Happy New Year!
I'm excited for 2013... I think this year will bring many challenges, but many opportunities as well. And although I am beginning the planning for 2013's State Of The Village address (which will be much more in depth), I wanted to recap some of the great things from 2012 that we accomplished in South Orange. And make no mistake... these kinds of achievements take a team working together. No one can go at it alone, and we saw the amazing teamwork, not just among village staff but our entire community this year so many times (Most notably in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy). Here are some notables:
- The second lowest tax increase in over a decade. (The first lowest being the 2011 budget). Read more about the budget and the exciting new transparency tools building upon last year's precedent setting release of the budget in downloadable spreadsheet.
- The creation of a downtown management corporation called the South Orange Village Center Alliance, which is a turbocharged version of Main Street, with more access to grants and funding sources, that will help local merchants invest back into our downtown and continue to grow it to continue to help make our village a more attractive arts/culture/food destination for Northern New Jersey. Check out their new website.
- The approval (finally!) of plans to build on the former Beifus Site, now known as South Orange Commons. This site will house 57 rental apartments as well as premium retail space - and 100 parking spaces for residents and shoppers. What will be a long awaited and beautiful addition to our downtown.
- The selection of Jonathan Rose as a conditional redeveloper for the Valley and Third Street redevelopment project, which will bring in over 200 rental apartments and a 600-700 car parking garage where only surface parking exists now, as well as retail opportunities. Read more.
- The (grant-funded) installation of three Electric Vehicle chargers in our downtown - another great sustainable initiative.
- The movement away from outdated technology backbones: Moving our archaic and downtime-prone email system to Google's cloud-based Google Apps, and the switch to a new, streamlined, powerful emergency notification system (EverBridge), the beginning of a complete overhaul and redesign of the southorange.org website into something that will be more user-friendly and include ramped up interactive tools, as well as continued investment in backup power at critical public safety buildings, nearing completion of a village-wide fiber optic network, and multiple upgrades to our public safety communication systems. Several of these initiatives were funded by an OEM grant I found last year, and we hope to find more grants to help continue these upgrades throughout 2013.
- We faced an incredibly destructive storm, leaving over 80% of people in town without power, some for up to two weeks. Although the Village responded swiftly and professionally, and took advantage of new resources like Twitter and the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) to help respond, there is much work to be done in advocating to the state for better preparedness from utility companies.
- Dozens of new businesses opened in South Orange this year, from Pandang's highly acclaimed Thai food, to Love & Yogurt's Frozen Yogurt, to the Indulgence Day Spa, Portougese BBQ, nicknack store "Stuff," or one of many new eateries on Irvington Ave, such as Lalibela. South Orange's downtown is expanding and if you're interested in helping out with that, head over to the Village Center Alliance's website.
- We are re-structuring the Village's debt, with special thanks to Trustee Howard Levison and Administrator Barry Lewis for being strong fiscal watchdogs for the Village, as these changes in our debt structure will literally save the Village millions of dollars over the coming years. This is sustainable and responsible budget planning. Now if only Congress could do the same...
- Continued negotiation with New Jersey Transit over the train schedules and a number of issues, which at this point, have not been concluded in our favor (yet). But working with our state Assembly members John McKeon and Mila Jasey as well as our Senate Representative Governor Richard Codey and County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, we have been able to successfully keep pressure on NJ Transit, and are hopeful for a resolution in South Orange's favor and further investment in the commuter experience for South Orange (and Livingston and West Orange) residents. Have to thank Trustee Mark Rosner for being extremely proactive with this initiative.
- We successfully halted, at least for now, a bill that would give private universities complete exemption from local zoning laws. Working with the league of municipalities and other local officials, I was able to help represent South Orange residents' interests and keep the pressure on the legislature and show them the negative consequences these changes would have to our communities. Our advocacy resulted in this Star Ledger editorial about this issue here.
- We have created a historic preservation commission, re-established the Public Information and Marketing Committee and are continuing to see our Community Emergency Response Team grow. More and more residents are getting to be part of the governance process and be active in town, and this will only continue as we find more ways for residents to be active.
- The Village, along with the Citizens Public Safety Committee (especially the CPSC Chair, Sheena Collum) was able to raise nearly $30,000 for the all-volunteer and donation funded South Orange Rescue Squad with a hugely successful fundraiser/golf outing - in fact the most successful in the Rescue Squad's history. (You can still donate to the Rescue Squad).
- The FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows a marked decreased in crime in South Orange from 2010 to 2011, and we have no one but the dedicated men and women of the SOPD to thank for their vigilance in keeping our streets safe.
- A personal passion of mine, we have continued to lead the way on Open Government issues. We have gained praise from organizations like the NJ ACLU and the NJ Foundation for Open Government, for things such as increased use of social media and video communication, putting the budget online in a downloadable, editable spreadsheet, adding a second public comment period to Board meetings, as well as exploring a number of initiatives to be proactive about Open Public Records Act requests, contract information and transparency in a number of other processes. South Orange has, and will continue to, lead the way in transparent Government 2.0 in New Jersey.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what has happened in town this year, and I'm sure to have left out some projects of particular interest to people so stay tuned for the announcement of the 2013 State Of The Village address, tentatively scheduled for Late February/early March, which will give more of a look towards what will happen in 2013 and going forward. Many of these projects mentioned are ongoing, and we are excited for a year of downtown growth, further long-term budget stabilization and more ways to get residents involved in our government and community.
And please note my office hours have changed, and are now every Monday from 5-7pm in Village Hall. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you'd like to schedule a time slot, or feel free to drop by!
I wish everyone a safe and happy new year, and hope to meet so many more of you throughout 2013 as we all work together for South Orange's future!
ps don't forget to make sure you and your family are signed up for emergency notifications from the Village: http://southorange.org/alerts