CARTERET — Mayor Dan Reiman joined with Carteret residents, local business owners, and state and county dignitaries on Wednesday, March 6, to deliver his annual State of the Borough Address. The Mayor discussed his administration’s achievements in 2012, as well as projects and improvements slated for the coming year.
Reiman highlighted Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, a balanced municipal budget, downsizing local government, borough-wide capital improvements, economic growth within Carteret’s business community, parks improvements and redevelopment projects that include Washington Avenue’s medical arts complex, the new State Police Marine Barracks at Waterfront Park, and the remediation of industrial properties.
The full text of the speech, as prepared for delivery, is printed below:
Good afternoon, members of the Borough Council, honored guests, friends and residents.
We have come together to acknowledge the achievements of the past year and to discuss the prospects and plans for the coming year.
This is my opportunity to thank you for all that you have done, to make Carteret a better place to live, and to work.
It is also an opportunity for each of us to re-commit ourselves to ensuring a brighter future for the town that we call home and for those that come after us!
That commitment is needed now more than ever.
2012 saw an unprecedented natural disaster; deal a direct hit to our region. Carteret residents alone suffered over 50 million dollars in private property damage and millions more to streets, roads, public facilities and parks. We had hundreds of residents displaced, endured the loss of power for eight days and had our emergency response teams, our Borough workforce, and our residents pushed to their limits.
Through all of the hardships brought on by Hurricane Sandy, I often thought of the old saying, “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”
I am happy to stand before you today and say that I have seen the character of so many of the people of Carteret.
It is strong, it is brave, it is resilient and it is unwavering.
I have witnessed it first hand, in the hundreds of volunteers who committed their time to our shelters, to help with the cleanup, and to staff our food and clothing drives. From those who helped their neighbors, friends and family to others helping by donating clothing and feeding complete strangers. Carteret residents should be proud of how our community came together and helped one another.
It is my honor to be here with you and to present this report to the residents of our community. Whether with us here today or watching from your television or on the web, thank you for taking the time, to be part of a better Carteret, and for your interest in our home town and in the direction that we hope to go.
2012 Hurricane Sandy
It’s impossible to think or talk about 2012 without first discussing the horror and tragedies of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation caused here in Carteret and statewide was staggering, and today 19 weeks later, many of our residents and businesses are still recovering and still rebuilding; and we know, that it will take many more weeks and perhaps years for some things to get back to normal.
We were as prepared as we could be, and better prepared than any of our neighboring towns, to deal with the hurricane, and its aftermath.
Sandy, knocked out power to nearly 97% of Carteret. New York and New Jersey radio and television stations were out for day 1 and 2 of the recovery.
Locally, I recorded and sent no less than 12 emergency voice messages to residents’ cell phones, home phones and email. Some were daily briefings and other messages were timely updates.
We interacted with thousands of residents through social media. I’ve never had much use or interest in Facebook, but for the thousands who joined us immediately after the storm, it provided near instant updates and communication, and allowed us to work directly with so many of our residents.
We learned a lot from the previous storm the year before, called Hurricane Irene. It seems that these 100 and 500 years storms are happening a hell of a lot more frequently; Sandy was the 3rd 100 year storm in 5 years.
After Irene in 2011 and in preparation of Sandy we invested significant dollars into our emergency response capabilities. I directed our Department of Public Works and Office of Emergency Management to ensure that every public works truck was equipped with backup generators and gas pumps so that they were capable of pumping out flooded basements in impacted areas.
We were able to assist hundreds of homeowners, and thousands of residents who were in need. Rather than wait for PSE&G to remove downed power lines that criss crossed our streets, we had private electricians on standby ready to act, and they did!
Rather than wait for the Turnpike Authority and NJDOT to restore power to signalized intersections we acted immediately to provide backup power and generators to run the signals and get the traffic moving safely.
DPW and Parks crews had the streets cleared of downed trees within the first 48 hours; while some towns were still evaluating- we were taking action and getting things done.
When the useless federal bureaucrats from FEMA finally showed up they had no information, no answers, no advice and frankly no clue!
Within 24 hours after the storm, we had already provided our residents with a handout, issued from my office that gave them detailed information about dealing with the aftermath of such a natural disaster.
It provided clean up tips, answers to frequently asked questions and directions on how to file their claims with FEMA and their own insurance companies. Ironically when the FEMA reps eventually showed up they wound up using our handout, because it had more useful, and timely information then what they could provide.
