At last night's borough council meeting, several residents from Garwood's the Pointe condominiums again made a presence and voiced their frustration over Garwood taxes and ongoing litigation with the borough concerning snow removal.
Residents argued that the 44-unit age-restricted condo community pays exceedingly high taxes in the borough – roughly $11,000 to $14,000 annually per unit depending on the size of the unit – and yet, the community is not provided with snow removal and must also foot the bill for streetlights and fire hydrants.
Residents further argued that because the Pointe is an age-restricted community, they do not send children to Garwood schools and yet they pay twice the taxes of the average Garwood taxpayer.
"I would like to remind all of you of what that site looked like before the Mews and the Pointe was up there. It was a toxic dump and it was an eyesore," said Pointe resident Tom Pedas at Tuesday's meeting. "The 44 condo owners pay over half a million dollars a year in taxes. What are we asking for in return? Shovel our snow a couple times a year. Pick up our garbage twice a week. I don't think that's asking too much for over half a million dollars that we're bringing in."
The borough and the Pointe are involved in ongoing litigation over whether the borough should provide snow removal. The borough believes the roads inside the condo entrances (Maple Court and Chestnut Court) are internal roadways and not municipal roads, and therefore is refusing to plow them. The Pointe residents argue that the New Jersey’s Municipal Services Act requires the borough to provide services to private communities or reimburse those communities for such services. As of a hearing two weeks ago, the case was still undecided.
"My only access to my driveway is through Maple Court, the only access to my home for an ambulance is Maple Court, the only way a fire engine can get to me is Maple Court, the only way a police officer and a patrol car can respond to an emergency call from my unit is Maple Court," said Pointe resident Bill Connolly. "Nonetheless, Garwood deigns Maple Court to be something less than a full-fledged street. I think that's unfair."
Connolly continued, comparing Maple Court to the block of 5th Avenue east of Oak Street where Garwood provides all services and where there are only four homes versus the 44 units at the Pointe.
"If we are not the champion taxpayers in Garwood, well we are certainly contenders for that crown," added Connolly. "We pay more or less double the average property tax in this borough."
Neither the mayor nor any council members were able to comment to Patch on these issues – or respond to the Pointe residents during the meeting – because of the ongoing litigation.
Pedas concluded his comments on Tuesday night by saying, "Garwood is a lovely community and I enjoy living here, but this council is splitting Garwood into two separate communities and I hope you're proud of that."
Pedas also inquired as to what and how borough attorney Joseph Triarsi is paid for his work and said he felt it was ironic that his tax dollars provide for Triarsi's salary but do not provide him with services such as snow removal.
Crossing guards will still be able to collect unemployment: Councilman Timothy Hak announced that the Police Committee has decided not to act on any proposed changes to the crossing guard program that would eliminate guards' ability to collect unemployment. The discussion had previously drawn outcry from crossing guards. Hak cited upcoming state legislation as the reason the committee decided not to make any changes. A proposed bill may remove the benefit for crossing guards in the coming year anyway. Councilwoman Todisco added that the committee looked into privatizing the service or moving to year-round employment for guards but felt the cost-savings was not substantial enough. Todisco cited a potential $10,000 savings for moving to a year-round employment of guards. Council Mathieu said he feels a $10,000 savings is significant and that the borough should act instead of waiting for the state to make a decision. "I feel like we're dodging our responsibility here," said Mathieu. "There's a muddled status quo. We pay our crossing guards one thing and then we are complicit in paying them unemployment when they are not unemployed. If we want to compensate our guards differently, let's raise their pay....I think it's such a dodge to say, well, Trenton is considering it." Councilwoman Todisco said she thought it would be a better idea to see how other towns fare with either privatization or a 12-month program and later make a more informed choice for Garwood.
Garwood decides on bulk pickup: Councilman Timothy Hak announced that the Streets and Roads committee has decided to go ahead with an opt-in bulk pickup program. The details and dates of the program are still being decided, but an original quote for pricing suggested permits would cost $125 each. Garwood residents will be mailed information about the program. The fee would cover one pickup, tentatively scheduled to occur over Sept. 17, 18 and 19 to coincide with the borough-wide yard sale, which will be likely scheduled for Sept. 15 and 16. Councilmembers suggested that residents team up with one another for one permit to cover multiple homes' bulk up to a certain limit. The pickup will be done by an outside company and not by Garwood DPW employees or with DPW trucks. (This was a liability/wear-and-tear concern for several councilmember previously.) Council members also discussed joining with Westfield or Cranford for pickup in the future when those towns renew their bulk pickup contracts.
May 15 - Garwood will hold the annual Students in Government night at Borough Hall. Students will hold a mock council meeting at 7 p.m. and no action will be taken.
