The Jefferson Chronicle’s Community and Sports Editor, Michael Chirichella, sat down with James M. Leach, the township administrator for Jefferson Township, to discuss his duties and his views on issues concerning the township.
Q. Mr. Leach, since the term township administrator may be foreign to some of our readers, the first question would be what are the duties of the Township Administrator?
A : The township administrator’s formal title is Business Administrator and I’m the head of the Department of Business and Finance. The Administrator’s duties are spelled out on the township website and they include being the head of the office of Administration and Finance, collecting taxes, being the tax assessor, being the township’s chief purchasing agent, the chief personnel officer, assigning office space, maintaining an inventory of all property owned by the township, administering the township’s insurance program. There’s more to it but that covers a lot of duties and responsibilities.
The Office was created by referendum in 1970 and I’m appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the Township Council, to run concurrent with the mayor’s term. In some towns with a Town Manager, the administrator has more hiring power than I do. In Jefferson Township, the mayor does all the appointing.
Q: What did you do before you were the Township Administrator?
A: I started out in the police department in January of 1967 and worked my way up through the ranks. I was the deputy police chief; I’ve been the chief a few times and I ran a few departments.
In 1999, Mayor Felter asked me to be the Township Administrator and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face in your position?
A: People demand a lot of services and Municipal Government is a service business.
The three most important things to people are that the roads are passable, garbage that is picked up, and water that is drinkable. Over half of the township residents have municipal water. We have our own wells and buy some from the Morris County Municipal Utility Authority for the Lake Hopatcong system.
Q: What do you like best about Jefferson Township?
A: I love the commute; it’s only seven miles each way. I love Jefferson Township. I’ve lived in Jefferson since 1959. I was raised here and I raised my children here.
Q: What are some of the major changes you’ve seen?
A: First, we changed the form of government. It used to be a committee but in a referendum in 1970, we changed to the present Mayor/Administrator system.
We built the Municipal Building to consolidate things. When I was in high school, there was no high school and no Weldon Road. It was really like two towns and people went to different high schools. When the high school was built in the late 1960s it was a unifying force. The high school and middle school brought the town together.
Q: What are some of your goals for 2017?
A: First, we have to finish the budget. We’ve been having meetings recently. The budget is the plan for the town. When mayor Felter took office, the debt ratio was 1.25% and now it’s .66%, plus there’s been several increases in the Standard & Poor Bond Rating. We’re at AA+ Stable. A high bond rating allows a township to borrow for capital projects. I’m proud that we’ve kept the financial ship headed in the right direction. Jefferson has one of the lowest tax rates in the area and that includes garbage pick-up. A lot of towns have to pay a private carting firm which then bills the homeowners and yet they still have higher taxes.
When you take out for garbage and the public library, the township gets about 20% of tax revenues, which goes for things like the police and fire departments, the recreation department and much more. Plus, the county and Jefferson Township Board of Education are guaranteed to get their money. Our ambulance corps are volunteers but the township assists them financially because the first aid squad can’t raise enough money on their own.
Q: What are some of the big projects planned for 2017?
A: We’ll be doing a lot of paving and road maintenance. We’ll be putting in a new police desk which will cost about $5,000, plus we’re putting in new bathrooms in the police department as the existing ones are over 40 years old.
We’ll be putting a new HVAC system in the Township Museum. We’ve purchased a new fireboat for Lake Hopatcong and that’s above and beyond the fire department budget and their stipend. We’re putting in a generator at Camp Jefferson with FEMA funds, buying a new dump truck, of course new drainage projects, fixing a bridge on Three Rivers Road and expanding the Dial-A-Ride program. Starting in June and running through October, we’ll be starting a Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Municipal Complex, so you can see we have an ambitious year planned.
Q: What are the three most important things you would want people to know?
A: First, we have to do our best. We can’t be everything to everyone and we have to divide the pie up equally.
Second, we want people to find out the facts from the Municipal Building before they listen to rumors.
Third, I’d like people to have pride in the town. We have great garbage pick-up and we try to keep the town nice. It upsets me to see garbage strewn on the roads and highways.
Q: If money is no object and no one can complain, what’s your ideal breakfast?
A: Steak and eggs, rye toast, home-fried potatoes–real ones not shredded–coffee and orange juice.
THE LEACH FILE
NAME: James M. Leach
BORN: 1945 in Jersey City but has always lived in Lake Hopatcong
EDUCATION: Morris Hills, H.S.; County College of Morris; Attended the University of Virginia and Central Missouri State University and graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1978
FAMILY: Married for 47 years; Son, Jim lives locally; Son Michael retired from the National Football League; Son, Tom an attorney in Trenton
PETS: 1 cat
HOBBIES: I work, I boat, I travel. I’ve traveled to see my son play on the road in the NFL. you name it, I’ve been all over.