Hello. My name is Angie Devanney. Thanks to voters of all political ideologies coming together last November – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – I was elected Berkeley Heights’ first female elected Mayor in November 2018 and was sworn in on January 1, 2019. The coming together of people to elect a Mayor and Council who are wiling to face our town’s challenges head on, for the benefit of our residents, was a historical moment in our town. It was what we call a “purple” moment. Being “purple” isn’t just the coming together of Republicans and Democrats to work together for a common good; it’s a mindset. It’s being open to the ideas and input from others. It’s welcoming, not excluding, people because they are different than you or have different ideas. It’s being respectful of people no matter their background, and it’s, above all, putting partisanship aside to work for the betterment of our town.

In the months since I was sworn in, my administration hasn’t stopped working for you. Every day, we tackle numerous problems are town is facing – such as:

  • An aging and insufficient drainage system
  • Roads that are in disrepair; some of them just paved in the past few years but were not completed with any quality controls, so they are causing runoff and other issues
  • Finding new ways of financing our road and drainage projects
  • Creating more shared services to reduce costs and increased services for our residents
  • How to finance our debt so the township was not simply paying the interest every year
  • And more!

I would like to keep you updated on everything our administration is doing – from township updates on issues that matter most to you, to press releases, to my monthly “Mayor’s Corner” articles in TAPinto Berkeley Heights, and more.

Township Status Report

October 24, 2019

“Reconstructing our infrastructure – not simply just repaving our roads – is a long-term investment we need to make in order to get to the root of the problems; we can’t continue to  just put band-aids on them.” 

October has proven to be a busy season. As the leaves change from shades of green to yellow, red and orange, our Township is abuzz with activity and planning for the future of Berkeley Heights.

Finally getting plans off the books and into the field, we hired our engineer to conduct a drainage study of the Orchard Lane, Emerson Lane, Mercier Place, Cedar Green Lane, Deepdale area, to figure out exactly how we can improve drainage in that area. This will not only assist with those specific neighborhoods, but the areas downhill from this section of town such as Oakland Street, Kings Court, Arden Court, Cornell and Saw Mill. Stormwater run-off deteriorates our roads, properties, green spaces and damages the environment.

Reconstructing our infrastructure – not simply just repaving our roads – is a long-term investment we need to make in order to get to the root of the problems; we can’t continue to  just put band-aids on them.

So, this year, we approved engineering and roads contracts to reconstruct important secondary roadways such as Cornell and Saw Mill. Weather permitting, work will begin shortly on Rutgers and Hamilton; and we are pleased to announce that the Township has the funds to include Princeton, as well. We were able to fund these roads by identifying and reallocating unneeded money from another project we budgeted for this year. In addition, we are paving Briarwood East/West, Fay Place, and Ridgewood Place this year, while retrofitting storm basins to comply with NJ Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Drainage improvements will also soon begin on Cedar Green Lane, Pine Grove Road, Scott Avenue and some surrounding roads; Riverbend and Dell Lane drainage improvements are also ongoing, while we are reconstructing the portion of Lawrence Drive near Balmoral and addressing underlying drainage issues that were causing the road to “erupt.” In addition, our shared service is paying off as, jointly, the County and Township were able to pave Woodruff Avenue and reconstructed a dangerous portion of Park Avenue.

To minimize the coop paving deficiencies of prior years for large-scale projects, we hired a firm to properly design, manage and supervise these road projects full-time. This minimizes deficiencies relating to milling, paving, drainage and grading that often occur with coops and provides for continued on-site coordination with our residents. What’s more, by utilizing the local public contracts law bidding process, the township is protected via submission of contractor performance and maintenance bonds, ensuring quality craftmanship of the work. Quality control and quality assurance is of the utmost importance.  We are also ensuring that any necessary grant reimbursements due to the township relative to those projects are received.

Instead of just milling and paving, our township professionals are engineering plans, where needed, that include adding larger pipes under the roadway to accept more storm water; repairing our collapsing storm water basins; tying in homeowners’ sump pump pipes that were dumping water onto the street, causing frozen puddles during the winter that chipped away at the asphalt. Fully engineered road projects will also include adequate drainage considerations, profiling and grading, curbing as required, and other vital elements.

Paving vs reconstructing — why is this an important difference? We need to plan for the future. We cannot just spend taxpayer money on short-term solutions. When we invest in our underlying infrastructure to ensure it lasts longer.

