CRANFORD — Cranford residents should expect to see their municipal taxes go up by about $106 this year, township officials said last Tuesday.
This year’s $43,996,168.90 budget, Township Finance Chair Terrence Curran said, represents statewide inflation hikes coupled with “significant [mandated] increases in healthcare, pensions and sewage costs.
“Nobody wants to increase taxes, but this is the financially sound thing to do,” Mr. Curran said, adding that this year’s state-mandated increases left the township facing an additional $306,379.64 in expenditures. “This will allow us to maintain a healthy reserve so that when emergencies come up throughout the year, we’ll be able to have some flexibility in dealing with them,” he stated.
Mr. Curran went on to note that the increase in the levy (up 3.9 percent from last year) will allow the township to maintain its current level of debt service while still completing some “essential” capital improvements like road paving and floodwater-mitigation projects.
In addition to introducing this year’s budget, which is slated for a public hearing and final adoption on Tuesday, April 18, the committee agreed Tuesday to start soliciting bids for the North Avenue Gateway redevelopment area.
According to the township’s redevelopment plan (adopted in May of last year), the two-plus-acre property, situated between Springfield Avenue and North Avenue East, will likely be repurposed to accommodate a mixed-use complex comprised of up to 40 residential units (eight of which will be designated as deed-restricted affordable apartments) along with other amenities.
“The area would also include a municipal parking component, address downtown flooding concerns and [reflect] a scale and density that is consistent with Cranford’s continued efforts to revitalize its downtown,” the redevelopment plan states.
The resolution (2023-152) that will allow the township clerk to start soliciting proposals from developers passed Tuesday with a vote of four to one. Commissioner Gina Black, who asked for the decision to be delayed during a recent workshop meeting of the committee, voted against the measure, while the rest of the committee voted in its favor.
“Everybody here is in agreement that that section of town needs rehabilitation,” Ms. Black said, adding that the proposed scope of the project may be too large for the area in question. “We need to challenge how we’re doing it and make sure that we’re getting the best project out of it. I feel we still need a little bit more time to get to the finish line.”
Mr. Curran, who voted in support of the resolution, said Tuesday that while he also would prefer to see a smaller project and fewer market-rate units on the site, the township’s Request For Proposals (RFP) includes protective language designed to give the township committee ultimate authority over the project.
“[We] can say no to any proposal for any reason at all,” Mr. Curran said. “If a developer comes to us with something that we don’t agree with…we can just turn it down.”
And while the Gateway redevelopment project may be moving forward, Mayor Brian Andrews said Tuesday, the township is still struggling to find ways to meet the rest of its affordable-housing obligations.
In September of last year, Cranford, along with 12 other municipalities, filed suit against the state of New Jersey in an effort to encourage Governor Phil Murphy to reinstate the Council On Affordable Housing (COAH), a state-appointed oversight committee that has been effectively lying dormant since the Christie Administration attempted to abolish it in 2013.
“On Friday, we received a response from the governor, who said he does not believe that we are in a position to force him to [appoint new members to the COAH board]. We are going to be working with the other [allied municipalities] to file a response because we think this is important,” Mayor Andrews said Tuesday. “Our view is that COAH is likely to be a more flexible, more realistic instrument in addressing affordable-housing needs. The courts have been taking a cookie-cutter approach, and our view is that things are not being implemented equitably. I’m not making any promises, but we are still going to try to fight this.”