2022 State of the Town Address
I now have the privilege of delivering the State of the Town address, reflecting on key 2021 accomplishments and 2022 priorities, including the vision we have set in motion for our future.
First and foremost, I’m happy to report that the state of our Town remains strong, and that we have almost fully recovered from the fiscal challenges and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. In spite of our current COVID challenges, signs of optimism abound as evidenced in the recent number of ribbon cuttings I’ve attended, the numerous new businesses that have announced their intention to open, the commitment that some of our existing businesses and commercial property owners have made to double down on their local investment, and importantly to all of us, a booming real estate market where housing values in Westfield rose almost 20% this past year. It’s important to appreciate these silver linings while we continue to weather this seemingly never ending pandemic.
Our strength continues to lie in the dedication of our Town employees, the enduring commitment and volunteerism of our residents, and the resiliency of our business community.
I am proud of the following accomplishments this Council made on many fronts this year:
Successfully managed our pandemic fiscal recovery and the successful restoration of Town services, maintaining ample surplus and AAA bond rating
Paved 15 miles of roads, bringing our four-year total to 43 miles, almost half the Town
Attained Police Department state professional accreditation for the first time in Town history
Managed the clean up and recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Ida, including the first-ever storm related bulky waste pick up by Town’s DPW
Completed and adopted the Town’s first-ever Land Use and Circulation Plan, finalizing the last step of the Master Plan and providing a holistic roadmap for future growth
Adopted 29 general ordinances which included historic designations, increasing fines tenfold on graffiti bias crimes, licensing of landscapers, outlawing private residential pool rentals, and more
Introduced Edison School field proposal in collaboration with BOE
Adopted Redevelopment Plan and PILOT agreement for Westfield Crossing on South Avenue, providing an anticipated $15M net revenue benefit to the Town
Allowed for the adaptive reuse of the Handler Building on North Avenue to be converted to the region’s first hydroponic vertical farm
Continued to emphasize voluntary historic designation, with two additional historic properties designated at property owners’ request – bringing the total to seven in this administration, the most in Town history
Adopted ordinance to allow for makerspaces downtown which precipitated and enabled the Rialto’s transformation into the Center for Creativity
Launched new and enhanced Town website, allowing for enhanced automation, online payment, and communication tools
Enhanced and beautified Open Quimby, facilitating a vibrant and successful summer in our downtown
Received $1.3M in pursued grants, the most in decades
Awarded Silver Certification by Sustainable Jersey for the second time in Town history
There is a much more exhaustive list of accomplishments that can be found on the Town website, but I prefer to spend my time this evening focusing on our future where we remain committed to working together to focus on progress, not partisanship.
This year, our key objectives are as follows:
Continue our record of strong fiscal responsibility and management
Protect the health and safety of our residents and employees
Become a premier sustainable town
Upgrade and invest in our parks and fields
Diversify our housing stock; and
Advance plans for revitalizing our Downtown
Specifically, we aim to accomplish the following:
1) Continue our record of strong fiscal responsibility and management
Maintain AAA-bond rating and ample surplus
Prioritize new revenue streams, cost savings, and efficiencies to maximize productivity and hold the line on property taxes, while improving services
Expand and diversify our tax base while exploring new ways to augment our revenue sources
Continue to invest in capital and infrastructure to upgrade equipment and services and mitigate long-term maintenance costs
Continue to execute on unprecedented multi-year paving program, which calls for 80% of Town roads to be paved by 2026, with more than half paid by utility companies
2) Protect the health and safety of our residents and employees
Continue to provide Westfield Police and Fire Departments with adequate resources and equipment to protect our residents and businesses, including:
Adding an additional police officer, which, with four new officers entering the Academy this month, will bring our active duty force to 52, the highest staffing level in history
Expanding the Town’s current body-worn camera program to every officer
Installing License Plate Readers in every patrol car in an effort to further reduce crime and combat auto theft
Prioritize speeding and traffic enforcement to improve pedestrian and traffic safety
Implement recommendations of traffic, pedestrian, and circulation plan to mitigate congestion and improve pedestrian safety
Ensure adequate staffing and funding of Regional Health Department to proactively address and manage future health crises
3) Continue progress towards becoming a premier sustainable town
Continue the transformation of the Conservation Center to a premier regional recycling facility and revenue generator for the Town
Prioritize storm water mitigation measures by allocating resources based upon short and long-term recommendations by the newly created Westfield Infrastructure Resilience Committee (WIRC) comprised of resident volunteers and key staff members
Continue to support Green Team efforts to engage and educate the public and business community through various public events, fairs, and sustainability initiatives
Require best sustainable and green building practices in all new development
4) Upgrade our parks and fields
Designate specific capital budget annually to support maintenance and necessary basic park improvements, such as bathrooms, water fountains, lighting, etc.
