Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Hiatus Supersizes Council Agenda

Monday’s City Council agenda was jam-packed with reports, presentations, discussion items, 88 resolutions and four ordinances, with more items from closed session to be added for Wednesday’s regular meeting. The lengthy meeting was the price to be paid for having only one voting meeting this month.

The regular meeting will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday (June 20) in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. It will most likely be much shorter than Monday’s session, as many items will be approved in a single “consent agenda” vote.

Among Monday’s items:

Councilman Don Davis, who serves as liaison to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, said solid waste and sewer rates will increase as of July 1. The authority approved rate hikes in April that will increase solid waste charges for a single family home from $133.02 quarterly to $159.65 and sewer charges from $106 to $127.25. The 20 percent increases come after three years of flat rates and were due to higher costs for fuel, maintenance, disposal and benefits. Davis said the authority tried to stave off increases through staff furloughs.

Councilwoman Linda Carter described plans for a multi-event “National Night Out” that will run several weeks. Among the events are a July 17 “Taste of Plainfield” and nights when each of the city’s four wards can demonstrate against crime, a Youth Day and an appeal to churches to recognize National Night Out. Volunteers are asked to attend a June 26 meeting at the Save a Life Today headquarters at Liberty and West Sixth Street. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. The culminating event will be a “big block party” at City Hall, Carter said.

The council will be asked to give final approval Wednesday to amendments to the Land Use Ordinance. The changes deserve a story of their own but suffice it to say for now that several have to do with increasing density. The document is on file in the Planning Office and the City Clerk’s office.

The city plans to establish a new communications center on the fourth floor of City Hall Annex. It will include a “server farm” and will link City Hall, the Annex, police headquarters and Municipal Court. Finance Director Ray Daniels said police and fire already have their own systems.
“This will close the loop,” he said.
The mention of three remote “home office“ connections caught this writer’s eye. Daniels explained that nobody will be telecommuting, it is just an option that may be used for emergency services.

Next up was Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig, who gave a PowerPoint presentation on his proposed reorganization of the Police Division, including elimination of the position of police chief. There is a preliminary post on Plaintalker from last night, but a further explanation will be posted later.

“Changes are needed,” Hellwig said. He outlined how each of the five bureaus would be restructured and said he would place an “executive officer” in charge of the division instead of the chief. Current Chief Edward Santiago could then retire or go back to being a captain, Hellwig said.
Santiago gave comments outside the meeting.

While reporters were outside with Santiago, the council discussed several other items, including new state storm water regulations and a raft of liquor license matters. Appointments for the Planning Board, Plainfield Public Library Boardand Cultural & Heritage Commission will be up for a vote Wednesday.

Budget matters included setting a 2.48 percent increase in the municipal tax for the first and second quarters of the 2008 fiscal year that starts July 1.

A revised redevelopment resolution for the North Avenue extension may be up for a vote, as well as a fireworks agreement and several other Public Works & Urban Development matters.

The council was asked to approve liens against 12 properties that had to be cleaned up at public expense because owners did not remove trash and debris or clear tall grass and weeds. The lowest lien was $243.21 and the highest was $5,496.85. The liens total $28,475.47 and the moral is, clean up your property yourself.

Three bond ordinances will be up for first reading Wednesday. One is for $7 million to repair roads, the second is for $1.2 million to pay for information technology upgrades and the third is for various improvements at a cost of $1.3 million.

There were even a few more items on the agenda. Almost every one could have been developed into a separate news story. I will try to break some out in the next few days. This situation of too much on the platter will happen again in July and August, each month having just one regular City Council meeting.

--Bernice Paglia


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