This month, I’d like to provide a number of brief updates on a few issues we’ve been working on in town.
First, many of you probably heard about the joint decision by Maplewood and South Orange to not pursue a consolidated fire department at this point in time. Although both towns were very interested in this possible shared service, there were no significant cost savings or improvement of fire service that would warrant the expense and time required to complete a merger of two departments that operate so differently. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that Maplewood and South Orange could not come to an agreement to explore and implement a best practices department, rather than starting out with the goal of establishing a Maplewood-led department.
I think both towns recognize the cost saving nature of more so sharing fire services, and I have already had some extremely preliminary conversations at the regional and county level about possible opportunities to share these services on a larger level down the road. Not being able to come to an agreement between Maplewood and South Orange on this does not affect the possibility for other shared services nor the close working relationship between both fire departments.
Next, finalizing plans for Village Hall renovations and relocation are underway and actually tie in neatly to a current discussion we are having about not just our capital budget but how we manage our infrastructure and plan the life cycles of various capital investments. Ensuring that we are maintaining all of our assets (most notably streets and buildings) in a strategic and long-term way will help keep the tax rates steady because large (and often avoidable) expenses can indeed be avoided by keeping everything up to date and keeping some level of surplus on hand in case something does arise. As we progress through our budget conversations, which we will hopefully finish sooner in the year than last year, we will update information on the South Orange website and in our meetings.
We are also getting closer our final list of candidates for Village Administrator. We have an interim VA right now, who is doing an exceptional job, but we are very excited to be getting closer to making the long-term commitment in hiring a full-time new administrator. The administrator serves as the Village’s top municipal employee overseeing all departments and operations under the direction of the Village President and the policies set forth by the Board of Trustees.
I met recently with Seton Hall’s President Gabriel Esteban in a series of what we hope to make monthly meetings to talk about projects each of us are working on, and plan together for the future. For example, creating a joint public safety strategic plan, outlining the investments Seton Hall and South Orange plan to make over the next ten or so years will help us keep costs down while we both continue to improve public safety.
A good example of this is lighting. Although the gaslights are a beautiful (though expensive) foundation to our historic Village, they simply don’t put out a lot of light, and many residents, students and business owners have asked for more lighting in particular areas of town. Unfortunately, many of these areas do not have public electric access, so the only way to install electric lights (that would look exactly like the current gaslights, removing solar as an easy alternative) would be to to tear up the streets - at enormous expense - just to lay the necessary cables. However, as we rebuild streets, curbs and sidewalks we can plan for this by laying electrical cables now, reducing the marginal cost of providing better lighting in those areas in the future.
On the environmental front, South Orange recently received almost $10,000 from Sustainable Jersey, which we plan on using to purchase electric vehicle charging stations to put downtown in one of the commuter lots. Additionally we are planning to put solar panels on our public works roof as well as are renovating Village Hall in a way so that we can use geothermal power in the future. You can find more environmental news at http://www.southorangeenvironment.org/.
These are just a fraction of the projects underway, including the Planning Board giving approval for the old Beifus site, getting ready to put out an RFP for development on Valley and 3rd, investing in new police camera/license plate scanner technologies, and possibly migrating South Orange’s email infrastructure to Google to reduce costs and provide better redundancy and ease of use. Lots of exciting things happening, keep up to date at southorange.org or let me know if you have any questions!