We need to #MoveMillburnForward. And to do so, we need to address critical issues our community faces today.
Residents have asked me if I am for or against Complete Streets. The answer: As both a resident and a business owner, I am FOR making sure that Millburn-Short Hills is a vibrant, inclusive and progressive community. I am AGAINST the irresponsible use of taxpayer money for an ill-designed and poorly-implemented construction project that creates traffic congestion rather than traffic calming.
Complete Streets is a 3-phase project that was budgeted at $8.2 million. But, due to poor planning and execution, Phase 1 went over budget by several million dollars including a $1.2 million fee for the design consultant. This does not even include police time, overtime or the time spent by DPW workers to scrape up the failed striping on the raised “flex” parking and other remediation work. That means that the true cost of just Phase 1 has probably eaten up all the money that was bonded for the entire project. It also, of course, does not include the interest payments on the borrowed money.
The Township Committee, on which my opponent sits, and the Township Administrator have been very imprecise on costs and therefore it is nearly impossible to estimate how far over budget the first phase is. I and others have repeatedly asked for precise figures and a complete accounting. That has not been forthcoming. In 2016, the TC approved an additional $3.7 million bond authorizing to fund phases 2 and 3. It is still on the books.
Merchants and residents were not properly informed by either the Township Committee or the Downtown Millburn Development Alliance about the impact of the Complete Street project while it was taking place which created confusion and anger from residents and merchants.
The traffic and inconvenience caused by this expensive project have the unfortunate effect of keeping residents and friends from neighboring communities from coming to Downtown Millburn. This has been very detrimental to the vibrancy of the downtown.
My opponent, with her “window on Main Street,” voted for this project every step of the way. She was in office during the construction and exhibited no leadership keeping the project on budget or on time. She even voted for the additional $3.7 million. In fact, my opponent voted for the final element of Phase 1, the narrowing of Millburn Avenue in front of Wells Fargo, without even obtaining an estimate from the construction company. This is fiscally irresponsible. Additionally, this part of the configuration created more delays, congestion and frustration. We now have a bottleneck at a major entry point into the town.
My Recommendation is that Phases 2 and 3 be put on hold. No further construction on this project should be undertaken until:
- A complete accounting of the expenditures on Phase 1 is completed and published.
- A committee of stakeholders consisting of residents, merchants, landlords, the Town Planner and emergency services personnel is established. This ad hoc committee should undertake a thorough and complete examination of the project and what can be done cost effectively to ameliorate the negative impact Complete Streets has had on our town.
Everyone is in favor of pedestrian safety. I have a daughter in the high school. I want her and her friends to be safe walking in the downtown. I own a store downtown. I want my customers to be safe.
The choice between pedestrian safety and leaving the downtown exactly the way it is now is a false choice.
Instead of looking for no-cost or low-cost solutions to improve safety, my opponent voted repeatedly for a multimillion-dollar project which has caused great disruption in our downtown and in the lives of residents and merchants and visitors.
My recommendation: We can increase pedestrian safety by changing the traffic light signalization on all lights in Downtown Millburn. We could implement a No Walk/No Drive protocol where all traffic in all directions is stopped when pedestrians are moving, and all pedestrians have a DON’T WALK sign when cars are moving. This is a nearly zero cost solution, which can be implemented immediately. We also need to enlist our traffic engineer to look at the location of the crosswalk on Millburn Ave. that is right in front of the exit to Lot 5 at Dunkin Donuts.
Until last year, the municipal tax portion of Millburn Township’s budget has ballooned over the past several years – increasing over 4% annually and 13.5% over the 3 years. Surrounding communities including South Orange, Maplewood, Livingston and Summit saw annual increases below 1% and the 3-year increase ranging from a low of .7% to 7.5%.
My opponent has been on the Township Committee and has done absolutely nothing to control costs. In addition to the multiple millions of dollars poured into the downtown re-design, the town spent nearly half a million dollars to put a new roof on the firehouse. This and other unreasonably high expenditures are evidence that the Township Committee during my opponent’s term was not fiscally responsible and let our township expenditures get out of control. As a business owner, I know how to make wise choices, stick to a budget, and get the most for the money.
