Paramus Mayor Rich LaBarbiera's Reorganization Speech
By Mel Fabrikant Sunday, January 06, 2013, 04:00 PM EST
Thank you for coming out and joining us for the 2013 reorganization meeting of the Mayor and Council.
For the past two years I have taken this time labeled as “State of Borough Message” to reflect on the past year and lay out a plan and vision for the upcoming year, and I again will do the same today.
2012 started off with the 6-0 Republican majority being broken and two Democratic Council members being sworn, Councilman Lagana and Councilwoman Bellinger. While it was a new year and a different make-up on the Council the problems the Borough would face were not much different than years past. The Council quickly went to work and must really credit all of them for doing it in a way that was apolitical. Decisions were made for the most part, in the best interest of Paramus. The budget as usual was the primary focus in the beginning of the year. The challenges were as anticipated, in particular, payment of pension deferral in 2012 and ongoing tax appeals.
Unlike 2011, the winter of 2012 was for the most part mild and we were not plowing roads or closing schools which was more than welcome, especially at the golf course where it was common sight to see golfers out on the links.
In January we welcomed Officer Rachel Morgan back to work almost a year after she sustained gunshot injuries. However she would soon return as Detective. The entire community could not have been happier to see her, most importantly, recover, but also return to work.
The mild temperatures continued as did the golfing in February. Not only was it warm outside, but the decisions that had to be made indoors were somewhat heated as well. The Mayor and Council took advantage of the opportunity to save dollars and moved the Board of Education Elections to November instead of April. In May the council saw some reshuffling with the resignation of Councilman Locicero who had been appointed to fill the unexpired term of Councilman Brundage, who resigned near the end of 2011. Dennis Arslanian was appointed to now fill the unexpired term of Councilman Locicero.
The budget was finalized and despite the many challenges, the Council in bi-partisan spirit delivered a zero percent increase with no loss in services, no lay-offs and even a slight increase in salary for the employees after a few years of zero’s. This was accomplished through again bi-partisan efforts, financial discipline, sharing of services, and automation enabling our employees to be more efficient. And of course a strong tax base which continued to expand. It seemed like I was attending weekly ribbon cuttings for all types and sizes of business. I want to share one which I really got a kick out of. Uni-Qlo, which is Japan's largest retailer, chose Paramus as their first mall location in the US as part of a multi-billion dollar expansion plan. This was the bag they distribute.
Not bad company. Paramus retail was always known throughout the region but was now getting international attention, and this is despite being open only 6 days a week! Obviously Blue Laws do work! Paramus was not only getting attention for its retail, but also its budget which as I said was zero percent increase for the 2nd year in a row as compared to other communities that struggled to stay below the 2% mandated cap. Whatever we were doing, like our Blue laws, was working! The 4th of July was again a huge blast with fireworks donated by Westfield Garden State Plaza Shopping Center and major sponsors for the Parade like Bergen Towne Center. The summer concert series, which was sponsored by Valley Hospital, had record attendance.
The pool was also crowded this past year with more out of town registrations than ever before. I think the only regret this past summer was that baseball was not as exciting as the previous year, but signs were installed at entrances to Paramus recognizing our Little Leaguers Champs from 2011. Labor Day weekend was also much quieter this year than the prior, but I don’t think anyone missed Irene. But then along came Sandy in October! This time while we better prepared with our notification thanks to the efforts of the CENT Committee, as well as an aggressive tree trimming program and improvements to major circuits by PSE&G, the damage and power outages was significant. Like Paramus has been accustomed to, the Office of Emergency Management and our Borough employees stepped up and did an A plus job cleaning up much quicker than any other borough in the area.
Special thanks to Guy Piccone, Former Mayor Tedesco and Bill Comery who under their guidance together with employees from Shadetree, DPW, the Fire Department, Rescue Squad and many others got the job done! The storm not only brought out the best in our employees and volunteers, but also several businesses that stepped up and helped out with relief efforts. Three businesses in particular were recognized for their help at a November meeting: Exxon Gas Station, Gold’s Gym and Panera Bread.
Sandy also put off the witches and ghosts as Halloween was rescheduled, but just as we were recovering from Sandy and getting back to normal, along came Paramus' worst fear as Hurricane Kathy landed and took a shot at the integral thread of Paramus and our quality of life, our Blue laws. While the County Executive saw fit to drag Paramus to court to insure all aspects of the Blue laws would be lifted and regretfully while we did not win the battle in court, I believe we won the war! If not for a galvanized community and the fight by the elected officials, I believe the intent was much greater and it could have been much more than the one Sunday that our Blue laws were suspended!
