Mt. Olive will be acquiring 25 acres to add to its park system and meeting space after the Mt. Olive Twp. Council approved an ordinance at its last council meeting.
On Tuesday, Dec. 7, during the remote meeting of the Mt. Olive Twp. Council, members unanimously passed Bond Ordinance #26-2021 for the acquisition of property appropriating $400K and authorizing the issuance of $380K bonds to the township’s finance department. The property is located at 5 Pond View Lane in Flanders.
Open Space Funds will not be used for this purchase, therefore, its usage will require less restrictions.
“Open Space Funds were decided not to be used for the purchase which will give the township more flexibility with its use,” says Mt. Olive Twp. Business Administrator Andrew Tatarenko.
“Once we have the closing, we’re all going to sit together to figure out a path forward that makes sense for the community,” Tatarenko says during the meeting.
“The ideas are to offer the outdoor space as another open area for residents to enjoy,” he says. “The indoor space is still being developed but it would most likely be used as a small rental space or meeting area.”
With access to the property at Flanders-Bartley Rd., the acquired land at “5 Pond View Lane was an abandoned house which we were monitoring for the past year over property maintenance issues when we decided that it would be a great piece of property for the township to acquire and add to our park system,” says Tatarenko.
“Its 25 acres offers passive recreational, conservation and historic preservation opportunities,” he says. “It is locally known as The Tarn, also as the Bartley Foundry/Mill. There is a 4,100 square foot building on site, a pond with small island which feeds into the South Branch Raritan and a boardwalk which goes around the entire pond.”
Preserving any property that is historical can add character to the township.
“This is going to be terrific for open space point of view, historic preservation,” says Kathleen Murphy of the Mt. Olive Twp. Historical Society. She says the vacated building and surrounding property will be eligible for consideration on the National Register for Historical Places.
Vaccines and mandates have been the talk, not only throughout the country and the world, but at Mt. Olive Twp. Council meetings.
At the last few meetings, officials have been discussing whether to mandate the COVID 19 vaccine for Mt. Olive Twp. employees.
Councilmember Alex Roman has been very vocal about not mandating the vaccine to employees, while Mt. Olive Twp. Mayor Rob Greenbaum has taken the opposite stance and suggesting that mandates may become a requirement.
All township employees, meanwhile, have to either show their vaccination card as proof that they are vaccinated against the virus or undergo weekly testing that yields a negative test result.
At the Nov. 23 meeting, Roman asked Tatarenko for an update on the numbers of employees who are vaccinated and those who get tested.
Tatarenko says 50 employees per week get tested and there has been 100 percent compliance by employees.
“It’s been working out well,” says Tatarenko.
Roman also questions whether the vaccinated employees are being tested as well and Tatarenko responds, “Not at this time.”
Greenbaum interjected at that point saying “We are looking at going to a full vaccination policy at this point and getting rid of the testing all together.” He says the option will be “either vaccinate or no longer be employed by the township.”
The mayor’s plan is to talk to Tatarenko further about this mandate.
“The current testing policy for unvaccinated employees is staying in effect,” says Tatarenko during a follow up call with Mt. Olive Online. “It has proven to be helpful as we have identified employees through this process that have been confirmed COVID positive.”
He says, “Out of 187 employees, 53 are unvaccinated. The 134 are not “allegedly” vaccinated, they have shown proof. We are following the States EO as it relates to testing state employees and teachers. If they change their policy to test vaccinated employees, we will follow.”
Roman also questions the size of the one Eco Island already placed in Budd Lake. He points out that the floating island is a lot smaller than planned.
“Did we contact the company to express our disappointment?” asks Roman.
Tatarenko explains that the original agreement was for 25 ft. circumferent islands and that the next two will be double in size at 50 ft.
“It was somewhat of a test even though it was smaller than we anticipated,” says Council President Joe Nicastro. “It will be a good thing,” he assures.
Tatarenko says the islands will be different when the greenery grows on it.
“That 25 ft. circumference looked pretty big,” says Councilmember Colleen Labow. “You put it out on the lake and it’s a drop in the bucket.”
Eco’ islands are artificial floating islands used as a low cost, sustainable method to improve water quality and mitigate storm water pollution. The man-made island is composed of woven and recycled plastic material which floats in the water. Vegetation is planted and the root system removes nutrients from the water.
Mold is another issue that grew into a greater discussion at the Nov. 23 council meeting.
Councilmember John Mania asks for an update on the “problematic room in the clerk’s office.”
“We are currently remediating the room,” says Tatarenko, adding that “within the next day or two I am anticipating the room to be completely fixed.”
He explains: “There was a small mold issue that we discovered on some of the old minute books so we are moving all the binders, replacing them with new ones. We are vacuuming everything in that storage room. We should be in good shape moving forward.”
Questions Roman: “Did we ascertain what caused it? Are we looking at any mitigation factors to address it? Should we have a plan in place to investigate other areas of the building that maybe aren’t explored as often so that maybe we can identify other issues before they get worse?”