Prioritize the creation of new playing fields as recommended in the Strategic Parks Plan, starting with the Edison Field proposal
Create a detailed Master Plan for Tamaques Park in partnership with the County and assess potential for relocation of the Westfield Rink, additional parking, dog park, and bike and walking trails
Implement parking, safety, and restroom improvements to Houlihan/Sid Fay
Continue cleanup and capital improvements to Brightwood Park in collaboration with Friends of Brightwood
Plan for new playground at Windsor Park and new South Avenue public park to be paid for by Westfield Crossing developer
5) Diversify our housing stock to ensure young people can afford to live here, and seniors can afford to stay
Ensure fulfillment of Westfield’s Affordable Housing obligations while mitigating concerns over traffic, infrastructure, and school enrollment
Reclaim control over high profile development projects by negotiating favorable redevelopment agreements that require higher quality architectural and construction standards, traffic mitigation measures, and public improvements
And lastly, and probably most significantly:
6) Advance our plans for revitalizing our historic Downtown to ensure it remains vibrant for generations to come
In the short-term, continue to evolve Downtown beautification efforts by enhancing Open Quimby, parklets, and outdoor spaces and expanding programming to draw downtown visitors
In 1Q, finalize agreement with operator to convert northside train station into a restaurant/bar, and open southside coffee kiosk
Engage the public in evaluating downtown/Lord and Taylor redevelopment plan by Lord & Taylor property owner, Streetworks Development, with anticipated 2Q public presentation
Aim to create a fiscally responsible smart growth plan that enables a new downtown live/work/play ecosystem with improved streetscapes, vibrant public gathering spaces, and additional living and working options to support and sustain our local businesses for the long-term
Implement a long-overdue downtown parking solution that meets the needs of post-COVID commuters, employees, and shoppers
Continue to prioritize the arts by incorporating murals, street art, and outdoor exhibits into all economic development efforts and elevating Westfield as a preeminent cultural destination, partnering with the Rialto as an anchor
We have an ambitious agenda, and it will take all of us working together to bring these goals to fruition as we strive to build an even brighter future. To achieve this, we must not fear change or progress, but rather embrace it, while we continue to prioritize maintaining our “small town” character which attracted so many of us here in the first place. To ensure Westfield remains healthy and vibrant, we need to evolve, adapt, and grow so that all are welcome and feel at home here.
Which brings me to my final point. While we’ve made strides on so many fronts, troubling signs of division and hate have appeared in our schools and playgrounds over the past few years. I don’t believe these acts are reflective of our community at-large, but how we respond to them does define us. And we must answer: Who do we want to be?
From the abundant love and compassion I’ve witnessed in this community during the pandemic, we already know who we are. We just need to work harder to denounce those who seek division, and actively and publicly stand up for each other. Let’s heed the call from our Westfield clergy in a recently shared video of solidarity, “We need the light. Here. Now. Let’s Shine Together.” I firmly commit to leading that charge in the year ahead and making this one of my administration's most important priorities.
In closing, I look forward to the days when COVID is no longer mentioned in this annual address. In spite of its lingering challenges, I’m proud to affirm that the state of our Town is exceptionally strong, and we are well poised to capitalize on a post-pandemic future.
I will ask once again that you continue to hold us accountable for delivering on our commitments to you, and approach this year with gratitude for our families, community, service, and health.
It remains a privilege to be your mayor. God bless our great community and country. Happy New Year! Be the Light!