Another victim of Sandy was the holiday tree at Petruska which turned out to be the catalyst for relocating our holiday tree and festivities to Borough Hall and turning it into an even larger event than years past. We had a wonderful holiday carnival on a cold night bringing hundreds from the community and many businesses together for a wonderful evening. As year’s end approached we thought we had the evasive promotion process for the Police Department finally within our grasp, but it slipped away and we now enter 2013 with some 11th hour comments that we must address.
There were also some projects that started in 2012 to include a new traffic signal on Midland Ave, a new sign for Fireman’s Park donated by Valley Hospital and a new electronic bulletin board donated by Prestige Motors at the corner of Midland and Farview as part of a project to renovate the entire intersection.
Borough Hall also saw different faces in 2012. Borough Clerk Toni Falato retired after many dedicated years to the Borough and we welcomed Ann Marie Kruznis to assume her position. While there is only one Toni and we all miss her, the transition has been seamless to the credit of Toni, the clerk’s office and, of course, Ann Marie. We also welcomed Ray Her as our new CFO and Tony Lubuvich as head of our IT dept., both of whom have settled in quickly and are doing a great job. In addition to faces, there is new equipment that arrived in 2012. I mentioned before that automation played a large part of the budget and we put into service an automated leaf collection truck and an automated garbage truck, enabling the driver of these vehicles to collect leafs and garbage alone as they drive along. Thank you to Guy Piccone who under his leadership we are implementing such changes.
You also heard me mention golf a few times and for good reason. This year the golf course set a new record with over 75,000 rounds played which is 7,000 rounds more than any previous year. I must point out that if the course had been privatized as suggested by some no more than 2 years ago and I strongly opposed, Paramus would not be reaping the rewards from such success! Cognations to Andy Schuckers and the staff at the golf course. For the most part 2012 was good year for Paramus and we look for an even better year in 2013. Now here we are January 6, 2013. We welcome two new Council Members to the dais. I have known Pat and Donna for quite some time and I know they are amazing people with great families. For those of you that do not know this, Donna’s husband Joe and I have a friendship that goes back 30 plus years and we have a bond like you can’t imagine. From Recreation through High School, Class of 85, for six straight years Joe was the QB and I was the center on the football team. We were like peanut butter and jelly and his hands, big knuckles and all know me better than most.
Getting back to Pat and Donna they have both been active in town for many years and can be assured they will always Put Paramus 1st. The challenges that they and the Council will face are again not much different than prior years, in particular the budget and contract negotiations. I know that together and setting aside politics we will accomplish great things in 2013.
When I was sworn in as Mayor two years ago one of the first things I talked about was not only the residents of Paramus, but also the businesses and how important they are to the community. Today as I reflected upon 2012 you heard of many businesses that sponsored events or made donations to the community. Well 2013 is off to a great start as we receive today from Paramus Honda a new vehicle for our Ambulance Corp. I asked that a representative attend today’s events and ask that he stand to be recognized. Thank you and thank you to all our businesses for the active role you play in our community. We will continue to challenge business to not just choose Paramus for the ringing of the registers, but to call it home and be part of the community.
There is unfinished business that I hope is cleaned up as soon as possible to include the completion of improvements to Farview Ave. and Midland Ave. intersection, working out the kinks in the new traffic signal on Midland Ave., finalizing a fair contract with PEA and teamsters, and finalize the police promotion process. It should also be a priority to hire two new police officers immediately and a part time property maintenance official. There will be changes in Borough Hall this year. In coming weeks this room will have long overdue new seats installed. This is not only for the attendees at our meetings such as Mel Fabrikant, who has resorted to bringing a pillow to the meetings, but the Municipal Court that we will be sharing with Maywood starting Feb 1st. A move that we must share credit with Maywood Mayor Padavano and his council for making it happen together with Paramus.
I hope that this is one of many shared services we enter into this year with our adjacent communities. We are also starting discussion with our Board Of Education about sharing at least mechanical maintenance space this year in effort to reduce costs for Paramus taxpayers. I have to point out that I also plan on a renewed interest in Paramus History and our Veteran’s; and I will be appointing two members to the Historic Committee and initially one person to the Veteran’s Affair Committee in hope with newfound interest we do not lose any more of our treasures in town and our Veteran’s get the much deserved help that they need. Along the lines of history I will be asking the council to rededicate the Life Safety Building and rename it after James J. Tedesco. I could not think of a more fitting tribute to Jimmy for his many years as a fireman, elected official, Mayor and his ongoing public service to this great community.
In closing, I believe a very capable Council sits up here that is blessed with great employees and volunteers. Together we will accomplish great things. While control changes hands this year, the challenges remain the same and I will still give the same words of advice which I must now also follow being part of the majority:
The people of Paramus have spoken and you now have control, the second you stop listening to the people they will ask for it back.
So let’s roll up our sleeves, check our labels at the door and get to work for the people doing what is in the best interest of Paramus residents. Thank you, God Bless and here is to a successful 2013!