Welcome to the Borough’s 2019 annual reorganization meeting, which marks the beginning of a new year for our local government!
A special welcome to some esteemed guests here this evening: Senator Anthony Bucco, Assemblyman Tony Bucco, Former Assemblyman Dick Kamin, Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, Morris County Freeholders Tom Mastrangelo and Steve Shaw. A special thank you to Rev. Debra Duke, of the Community Church of Mountain Lakes, for the Invocation this evening. Your words will guide us in the year ahead. Freeholder Shaw, thank you for swearing in Council Members Dan Happer and Audrey Lane, and Khizar Sheik, thank you for swearing in Deputy Mayor Shepherd. Joyce Leuchten, I was honored to have you swear me in this evening. Joyce is one of our community treasures. She was the first woman to be elected to the Mountain Lakes Borough Council, back in 1971. Joyce has done so much for this community over the years and she has been a great mentor and friend. And thank you to everyone here – friends, family, neighbors and other visitors – for joining us this evening.
It is an honor to serve again as Mayor of the great Borough of Mountain Lakes, alongside Deputy Mayor David Shepherd and Council Members Dan Happer, Janet Horst, Cynthia Korman, Audrey Lane and Tom Menard. I am looking forward to working with this new Council and am confident our tenure will be characterized by dedicated service to the community, openness and responsiveness to our citizens, a cooperative, collegial spirit, and hopefully good humor as well.
Looking back over my first two years on Council, I am encouraged by some of the Borough’s recent accomplishments. A little over a year ago we brought on a new Borough Manager, Mitchell Stern. One of the most important roles of Council is to make sure there is a hardworking and responsive Manager in place. Mitchell has deep experience in municipal government and most importantly, a strong commitment to getting things done. And after a year under Mitchell’s leadership, it is clear that the Borough is benefitting from his steady hand.
We may want to forget, but we weathered some significant storms in 2018 that resulted in prolonged power outages for many residents. Since then, we have met frequently with JCP&L officials regarding the power company’s storm response, and this Fall Council hosted a community presentation by JCP&L for our residents. In the coming year we will continue to partner with JCP&L and take other measures to improve the resiliency of our power infrastructure. Most notably, more aggressive pruning and removal of unhealthy trees will continue to be a priority. This will be especially important as we deal with an expected infestation of emerald ash borer beetles, which threaten a significant percent of our tree canopy. The good news is the Borough responds quickly and effectively to emergency events. Our Department of Public Works, Police Department and Fire Department do a wonderful job keeping this community safe, clearing roadways, and cleaning up after the storm. And it’s gratifying to see how our residents pull together in tough times – there were so many examples of neighbors helping neighbors this past Winter.
Tackling needed capital improvements has been another important focus. The Borough has made significant progress on plans for improvements at our beach facilities, Sunset Lake Dam (a state-mandated project), and our Borough Hall and Public Safety facilities. In exciting news, the Borough began work on Birchwood Lake facilities in November. The project involves a gut rehabilitation and modest expansion of existing facilities. Improvements will include expanded, ADA-compliant bathrooms, additional space for lifeguards, an attached pavilion, and upgraded interior and exterior finishes. Work will be completed in advance of this summer’s swim season. This new approach to beach facility improvements was developed after bids to outsource the project failed in 2017 and 2018. By bringing the work in-house, we are significantly reducing the costs of the project. After work is completed at Birchwood, similar plans will be drawn up for Island Beach. In addition, last year the Borough completed a significant amount of road repaving, and sidewalk and curb improvements. We have been successful in obtaining Department of Transportation grants for some of that work and have applied for new grants for the coming year.
Another important priority has been to improve Borough communications and transparency. Weekly e-mails now come out consistently with information about Borough happenings, including links to our Council agendas and the full content of our meeting materials. We now have an active social media presence. And earlier this year the Borough launched Nixle, our text alert system, an important source of emergency and time sensitive information. And we have been careful to communicate openly about proposed developments in the community. Last year we invited developers to present to Council, so that Council and the public would be hearing the same information at the same time. And we took seriously the responsibility of engaging our residents in an Assisted Living Zoning Change Ordinance that was discussed, introduced and adopted last year. In fact, resident feedback was instrumental in crafting some of the language in that ordinance.
