De Luca began by congratulating Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee on his re-election and his first day of his second three-year term.
"I am sure you will continue to accomplish great things over the next 1,095 days in office," he said.
"The state of Maplewood is outstanding," said De Luca, calling the Township an "attractive, safe and welcoming community."
De Luca spoke about home sales, construction, township recognitions, same-sex marriages, economic development and public safety in 2013 and looks forward to safer streets and integrating arts with the business community in 2014.
High property taxes is another issue to be tackled in 2014, he added.
The State of the Township Address in its entirety is as follows:
Happy New Year!
Congratulations Marlon on the first day of your second three-year term. I am sure you will continue to accomplish great things over the next 1,095 days in office.
Thank you to my colleagues for electing me as Mayor for my ninth year. We work well together as a team, sometimes agreeing and other times expressing our differences. But in the end we make decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the 24,000 residents of our community.
I am happy to report that the State of Maplewood is outstanding. We continue to be an attractive, safe and welcoming community to which people are choosing to move, to invest and to open up businesses.
In the first 11 months of 2013, 291 homes were sold in town. On average these homes were on the market for less than two months and the average sale price was over $494,000, representing almost 99 percent of the final list price.
The Maplewood Building Department reports that last year we had over $20 million worth of construction work done in town, with nearly 200 building permits issued. The vacancy rate in our major commercial districts is in the single digits and we get calls weekly from business people wanting to come to Maplewood.
The Maplewood brand remains strong and our reputation throughout the state is very positive.
So let’s look back at 2013. Thankfully, we had no hurricanes, Halloween storms, earthquakes or days without electricity or water. But we were prepared for the worst. A generator was installed at town hall so that critical government functions can continue. Another generator was installed at our emergency shelter, the Community Center in DeHart Park, so that those in need can find lights, heat, cooling and comfort.
It was a year for Maplewood to be recognized. We were congratulated as one of only 66 municipalities in the state to have passed a Complete Streets policy enabling safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Under Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal’s guidance, Maplewood received Silver Certification from Sustainable Jersey, the highest level attainable and a certification only 21 other New Jersey municipalities have achieved. And our retail recruitment campaign, “Amazing Opportunities in Maplewood,” won a Certificate for Special Recognition for Innovative Programs from the NJ League of Municipalities. I want to thank Annette DePalma, our Director of Community Relations, for her work on this.
It also was a year for surprises; we bought the Woman’s Club. Last year at this time we had no idea the planned sale of the building to a private party would fall through. With the building back on the market, the Township Committee analyzed the situation and decided that purchasing one acre of land in our downtown was something we could not pass up. So for $1 million we bought the property. We immediately created 51 new public parking spaces and retained a building with a rich history of community events and programs. Later this month you will hear more about plans to create a partnership with local civic groups to operate the facility for the public. And in upcoming months the Township Committee will be designating the building as an historic site.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in 2013 was marriage equality. First there was the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that portions of the Defense of Marriage Act were unconstitutional. We celebrated the decision that day with a rally on the steps of town hall.
Then New Jersey Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that same sex marriage would be allowed starting on October 21st. Again we were in the forefront, sponsoring Marriage Equality Day in Maplewood during which marriages were performed from noon through the evening. It was an exciting day personally and for our town to be part of this historic event. Our actions that day showed once again what an inclusive community Maplewood truly is. I want to thank Township Clerk Elizabeth Fritzen and Deputy Clerk Sonya Harrison for their extraordinary efforts leading up to and on that day.
On the economic development front we were very busy. The Township Committee adopted two redevelopment plans, one for the post office property on Maplewood Avenue and the other for the former Public Service Electric and Gas property on Boyden Avenue. On January 7th the Township Committee will consider designating L&M Garden State Associates LLC as the redeveloper for the Post Office Site, and Park Place LLC as the redeveloper for the PSE&G site. We expect work to start by the summer on both properties.
This month the Planning Board will review the site plan for a new CVS on Valley Street at the former A&P supermarket and there are new stores set to open on Springfield Avenue. The first 63 apartments at Maplewood Crossing on Burnett Avenue are fully rented and the second phase of 63 units is due to open in the spring.
In 2014 we will focus energies on Irvington Avenue. We received a major grant from Together North Jersey to develop an action plan to revitalize the Irvington Avenue area into a safer, more cohesive and desirable neighborhood in which to live, shop and own a business. We will be working on this initiative with area merchants, residents, schools and the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce. Irvington Avenue has unique challenges and opportunities and we finally will be able to direct financial resources to the area.
Public safety is a primary concern of the Township Committee. We know that residents, business owners, shoppers and visitors must feel safe and secure in our community. Under the leadership of Chief Cimino, our police department is doing a great job. I am happy to report that last year we had a 5.5 percent decrease from 2012 in the eight major crime categories. Burglaries, a growing problem in 2012 to which we responded with extra attention, were down 19 percent in 2013.
Unfortunately, the number of robberies and car thefts increased. In response the Township Committee’s Public Safety Committee authorized the Chief to use overtime to initiate extra high profile police details, including checkpoints and engagement with pedestrians in areas where robberies occurred. The Enhanced Enforcement Program is designed to provide a visible deterrent to criminals and restore a sense of security. In 2014 we will continue with these efforts, including deploying police officers in proactive ways to address spikes in criminal activities.
