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TC Asks ‘Should Maplewood Village Alliance Help Pay for New Sidewalks?’

Maplewood is looking to repave the sidewalks of Maplewood Village.

The crumbling sidewalks were last paved 35 to 40 years ago, according to Maplewood Village Alliance Chair John James.

However, while no one disagrees on the need to repave, there is some disagreement over who should pay and how much of the burden should be shared with the MVA. Also, there was some discussion amongst membefs of the Township Committee over whether the sidewalks need to be entirely brick or could be concrete in some areas.

“Pavers would be paid for through the Township,” not the MVA, said James. “The MVA is a management group… it does not have the wherewithal or the monetary support” to pay for the sidewalk repaving.

James noted that the MVA had selected a quality brick for use by the developer of the Clarus that could be expanded throughout the Village.

“This brick paver has more longevity … and would add a little more color to the village,” James told three members of the TC at a budget meeting on Feb. 3.

The costs of the repaving is estimated at $1.2 million and, according to James and former MVA director Julie Doran, was to be paid for by the Township over three years.

Construction could to start this summer (phase one and two) with phase 3 and completion next summer.

When Township Committeeman Frank McGehee asked James, “Has the MVA looked at a special assessment [to pay for the repaving]?” James responded, “That has never been a part of the discussion.”

Doran said that increasing the assessment “could put certain businesses out of business right away” despite the economic boom that the Village is seeing.

McGehee noted that neither special improvement district (the MVA and the Springfield Avenue Partnership)  had “had an increase in assessment in 5 years.”

However, at the Feb. 6 Maplewood Township Committee meeting, town leaders discussed at length how much and if the MVA should pay — as well as what the design for repaving should be.

While Mayor Vic DeLuca at first seemed very opposed to imposing an additional assessment on Village properties for the project, he ultimately agreed that the burden could be shared and said he could possibly support a 10% share of the cost with the MVA.

However, DeLuca did think there would be pushback if the design was changed to reduce the amount of brick.

Township Committeewoman Nancy Adams reported that, when she was working with the MVA board on choosing a brick paver and deciding on a design for the repaving, “I brought up the idea of a special assessment for the project which they did not agree to consider.” She noted, “We spend a lot of money and a lot of time caring for what is considered the jewel of our town. … I also offered other designs to try to mitigate the expense.” Adams said that MVA board members had not been open to those ideas.

Adams said she would also like to see the town’s special improvement districts (MVA and SAP) “look at a modest increase every year to the assessment instead of making a large increase after a long time without. …  An incremental increase each year will help expand their work and also compensate their staff in a way that they haven’t done as well as they could. They get a lot of work from the staff … for not a lot of money.”

Township Committeeman Greg Lembrich said, “I don’t think it should be borne entirely by the taxpayers. I would like to see some sharing of the costs — however we accomplish that.”

Township Committeeman Dean Dafis said he agreed “with everything that was said by Mr. Lembrich and Ms. Adams.”

“I disagree,” said Mayor DeLuca.

The mayor immediately explained that while he did agree to increasing the SAP and MVA assessment for operational funding — “We told them that we should up the assessment this year for their operations. I agree with Ms. Adams that both are run on a shoestring and borne by cheap human labor” —  he felt that the $1.2 million price tag for the repaving was “way beyond” what the MVA could afford. The mayor also pointed to the fact that South Orange makes a far greater contribution to its SID’s annual budget.

“When it comes to capital improvements, that’s the responsibility of the town,” said DeLuca. He noted that the town paid for sidewalk improvements on Springfield Avenue.

McGehee countered that the MVA had chosen ‘the Cadillac, the top line of paver.”

Adams added that estimated costs were also impacted by “options with how to lay them out.”

DeLuca countered that the town engineer “wanted to lay them out in a way that would protect them going forward 50 years” and called the difference in cost “incremental.”

McGehee said, “I think the MVA should invest in themselves as well. I respectfully disagree with you, Mayor.”

Adams added, “My frustration has been the resistance to anything but a [certain paver and pattern]. I’m disappointed that a combination of concrete and pavers was basically shot down and wouldn’t be considered.” Adams said that successful downtowns were not predicated on the materials used in sidewalks: “Rodeo Drive has concrete sidewalks. … There is too much reliance on it (the brick). I think there are ways to mitigate the total expense.”

Ultimately, although DeLuca said that the town had agreed to pay 100% of the cost of the repaving, he relented: “We haven’t spent anything. We can go back and change. It’s our decision. It’s not their [the MVA’s] decision.”

“We don’t even know what it costs,” said DeLuca. “We are operating on a framework that needs to be rethought.”

TC members agreed to have the town’s financial officer run various scenarios on costs options for the repaving, as well as an assessment scenario that could have the MVA paying 10% of the costs.

“We are saying that we are going to revisit it and we have the power to do that,” said DeLuca.

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