Build a Better Englewood
Infrastructure Maintenance and Improvements
The challenges Englewood’s aging infrastructure and public buildings is presenting for the City must be addressed. From City Hall to the municipal courthouse, from the MacKay Park bathrooms to the city’s inadequate drainage system, we must know the usable life span of these structures and plan for their improvement and replacement.
The environmental impacts of heating and powering an aging infrastructure are extreme. Although we have started programs to make our buildings more energy efficient, we must conduct a top-down energy assessment of our public buildings and address energy efficiency accordingly.
Additionally, global climate change has had a devastating impact on our City in the form of increased catastrophic flooding. The City’s drainage system will soon need to be upgraded to handle the increased flow and volume of water from Overpeck Creek.
Master Plan and Development
The historic Master Plan Englewood adopted in 2014, including the zoning changes necessary to enable the plan’s recommendations, recognizes Englewood as an amazing place to live, work and raise a family. It is a strategic plan for the future of our City, a roadmap to stable and sustainable taxes, and a formula to protect our neighborhoods and community character.
We must recognize the Master Plan as a living blue print for Englewood to attract and infuse private investment into our local economy and establish a joint committee of the City Council and the Planning Board to conduct periodic reviews insuring the Master Plan is being creatively adapted and utilized.
Our downtown property is extremely valuable and it belongs to everyone. We must be rigorous in determining appropriate development, even if proposed projects fall within our current zoning regulations. We must enforce the highest standards of architecture, design and beautification to protect the attractiveness and value of our downtown property. For example, although our current zoning allows for increases in building heights, doing so in some cases may subtract from the attractiveness and aesthetic quality of our business district.
Alleyway beautification, bump-out landscaping and a plan to replace downtown lighting fixtures for more uniformity and controllability are key projects we should consider.
Installing smart parking meters will modernize and centralize our monitoring and control of parking alleviating pressure and increasing revenue.
The efficient provision of services to our residents should be among our top priorities. We must upgrade our technology, such as implementing software systems used in the private sector, such as the job costing systems used at the Department of Public Works. We can implement cheap technology services to communicate and interface with residents to better provide services.
Diversified Housing Options
Our housing stock must serve and promote a diverse population and offer options for our senior citizens, middle and working-class families, as well as provide our fair share of affordable housing. A homogenous housing stock results in a homogenous population that results in negative impacts to the community, an imbalance of services, higher taxes, and loss of economic growth, and most of all, its not Englewood.
Englewood is a voting powerhouse in Bergen County, we must advocate for changes in regulatory structures and laws on the County, State and Federal level where needed. For example, transportation funding under the Christie Administration was cut and Englewood and surrounding area “intra-city” transportation was severely impacted. Governor Murphy has signaled increases in funding for NJTransit, Englewood must be at the table when transportation funding is restored.
Restore Fiscal Responsibility and Sound Financial Planning
Between 2005 to 2010, property taxes in Englewood increased a historic 38 percent, an average annual increase of 6.3 percent per year. While Englewood residents were paying more and more in taxes, our debt increased, and our surplus declined by almost half. City infrastructure crumbled and planning ceased.
We were able to reverse this trend in 2011 by using long-term strategic planning to guide our budget. By implementing the recommendations of the 2010 Financial Recovery Plan, between 2011 and 2015, taxes and spending were held flat and the City approved a balanced budget for five consecutive years.
The City has since deviated from its path and in 2016 to 2017 cumulatively, property taxes went up in excess of 8 percent. For 2018, an additional increase is projected. This amounts to a 14 percent increase for taxpayers in three years. Our reliance on property taxes, and the burden we place on our tax payers, is threatening the very character and fabric of our City over the long term because we are becoming unaffordable for people to live here.
While there are complex issues fueling these increases, restoration of fiscal discipline and leadership as well as strong financial planning can lead us to a long-term stability. We can sustain indefinite balanced budgets and achieve sustainably low and predictable tax increases through budgetary discipline and sound financial principles.
The police and fire departments accounts for two-thirds of the City payroll. Failing to hire necessary new fire and police staff to save money on salaries has had the opposite impact of bloating our payroll budget with overtime. Leaving patrolman-level positions unfilled is an ill-advised cost-savings strategy, it may work at the beginning of a budget year, but the overtime costs will come back to bite us at the end. We must apply long-term planning to make smart hiring choices.
Establish a Reserve Fund
A dedicated reserve fund set aside for unpredictable costs, such as terminal leave payments to employees, tax appeals, or sewer costs, is a crucial component of sound financial planning. Payments should be made into these funds annually, regardless of whether there were unexpected costs that year, to stabilize the impact of emergency expenditures on taxes when they do occur.
Debt and Surplus Management
Establish targets to maintain a surplus between 8-15 percent of annual operating expenditures; our target for debt should be to not exceed 30-60 percent of annual revenue; debt service should total no more than 8-15 percent of total revenues.
We must abolish the practice of using one-time revenue sources, such as the sale of City-owned properties or assets, to plug budget holes or pay operating costs. Revenue from the sale of city-owned assets should only be used for new capital expenses, debt reduction, or reserve fund contributions.
We must limit borrowing to pay for infrastructure and capital improvements. These projects should be planned by using the city’s capital improvement budget.
Tax Base Development
Englewood can no longer be dependent on raising revenues solely on the backs of homeowners, but it is impossible to develop our way into permanently lower taxes. Through smart development, we can enhance our residential tax base, expand our commercial base and spur economic growth while protecting our neighborhoods.
The Mayor of Englewood is a unique office that is empowered, when used wisely, to bring together and unify all of Englewood’s diverse communities and residents. As Mayor, I would leverage the office to bring together the many different organizations and groups that provide services to our community. From the Bergen Family Center to the Chamber of Commerce, to our churches and shuls, uniting Englewood’s communities around shared values and common goals would be a top priority.
Our school district is an integral part of our community. Although the City of Englewood and the Englewood Public School District are completely separate entities governed by two distinct and directly elected bodies, City government does impact our school district. For example, the amount and type of development allowed, and decisions made by our planning and zoning boards, impacts the number of school-age children who live here and might attend our schools.
Our children are our greatest resource and must be our top priority. We should establish joint meetings between the City Council and the Board of Education to identify opportunities to work together, such as coordinating resources and after-school and summer programming.
Expand boards and commissions and encourage and recruit more residents to participate in government.
Expand the crucial partnership between law enforcement and the community by conducting regular meetings where our residents can meet our police officers face to face.
Create a special law enforcement officer (SLO) program to allow auxiliary police to perform non-essential police duties.
I would work to pass an ordinance establish a preference for hiring Englewood residents for City jobs. The ordinance would direct our human resources department to consider Englewood residency a preference to hiring when all other qualifications are equal. This would apply to police and fire department hires as well as other City workers.
Contractors who are residents of Englewood, or who base their business in Englewood, should also be given preference for City construction projects where this is permissible. This also should apply to projects that are given PILOT status, in which developers are allowed to defer taxes in exchange for bringing needed projects to the City. Project Labor Agreements (PLA) can be used as a way to ensure Englewood labor and materials are used on Englewood projects and can help to develop and enhance careers of Englewood residents.
Eliminate, where possible, the prohibition against hiring people with a misdemeanor crime on their record, requiring each case to be evaluated individually.
Establish re-entry and step-up programs to help residents who may have a criminal record, including a felony conviction, clear their record, regain their voting rights, and find and obtain gainful employment.