State of the Borough
State of the Borough Address
January 4, 2023
Mayor John V. Lane
Good evening, friends, residents and neighbors. To those of you present here at the Hawthorne Borough Hall Council Chambers, those of you watching via TV or live streaming, and to all of the residents of Hawthorne, my very best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe new year.
Our printed Hawthorne calendar has been mailed out, and it is likely that you have already received it. There is a lot of important information about our Borough in that calendar and available on our website. I also encourage you to sign up for Nixle messaging. It is easy to do by using the information provided in the calendar.
I would like to update you tonight on several important topics, the first being those affecting our Hawthorne water utility and our infrastructure.
Water Regulations and Rates
New state regulatory requirements have mandated two major projects for the Hawthorne Water Utility and will drive up the rates customers pay for their water.
In 2020, the New Jersey DEP adopted maximum levels in drinking water for a class of chemicals known as PFAS, with testing and then compliance beginning in 2021. This testing revealed that Hawthorne water has levels of two of these chemicals - PFOA and PFOS - that exceed the new standards, and mandated treatment that would bring the water into compliance by August of 2022.
Ever since, though, the DEP's actions bespeak "hurry up and wait." When the Borough submitted an application to the DEP for a required permit to install the treatment system, the DEP took 4 months to review it before issuing the permit... and then the same DEP took yet another 6 months to review the very same project when we applied for low-cost financing before allowing us to go out to bid.
The amount of PFAS in our water is infinitesimal - around 20 parts per trillion - yes, TRILLION - for both PFOA and PFOS - the equivalent of one drop in one Olympic swimming pool. That level was well within previous DEP and EPA guidance until the DEP adopted the new standards, and below what was even detectable, not too many years ago.
There is no "do not drink" order mandated by the DEP for these levels of PFAS. Their guidance is that people with certain health conditions consult with their health care providers.
Although we have now awarded a contract for construction, completion is still a long way off, since there is a 30-week lead time for delivery of the equipment the contractor must install, which means that the system won't be operational until late in 2023.
Hawthorne Water did not cause this PFAS situation... and we are not alone. PFAS are man-made chemicals used for a wide range of products: stain- and water-resistant materials, non-stick pans, and even microwave popcorn bags - which have been introduced into the environment, and water supplies, by industrial processes and disposal of waste. Every water utility that taps into the same aquifer as we do has PFAS in the water, as do many utilities with other water sources.
The situation for water service lines is more ridiculous. In a new state law requiring that water utilities replace all lead service lines, the legislature, in its wisdom, counterfactually defined galvanized service lines as "lead." The Hawthorne water system has NO lead service lines - NONE - but 45% of the service lines in the system are made of galvanized pipe and therefore must be replaced, despite the fact that thirty years of water tests under the federal government's "lead and copper rule" have demonstrated that there is NO LEAD in Hawthorne water.
At least testing shows that there are PFAS in Hawthorne water, no matter at what minute quantities, which we will be removing with a treatment system that will cost $7 million. Yet, although there is no lead in Hawthorne water, we will have to spend twice that amount - an estimated $15 million - to replace galvanized pipes over a ten-year period. Phase 1 was completed in 2022, and Phase 2 is planned for 2023.
And who will pay for all this work? Well, the state is great at issuing regulations but not so great in providing funding. The state will give Hawthorne $1 million toward the PFAS system through "principal forgiveness," and then provide low-interest financing for the other $6 million. For the $15 million for galvanized line replacement, they will provide only low-interest financing... and maybe not even that beyond early phases of a 10-year project.
That leaves our water customers to pay the bill. Remember to thank the State the New Jersey when you pay 13% higher water rates in 2023, then another 13% rate increase in 2024, and yet another double-digit rate hike in 2025.
In 2022 the Council funded and authorized design of three high-priority projects identified by the Fields Committee formed by Mayor Emeritus Goldberg. The projects include fencing and lighting at Franklin Field and reconstruction of the roller hockey rink - all of which we expect to have constructed in 2023. The Borough applied for and received a $90,000 grant from the Passaic County Open Space Funds. In addition, the Borough completed construction on a new playground at the recreation complex that was also funded by the County Open Space Funds. We also replaced sod at the Franklin Field.
Emergency Services Communications
Another initiative promised in my address a year ago is the update to the communications system for our emergency services, which calls for the replacement of equipment over 40 years old. Some of the new equipment is already on order, and within the next couple of months, we will be asking the Council to authorize the funding to complete the project. While this has taken longer than anticipated, within the next couple of months we should have a final project ready to present to the Council, and will be ready to order that equipment.
The Borough has seen increased calls for both our Fire Department and Ambulance Corps, and this is likely to be a trend going forward. Both entities desperately need additional volunteers to help provide these critical services. The Fire Department has developed a close working relationship with the Glen Rock Fire Department to help meet the needs of both communities. We are working with two different ambulance service providers to help support the Hawthorne Volunteer Ambulance Corps by responding to the increased volumes of daytime ambulance calls. I'd also like to recognize Hawthorne Ambulance Corps Chief Ken Houtsma upon his retirement from the Corps after over 50 years of service.
Traffic safety is a priority. My administration is working with the Council to create a 4-ton weight limit on some of our local streets. Meanwhile, the Police Traffic Bureau will focus on borough-wide speed enforcement and crack down on distracted driving. Intermittently, our police officers will be monitoring pedestrian crosswalks.
As a service to our residents, our plan is to increase the number of Division of Motor Vehicle on-site mobile services, a program which was very successful in 2022.
Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP)
Our Neighborhood Preservation Program got off to a great start in 2022 through the efforts of Coordinator Ellen Brogno and the NPP stakeholder committee chaired by John Bertollo. Activities undertaken in 2022 included a new plaza in the front of the library, planters on the downtown light poles, a wall mural at the pool, new signage in the Eight-Acre Woods, and handouts were printed with a wayfinding map for the Borough. In year 2, we expect to have a decorative clock installed at Diamond Bridge and Lafayette Avenues, complete further enhancements at the library, and a partnership between the Boro Bandshell and restaurants.
The Borough is seeking new development that will enhance our tax base. The project at 204 Wagaraw Road saw the new gym open at the end of last year, and the storage facility and residential apartments are planned to be open by mid- 2023. The Christian Health VISTA project was completed and opened. Hawthorne Heights on Goffle Road, which is a required project for our affordable housing plan, and was approved by the courts, has received Planning Board approval. The Planning Board also just approved a new Lidl grocery store at the intersection of Wagaraw and Goffle Roads. 31 new businesses have been approved by the Planning Board. Additionally, our planner has completed a report which recommends designating the Pyrolac property for redevelopment. This report will be reviewed by the Planning Board and then the Council as the next step toward developing this property. The Administration has been working with a potential developer for the vacant Pan Chemical property as well as the former Hawthorne Chevy used car lot on Lafayette Avenue.
The Administration, working with our planner, has drafted an updated Zoning Ordinance that is being recommended to the Planning Board and Council for review and adoption. This Zoning Ordinance derives from an updated Master Plan approved by the Planning Board on August 16, 2022. Adoption of the ordinance, after final tweaks, is expected in the first quarter of 2023. This is a comprehensive overhaul of the Ordinance, a massive but necessary undertaking
that brings the Ordinance into current times. We are a largely developed community. The most important goal of the update is to encourage the right kind of growth and redevelopment in the community without losing our sense of community. The update includes a rezoning of many of our single-family residences so that our residents can make improvements to their homes without the need to spend time and money appearing before our Planning or Zoning Board. The new ordinance will recognize the need to address our affordable housing obligation in ways intended to fit in with our existing homes and businesses. We want to encourage the right kind of commercial growth as we move from heavier industrial uses to cleaner, more modern uses. We want our existing businesses to be able to grow and prosper, recognizing changes that will help strengthen our tax base and our sense of community. There is an emphasis on reinvigorating our downtown, increasing foot traffic and encouraging investment in older buildings in need of a facelift. There is a recognition of the changing times as more residents now work from home, and want different dining options, such as outdoor dining. There is great attention to the impact of development on our existing infrastructure and the environment. Whether it is controlling water runoff, encouraging green building measures or preserving open space, the Ordinance moves us forward in significant ways. This has been a monumental effort and will bring the Borough forward in many ways.
Budget and Finance
The 2022 budget included a tax rate increase of 3.5%, which is higher than in recent years. Unfortunately, we expect additional increases due to inflation and other factors in 2023.
Once again, the Borough had no audit finding for the 2021 audit that was completed this past year, thanks to the efforts of our Director of Revenue & Finance, Laurie Foley.
Other Significant Achievements
I'd like to congratulate Bill Haffler, our new Director of Public Works, for completing the leaf pick up schedule on time for the first time in many years. Bill has also identified equipment that will make other DPW activities much more efficient. And, as promised a year ago, the Borough had all of our athletic fields in shape before the start of each season for each sport.
When I spoke at our January 1 Council Meeting last year, I spoke about the promises I made while I was campaigning in 2021. I have worked tirelessly to meet all of those promises plus even more. There are a number of projects that we have completed to make Hawthorne a better place to live and there are more in the pipeline for 2023. Several of these are:
- In response to my requests to the Post Office and U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell's Legislative Office, I am told that significant improvements will be initiated at our Hawthorne branch during the first quarter of 2023.
- We worked with Passaic County Nutrition Services to reopen the Senior Citizens lunch program held at the ambulance building on Goffle Road. Additional programs will begin during the first quarter of 2023.
- We worked with the Passaic County Sheriff's Department and the Paterson Police Department on controlling the loud music coming from the City of Paterson, which adversely affected our residents in the south side of town this past summer, and our efforts are on-going
- Together with our property maintenance and zoning, we'll make sure that residents and business owners keep their properties in compliance with their zoning approvals.
Many of you already know that I am in my office every day. Many of you have met with me there. I welcome your input, suggestions, and want to hear your concerns. Many good ideas have come from our residents and our borough employees, so don't hesitate to reach out to me. Let's all work together for the betterment of Hawthorne. I will continue to send out a weekly Mayor's letter, now actually more of a newsletter, to keep you up-to-date on the happenings in the Borough.
Thank you to all of our residents for caring so much about one another. When someone is in need, the citizens of our community take action and come together. Thank you, again, to our emergency services providers - our fire department, police department, and ambulance corps - for your dedication and the great job you do all year long. Thank you to our Borough Administrator Eric Maurer, my administrative staff, and all of our Borough employees for the terrific job you do each and every day to keep this town humming. Thank you to our elected officials who have committed themselves to serving the public and to tackling tough issues. Thank you, too, to the countless volunteers who selflessly give their time all year long serving on boards, commissions, and committees and those residents who just step up when asked to provide their expertise on projects or to support town events. You are all the heart of this community, and we are especially grateful.
I plan to place an Addendum to this report on the Mayor's page on our website listing several of additional projects that have been completed in 2022