Mayor's 2013 Reorganization Address [Transcript]
Annual Morristown reorganization meeting was held Tuesday.
The following is the provided transcript of Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty's annual address, read during the town reorganization meeting, held Tuesday at Town Hall:
Good evening. I wish everyone a very healthy and prosperous 2013. I am very optimistic that we will have a good year.
To reflect on 2012, I was reminded, once again, of the vitality and vibrancy of the Town of Morristown. Significant private financial investment continued as dozens of new businesses opened, expanded and announced their future intentions to call downtown Morristown home. New redevelopment projects have also been proposed and we have continued to receive glowing praise throughout New Jersey as a model of smart growth. Even Snooki and J Wow wanted to be part of Morristown’s success.
2012 also brought with it another devastating natural disaster. Unfortunately, this seems to be a reoccurring theme in my Re-organization address. The magnitude of the disaster will be felt for years to come but fortunately we weathered the storm together and fared much better than other parts of the State. Once again the generosity of our community was inspiring. As I said last year, dealing with these disasters has been a challenge for us all and I think our government - from police and fire to DPW - responded with professionalism and rose to the occasion.
I am happy to report that as a result of my administration’s efforts last year to compel the State Board of Public Utilities to hire a Special Master to investigate the Town’s central business district’s electrical underground network system and to make recommendations for safety improvements, over the last year, JCP&L has invested millions of dollars to replace and upgrade the CBD’s electrical infrastructure, and its work will soon be completed. I thank the BPU and JCP&L for their cooperative efforts in making the electrical infrastructure of Morristown’s business district safer and more reliable. Evidence of this was quite obvious during the aftermath of Sandy when thousands flocked to our downtown to eat, seek warmth and fuel their vehicles because it was one of very few business districts in the State that had power.
My Executive Budget Team is currently working on the 2013 municipal budget. Given that the Town’s debt service payments, pension obligations and healthcare insurance costs are projected to decrease this year, I feel confident that my Executive Budget will achieve its goal of keeping the Town’s municipal tax rate stable.
Streamlining and restructuring municipal operations will continue this year as it has since I took office 3 years ago. With the Town Council’s approval late last year to consolidate the Town government’s code enforcement functions into one department, my office has begun the interview process of hiring a Director to oversee this new Department, and I do expect to complete this selection process in the near future. I am confident this department restructuring will lead to greater operational efficiency and improved service delivery.
In keeping with our goal of being a sustainable community, we will be moving forward with further implementation of the Town’s Community Forestry Management Plan. I will soon be recommending to the Council at an upcoming meeting that a Shade Tree Ordinance be approved, and that a Shade Tree Commission be created.
Morristown has seen incredible growth over the past few years. But, we want to be sure to preserve the qualities that the people of Morristown love about their home, as well as ensure that this growth creates new opportunities for a stronger economy and quality of life for everyone. We are a town about making people, businesses, and visitors feel safe and welcome.
In 2012 a number of new businesses opened and several more expanded. We saw the Health Shoppe close but a new market Grassroots Natural Market from Denville opening in its place. Goffins Hallmark, a Morristown institution that closed in the 1990s, returned to Morristown with a new retail store called 23 South. In addition, we approved the CVS on Speedwell Avenue and Whole Foods announced its desire to open in Morristown in 2014. Panera Bread came to town in 2012 and Transit Village will now be occupied with Godfather Pizza & Seafood Restaurant. Also, the Metropolitan apartment building on Market Street is leasing and businesses are starting to occupy the space. In fact, several businesses expanded their operations in 2012 and will open in bigger locations this year, Swiss Chalet, for example. All told, our vacancy rate is less than four (4) percent. Considering the economic plight of so many downtowns in New Jersey, we are in great shape and all of this vibrancy in our downtown makes for a stabilized tax base that benefits us all.
Several mixed use redevelopment projects have been approved, or are now in the planning and approval process. Our town planning consultant, Jonathan Rose & Co., has been working closely with a variety of property owners and developers who are looking at their redevelopment options. As Mayor, I have promised from day one that we will always be open to discuss redevelopment projects so long as they are sensible and conform to our redevelopment strategy that requires a cohesive vision which ensures compatibility and focuses on pedestrian movement, traffic and the need to provide public amenities.
Speedwell Avenue: the Town has sought to revitalize Speedwell Avenue for over a decade, and we have achieved some major milestones to put these plans into action. An Amended Speedwell Redevelopment Plan was approved by this Council in the August, 2011. Today, the redeveloper has closed on all of the Phase 1 properties and will be soon breaking ground on Latitude, which is a 268 unit apartment complex (including 26 affordable units) that is estimated to generate approximately $650,000 in tax revenues and hundreds of construction jobs.
In addition, the CVS project, Phase 4.1 of the Speedwell Redevelopment Project area, is expected to go before the Planning Board later this month. I, as well as many in our community, are very excited to usher in new commercial development on Speedwell Avenue, which has not happened in over 20 years.
With regard to the Master Plan: the Town's Planning Division, my office and the Office of Sustainability have worked diligently to secure funding that would allow us to prepare a master plan (at very little cost to taxpayers) that guide Morristown future growth. Through grant writing, the Town was able to secure over $200K in federal and foundation funds. The planning process, which is currently in a 'data gathering' phase will ultimately give the people of Morristown an unprecedented voice in the future growth of the Town – and further my longstanding commitment to open and transparent government. The formal public launch of the public outreach will occur on the evening of January 23rd at the Hyatt Hotel, who was kind enough to donate the room. I encourage and request that you please come learn more about how the planning process will unfold in the coming months and get involved by contributing your thoughts and ideas.