Civilians also have a role to play in keeping our community safe. Township Committee Members Marlon Brownlee and India Larrier organized the Maplewood Community Action Program to bring together neighborhood leaders from throughout town to share ideas and strategies on how to maintain a high quality of life in our community. MCAP is a partner with the police department and there is plenty of room for other neighborhoods to get on board.
We also need to get on board with getting illegal guns off our streets. Last year in Maplewood, firearms were used in 17 crimes, up from 13 in 2012. Our neighbor Newark had what the Star Ledger reported today as the “most violent 12-month stretch in nearly a quarter-century.” There were 111 murders in 2013, Newark’s highest since 1990. And nationally, gun homicides are the leading cause of death among black teens. The Children’s Defense Fund reports that young black males die from gun violence at a rate 2.5 times higher than Latino males and eight times higher than white males.
It is time as a society that we say enough is enough. I will continue my work with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns to get common sense legislation passed to better regulate the sale of firearms and ammunition. The Township Committee passed a resolution calling on Congress to act now. We can’t just talk about the rights of gun owners and not address the rights of all of us to live without fear of being the next victim.
We accomplished a great deal more in 2013. The Township launched a mobile app; the library joined a 75 North Jersey consortium that will give our library users access to more than five million library items; and the Fire Department fought close to 90 fires and responded to over 1,200 emergency medical service incidents. We opened the swimming pool earlier and began construction on the long awaited Ridgewood Road Drainage Improvement Project.
For a while shared services were the buzz words among municipalities and Maplewood has been a leader here too. We have over a dozen service agreements with South Orange, Irvington, Millburn, Springfield and the Board of Education and we are about to create a couple of more. In fact, Sustainable Jersey gave us its 2013 Collaborative Award for the work our Green Team is doing with the teams in Millburn and South Orange to address sustainability issues on a regional scale. If there are ways in which we can save money and/or provide better and more efficient services, we will pursue opportunities to share.
None of the above could have been accomplished without strong leadership. Township Business Administrator Joseph Manning is that leader. He is a professional, who recently was recognized by his peers in public administration. Thank you Joe for your service to the community.
The Township Committee relies on two other key people - Township Attorney Roger Desiderio and Township Clerk Elizabeth Fritzen. Without them we would be hurting.
And I want to recognize our department heads and Township employees who do a terrific job in serving the people of Maplewood. Would all of you please stand so we can properly thank you?
So enough looking in the real view mirror, let’s talk about 2014.
As I mentioned earlier, we will be moving ahead with new developments at the post office, the most important site in town, and the former PSE&G property. Over the next few months there will be plenty of opportunity for the community to weigh in on site plans and building designs. The next six months will be the time for constructive input and we welcome your participation.
We need to make our streets safer for pedestrians. I hear many complaints about cars that do not stop at identified crosswalks. Even my wife is on my case. We will be looking at new technology that will make crosswalks clearer. We also will remind drivers that state law requires them to stop. And we will continue with our enforcement efforts so that drivers finally get the message.
Culture is critical to our community and we will ratchet up our job of promoting the arts. Under the leadership of Township Committee Jerry Ryan and the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs we will create a comprehensive plan for arts offerings and promotion. We also will work with the Maplewood Village Alliance and Springfield Avenue Partnership to integrate arts with the business community, sponsoring cross-promotional activities that benefit all parties. And we hope to coordinate our local events with state-wide activities in honor of New Jersey’s 350th birthday.
We will promote Maplewood as a Festival Town. We already have a slew of outdoor activities including Green Day, MayFest, Memorial Day Parade, the Duck Race, July 4th, Maplewood Woodstock, HarvestFest, Maplewood Loves Wellness, Village Art Walk and Community Band Concerts. We will coordinate these and other events and promote the town as a place for festivals and fun.
Maplewood is just four square miles and it is critical that people who live in all parts of town feel connected as one community. In 2014 we will continue our efforts to involve all of Maplewood’s people. In particular we will reach those who are foreign born and households where English is a second language. Our Health Department and Library are doing some interesting work in this area and we want to see it expanded throughout Township government.
I thought I might get away without speaking about the high property taxes in town. Unfortunately, there is little likelihood that Governor Christie will restructure taxes in this state to reduce the dependency on the property tax. So we are virtually on our own without a lot of options.
Nevertheless, this Township Committee takes its responsibilities as a financial steward very seriously. In 2009 we reduced the municipal workforce by nearly ten percent. And in the last three municipal budgets the average property tax increase was a real two percent per year without any budget exclusions. We will be meeting this Saturday at 9:00am to begin discussing the 2014 budget and I can assure you that high taxes are on the minds of all five of us up here.
Many of you are volunteers with the Township or in the community. We thank each of you for your contribution to civic life and for making our community the best it can be. We appreciate the time you take from your personal life to contribute to the betterment of all. Please stay involved and active and if you have not had a chance to volunteer, there still is time for you to join up.
I am excited about the future of Maplewood. I hope you are too.
Thank you very much.