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Freeholder Board Privatizes Springfield Compost Facility Delivering Annual Savings of $900,000 to Municipalities By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
ELIZABETH — The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders took action last week to privatize the operation of its conservation center in Springfield, a move that is expected to net municipalities that utilize the facility savings of $900,000 annually.
In an agreement with Nature’s Choice Corporation of Lyndhurst, the county will lease equipment to the company at a rate of $30,000 per year. In addition, Nature’s Choice will pay the county at least $43,000 per year and $3,600 a month for disposal of leaves, grass and wood chips at the center in Springfield.
The facility serves as a compost for leaves transported from around the
county. Towns had been charged $225 per cubic yard to dispose of vegetative waste at the compost facility.
Nature’s Choice will market the “end product” material as mulch and compost. The contract takes effect immediately.
Freeholder Chairman Daniel P. Sullivan said at last Thursday’s board meeting that towns will no longer pay fees to dump leaves and vegetative waste at the site.
The savings to Westfield is expected to be $125,000 annually, compared to Union Township, which will save $284,000. Westfield currently dumps its north side leaves at the compost site.
“I think it is a perfect example of the shared services philosophy that
we had over the past number of years,” he said.
No jobs will be lost from the privatization of the facility, although two employees will be moved to other tasks within the county parks.
“It is definitely a winwin situation for Union County and the 21 municipalities,” said Mr. Sullivan.
At the start of the meeting, the board handed out checks to towns to help defray costs associated with Tropical Storm Floyd, which struck the area last fall. The funds were the result of grants obtained by the county from the federal and state governments.
Among the towns receiving aid thus far are: Westfield, $48,720;
Cranford, $67,704; Fanwood, $39,914 Springfield, $81,687; Berkeley Heights, $7,096; Elizabeth, $63,242; Clark, $70,831; Roselle Park, $21,687, and Roselle, $28,783; Garwood, $22,678; Hillside, $49,884; Kenilworth, $27,170; New Providence, $14,762; Rahway, $61,762; Scotch Plains, $89,550; Springfield, $81,687; Summit, $55,257 and Union, $136,688.
On another matter, County Manager Michael J. Lapolla said the county will soon be sending materials to towns in the county concerning a new program, called “Senior Focus,” which is aimed at initiating capital investments in local senior citizen centers. Mr. Lapolla said he expects to have a list of recommendations for grants to municipalities for freeholder board consideration within the next four to six weeks.
Freeholder Mary Ruotolo noted that Union County has been chosen as one of three counties in New Jersey to implement a new system of services for children with emotional and behavioral problems.
Called “The Children’s System of Fair Initiative,” Freeholder Ruotolo said she anticipates the program will help thousands of Union County children. The new program will provide
Public Opinion Continues to be Gauged in Second Hearing Addressing Proposed Union County Open Space Trust Fund to Improve Parks By SUSAN M. DYCKMAN
Specially Written for The Times
WESTFIELD — The Open Space Ad Hoc Committee, which was formed by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, held the second of two public hearings on March 23 intended to gauge public opinion on the formation of a park land and open space trust fund, which would facilitate the county’s acquisition of open space and development of the existing county park system.
The first public hearing took place March 22 in Elizabeth.
The Ad Hoc Committee includes the following members: Dr. Henry Ross, President of the Union County Alliance and resident of Branchburg; Roselle resident Elizabeth Brody, Dean of Rutgers University School of Law; Henry M. Ogden of Summit, former Summit Council President; Ralph Miltier, an educator and former
mayor of Hillside; and Carl Salisbury, attorney and Westfield councilman.
Union County is one of only four of New Jersey’s 21 counties which has not established an open space trust fund. The Ad Hoc Committee plans to submit its recommendation this month to the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Dr. Ross, Committee Chairman, clarified that the Open Space and Recreation element of the Union County Master Plan outlines a $23 million program of repairs to existing park facilities and construction of new park facilities in the amount of $24 million.
The planned program to acquire 100 acres of additional park land would cost an estimated $7 million. An open space trust fund would provide a constant source of funding for the program.
According to the committee, open space trusts are funded by assessing
each property in the county (or municipality) an average of one to three cents per $100 of assessed value. It is estimated that at this rate in Union County, a trust could generate between $3.2 million and $9.7 million annually.