Affordable Housing: in late 2011, my administration worked with the Planning Board to adopt the Town's first ever Housing Element and Fair Share Plan. Since then, our Planning Division have been working with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to put our housing plan into action. My administration has pursued and secured at least 53 units of real affordable housing units by leveraging the redevelopment process and by enforcing prior obligations that were created prior to my term (with much credit to our Director of Law). 53 units is great, but we can do better. In 2013, we will work diligently to put our Housing Trust Fund monies by getting our spending plan approved and then creating public private partnerships with affordable housing developers to create a variety of new housing opportunities in Morristown.
Finally, our Planning Division worked cooperatively with the Office of Sustainability, the Arts Council, Neighborhood House, Morristown Partnership and other partners to prepare a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts "Our Town" program to fund community-based public art and design projects to continue the economic development along the Avenue. Stayed tuned for more information on the “Our Town” program and Morristown's proposal.
If you look around town you see construction happening on Maple Avenue with the near completion of 18 townhomes and Hampshire’s new office building. The Mayo Performing Arts Center, our Town’s cultural center, is expanding. In addition, there are number of commercial projects underway. Needless to say, we are witnessing significant investment in the midst of a very difficult economy. Morristown is thriving and all of these projects will continue to grow and strengthen our tax base and provide an economic boost to our downtown businesses.
Each year I get to mention the wonderful events that really make out town special. To name a few we have First Night Morris, Morristown Restaurant Week, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Art Around the Park, the Grand Fondo, the Morristown Jazz & Blue’s Festival, the Festival on the Green and the Christmas Festival at the Morristown Green. I commend the efforts of all the organizations and individuals involved in making these activities happen. All of the events seem to continue to grow each year as more and more people visit Morristown. We should also point out the dozens of wonderful performances throughout the year at the Mayo Center for Performing Arts.
In 2012 the Town of Morristown Office of Sustainability continued its efforts to integrate triple-bottom line impacts on both municipal government operations and local quality of life. An online energy auction resulted in a 2-year contract expected to save the taxpayers more than $100,000 annually while also lowering the Town’s carbon footprint by purchasing 50% of our energy needs from certified renewable sources. The Office also continues to champion Morristown Performs, the Administration’s performance management initiative. It manages the relationship with our Dodge Foundation funded consultants from FDU’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise and the inter-departmental integration of data collection and new technologies to better measure, assess and improve government operations and budgeting. The Office was responsible for the formal incorporation of Sustainable Morristown and serves as the Town liaison and interim Director for this community-based organization that supports the sustainability-related initiatives of local businesses, schools, houses of worship, cultural institutions and non-profit organizations. The Office also oversees the part-time staff of Recycling Education and Enforcement officers which have completed hundreds of site visits to help bring Morristown’s business community into compliance with the Town’s recycling ordinance. The Office has helped raise more than $75,000 to support its own operations as well as community-based educational events and programs including the Town’s annual Earth Day celebration and the Creative Morristown convening. It has been an active participant in preparing for the upcoming Master Plan civic engagement process and of course secured the donation of the Samsung tablets that will be distributed to the Council this month to facilitate a shift from a dependence on valuable natural resources to the use of emerging technologies.
For 2013, the Office will have a three-prong focus: 1) Securing the Town’s recertification in the Sustainable Jersey program – upgrading to Silver-level recognition in pursuit of continued quality of life improvement for the residential and business communities - while also positioning the Town to more favorably compete for state-level funding. 2) It will continue to develop and integrate performance management strategies, new technologies and sustainability metrics to help us continually improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of municipal government. 3) It will continue to participate at the highest levels to provide support and guidance to the evolving Sustainable Morristown organization that will ultimately take responsibility for the many non-governmental activities necessary to ensure that all sectors of the community are doing their part alongside government in pursuit of our shared vision of a sustainable future for Morristown.
In addition, we continued to work with the Town Council and the Morristown Parking Authority to increase the residential only parking permits areas in town. We added four police officers to the downtown from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am to address the crowds letting out of the bars and restaurants. My office is working closely with the Town Council, Morristown Partnership and Parking Authority to establish a permanent downtown police patrol program. With this increased vibrancy, comes the need for increased sidewalk cleaning. The Partnership instituted a sidewalk steam cleaning program last summer to remove gum and dirt on the sidewalks. This year they are looking to increase that program to address sidewalk liter as well.
All in all, 2012 was a fairly good year locally. We sadly had several national tragedies – both manmade and natural – that made us all grieve and reflect on the state of our nation. In 2013, Morristown is poised again for continued growth and prosperity. Our business community is strong; our financial house is in good shape. But this is not the time to sit back and relax. We need to continue to implement the types of programs and projects that will keep our success sustainable and that ensure our high standards for quality of life. I am fully dedicated to governing in an inclusive manner that allows for the free flow of ideas. With all of us working together we can make Morristown even more special than it already is. I believe I have been blessed with job of serving as Mayor of Morristown. Though we have had our share of difficult times, my first three years have been rewarding and I will not slow down in 2013. Our success leads to new problems but none that we cannot address. As JFK once said the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining. Let’s have a healthy, safe and prosperous new year!