We have seen a substantial improvement in COVID trends since our last Town Council meeting just two weeks ago. Today, New Jersey hospitalizations declined for the seventh consecutive day and the state’s seven-day average for new confirmed positive tests is now down 47% from a week ago and 29% from a month ago.
At his weekly COVID briefing yesterday, Governor Murphy said that state health officials are optimistic about the declining rate of transmission and test positivity rate. And with overall hospitalizations dropping significantly over the past week, it’s important to note that these numbers are still higher than those with the two prior surges. Health officials continue to stress the positive impact of booster shots, stating that the chances of hospitalization or death from COVID is three times lower than having just the initial vaccination. Please get vaccinated, get boosted, and continue to mask up so that we can keep this trend moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful that, with continued momentum of reduced cases, we can return to in-person meetings in the near future.
As always, we will have Westfield’s weekly numbers to report on Friday with respect to cases and vaccination rates.
FINANCE POLICY COMMITTEE ITEMS (Remarks by Councilwoman Habgood, Finance Policy Committee Chair)2022 Budget
It’s budget season, and the Finance Policy Committee of the Town Council, along with our Town Administrator, CFO, and department heads, are hard at work reviewing our 2021 performance and planning for this year. As part of that process, I invite you to join the Finance Policy Committee forum on Thursday night at 7:00PM to review the performance of the 2021 budget, provide an overview of the 2022 budget process, and solicit input from residents prior to this year's budget formation. This is the fourth year we’ve provided this public meeting forum as part of this administration’s ongoing commitment to a transparent and public municipal budget process. This year’s discussion will take place via Zoom and can be accessed at bit.ly/2022WestfieldPublicBudgetForum
. Sewer Fee Ordinance
Tonight, we are hearing an ordinance on first reading regarding our sewer fees. To be clear, this ordinance is not setting or implementing any new rates. Rather, it amends the current “not to exceed” rates for annual sewer fees, which were last updated in 2014.
As you may recall, the sewer fee was raised in 2020 in order to bring the Town’s subsidy back to its originally intended level of 50% after many years of increases issued to us by the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority (RVSA). We are anticipating that the RVSA will raise their rates again in 2022 due to rising costs. When that information becomes available in the coming weeks, we will be able to make a decision on whether a rate increase is necessary in residential and commercial bills. Any new rates, if needed, would then be voted on by resolution at an upcoming meeting. In parallel, we’re continuing to look at the viability of implementing a consumption-based sewer fee model in 2023, which would allow us to issue bills based on usage rather than flat fees, as well as promote water conservation as part of our sustainability efforts.
CODE REVIEW AND TOWN PROPERTY COMMITTEE ITEMS(Remarks by Councilman Parmelee, Code Review & Town Property Committee Chair) Affordable Housing Trust Fund
We will be voting on a resolution authorizing the release of funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to the Arc of Union County to be used towards development of a single-family group home at 901 Morris Avenue. The Arc of Union County is a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of individuals of all ages with intellectual and developmental disabilities
For background, our Affordable Housing Trust Fund currently has over $2M, which has accrued from contributions we’ve required from developers so that this fund is not subsidized by taxpayer money. Tonight’s proposed transfer is for $192,908.
The Arc of Union County purchased the property at 901 Morris from a private owner, and now has plans for a single detached home for special needs housing, which would contain four beds. All zoning requirements such as building setback, height, and coverage requirements are the same as for any other property in the RS-10 zone district in which the neighborhood is located.
As part of our continued priority to responsibly fulfill our Affordable Housing requirements, this funding transfer would help further the goal specified in our settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing Center to work with non-profit affordable housing obligations to create 20 additional homes, half for families, by the end of 2025. This goal was approved by the Superior Court, when they approved our settlement and housing plan. We have a number of group homes in Westfield already, all of which have the appearance of detached single-family homes.
Beyond our actual obligations, our community is one that values diversity among our housing and our residents, and is committed to prioritizing the inclusivity that is enabled by this project. We look forward to welcoming these residents to their new home when it is completed.Public Comment Ordinance
Also on first reading tonight is an ordinance amending the public comment time from ten minutes to five minutes. We are incredibly fortunate to have the level of public engagement that we see here in Westfield. With many topics of importance to residents discussed at each meeting, our goal is to create an opportunity for as many members of the public to speak as possible – which is more challenging if every speaker chooses to use their full ten minutes.
The Code Review and Town Property Committee reviewed common practices from Union County municipalities and found that almost all have a limit of three to five minutes, which is also standard across much of the state. The committee, both in its 2021 and 2022 configurations, unanimously agreed on a bipartisan basis that five minutes is a prudent approach that allows for both ample speaking time per person, as well as more speakers at the microphone in each meeting.
With the anticipated action on many important initiatives this year, it will be valuable to hear from as many members of the public as possible so that all points of view are recorded as part of any legislative decision-making process.
COMMUNITY DISCUSSION ON DISRUPTING HATE
On February 3, please join the MLK Association of Westfield, in partnership with the Human Relations Advisory Commission, for a community discussion entitled Disrupt Hate – Working Toward an Inclusive Westfield
. The objectives of this discussion are to reflect on recent incidents of hate and discuss actions that all residents can take to create an inclusive Westfield.
You are welcome to attend in person at Westfield High School, or via live stream, with additional details available at bit.ly/Accountability-Action-Against-Hate
POLICE MILITARY EQUIPMENT
Tonight, we are voting on a resolution to authorize participation this year in the Law Enforcement Support Officer (LESO) Program in order to authorize disposal of the remaining military equipment acquired through the program over many years that is no longer needed. In 2019 and 2020, our participation in LESO allowed us to begin this process and dispose of many pieces of unused equipment, clearing out an area in the Conservation Center which is now utilized to support our expanded recycling efforts and provide storage for our DPW operations. Many thanks to DPW Director Greg O’Neil and Chief Battiloro and for their leadership in this area.
In closing, as we think about the many aspects of law enforcement and the incredible job that our Police Department performs every day, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the tragic loss of two of NYPD’s finest over the last few days. Officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora were both young and full of promise as their lives were taken from them in the line of duty by a senseless criminal act. It’s a stark reminder not only of the dangers that a career in law enforcement poses, but also of the bravery and commitment demonstrated by police officers every day, in every town. We are extremely fortunate to have the professionalism of the Westfield Police Department protecting our community, and we thank them for all they do in the face of uncertain and sometimes very dangerous circumstances. We are grateful beyond measure.
With that, let’s get to work.