The 15-year road program established a few years ago can provide a blueprint for paving, however, we have to be nimble. For example, that program did not plan for Rutgers to be paved until 2022, or Hamilton and Princeton to be paved until at least 2024. Those roads clearly cannot wait that long to be repaired, so we are beginning those repairs this year. We have to adjust that plan as infrastructure needs require.

So why did many of these projects not begin until later this year? In 2014, the Township Council passed a 5-year ordinance which funded a road paving program; that ordinance and the money with it “ran out” at the end of 2018. Therefore, before we could pave any roads in 2019, we had to wait until funds were available in the 2019 budget. Those funds were not available until August – the budget was adopted July 23, then we had the estoppel period and the money was available in August. Included in our 2019 capital budget program were specific road projects, funded for specific amounts. Also included in the budget was funding for various road improvements – including road micro-surfacing and sign acquisition and installation – as needed.

Community Benefits Funds, Solar & More 

Balancing revenue with services, the Council also voted to introduce a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) for the property formerly known as Berkeley Florist. This agreement was part of our affordable housing settlement.  In a PILOT agreement, 95% of the taxes are paid to the municipality and 5% are paid to the County.  Once this project is built, these funds will help to pay to offset the debt service on the municipal complex. Additionally, 1% of the PILOT will be dedicated to a Community Benefit Fund for projects, services, or programs that help Berkeley Heights plan for its growing population. This fund can pay for parks, recreation, senior citizens programs, infrastructure and more as we plan for our future.

We have also begun to create a future with renewable energy, at our last Council meeting in October, we will discuss moving forward with a solar canopy program at the municipal complex. I am extremely excited about this project, as I have been working toward this goal since before my inauguration! Estimates project the Township can save approximately $25,000 in year one and up to $1.5 million on utility bills over the life of the project. As an added bonus to our employees and commuters who use the lot, solar will also help to protect cars from rain, snow and sun. Best of all, we are taking steps to plan for the future of our environment, Township AND planet.

Other great things are happening, too—like our new Economic Development Committee that will help to launch SHOP BH!, a property tax reward program that encourages residents to shop and use local services.  Our Historic Preservation Committee is getting up and running, and thanks to the recently created Grants Committee, the Township was awarded a $85,000 from the County to get started! The Senior Citizen’s Advisory Board kicked off this week advising me on health, wellness and social programs needed within our community at our inaugural meeting.

It’s an exciting time to live in Berkeley Heights. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns, (908) 464-2700 or [email protected].

October 3, 2019

Township Status Report


 

Benefits of our Department of Public Works Shared Service & Partnering With Union County

  • Saved $70,000 in salary plus benefits by sharing our DPW director with the County
  • Road reconstruction intersection of Park Avenue @ Princeton Ave
  • Road reconstruction Lower Columbia Road leading to lower parking lot
  • Replacement of multi-turf field at Snyder Park, appx $500,000
  • Install turf baseball field at Snyder Avenue Park, scheduled for construction in 2020, appx $1.5 million
  • Salt Dome Shared Service Agreement, generating $1,000,000 over 20 years
  • Repaved Plainfield Avenue, handicap ramp improvements to sidewalks
  • Traffic study and restriping of Springfield Avenue
  • Reconstruction to help stabilize the stream bank Mountain Ave bridge
  • Tree trimming along County roadways including Plainfield Avenue, Mountain Avenue, Glenside Avenue, McMane Avenue, Horseshoe Road and Diamond Hill Road
  • Fall leaf pickup along County roadways, saving time Township time and personnel
  • Usage of County sewer camera truck at multiple locations to identify debris blockage leading to drainage problems
  • County Shade Tree crew removed downed trees on Township property
  • Reconstruction of Hillcrest Avenue basin
  • Restriped Sherman Avenue
  • Partial culvert reconstruction on Whitney Drive
  • Completed 158 Mosquito Control work orders from January 16 – September 5, 2019; tripled efforts after County trap determined a positive result for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE); initiated aggressive town wide spraying program that included all Township and County parks, field, playground and schools that continues today

Continuous Oversight, Accountability of the Municipal Complex

  • To date, just under $27 of the $32 million has been spent on construction of the municipal complex. We have a tight budget and will need every penny to create a great place for our library, recreation department, seniors, police department and more!
  • Unsuitable soil was found at the site of the municipal complex beginning in 2018; asbestos in 2018 and hydrocarbons in 2019.
  • In 2018, the former Township Council voted to pull the shared savings out the project approximately $950,000; in 2019, $800,000 of those funds were used to pay for the removal of the unsuitable soils found at the construction site; another $150,000 went toward an underslab drainage system that was not factored in to the original budget.
  • In 2019, at my direction, contracts were removed from the Council agenda until better accountability from the developer and the construction manager was established.
  • In 2019, my administration ensured money was encumbered to properly and transparently pay professional services bills relating to the municipal complex.
  • My administration is in contact with the project managers daily, helping to keep the project moving.

