completing four thousand annual inspections. The Fire Marshal’s Office also provides 24/7 emergency response, attended to twenty-six callouts and investigated thirty-one fires. A new Deputy Fire Marshal position has also been created to best serve and protect the community.
The library took several steps towards normalcy by re-opening in March which gave patrons access to book clubs, computer, and study rooms, outside story times and an assortment of other socially distanced programs. Approximately 40,000 people visited the library and checked out close to 130,000 total items, which almost matches pre-covid numbers. In addition, the Friends of the Library are back in action, holding book sales to help fund programming and museum passes.
Due to the pandemic, the library was able to pivot by introducing and expanding digital services to the patrons. This access will only increase in 2022 with additional apps and databases. Next year, library card holders will receive FREE access to thousands of eAudio & eBooks, digital magazine titles, movie streaming service, consumer reports, language courses and lots more.
This is only a snapshot 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 overwhelming.
I know there are still many things upon which we need to improve, and I promise to do my best to accomplish and make as my priority in the New Year. I look forward to and ask for the resident’s support for many years to come. In closing, I would like to thank the Township Council, our Business Administrator and all our Department Heads and Municipal Employees for a job well done in 2021. May the New Year bring you good health, happiness, and prosperity.
With Gratitude and Appreciation,
Mayor, Mount Olive Township