May 16 - The Garwood Volunteer Fire Department will hold its annual Fireman Memorial service to honor deceased firefighters. The memorial will be held at 8 p.m. at the Fire Department Headquarters at 415 South Avenue.
May 16 - The Recreation Department will offer Ladies Ceramics at Lincoln School.
Registration for the Garwood Public Library's summer reading program begins on June 13. The summer programs will also include weekly crafts for kids and weekly movie nights. The library is also scheduling a visit from Pearl Observatory, where participants will be able to look at the night sky with two telescopes.
Other notes from council's May 8, 2012 meeting:
Garwood businesses invited to join Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce: Mayor Quattrocchi said that she has been notified that the newly reformed Westfield Regional Chamber of Commerce is inviting all Garwood businesses to join.
Resident concerned about water rats near brook, Board of Health on his property: The property owner of 545 Locust Street asked council what they are planning to do to deal with the rodent problem from the brook behind Locust Street. He also complained that a representative from the Board of Health was on his property without notifying him and without any complaints to the Board of Health from his tenants. Councilwoman Todisco said that the water rat problem is on the radar of the Board of Health and they will come and bait if residents call with a problem. Borough Administrator Christina Ariemma said she would notify the Board of Health tomorrow about the property owner's issue. Council members weren't sure whether a Board of Health representative could enter a resident's property without explicit permission but said they would look into it.
Handicapped parking space on Willow Avenue: Council voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance to assign a restricted handicapped parking space at 630 Willow Avenue. That ordinance will have its public hearing on at council's next meeting on May 22.
Garwood receives Clean Communities grant: Councilwoman Todisco announced that Garwood received $6,676 in a Clean Communities grant for annual community cleanup and assembly programs. Todisco said this year's grant amount was similar to the amount received last year.
Library has concerns about purchasing policy: Councilman Mathieu stated that at a recent meeting library representatives were having difficulty understanding the purchasing policy and getting preapproval for invoices. Borough Administrator Christina Ariemma replied that the purchasing policy is set by state law and that it has been thoroughly explained to staff members. Ariemma said she believes the policy is cumbersome for all borough departments but that because the process is mandated by the state, there is no circumventing it.
Garwood participation in Cranford Memorial Day Parade: Councilman Mathieu asked who from Garwood and council would march in Cranford's Memorial Day parade this year as they have in previous years. Mayor Quattrocchi said the council would discuss it.
Bids received for Athletic Field Complex: Councilman Petruzzelli announced that eight bidders attended the prebid meeting on May 2. Bids will be received on Tuesday, May 15. Councilman Mathieu asked how many there were this time versus last time and Borough Administrator Christina Ariemma replied that there were significantly fewer bidders this time.
Resident proposes help for Garwood seniors: Resident Bill Conlin proposed a program of neighbors helping neighbors in the borough and told a story about a senior citizen who had fallen and was found by a neighbor. He suggested a computerized program through the police department for check-ins on seniors. Police Lieutenant Jim Wright replied that there are private services like Med Alert and Life Alert that provide such services and said that the department would discuss other options.
Consent agenda adopted unanimously: The consent agenda contained the following items: acknowledging the passing of Donald McKay Legg, hiring Donna Zucker as temporary part-time Deputy Court Administrator, a resolution concerning the Westfield Senior Housing Corporation, complying with Promulgation of Local Finance Board, acceptance of Corrective Action Report for 2011, authorizing insertion of revenue from the New Jersey Division of
Highway Safety into the 2012 municipal budget, authorizing insertion of revenue from Department of Environmental Protection into the 2012 municipal budget, acknowledging the passing of Mary Constance Snyder Batich.
Councilwoman suggests attendance at Union County Freeholder Budget meeting: Councilwoman Todisco again suggested that councilmembers take turns attending Union County Freeholder meetings, especially the upcoming meeting on the budget on May 31. Councilman Mathieu volunteered to attend the meeting.
Garwood installs first solar-powered crossing sign: Councilman Hak reported that the borough's first solar-powered crossing sign is now up and running on Walnut Street.
Mayor gives update on energy tax money towns are owed: Mayor Quattrocchi stated that she received a notice from the League of Municipalities regarding the energy tax money towns are owed from the state; Senator Paul Sarlo is introducing legislation to address the issue. Quattrocchi previously explained that utilities were once paying taxes to towns directly for running utility lines underground or on town land, but the state began collecting and then distributing back the taxes instead. Quattrocchi explained that those collected taxes have been used by Trenton rather than being distributed back to the towns. Garwood recently passed a resolution supporting the League's campaign for a return of the funds.
[CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the borough does not provide garbage collection for the Pointe. That is incorrect, as the borough does provide garbage collection but not snow removal.]