 

The 2019 Budget delivered a smaller tax increase over last year

  • Despite non-discretionary spending increasing, my administration delivered a budget with a 3.15% tax increase in 2019 – that’s lower than the increase of 3.65% from the previous year
  • An 8% spending (NOT tax) increase was due to non-discretionary expenses such as pensions and a 142% increase in the recycling budget.
  • I created the Mayor’s Recycling Taskforce in response to this budget crisis to proactively search for solutions using passionate volunteers in our community.
  • We permanently financed our debt instead of kicking the can down the road and created a plan for our future that resulted in nearly a $3.8 million savings to the taxpayer.
    • Breakdown: $1.3 million savings by permanently financing the debt, $1.3 million in lower interest rates than anticipated and $1.2 million in premiums received from Bond and BAN sale.
  • My administration has restructured the Finance Department to increase oversight over our daily budget, vendor contracts, tax collection, grant dollar expenditures; we also hired a professional CFO that is a qualified purchasing agent – which benefits the township – and replaced the auditor, who was not providing sufficient oversight of our finances.
  • Hired a Financial Advisor to guide us through the next 30 years of revenue, debt and budgeting.

 

We Agreed with the BOE to End a Shared Service Agreement (SSA) that was costing the Township money and kept the SSA that benefits both

  • A shared service was entered into three years ago between the Township and Board of Education for garbage collection; the township was paid $19,200 in 2018 for garbage collection.
  • In 2018 alone, the Township paid out the following costs not covered by the agreement:
    • $14,355 in disposal costs
    • $13,976 in converting used garbage bodies into a vehicle capable of handling the trash pickup, plus repairs
    • plus overtime for staff to collect garbage for the BOE
  • DPW staff were brought in on overtime to collect garbage at our local schools. Then, during regular business hours, personnel traveled to Rahway to dump garbage, waited several hours to discard waste and traveled back to Berkeley Heights. The Township “garbage truck” continually broke down, forcing the Township to pay a private hauler to collect garbage from the schools.
  • From 2017 – 2019 the cost of equipment, repairs, purchases and use of a private hauler cost the township $67,652.79.
  • By severing the agreement, resources were then redirected to patching potholes, repairing storm basins and cleaning the streets with our sweeper and providing more services.
  • We renewed the motor vehicle shared service agreement (SSA) that sends Board of Ed vehicles to our maintenance department at the DPW – a great partnership for both.
  • Continue to look for ways that the BOE and town can work together.

Our 2019 Berkeley Heights Capital Plan funds repaving roads for 30 years

  • In addition to creating a plan to capitalize our road reconstruction for the next 6 years, we took measures to plan for the continual upgrade of our roads for the next 30 years when we permanently financed the debt in July of this year.
  • A minimum of $750,000 of capital has been dedicated for roads annually. Our capital budget includes $1.5 million from 2020-2024 and $2 million from 2025-2052 capital for the next 30 years to help improve ALL of our aging infrastructure.
  • Local aid from the Department of Transportation will augment our 6 to 30-year capital plan, averaging between $200,000-500,000 in state aid annually.
  • In 2019, we allocated over $900,000 in capital dollars to repave numerous roads – above our $750,000 target.
  • This year, we will repave Saw Mill, Cornell, Rutgers, Hamilton, Princeton, East & West Briarwood, Fay Place and Ridgedale Place

Other Great News

  • Created Grants Committee, Senior Citizens Advisory Board
  • Introduced ordinances for Historic Preservation and Economic Development Committee
  • Initiated an e-waste and styrofoam recycling program
  • Held Family Safety Event

 

Mayor’s Corner TapInto Articles & Press Releases

September 30, 2019: Team Effort to Battle EEE is Working, but Please Remain Vigilant – September 2019

August 24, 2019: Statement from Mayor Devanney: Accountability Sought on Municipal Complex

July 31, 2019: Mayor’s Corner Summer 2019 – Fiscal Responsibility

March 20, 2019: Mayor’s Corner, March 2019 – DPW, Budget Hearing, New Electronics Recycling Program, ‘Project Lifesaver’ & More

February 19, 2019: Mayor’s Corner: What is a Shared Service Agreement for an Interim DPW Director? And Here’s what Berkeley Heights is Getting Out of It