My Recommendation is that we carefully address how the municipality is allocating and spending its money and ways to increase revenues. We need to revisit and evaluate shared services with other communities. We need to eliminate all unnecessary spending.
We also need to increase revenues. There are parts of Millburn and Short Hills that can and should be developed. For example, we will see new hotel and apartment taxes from the Mack-Cali development near the Short Hills Malls. My fellow Democrats who currently sit on the Township Committee have been instrumental in looking into the possibility of relocating the town dump and redeveloping that prime real estate downtown to create new rate-ables, thereby increasing tax revenues.
A comprehensive look at our options is necessary. Especially now that we are limited in our ability to deduct our local and state income taxes from our federal taxes, every effort must be made to keep municipal expenditures down and revenues up.
Board of Education Coordination
The school system in Millburn-Short Hills is one of the best in state and the country. It is our crown jewel. We need to ensure that our school age children continue to receive the best quality education our community can provide. This is not only an objective good, but it also continues to attract new people to our community who bring vibrancy into our community.
We need to strengthen the coordination between the Board of Education and the Township Committee on planning, budgeting and use of facilities.
My Recommendation is that the Board of Education and the Township Committee work together to encourage participation of our students in all levels of civic engagement. By giving our students opportunities throughout the township we can help create more informed and engaged citizens. More interaction between the school system and the municipal government can help us find ways to better utilize our tax revenue and find cost saving solutions.
Millburn-Short Hills needs to comply with the Coalition of Affordable Housing requirements. There is no way for the community to get around this responsibility.
For many years, the Township Committee has knowingly “kicked the can down the road” on this issue, creating a situation that the community now needs to address. For example, because Millburn has fallen short on even making a good faith effort to meet the affordable housing requirement, the residents of the Glenwood district now face a serious possibility that an oversize development could be built in their neighborhood on Chatham Road. Their fate is in the hands of an outside official with no stake in the town, instead of in the hands of the residents and our leaders.
My Recommendation is that we create a task force of planner, residents and property owners that, as part of the Town Plan, identifies areas for development in locations that are appropriate for higher density development like Downtown Millburn, Morris Avenue and JFK Parkway.
We should develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) for developers to propose revitalization projects for these designated areas. Part of the requirement could be that, as part of any project, the developer must include a park, a playground, additional commuter parking or other similar municipal benefit.
Flood mitigation has been a major concern for the township since the devastation and property loss caused by Hurricanes Floyd and Irene in downtown Millburn and in the South Mountain neighborhood. Residents had counted on the proposed solution known as Alternative 4A at the Orange Reservoir to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and funded at the federal level. In July the USACE said that it would not approve the project, and residents were left with no alternative solution.
My Recommendation is that we work at the state and local level to address flood mitigation in every way available to us. We should obtain NJ state DEP approval for desilting projects to address the islands forming in the river at the Gilbert Place Joint Meeting pipes and in Downtown Millburn. We should partner with the Rahway River Watershed Association and other community groups working to address flood mitigation and encourage the Rahway River Mayors Coalition to look for solutions to benefit all the member towns. Locally, we must enhance our storm preparedness plans and schedule regular river cleanups with the DPW.
24-Hour 7-11/Gas Station
While the issues is tabled for now, NJ Energy Corporation and 7-11 wanted to put a 24-hour gas station and convenience store at the corner of Millburn Ave. and Vauxhall Rd. They have been to the Millburn zoning board and were scheduled to present adjusted plans at a recent hearing, but they cancelled their appearance and, as of now, no new hearing date is scheduled and the application has been pulled.
Millburn Ordinance 4-14.9 already prohibits any gas station in close proximity to residences to be open 24 hours per day and gas stations that sell things “other than supplies reasonably connected with, or necessary for, the safe or lawful operation of motor vehicles.” In other words, a 24-hour combination gas station-convenience store is already unlawful in Millburn.
My recommendation is that we encourage NJ Energy to develop a plan that respects Millburn's ordinances, nearby residents and the local environment with no bright lights, no convenience store, and no 24-hour operations. I further recommend that we pass an ordinance that prohibits all 24-hour businesses in close proximity to residences.
If you are interested in my positions, please ask me. You can find me at my shop, Green Nectar Juicery, in downtown Millburn. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook message me via my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TaraforMillburn/