With improved communications channels, we have made sure that any openings on our committees, commissions and boards are well publicized. This has resulted in a number of new residents raising their hand to serve the community. Indeed, volunteerism is alive and well in Mountain Lakes! At our Volunteer Recognition event in December we celebrated the close to 200 residents who volunteer for the Borough. We honored Citizen of the Year Steve Castellucci and Janice D. Hunts Lifelong Award Recipient Glenn Tippy, along with all of the Borough volunteers who enrich our community. Of note, last year our Junior Fire Department celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Also, last year Borough Council adopted a Student Membership ordinance which has formalized student membership on several of our committees. We are now in the middle of our freshman year of this program, which includes nine high school students serving on our Environmental Commission, Lakes Management Advisory Committee, Historic Preservation Committee, Shade Tree Commission and Woodland Advisory Committee. This has been an exciting development in Borough volunteerism.
As we move into the new year, perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Borough continues to be the need to balance required capital investments and other spending with the tax burden facing our residents. We take seriously our responsibility to ensure responsible, efficient use of taxpayer dollars and one of our most important priorities for the coming year will be to adopt operating and capital budgets that are fiscally responsible and aligned with our strategic priorities. We know we have busy year ahead. We need to ensure a smooth transition for our Department of Public Works, with Director Mark Prusina retiring later this year. Mark has served this community with distinction for decades and his are big shoes to fill. We need to continue to make progress on capital projects and ensure that high service levels are maintained. We need to continue to monitor the situation at the Mountain Lakes Club. And we also need to monitor important state legislation, including the possible legalization of marijuana, which would require a municipal response. In addition, we need to take measures to meet the obligations of our Affordable Housing Plan, which we anticipate will be settled in court early this year. I won’t speak too much more about our goals for the year because we are a new Council and we will be crafting our goals together in an upcoming meeting – but I’m confident that the full Borough Council remains committed to fiscal responsibility, effective communications, the delivery of high quality services, and strong stewardship of our environmental resources and the unique character of our Mountain Lakes community.
From a citizen perspective, there are many ways to stay informed and be engaged in the new year. You can attend our regular Council meetings and other committee meetings. New this year we have scheduled two budget working sessions, for the evenings of January 16th and 22nd, to separate those workshop sessions from our regular Council meetings. This year our Borough Manager will hold morning coffees or brown bag lunches with residents so you can have a more informal update on what’s happening in the Borough. And you can volunteer on one of our committees or commissions. So please make sure you have signed up for our Borough e-mails and text alerts to stay informed.
In looking over these accomplishments and work in front of us, credit goes to everyone who makes it all happen. Thank you to our Borough Manager, Mitchell Stern, our Borough Clerk, Valerie Egan, our CFO, Monica Goscicki, and the entire Borough Hall Administrative and Finance team. Thank you to our Director of Public Works, Mark Prusina, DPW Operations Manager Ryan Dunn and all of our dedicated DPW employees. Thank you to our Recreation Director, Karen Brennfleck. We have a wonderful recreation program and array of community events, and Karen has stepped into her new role without missing a beat. Thank you to our Police Chief, Shawn Bennett, and our incredible Mountain Lakes Police Department, and to our new Fire Department Chief Bill Bender, Deputy Chief Joe Mullaney, and Assistant Chief Matt DeSantis and all of our volunteer firefighters, and to our Community Emergency Response Team. We also are grateful to the Boonton Kiawanis, St. Clare’s and Parsippany ambulance squads for their service to our community. Thank you to our mutual aid and shared services partners, including our neighbors Boonton, Boonton Township, Denville and Parsippany, and thank you to Morris County for your services and support. And a big thank you to Dr. Mucci, the Mountain Lakes School District, and the Board of Education – our most important Shared Services partner. Thank you as well to our many professionals and to our volunteers, the lifeblood of this community. I also want to share our appreciation to members of the press who cover our meetings. And special thanks to my fellow Council Members, and to my husband Dan and my three children, Jake, Jamie and Jonathan. Your love and support make my public service possible.
All of us who serve on Borough Council are here because we care about our community deeply. And so our most important thank you goes to you, the citizens of Mountain Lakes, for the opportunity to serve. Together with you we will work hard to keep Mountain Lakes a very special place to call home!
Mayor Lauren Barnett
January 7, 2019