Thank you to the many residents who continue to make donations and organize the mobilization of these supplies to Ukraine. As a reminder, we are continuing to accept donations of first aid supplies, toiletries, tools, clothing, and paper products in the Westfield Police Department, which will be collected by the County as part of their larger effort to ship and distribute these items to the many Ukrainians in need.
WHS STATE CHAMPIONS
It has been a very exciting few weeks for Westfield High School athletics and Blue Devils pride. Big congratulations go out to the Westfield High School Girls Basketball, Boys Winter Track, and Girls Swimming teams for bringing home the state trophy! We are in the process of organizing a date to honor these amazing student athletes at an upcoming Town Council meeting, and we look forward to having them here to recognize their tremendous achievements.
WALK THE CHALK
A big thanks to the Human Relations Advisory Commission (HRAC) for organizing the Walk the Chalk event at Jefferson School last week. Students, faculty, and parents chalked messages of kindness on the same place where racist graffiti was recently discovered. Thanks to everyone who participated, including Jefferson School PTO principal Dr. Hung, HRAC Chair Gary Mandelblatt, HRAC liaison Councilman Scott Katz, Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, Commissioner Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded, Chief Battiloro, and Rabbi Ethan Prosnit from Temple Emanu-El. I was happy to see so many residents join us to reaffirm that hate has no home in Westfield.
I also want to thank the Knollwood Terrace neighbors who joined Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, myself, and various Town officials last week to tour the Robinson’s Branch creek with members of the Army Corps of Engineers and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Robinson’s Branch and other flood prone areas of town, which are all part of the Rahway River watershed, will now be included in a larger study of the entire region by the Corps to identify flood mitigation solutions. I hope everyone can appreciate what a big deal it is to have these agencies focused on Westfield.
In the meantime, they committed to helping us identify short and mid-term flood mitigation measures with recommendations to ultimately be made by the Westfield Infrastructure Resiliency Committee (WIRC).
While there is no easy and quick solution to solving our flooding issues, it was a great first meeting and a giant first step. You’ll hear more about our longer term fiscal priority to address our stormwater infrastructure in tonight’s budget presentation.
2022 MUNICIPAL BUDGET
Speaking of the budget, I want to thank Town Administrator Jim Gildea and CFO Scott Olsen, who worked diligently over the last few months with each Town department to minimize our costs as much as possible without sacrificing services to residents.
I’d also like to thank the Finance Policy Committee – led by Councilwoman Linda Habgood, and joined by Vice Chair Councilman Mark Parmelee, Councilman David Contract, and Councilman Scott Katz – for their many hours of work to produce a budget that reflects the residual challenges presented by the pandemic and the many exciting opportunities for 2022 and beyond.
As you’ll hear about in more detail in tonight’s presentation, despite the ongoing fiscal uncertainties driven by COVID, the Town performed well in 2021, in large part due to reserves, healthy tax collections, and necessary budget reductions made in 2020 to position the Town for success in 2021 and beyond. Importantly, in this challenging environment, we generated $3.6MM in surplus ($1MM more than we generated the previous year) to end 2021 with a $9.4MM surplus balance.
We’re also introducing the capital budget tonight, including the next phase of our unprecedented, multi-year road paving program and an emphasis on drainage improvement projects. Jim and Councilwoman Habgood will be sharing all of the exciting details.
INTRODUCING MAIZE COCKTAILS AND COCINA
Before I hand it over to Councilwoman Habgood to discuss the Finance Policy Committee items, I’d first like to make an exciting announcement about a resolution from that committee to authorize an award of contract to Maize Cocktails and Cocina, a globally inspired Mexican restaurant and cocktail bar to operate at the North Avenue train station building. After a public RFP issuance, we have chosen Maize, run by Chef Jesa Henneberry and experienced restaurateur Kamal Arora of Arora Hospitality Group.
With its globally inspired cocktails and cuisine, casual and lively atmosphere, and thoughtful restoration of a historic building, Maize will play an important role in the revitalization of our downtown, driving additional foot traffic that will benefit all of our local establishments. We are thrilled to partner with Jesa and Kamal, who see the value of a long-term investment in Downtown Westfield.
From family dinners, to watching a game, or to simply grabbing an after-work drink for commuters, Maize will serve as a local community gathering spot and will feature as its centerpiece a square cocktail bar with vaulted ceilings and seating for 25, as well as indoor and outdoor dining and patio seating. With plans to provide live music and entertainment, Maize will anchor the transformation of the North Avenue train station parking lot into a permanent pedestrian plaza.
