At last, good news for our long-suffering town (On the Other Hand)
Montclair, I have great news! Finally, after suffering through a long series of administrative failures, intragovernment conflicts, missed opportunities, crumbling infrastructure (I’m looking at you, Edgemont Park footbridge) and general mismanagement of everything from schools to pools, we can experience a collective moment of joy, a sigh of relief, a small but important respite from that sinking feeling that our town government is hopelessly and embarrassingly inept.
Yes, fellow Montclairians, in the midst of all the rancor and negativity, we should pause and take pride in this one bright spot: Our Town Council had absolutely nothing to do with the recent massive water main break! Definitively. Positively. No, really! It didn’t even happen in Montclair! The break occurred over in Nutley, and the administrative body responsible is something called the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission. I have no idea what that is, but I’m sure it’s a well-run, efficient, fully funded and publicly responsive agency.
Or not. At least we can’t be blamed.
In fact, Mayor Sean Spiller and the town government sprang into action, jury-rigging ingenious solutions that managed to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis. Which should give you great confidence that should Montclair ever face a disaster of gigantic proportions like, for example, a meteor that can’t be nudged aside by NASA’s new planetary defense system barreling toward the Edgemont Park footbridge, our elected representatives would be up to the task. They might even repair the bridge.
Sadly, those sorts of disasters are few and far between. Meanwhile, we must grapple with the inconvenient truth that while science seems to have cracked the decades-long mystery of the relationship of gravity to quantum mechanics, it has yet to solve this equally impenetrable riddle – how much money does it cost for Montclair to provide fire services to Glen Ridge? The answer, it seems, depends on how you define “cost,” or perhaps, “money.” Or, perhaps, as President Bill Clinton famously taught us, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.
Lacking our very own Stephen Hawking, we obviously undereducated residents are left to compare and contrast two very different methods for calculating said cost, which is apparently somewhere between $100,000 and $2.9 million a year. But you don’t need calculus because the question really isn’t how much the contract costs the town, but what the service is worth to Glen Ridge.
Using that yardstick, it seems clear that, afraid of being undercut by a bid from Bloomfield, which didn’t exist, we gave them a terrific deal. We may not be losing money on the contract, but we could have made millions more.
But wait, don’t put away your calculators just yet. This Election Day (that’s Nov. 8) we have a major decision before us. That is, besides determining the future of women’s rights, human rights, the planet, the economy, Ukraine, decency, freedom, truth, justice and the American way. I’m talking about the $187.7 million school bond referendum.
Did you forget about that?
After years of neglect, including a staircase collapse in 2018, Montclair schools are in dire need of help. Why were things allowed to deteriorate to this point? Because, as we’ve been pointing out in our ongoing, multipart series, no one is in charge.
Beyond repairs, schools will receive new facilities and upgrades in technology that are aimed at improving educational opportunities. Also on the ballot are the candidates for school board, but since there are only four candidates for three open positions, it’s hard to go wrong.
Will the referendum measure pass? Our highly unscientific survey shows that everyone thinks it’s a good idea. On the other hand, no one wants to pay the property tax increases the bonds will trigger. Taxes will increase in three stages as the bonds are issued over five years. Even with the state taking responsibility for $58 million of the debt, by 2027 the average homeowner’s tax bill will increase by $732 annually.
It’s possible that Montclair voters will find some rationale for rejecting the bonds even as people in 10 other Jersey towns approved theirs. Property taxes, as we know, are highly regressive, and raising them could lead to even further gentrification and lack of diversity in town. On the other hand, a functioning, non-crumbling public school system would seem to be a cornerstone of a diverse, non-gentrified town. As your hand trembles nervously over the referendum button in the voting booth, ask yourself, what is the alternative? Those HVAC units are not going to fix themselves.
The mail-in ballots have been sent out. Early voting is ongoing. The secure ballot drop box will be at the Montclair Municipal Building. Don’t leave it to the last minute. Just vote.