RED BANK: COUNCIL BUSILY CLOSES OUT YEAR

jane eigenrauch 121714Retired librarian Jane Eigenrauch gets a goodbye hug, above, and Councilwoman Juanita Lewis reacts to a tribute at her final meeting. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

juanita lewis 121714At its final scheduled meeting of 2014, the Red Bank council killed a $2.2 million bond ordinance to pay for new water meters amid warnings that a shortage of existing devices could delay new construction in 2015.

The council also:

• approved a new labor agreement covering nearly half the municipal workforce

• extended a moratorium on fees some developers have to pay for parking deficiencies.

• bid adieu to one of its own members

• and honored a newly-retired librarian who had been the borough government’s longest-serving employee.

• A race to get the water meter bond approved by the end of the year had been met with complaints that it was being rushed through without adequate study or explanation. Tacitly acknowledging the haste, Councilman Mike DuPont, who had initiated the measure, also moved to table it, which effectively killed it, for this year at least. But it’s likely to return in 2015.

“I still firmly believe we need to entertain the idea of replacing our water meters,” DuPont said.

Officials have said the meters used by the borough for the past 25 years are no longer manufactured, and that newer devices are more accurate and cost-effective. There’s also a ticking clock of sorts, according to Councilman Ed Zipprich.

“We have a limited number of meters left,” he said. “If we don’t have new meters to go into new construction, those folks won’t get their C of Os,” or certificates of occupancy.

• The council approved a new contract with Communications Workers of America Local 1075. The pact, already approved by the union, is retroactive to January 1, 2014, runs through 2016, and includes pay raises of two percent per year, said Administrator Stanley Sickels.

The contract covers about 50 blue-collar and non-administrative white collar workers, including police dispatchers, trash collectors and office clerks.

For the first time, however, it also creates a new sub-unit for “supervisors and professional employees,” a separation necessary to avoid the conflict of having one bargaining unit member in a position to discipline another, Sickels said. All library employees are now included in the sub-unit because of their advanced-degree requirements and salary levels, he said.

The contract also includes enhanced incentives for workers to decline borough health insurance in favor of a spouse’s plan. The maximum salary boost for taking that route jumps to $5,000, from $1,500, Sickels said.

• A moratorium on payments developers must make when new projects include parking deficiencies was extended yet again, though this time with indications that it may have fulfilled its purpose of reviving the town’s economy and should be lifted.

The moratorium, in place since August, 201o, was unanimously extended through June 30, 2015. But “we did this when we had 40 percent vacancies. I think we have five or seven percent now,” said Councilwoman Kathleen Horgan.

Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, the lone Republican, suggested that the parking ordinance be revised so that any new restaurant of up to 25 seats get a pass on the one-time charges, which can run to more than $1,000 per space of shortfall, while larger new eateries would pay the fees. Her suggestion won guarded support from Democrats Ed Zipprich and Juanita Lewis.

Council President Art Murphy, though, cautioned that reinstating the fee could backfire.

“There are plenty of landlords in this borough who could give two hoots about leaving their buildings vacant,” he said. “I would encourage the council to pass this. We’re not in the business of hurting business, big or small.”

• Lewis, attending her final meeting after six years on the governing body, won praise from her colleagues for her “graceful and gracious” leadership of parks and recreation.

“Her commitment to the young people of Red Bank has been outstanding,” said Zipprich, her running mate in last month’s election, in which Lewis was unseated by Republican Linda Schwabenbauer. He called her a “quiet storm for change” who left the town better off than when she joined the council after five years on the board of education.

Lewis said she felt “honored to have been a member of this historic council.”

• Jane Eigenrauch also got a warm send-off, and a council resolution of appreciation, for her 37 years and 8 months of service at the borough library, which ended November 30. She was the town’s most-senior employee.

Noting that “you need other people to share what you have to give in life,” Eigenrauch thanked “the residents of Red Bank, the people I’ve worked for all these years, for making it possible for me to have a useful and enjoyable career.”