State of the City Address
On October 29, Rahway experienced the full
force of Mother Nature in a way it hasn’t seen in hundreds of years. That
evening the tidal surge from Hurricane Sandy caused the Rahway River to top
the levee along Main Street for the first time since it was constructed some
four decades ago. Several blocks of downtown were flooded, including the
Recreation Center. The Rec Center saw a total loss of the gymnasium floor
and was forced to discard the classroom partitions and many custom-built
cabinets and furnishings along with fitness, program and electronic
At least 200 City trees were felled by the
storm, 84 of them on private homes and businesses. Untold trees on private
properties, many of them massive pin oaks, were blown down on houses and
power lines. Much of Rahway sat in the dark for days as PSE&G enlisted help
from out-of-state linemen to get the electricity flowing once again.
City workers pulled through to prevent further
damage and to save lives. As Sandy approached that Monday morning, DPW crews
placed sandbags around City Hall in anticipation of the levee failure.
Emergency Management personnel and volunteers leafleted homes in the area
urging residents to evacuate to higher ground. Firefighters and Police
Officers were on hand to protect residents from downed electrical wires,
flooded basements and fallen trees. Thousands of Rahway residents signed up
for our free Nixle service, which delivered text messages alerting them of
the storm and its aftermath while we supplemented this information with the
help of social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Ironically, we were in the process of realizing
the $1 million in reimbursable expenses from 2011’s Hurricane Irene and
October snowstorm when Sandy slammed into our city. We were fortunate to
have vehicles and equipment specially designed for water rescues that we
purchased after Irene, at our disposal during Sandy. The Preliminary Damage
Estimate for the City’s losses from Sandy were approximately $35 million;
$20 million in private losses and $15 million to the city. We have submitted
our applications to FEMA and related agencies to recover most, if not all,
of the costs of Sandy. As I mentioned to many of you in this chamber on
November 7, I am proud of the competence and professionalism of our public
safety personnel, DPW and all City employees who helped our community get
back on its feet following this historic event.
Rahway’s flood problems are regional problems
shared by all municipalities upstream of us. Therefore, in an effort to find
regional solutions I have been working with the Mayor’s Council to seek
regional solutions. I have met with the US Army Corp of Engineers and NJDEP
to expedite regional flood control efforts. The City entered into an
Interlocal Agreement with several upstream communities to conduct a
preliminary environmental assessment of a proposed storm water retention
project in South Mountain Reservation. The new basin promises to partially
alleviate some flooding along River Road and Grand Ave., but the real
benefit to us is to free the Army Corp of Engineers to conduct an important
hydrology study of Robinson’s Branch which is the first step in addressing
the flooding along Elm and Central Ave. and New Church St. This study is
scheduled to begin this spring. We have also begun the process of buying out
four repetitive loss properties on Grand Ave and Essex St. utilizing FEMA
and other grant funding.
The various departments of the City experienced
many accomplishments in 2012. Our Police Department responded to 35,000
service calls. The newly-formed Tactical Patrol Unit was successful in
addressing quality of life problems and street crime, making 200 arrests,
removing five firearms from the street (including one assault weapon) and
citing over 200 motor vehicle violations.
Our Fire Department dealt with 1,700 alarms,
including the birth of two children: one in a private home and one at the
Rahway train station. In 2013, the Fire Department will receive delivery of
a new 1500 GPM pumper to replace the existing model well past its service
The Health Department inspected over 500
businesses and was instrumental in ensuring that many eateries affected by
Hurricane Sandy were safe to reopen in the days following the storm. The
department screened almost 1,100 people for a variety of chronic illnesses
and provided flu shots to nearly 600 adults and children.
Prior to the loss of the Recreation Center, our
Department of Parks and Recreation received grant funds from Union County to
rehabilitate basketball courts and provide ADA access at Madden Field, Stein
Field and Williams Field. The Recreation staff is working hard to get the
building open once again to the public early this year.
Our Division of Senior Services provided over
300 free income tax preparations for seniors and low income residents and
100 seniors received some much-needed home improvements to their houses
thanks to the Handyman Program.
Outside, 14 streets were resurfaced in
2012 and/or received new ADA-compliant curbing. The popular Streetscape work
will continue downtown with new curbs, lighting and landscaping that will
make the neighborhood safer and more attractive to motorists and
pedestrians. Our Engineer has overseen the installation of 24 sewer meters
to get a better handle on inflow and infiltration that costs the City
thousands of dollars annually in sewerage charges.
I expect many of these excellent and critical
programs to continue in 2013 even though we face continued strains on our
revenues due to declining state aid and successful tax appeals as a result
of the real estate market slowdown. However, redevelopment has continued
downtown and will continue to be a bright spot that will improve our
neighborhoods and grow our tax base.
The Meridia Water’s Edge is an 88-unit
market-rate residential development behind the Library that will open this
year. The Meridia Lafayette on Main Street will have ground broken this year
and we’re hopeful that some exciting plans to build additional residential
units and parking on "B" lot behind Cherry Street will move forward in 2013.
I postponed this address from the usual January
meeting date because I hoped to be able to address the city’s 2013 budget
tonight. However the delay in announcing 2013 state aid allocations has
delayed our budget process for another month. It will be a tough budget year
not only because of the budget cap and police and fire department
retirements but also because of shortfalls in the Water Utility revenue. In
2012 we were forced to supplement the utility with almost $700,000 from the
Current Fund. Tonight the City Council will be asked to address this
unacceptable condition with an ordinance to raise water rates. While this is
an unpleasant prospect it is necessary to make the utility self-liquidating
and help restore the city’s financial health.