I have never been so proud of my community; to see so many of our residents pulling together and helping one another. The outpouring of compassion and support was enormous and if it weren’t for the emergency service departments, like the Fire Department and volunteer O.E.M., and some members of the Police Department as well as dozens of civilian volunteers who helped feed the displaced and staff the shelters and food banks; I don’t know if we could have come through this as well as we did.
Even with so many challenges, 2012, as in past years, saw a vast number of improvements to our parks system, most notably the completion of Joseph Medwick Park in West Carteret. The Board of Chosen Freeholders invested millions of dollars, and now, thanks to their commitment, we have new football, soccer, baseball, and multiuse fields, along with enhancements and upgrades to nearly every other recreational resource, at Medwick Park, which has truly become a prime example of what a ‘Better Carteret’ looks like. Without costing Carteret a single penny, this 83 acre facility has been rebuilt and has taken its place as a regional recreational complex and a gem for Carteret.
We’ve also made significant progress in our development of Carteret’s waterfront. Just this past year, we were able to acquire funding for our future marina with additional grants from N.J. Green Acres. These funds will allow us to continue with plans to develop the cove at Waterfront Park, an integral part of what will become our Borough’s future marina.
In addition, today we are announcing plans to construct an extension to Waterfront Park’s existing River Walk, north and south along the channel.
And finally, in regard to parks, construction has begun at Carteret Park in what will be a million dollars-worth of upgrades and improvements. Funded by grants, these improvements will include the replacement of walkways, decorative lighting, landscaping, and a children’s spray park, which is sure to become a popular attraction when it opens this summer!
This year we are continuing our efforts in public/private partnerships that bring economic opportunity, tax ratables and job creation to our community.
Among these efforts, rehabilitation of Lower Roosevelt enters its final stages. Here, the Kaplan Companies have begun construction on Phase 3 of the “Gateway at Carteret” Project.”
Driving down Roosevelt Avenue, one can see the new parking decks taking shape. They will provide parking for the soon to be completed 14,000 square feet of “downtown” commercial space and luxury residential units, as this area becomes a new community destination and commercial district, a far cry from the Lower Roosevelt Avenue from just a few years ago.
Recently, The Hampshire Group, one of the largest developers of industrial property in New Jersey, has acquired the abandoned ball glass plant and are redeveloping it into a modern industrial complex.
This project will join Hampshire’s reconstruction of the former Pathmark office building, creating expanded commercial ratables and union construction jobs, as well as long-term permanent employment.
In addition, this past year, Berje, a cosmetics and fragrance giant, chose to redevelop a facility here in Carteret, having acquired and completely remodeled the old Englehard Metals plant.
Eyeing our business districts, the revitalization of the Washington Avenue corridor continues as a top priority.
Ten years ago, if one were to look at Washington Avenue, you would have seen abandoned commercial structures, deteriorating sidewalks, and anything other than pedestrians a ghost town of a commercial district that was anything but inviting.
Our residents and small businesses saw potential, and we saw a host of new businesses culminating in a vibrant, sustainable Washington Avenue, alluring to shoppers and small business owners, and creating a hub of local economic activity.
Recently, Investors Bank finally began site work and broke ground on its new branch on Washington Avenue. Across the street, we have worked with Divine Mercy Parish, to develop a portion of the vacant property next to St. Elizabeth Church, for the upcoming construction of a professional building, which will also provide shared parking for the church and patrons of the professional building.
This year, we are moving ahead with plans for a new $25 million mixed-use redevelopment project on property owned by the Redevelopment Agency on eastern end of Washington Avenue.
All of us, experienced the economic recession and downturn in one way or another, and I don’t need to tell you that times are still tough and the economic recovery still fragile, but we are beginning to see a significant increase in construction permitting and planning, and a renewed interest in redevelopment, and the future of Carteret is bright.
Over the past few years we have pursued an aggressive environmental policy to send a clear message to irresponsible owners of abandoned and contaminated industrial sites. That message is simple, you are welcome to do business in Carteret, but if you do it in a manner that harms our neighborhoods or leaves property underutilized or contaminated, we will use every possible tool at our disposal to hold you accountable.
To this end, in May of last year we put U.S. Metals on notice that they must clean up not only their property but also that of property surrounding the site. The result: U.S. Metals agreed to pay a $1,000,000 civil settlement to the Borough, in addition to testing surrounding properties and remediating any and all properties which they may have polluted during their operations over the past 100 years.
They have also agreed to redevelop their property and return it to economic viability for the first time since they abandoned it in the mid 1980’s. This will mean future ratables and additional jobs for Carteret residents.
