The Montclair Township Council spent much of its November 29 meeting talking about traffic issues, and Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors heard from Police Chief Todd Conforti on the issue.
Chief Conforti said the Montclair Police Department was faced with a staffing issue in the traffic bureau when he took over in March. He said that at the time, there was no one who was exclusively assigned to handle traffic enforcement. He said that Traffic Bureau Sgt. Stephanie Egnezzo – since promoted to lieutenant – has done a good job in the traffic bureau but that there has only been so much she can do. Chief Conforti wanted to staff it effectively and has since assigned two officers to the bureau – one officer dealing with only traffic than the department has had. The actual enforcement, Chief Conforti said, is largely complaint-driven, and the department goes to certain areas based on the complaints. He has seen an increase in stops and summonses, but regular officers who have been handling traffic issues have been diverted to other services. Chief Conforti said that he has had a good rapport with the two traffic officers, and he expects stops and summonses to continue to rise in 2017. He also credited Lt. Egnezzo with expanding education on traffic issues in the community to foster more responsible driving.
The council was pleased overall with Chief Conforti’s report. Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock expressed hope the traffic bureau could address the problem facing Grove Street, where motorists speed aggressively down the street and make it unsafe for First Ward residents to walk to Brookdale Park. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo stressed the need to enforce Montclair’s uniform 25-mile-per-hour speed and suggested that more speed limit signs were needed, citing the installation of extra signs on Park Street in the early 90s and how that initiative made Park Street safer. Lt. Egnezzo said that extra signage was beneficial, adding that the traffic bureau tries to be proactive in enforcing speed limits and looking at traffic studies to find the best way to deal with the issue.
The discussion came amidst the backdrop of new ordinances and resolutions dealing with speed limits on major streets in the township, but the results were decidedly mixed. An ordinance passed on second reading would have made the speed limit on Valley Road 30 miles per hour from Bloomfield Avenue to Bellevue Avenue and from Laurel Place to the Clifton border, subject to the consent of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. (Valley Road is also County Route 621.) But Councilor Russo and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville objected to having a speed limit over 25 mph anywhere on Valley Road, and when Acting Township Manager said that a “no” vote o the ordinance would codify a 25-mph speed limit for all of Valley Road, the council voted it down 5-1 (Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller was absent) with only Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon voting yes. A second ordinance establishing exceptions to the 25-mph speed limit with a 20-mph speed limit on Bloomfield Avenue for trucks and buses near the Montclair Kimberley Academy’s high school campus, along with a 30-mph speed limit on Upper Mountain Avenue from Mount Hebron Road to the town line and from Laurel Place to Watchung Avenue and a 35 mph limit from Watching Avenue to Bloomfield Avenue, was also up for a vote. However, the measure, which also included a uniform 30-mph limit for Grove Street, was tabled for further discussion.
Councilor McMahon said that a resolution requesting an additional four seconds for each vehicular phase in the intersections of Valley Road and Lorraine and Bellevue Avenues for a minimum six-month trial period would create worse backups in the traffic going through the Upper Montclair business district and requested a three-month period instead. Township Engineer Kim Craft said that extending it from the beginning of the new year in to the warmer months would provide more information, and she said that it could be tweaked to prevent any serious backups. Councilor McMahon suggested that the word “minimum” be taken out of the language to provide more flexibility, and the resolution passed so amended, 6-0. Also, parking restrictions on Amherst Place and College Avenue near Montclair State University passed 5-0 on second reading, although Dr. Baskerville abstained to stress her desire to see parking problem on Montclair streets resolved single-handedly rather than in piecemeal fashion. A resolution authorizing two-foot striped medians for Grove Street, Elm Street and two-way sections of Orange Road was also passed. In the meantime the council passed, 5-1, an ordinance on second reading increasing sewer use rates with different rates for pipes of different sizes. Dr. Baskerville cast the only dissenting vote.
Montclair As Sanctuary City and Sister City
One resolution that did not make out of the council at all was a resolution declaring Montclair a sanctuary city for immigrants. Some of the councilors found the language offering support for immigrants to be too convoluted, and it also seemed to violate the Faulkner Act by dictating terms to the township manager’s office. This resolution, apparently introduced at the last minute, as it was not on the meeting’s agenda as displayed on the town’s Web site, was ironically tabled over its flaws. Mayor Jackson said that the resolution suggested that Montclair put more value in words than actions, citing the efforts of many community activists to help immigrants, but Dr. Baskerville said the resolution would be a signal that the town was redoubling its efforts on that issue.
The council also heard a presentation from Montclair resident Raffaele Marzullo about the possibility of making Aquilonia in southern Italy a sister city. Joined by former Police Chief Tom Russo (no relation to Robert) in the presentation, Marzullo explained how the town, named for a famous battle between the Samnites and the Romans (who won) in the era before Christ, had been a leading charcoal producer and had seen many residents, including Marzullo himself, emigrate to Montclair as well as other parts of northern New Jersey. Council members thought it a splendid idea. Councilor Russo stressed his Italian heritage, as Hurlock and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager stressed theirs, in recognizing the cultural diversity of Montclair’s residents. Marzullo gave the mayor and council members gift boxes of food and drink from Aquilonia as a friendly gesture.
Raise For Director of Utilities, Salary Increase Proposed For Council and Town Manager
Salary increases for township employees were also introduced in first-reading ordinances. One ordinance sets the annual salaries of the mayor and the township councilors at $10,000 and the township manager’s annual salary at a minimum of $145,000 and at a maximum of $175,000. Both passed unanimously, and Councilor Russo said that the mayor and council members deserve to be compensated sufficiently so that people who want to run for office can afford to serve. He did add, though, that he would not accept a salary increase for himself should the ordinance pass on second reading. One second-reading ordinance pertaining to salaries did pass, setting the annual salary of the Director of Utilities at a $96,276 minimum and at a $143,965 maximum.
Also, the town awarded outgoing library director David Hinkley a proclamation honoring his work. Mayor Jackson credited him for transforming the library into a great repository of information.