Of the 25plus members of the public in attendance, 17 testified before the committee. Most were in agreement that the idea of a trust fund is a good one, though there were varying opinions as to how the funds should be used and how much of a tax levy the public would bear.
While supporting the trust fund, Summit Councilwoman Cynthia Martin suggested language be included “to clearly indicate that the money be used to acquire open space rather than immediately funding development.” She also wanted to know how long the tax would last and
would there be some kind of sunset clause.
Ms. Martin wanted to see the tax capped at one cent.
“Three to four cents is too burdensome on Summit and could take away resources we would like to use for our own open space,” she stated.
A member of the Springfield Environmental Commission, Helen Heumann, proposed development of green ways to connect the county parks as originally outlined in the park designs of Frederick Law Olmsted.
Walter Stochel of Edison spoke to the success that Edison has had with its Open Space Trust Fund.
“An OSTF is a great tool for counties and communities,” said Mr. Stochel, who noted Edison’s fund was approved by voters on the third try when it specified a tax levy of one cent per $100 of assessed value and
was earmarked for land acquisition only.
“Without a trust fund, you are walking away from Green Acres money,” he added, referring to the New Jersey Garden State Green Acres Preservation Trust.
It provides grants for counties and municipalities for park acquisition and development projects. Green Acres’ money is more likely to go to communities that have established their own Open Space Trust funds.
The open space referendum that passed last year in Scotch Plains came under fire from several speakers. They accused the township of not exploring all its alternatives before dipping into the Ashbrook Reservation land on the south side of town to create soccer and ball fields.
Frank Budney of Union indicated there were approximately 130 acres of open space in Scotch Plains in
parcels of two to 20 acres, “some which were more suitable for recreation.”
In encouraging the committee to move forward with the trust fund, Bill Nierstedt, Planning Director for the City of Plainfield, encouraged the committee to “concentrate (its efforts) along rivers and green ways to connect what we do have.”
Most speakers were in favor of preserving the open space for passive recreation rather than active pursuits such as soccer fields.
William Fidurski, Chairman of Clark’s Environmental Commission, noted that Clark set aside 104 acres to establish the Clark Wildlife Preserve and Habitat, which stretches approximately two miles between Ashbrook Reservation and Milton Lake Park. There, he said, “we will limit activity to passive recreation and fishing.”
“I don’t see much county commitment to acquiring natural open space. A distinction must be made,” said Mr. Fidurski. He, too, referred to the Scotch Plains referendum and expressed concern that all funds were designated for improvements. “That’s not the way for the county to go,” he concluded.
Dennis Miranda, a member of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, made several recommendations to the committee. These included: a commitment to research the open space availability in the county; a study of municipalities’ master plans; and consultations with local tax assessors to ascertain location and acreage of available land.
In terms of the referendum, Mr. Miranda suggested that 70 percent of funds be designated for improvement, 30 percent for acquisition. He also recommended the county be “conservative in going to the ballot box.”
Mr. Salisbury asked if it were realistic to expect that an open space inventory could be completed in time to get the referendum prepared by August 25, the deadline for inclusion on the November general election ballot.
Mr. Miranda ultimately offered the services of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to the Open Space Committee to “help develop a plan and spend time in the field and pour over tax records.” He estimated it would take 60 days to assess the county’s open space needs. funding for communitybased treatments
while also reducing “the number of bureaucratic hurdles for getting treatment.” The board also passed a resolution in support of Westfield’s ordinance to lower the speed limit on East Broad Street, a county road, from 35 mph to 25 mph from Gallows Hills Road to North Euclid Avenue.
The state Department of Transportation will make the final determination on the speed limit change. The board also passed on first reading an ordinance to amend the Union County Administrative Code by placing the Union County Arson Squad within the Division of Environmental Health and Emergency Management.
The squad provides assistance to local police and fire departments in determining the origin and cause of suspicious fires. The volunteer group originally was under the jurisdiction of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, but county government officials believe the organization would fit better in the Division of Environmental Health and Emergency Management, which already deals with fire emergency issues.
The board will vote to adopt the ordinance following a public hearing on Thursday, April 13.
Covering Fanwood, Mountainside, Scotch Plains and Westfield, Union County, New Jersey (NJ)