Members of the Town Council, Father Mancini, family and friends, we are gathered here for the formal requirements of reorganizing the membership of our governing committees, designating professionals who will assist us in performing our public duties and appointing citizens who volunteer their time to serve on the boards and commissions that local government depends on to carry out its responsibilities. I am immensely grateful to all of you who have so generously shared your time and talents for the betterment of our town.
We are also gathered here today to rededicate ourselves to our common mission as public servants of the Town of Kearny. On a day to day basis, our mission is to provide needed government services effectively and affordably. In a broader sense, our mission is to build our community’s future.
With these purposes in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight my priorities for the year 2009.
Our primary mission is ensuring that Kearny remains affordable. We finished the 2008 fiscal year in good stead with a surplus of almost $4 million and with a modest decrease in the town’s total debt. However, with the sharp downturn in the national economy and the dire financial condition of State government, all New Jersey municipalities will be facing decreased revenues in 2009. Stark financial challenges lie ahead of us. As a governing body, we have a tendency to compartmentalize financial decisions to matters such as adopting the municipal budget or setting the tax levy. The reality is that most of the matters we vote on throughout the year have a financial impact. We must be keep a tight belt on expenditures and remain vigilant on the financial cost of every action so that we are not confronted with a doomsday scenario of either an undue tax hike or dramatic cuts in services. As a symbolic measure, the Members of the Council and I will, as in past years, not take any increase in salary and we will begin making an out-of-pocket contribution to the cost of our health insurance benefits.
My goal is to keep property taxes stable in 2009 and to limit any increase to the rate of inflation. In an environment of growing unemployment and falling property values, property tax stability is critical. It’s a tall order but if we all undertake to be vigilant on expenses, I believe we can achieve tax stability. Similarly, because one-half of a homeowner’s property tax bill is for the cost of public education, I ask the Members of the Kearny Board of Education, as it begins its process of preparing the school budget for the 2009-2010 school year, to make the same pledge and maintain the property tax levy for public education stable.
Long-term tax stability requires that we increase our tax ratables through the redevelopment of unused commercial and industrial sites. Redevelopment generates additional tax revenues without increasing property tax rates. Our progress in the redevelopment zones on Passaic Avenue, Schuyler Avenue and the Belleville Turnpike came to a halt in 2008 with the freeze in the credit markets and the downturn in the economy. In 2009, we will continue working closely with the designated redevelopers in these redevelopment zones in the hope that progress resumes once the national economy rebounds.
As to our broader mission to build our community’s future, we will authorize bonding for projects that are important to the quality of life in our town. While there are many projects we wish to undertake, the necessity of keeping the town’s total debt stable and the ongoing turbulence in the financial markets means that we must prioritize the improvements we wish to make. At the top of that list is continuing to improve our infrastructure such as additional street repavings and the replacement of aged water transmission lines. It also means that we continue to improve our parks and recreational areas. With the renovation of the Belgrove Drive Playground now completed, we will proceed with the renovation of the Tappan Street playground and the play area at Manor Park. We will also proceed with improvements to the grounds of the Main Public Library, which will include a children’s reading garden. We will continue working with the State on the cleanup of privately held sites adjacent to Riverbank Park, with the goal of adding those sites to our park inventory. With the continued high demand and intensive use of our recreational fields, especially for soccer, we will look for funding sources so that we can install artificial turf on one of the playing fields. And, finally, we will continue our efforts to fund the conversion of the former town tree nursery on Brighton Avenue into the community playground proposed by Council Members Arce and Krusznis.
We also build our community’s future through sound land use planning. In 2009, that will mean implementing the recommendations of the NJ Transit Stakeholders’ Committee for the construction of a commuter rail station on Bergen Avenue. It also means implementing the recommendations in the town’s recent Master Plan Re-examination, which includes the re-zoning of areas on Ivy Street and Locust Street as residential one-family zones.
These are my goals for 2009. To the Members of the Town Council and to the Town’s Department heads, I ask you to join me in committing ourselves fully to these tasks, to listen to all the citizens of our great town and, most importantly, to believe in ourselves. We have much to be proud of, and much to be grateful for, in our town. And I believe the best is yet to come for our town.
Thank you and may the New Year be a healthy, happy and prosperous one for our community.