After 24 years of service, Mayor Russell Felter’s last town council meeting was on December 19.
In his final report, Felter thanked the township’s emergency services and employees. “Jefferson has the best police force in New Jersey,” he said. The town has grown financially, he stated, noting its AA+ bond rating. “The debt of the town has been cut in half and our taxes are 11% less than surrounding towns,” he reported. Another accomplishment cited by Felter is the administration’s preservation of more than 3,000 acres of land throughout Jefferson.
“It was an honor and a pleasure serving Jefferson Township,” Felter concluded. Among his future plans are projects with various athletic functions in town.
It was also the last council meeting for administrator James Leach and council member Ronald Smith, both of whom had long and illustrious careers in town service.
Administrator James Leach Is Bid Farewell
Leach served 52 years in township government, including six years as chief of police and then 24 years by Felter’s side as administrator. He had also worked closely with Felter’s late father, and was acclaimed as critical to Jefferson’s success in recent decades. Felter observed that the three men together had given 112 years of service to the township.
Leach and Felter were presented with Jefferson cups. When Leach confessed that he was not familiar with the item, council member Kim Finnegan joked, “I find it strange that there is something Jimmy doesn’t know about Jefferson!” The cup, designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1810, is typically made of pewter and given as an award. The cups were inscribed with “One town, one future” – the mayor’s mantra during his administration.
Leach thanked Felter for the opportunity to become administrator and expressed hope that Jefferson will continue to move forward. Debby Hurt, representing the state Department of Transportation, presented gifts to Leach and Felter. Choking back tears, she remarked, “These are the two best people in the world. On behalf of the DOT, it was such a pleasure working with both of you.”
Council Member Ronald Smith Recognized
Ronald Smith was awarded a proclamation by his fellow council members in recognition of his commitment and dedication to the town. He had previously served on the Board of Education and Planning Board, and will continue to serve on the Lake Hopatcong Commission.
Resident Phil Doyle spoke about a bend on Berkshire Valley Road by Jet Electrical Services, where bushes falling into the road create a blind turn. He had raised the matter at the October 7 council meeting, but stated that the problem had not been resolved. Council president Debi Merz assured him that it would be addressed by the new administration.
Council member Jay Dunham introduced for discussion a 2% cap on interest arbitration awards for certain unions. A temporary 2% cap was approved by the legislature and governor in June 2014. However, according to the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the law expired on December 31, 2017, and has not been renewed. Because there is currently no cap, contracts that come due have no dollar limits on what a union can seek. Since the state has failed to make progress, Dunham proposed adopting the 2% cap locally. He noted that other towns, such as Denville and Boonton, have endorsed the cap. Council members agreed to move forward with this matter and prepare for a vote at a future meeting.
Council members expressed excitement regarding the monthly print edition of The Jefferson Chronicle, which will debut in February 2019. Kim Finnegan and Robert Birmingham endorsed the plan to have local news in print again, and encouraged residents and businesses to provide support.
The library is undergoing renovations to the roof and the addition of a sidewalk overhang. Birmingham reported that, contrary to the norm in such projects, “renovations are ahead of schedule and under budget.”
Birmingham and Smith had attended a recent Chamber of Commerce holiday party at Jimmy Geez North. Participation was the largest in years, noted Birmingham, adding that the tables were full and the common theme appeared to be “cohesiveness.”
Dunham and Finnegan had attended an event at Bella Vista Ristorante honoring Emergency Medical Services volunteers from the Milton and Lake Hopatcong rescue squads and fire departments. They expressed appreciation for the members’ hard work.
The next town council meeting will be held on January 2 at 7:00 p.m. in the municipal building. Eric Wilsusen will be sworn in as Jefferson Township’s new mayor.
Tyler Delp contributed to this report.