Tatarenko tells “Mt. Olive Online” that “Several old cloth minute binders were observed to have mold growing on the outside due to the moisture in the room back in October.
“An environmental specialist was contracted to test the air quality in the room and confirm the presence of mold,” he says. “It was recommended to have the cloth binders professionally removed and the vault cleaned. All safety precautions were taken and there was never a threat to the safety of our employees or residents.”
The mold is being cleaned up but the issue led to a larger discussion about digitalizing township records for better preservation.
“Are we looking to digitalize everything,” asks Nicastro?
Tatarenko responds explaining how the township administration started a pilot program in the construction department to see how the transfer of paper records to digital records goes. He says the plan is to move that process to other departments.
“We want to digitalize everything as some point,” says Labow. “Are we doing that now or are we still doing paper? It’s better to do that now. We don’t have to do all the old stuff and get to the new stuff.”
Tatarenko explains that “some of the things we do get scanned in computer and get scanned electronically,” but still keep a hard copy as a permanent record.
He explains that scanning in documents officially requires a certified process by the state with signatures.
Because of that, it “doesn’t mean we can destroy the paper unless we do it through a certified program which we are doing in the construction department,” explains Tatarenko. He says they are “starting to scan in old files.” Last year, they had a $50K budget for this process; this year, the township is budgeting another $50K.
“We are doing both,” says Tatarenko. “We’re accepting electronic papers and we’re still accepting paper permits.”
Asks Labow, “Why don’t we just go all electronics at this point? Even clerk’s office; why do we need to hold onto paper?” She says, instead of creating paper and more small cabinets, we should do all electronics.
Responds Tatarenko: “To do a small file cabinet is $50,000. I don’t disagree that it shouldn’t be done but where does it fall in line with all other projects?”
Michelle Masser, Mt. Olive Twp. clerk and council secretary, provides insight of the process.
She says there is a scanning process that involves scanning records. “Minute books, resolutions and ordinances are permanent records. I’d have to look to see if things have changed,” but protocol has been “to keep original books with the original signatures.
“We need to do an update in my office,” Masser says. “We currently scan all of our minutes of our resolutions. PDF’s, you have to keep logs. There’s a lot that goes into the process. It requires hours of manpower to do it. We’ve been doing it over many years.
“Every meeting, we have a process,” continues Masser. “Everything gets scanned in, everything gets signed, resolutions and ordinances are numbered. Unfortunately, trying to get rid of paper completely is very difficult; it’s extremely costly. It’s not an easy process; it’s very lengthy.”
Mania then asks Masser “How are you and the other employees feeling health wise?”
Masser admits, “I haven’t been feeling so great, we are all tired. We have a lot of added work; we have to put back all of the books in the office. It’s very involved,” adding that they were not “allowed back in the vault yet,” and it will be “another week before the project is complete. We are not at our best.”
Says Labow, “They need to clean that duct work; all the stuff moving around. Are they cleaning out the duct work?”
Tatarenko responds, “I don’t think this is the right forum for this discussion. There’s been plenty of tests and samples done in the building. There is no need for additional work.”
At the Dec. 7 council meeting, Roman asks the council to consider increasing the township’s towing ordinance beyond a five-mile radius.
He “asked us to review the towing ordinance, specifically, the requirement for the townships towing vendor to maintain a business within five miles of Townhall,” explains Tatarenko. “During this process, the police department is recommending other amendments. Those include insurance requirements, safety measures and an increase in fees.
“It is not recommended to increase the five-mile distance as we feel it would jeopardize the level of service,” says Tatarenko. “The towing vendor is used in most cases to remove a disabled vehicle from an accident and it is imperative that it is removed as quickly as possible.”
Roman explains that his request to increase the radius came from an area towing company who was excluded from bidding for towing in the township because of the five-mile radius restriction.
Roman says that the five-mile radius is to town hall as opposed to the edge of town.
Mt. Olive Police Chief Stephen Beecher attended the last council meeting to provide some insight into the ordinance and respond to Roman’s concerns. Beecher says the bulk of accidents are on Rt. 206 and Rt. 46 corridors. Towing service has been needed mostly for these accidents.
“We did not do an audit of location of accidents, where they are in town,” he says.
He says that between Jan. through Nov. 30 this year there were almost 800 accidents, “traffic crashes in town we handled.”
Beeches advises against increasing the radius on the towing ordinance.
“This ordinance has been in place for quite some time,” says Beecher. “It’s not broke; I don’t see the need to fix it. Bills is the towing service, he says, because the other companies they had used in the past for towing are no longer offering towing services.
“We went with Bills because it’s been very responsive to our needs,” says Beecher. “Bills has been an adequate supplier of towing services in Mt. Olive.”
The towing ordinance with requested amendments is expected to be introduced to the council at its January meeting.
To see if other council members agree with Roman’s request to increase the mile radius for towing, Nicastro took a vote. All members agree to keep the mile radius to the five miles.