By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD – Westfield drivers who may be close to losing their minds in the growing maze of road closures and detours may have to grin and bear it a while longer, town officials said Tuesday.
“We obviously have a ton of utility work going on. It’s all eventually going to translate into paving, but we’ve all got to be a little patient,” Town Administrator Jim Gildea said, speaking during the agenda-setting portion of Tuesday night’s council meeting. Currently, Mr. Gildea said, two of the town’s major utility companies — American Water and Elizabethtown Gas — are both actively working to complete various projects throughout the community, many of which have been contributing to the town’s recent traffic challenges.
“American Water has one ongoing project that is currently impacting Rahway Avenue and a number of its adjoining streets. They anticipate finishing up their main replacements and house connections by the end of July and then they will need to allow the trenches that they have dug to settle. Paving will begin in late August or early September,” Mr. Gildea said.
Elizabethtown Gas, meanwhile, currently has six ongoing grid reconstruction projects in Westfield. These projects (a full list of which can be found on the town’s website) will most likely follow a similar timeline, Mr. Gildea said, and affected streets will probably be repaved at some point this fall.
Milling and paving efforts also are expected to commence either late this week or early next week on two additional Elizabethtown Gas projects — one near the Shackamaxon Country Club and another pertaining to the Ward 2 grid along Linden and Jefferson Avenues — that were carried over from last year.
In a similar vein, the council voted Tuesday to award a publicly-bid contract for various capital road improvements of its own.
“We had a very good bidding process. It was very competitive,” Mr. Gildea said. “We also still have some flexibility in terms of our state aid jobs.”
Still, Mr. Gildea said, the slowdowns and detours should all ultimately be worth the wait.
“As of right now, we’re still on track to repave more than 20 miles of road this year,” he said. “We’re hoping that next year’s numbers will be in the double digits as well, which would really get us back on track and where we need to be.”
“I’m sure you will all agree that the benefits of this unprecedented, multiyear paving program will be worth the temporary disruption and inconvenience,” Councilwoman Dawn Mackey said during Tuesday night’s regular council meeting. “I wanted to add that everyone should consider signing up for the town’s Nixel notifications if you haven’t already. It gives you a great roadmap of what to avoid every morning while we’re waiting for these projects to be completed.”
Nixel notifications regarding road closures and other important information can be accessed via the town’s website.
In keeping with the theme of capital spending, the council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution that would allow town officials to consolidate $9.9 million worth of outstanding bond authorizations, some of which date back to 2017, into a single issue in order to stave off higher interest rates that could be lurking around the corner.
“This is a strategy we’ve had for many years where we let authorizations from capital ordinances collect until they reach a critical mass,” Mr. Gildea said, speaking during the agenda-setting portion of Tuesday night’s meeting. “By next year, we could be looking at normalized interest rates of 3, 4 or even 5 percent whereas right now we are expecting to come in at about 2.8 to 3 percent. We’re essentially trying to keep debt service flat for next year so that we can still deal with any emergencies that might come up without having to navigate a bunch of spikes or drop-offs from a budget perspective.”
The bond sale, which will be completed through an electronic bidding process, is expected to be completed on Wednesday, July 20, of this year.
The council also voted Tuesday to approve a collective bargaining agreement between the town and the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association. Local members of the association will see a raise of approximately 2.38 percent over the course of the four-year contract, which includes provisions for retroactive payments dating back to January of this year.
Westfield Fire Chief Michael Duelks said Tuesday that the final negotiations have been “very well received” among local members of the union.
In other town news, the council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution that would enable the mayor and clerk to re-enter into a longstanding cooperative agreement between the town and Union County.
“This is an annual resolution that allows for our continued participation in the block development grant application process,” explained Mr. Gildea. “We do two things — we apply for our own funding (the recreation department has applied for and received several of these grants over the course of the past several years) and we also shepherd applications through for a few other organizations including senior housing, the community center and the Westfield Y. This has been a very good arrangement for us and we’re looking forward to the continued partnership.”
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