At the August 16 township council meeting, Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, County Administrator John Bonanni, and Assistant Administrator Deena Leary presented the budget for the Morris County Freeholders. They highlighted that they maintained county services, infrastructure, and their financial support for education at County College of Morris and Morris County School of Technology.  

The 2017 Budget increase of about 1.79 percent, an increase of about $15-20 per household, was caused by a combination of health insurance, criminal justice reform, and salary adjustments for county employees. The health insurance plan for the county would have increased regardless of what they did, but they left the state, which would have been nearly an 8 percent increase, to minimize their increase to only 4.68 percent.

Criminal justice costs increased due to the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed by the state, requiring the counties to improve their criminal justice system without providing any money to help fund this at the county level. After the New Jersey Association of Counties attempted to fight it, the law still passed and the Freeholders had to increase the budget, but they successfully did it at a minimal increase.

The county continued to fund infrastructure improvements, including county road resurfacing, building improvements, and intersection improvements. These improvements can even be seen in town on Berkshire Valley Road. The county looked into economic development and tourism as well.

This budget was developed through strategic planning based on guiding principles. The Freeholders looked at the needs of Morris County and then adjusted for that. In the future, they will continue with this strategy and bring in a steering committee as well. This steering committee will be people from the community who will help identify the challenges and opportunities of the county.

Another special presentation at this meeting was Ryan P. Jenkins from Fire Company #2 receiving the oath of office.

Photo: Kalen Luciano

Following the special presentations, John Headley voiced his concerns about the dangerous traffic at the start of Weldon Road near Headley Lumber. He said that he asked for this problem to be fixed, but nothing happened. His primary issues were that no one recognized the speed limits, the noise from exhausts, the use of jake brakes, and the density of important buildings on one side of Weldon Road.

The Council responded to each of these concerns. According to the traffic study done recently, it did not indicate to lower the speed limit. However, the Council did recognize that the average speed is a little over four miles compared to the actual speed limit. They decided to put a speed monitor at the bottom of Weldon Road to encourage drivers to go slower and maybe have more patrolling in that area. An increase in patrolling could help discourage drivers from making too much noise, too. As far as the jake brakes go, Council is in the middle of working on an ordinance to deal with this matter. However, while Council tried to work with him with all of his concerns, they told him that his last suggestion to move some of the important buildings to other areas in order to reduce the heavy traffic was unrealistic at this time.

Following the public comments, each of the members of the Town Council and the Administration gave updates on their work. Mayor Russell Felter announced that he is scheduling town hall meetings on each side of town in late September to mid October. He also announced that the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign will be hosting a 4-5 mile hike on newly acquired property in October.

Administrator James Leach suggested to Council to change their policy on appointing a tax collector/assessor and the CFO to be appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the Council. This practice is already being done, but he recommended putting this into words.

Councilman Ronald Smith and Council Vice President Jay Dunham updated that progress is being made with the labor contracts, and they’re hoping to end these negotiations in the fall.

Dunham went to a White Rock meeting with the Administration to decide how to use the White Rock property in the future. He also attended a utility meeting and said that the water utility rates may have to go up a bit. Along with other council members, Dunham attended the Jefferson Township Police Academy Graduation and Heroes Week at Camp Jefferson and thought both of them were worthwhile and extremely well done.

Councilwoman Kim Finnegan announced the birth of her granddaughter. She also reported that the National Night Out was incredible and that there will be dedication of a new rig on September 9.

Council President Debi Merz reiterated that the National Night Out and Junior Police Academy were great. She even suggested funding the police academy more to make it an even larger program next year.

After all of them made their reports and Council passed an ordinance for a food handlers fee, Amanda Ventre made a public comment about her mental health club. She tried to make one at Jefferson Township High School, but the school wanted to make substantial changes to her idea because of liability issues. She thought this was exactly the problem, that no one wants to talk about mental health. Ventre emailed the mayor about her idea, but he never got back to her and she came to the meeting to vocalize her concerns about the stigma of mental illness.

Mayor Felter apologized and thought it must have been put into spam. He asked to talk to her after the meeting. Council Vice President Dunham told her that some adults might drag her down, but she should stick with this. He strongly agrees that there is a problem in this town, and it should be addressed. Of the five emergency beds reserved for immediate psychiatric help at Saint Claire’s, Dunham reported that four out of five of the patients who filled those beds were from Jefferson. Council President Merz was saddened to hear about the school’s reluctance to add this club. As a member of JTConnect, a town-wide mental health organization that deals directly with mental health, Merz hopes that she can work with Ventre to solve this problem.

With that, the Council adjourned for an executive session to discuss contract negotiations.

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