Maize will be able to apply for a New Jersey Concessionaire’s Liquor License since the property is owned by the Town, allowing them to offer a full bar on the premises with plans to feature a wide range of signature cocktails, tequila mezcals, and Mexican spirits. We plan to issue a detailed announcement following the adoption of the resolution tonight, where you can see a rendering of the building and get more details about this very exciting addition to our downtown.
FINANCE POLICY COMMITTEE ITEMS (Remarks by Councilwoman Habgood, Finance Policy Committee Chair)
This is a busy meeting with respect to the Finance Policy Committee, with many annual ministerial actions on the agenda. To provide some context, I’d like to touch upon some of the more notable items. Municipal Budget Introduction
As the Mayor mentioned, we will vote on a resolution to introduce and approve the 2022 Municipal Budget. This provides us with an important public forum to discuss the Town’s financial health and priorities, and to address questions from our residents about how we are putting your tax dollars to work through responsible fiscal management, investment spending, and strategically utilizing our regenerating surplus.
As you’ll see in our presentation, the Town is in excellent financial condition, thanks to the ongoing diligence of our Town professionals and the foundation we’ve laid in the previous years’ budgeting strategy. We are very fortunate to have weathered the past two years with regeneration of our surplus under very trying financial conditions, and I look forward to sharing the details of our 2021 performance and 2022 plans later in the meeting. I want to remind residents who aren’t able to be here for in-person comments on the budget that they can email their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
after the meeting, in anticipation of the public hearing and budget adoption at our April 26 meeting.Capital Budget Introduction
Tonight, we’ll also introduce our $3.2M 2022 Capital Budget, which is part of our six-year Capital Plan for infrastructure improvements. The appropriations in 2022, to be funded by the issuance of bonds proposed in the introduction of tonight’s ordinance, will support road paving and drainage upgrades, DEP approved stream cleanings in Mindowaskin and Fairview, public safety items for the Fire and Police Departments, Town building enhancements, park improvements, DPW equipment, and the design phase for sanitary sewer pump stations.
We’ll also vote on a resolution to adopt a temporary capital budget, which is required as we are introducing our capital budget ordinance prior to the municipal budget being adopted.Resolutions
I also want to point out the resolution to defer local school tax, which is done annually in connection with the municipal budget, as the Town is the collector of taxes and the school and Town are on different fiscal years.
There is also a resolution to introduce and approve the 2022 Special Improvement District budget, which was approved by the SID/DWC Board of Directors and requires the same budget approval process as our municipal budget.
On a separate note, we’ll be voting on a resolution to urge the swift passage of S-330, a legislative bill that is currently in the State Senate to restore State Aid (in our case, Energy Tax Receipts) to municipalities. If this bill is to pass in its current form, it would produce significant additional revenue over the next five years for the Town. A copy of this resolution will be forwarded to our representatives in the State Assembly and State Senate, as well as to Governor Murphy’s office and the League of Municipalities.
CODE REVIEW AND TOWN PROPERTY COMMITTEE ITEMS(Remarks by Councilwoman Mackey, Code Review & Town Property Committee Vice Chair)
Tonight we’re introducing an ordinance authorizing the consumption of alcoholic beverages outdoors in certain parts of our downtown, which stems from a recent State law adoption that allows municipalities to designate outdoor areas for this purpose. The open container areas established in this ordinance are the result of consultation with the Downtown Westfield Corporation, Town Clerk’s office, Police Chief, and the Code Review & Town Property Committee members, and include the sidewalks, parklets, and streets when they are closed to vehicular traffic for events on Quimby Street, East Broad from Prospect to Elm, and Elm Street from North Avenue to East Broad. Foundation Park and the area of Central Avenue near Quimby are also included when the Town or the DWC is sponsoring an event for the public in those areas, such as the annual Sweet Sounds Festival.
This legislation would allow residents and visitors to open and consume packaged alcoholic beverages in these areas, which have long been hubs of entertainment and activity, with additional foot traffic driven by the implementation of Open Quimby over the past two years. Adopting an open container law here will help further assist local businesses, and is consistent with the intent of the new legislation allowing consumers to purchase alcohol for individual consumption.
As you can see, we have many exciting developments materializing as we continue our long-term planning in our areas of priority to position us well for the future. We have a lot to cover tonight – with that, let’s get to work.