In West Carteret, we went after Insurance Auto Auctions with a major environmental enforcement case seeking to stop the flow of trash and polluted water into the Borough’s streets and waterways.
In the end, they agreed to step up to their responsibility to protect water quality and the health and safety of the surrounding community.
I am happy to report that, in addition to agreeing to cover the Borough’s enforcement costs, the settlement requires IAA to implement $350,000 in new onsite improvements. Our proactive enforcement actions have been featured in articles nationwide, from New Jersey’s own Star Ledger to USA Today and the Chicago Herald.
These settlements combined, represent millions worth of enforcement actions and make it clear that Carteret expects its industrial citizens to be responsible neighbors, like those found in the joint venture project between Rahway Arch and Soil Safe.
Together, these two companies have initiated a project which will remediate the former American Cyanamid property along the Borough’s northern-most border and develop it into a viable industrial property.
The property sat vacant and was an environmental nightmare for over 50 years. Each year tens of thousands of gallons of alum sludge and cyanide leach into the Rahway River. The property is the single largest unutilized commercial tract, in the Borough representing potentially millions of dollars in lost ratables.
I am happy to say that the project is in the final stages of permitting and this property will soon be on its way to being environmentally capped and returned to usefulness, while protecting the environment and ensuring open space.
Earlier this year, construction began on a new State Police Marine Barracks adjacent to our waterfront. The 4,000+ square foot, $1.4 million project, entirely funded by a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security, will become part of our future marina project.
Through a 40-year land-lease between the Borough and the State, this project will represent a long-term investment in safety for our residents. The Borough welcomes the dozens of additional State Troopers that will be assigned to this barracks patrolling Carteret and the waterfront each and every day.
We continue to seek sources of funding that will allow us to provide services to our residents without adding to their fiscal burden.
Along these lines, in 2013 our administration secured a $7 million grant from the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders that will be used to help construct our new marina, boardwalk, and river walk at our Waterfront Park.
This project is now fully funded and permit applications are pending. I urge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and ACOE to approve these permits so we can begin this $20+ million remediation of the cove and union construction project to build our marina.
We have continued to hold the line on property taxes and reduce municipal bond debt and long term obligations. When I became mayor the Boroughs long term bond debt was $21.5 million, today its $3.5 million. In 2005 our total outstanding obligations were over $30 million and today we have reduced that number by over $8 million a reduction of almost 30%.
We have continued to make the municipal workforce more efficient while maintaining services to our residents. By working smarter and reducing our staff through attrition we are truly accomplishing our goal of providing constituent services in a cost effective manner.
While we have reduced staffing levels in most departments, emergency service is not a place we can afford to cut. This year we will expand our Fire Department’s EMT division; we will begin the process of hiring up to ten additional full time police officers, and we will hire dozens of additional class I and II special law enforcement officers!
The Borough continues to enjoy one of the highest credit ratings available due to our sound long term fiscal policies.
And once again this year I will introduce a municipal budget that calls for less spending then the year before while investing in our infrastructure and future, my proposed budget will be lower than our spending plan during the past 5 years.
This year we will complete a $2.2 million sewer project 20 feet beneath the NJ Turnpike that upgrades the sewer flow and capacity of the entire West Carteret area.
We will begin construction on a $2.5 million intersection improvement at the base of the West Carteret bridge where Roosevelt Ave., Minue Street and Post Blvd. meet, to greatly expand and improve the level of service at this busy intersection.
We will push for the revitalization and improvements for the Roosevelt Ave commercial corridor in West Carteret. This will mean taking commercial property owners and businesses to task, but they will clean up their property and improve it or they will face court action and property maintenance violations. We will not allow absentee commercial property owners to adversely affect an entire corridor.
In the area of Noe and Harris streets we have already begun acquisition of properties along Noe’s Creek where the hurricane ravaged and destroyed an entire block. Our engineers are in the modeling and design phase of what will become a $2 million regional retention basin, to help control storm water flow to alleviate street flooding that impacts hundreds of homes and thousands of residents.
As part of my 2013 budget proposal which is $1.2 million under the state tax levy cap law and $2.4 million less than the appropriation cap law, I am proposing an expansion of our already aggressive road paving and reconstruction program that will invest $6 million over the next two years in reconstructing and repaving up to 100 roads.
While we have made significant progress during our tenure there is much more to do and significant improvements to be made. I am pleased to report that the state of the Borough is strong- despite the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, our residents are rebuilding, our finances remain solid, progress is continuing on many fronts and our community remains as resourceful and resilient as ever.
Thank You and May God Bless You!