Clifton Council Debates Fuel Budgeting, the Garbage Contract Bid and Fireworks at the Sept. 6th Meeting

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At the September 6th council meeting questions were debated back and forth, there were some interruptions and tension in the air and at times it was nearly impossible to follow with what was being said. Six members of the City Council were present for the meeting, with Councilman Eagler attending via Zoom due to illness, and Councilwoman Pino marked absent. A minimum of four Council members are necessary to hold a Council meeting in Clifton, to create the quorum, or majority, required. Councilwoman Pino arrived after the meeting had begun.

The City Council began the meeting with a discussion on the Chief Financial Officer’s recommendation to fund the gasoline budget line. Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula moved the topic of the fuel budget to discussion, asking, “What I believe is that he wants to borrow from the revenues of the Board of Education and the Public Library?” 

The Mayor explained, “No, the Board of Education and the Library reimburse the city for the money they use for gas for vehicles.” The City Manager Nick Villano also responded, “When we dispense fuel, we dispense fuel to the libraries, the Board of Ed,” “So what he is saying is that they pay us back monthly, routinely. We sent out an invoice. He’s got $180,000 in an account, which typically goes into the general account. Do you want to use this money to offset that?”

Councilwoman Sadrakula further debated saying “Why wouldn’t it be apples to apples?” Asking how much was spent to the Board of Ed and the library for fuel last year and if this amount goes into the general fund.

Regarding this question on fuel reimbursement budgeting, Clifton’s Chief Financial Officer, Joseph Kunz explained in an email that “the revenues the City receives from the Board of Ed and Library are not budgeted as revenues. The Finance Department tracks all the reimbursements for both of these organizations as a financial practice, mostly to assure we have invoiced them and collected the money”.

“We are not “borrowing” money, as this, and many other unanticipated revenues are received through “MRNA” in our cash receipts (Misc. Revenues Not Anticipated),” Kunz said. “this sounds complicated, but is how Municipal Finance works as defined by the State of New Jersey.”

The council also asked about the expected completion time of the contract for the repairs to fire station no. 1. To this, Villano recommended having a pre-construction meeting as soon as possible, awarding the job and getting the contractor to start the work. The actual time-frame for the project was projected to be 3-4 months. After rejecting the initial plan of having the project as one, which was going to cost double, the team decided to split the project into the roof as one project and the rest of the work as another. This includes the damaged boiler, anything in the basement to be raised above the flood level.  Villano explained that there will be a water-resistant membrane that will be put around the basement to protect from flooding. The project will cost $365,000; the motion was approved with no objection. The separate project for the roof repair is expected to not take as long, according to Villano.

Another question of ‘Where’s the money coming from” came from Councilman Gibson for the Clifton Skatezone Hockey Rink conversion, the city engineer recommended awarding the contract to Shore Top Construction. Villano answered that the money was allocated for this and the recreational supervisor had money in a fund specific for it as well. There was a motion to move by Councilman Grabowski, seconded by Councilwoman Murphy.

Next, the authorization to approve advertisement of bid requests for solid waste and vegetative waste services was questioned for the timeframe of the contract. There was a misunderstanding of the contract terms as five years or three years with two one-year options. Villano confirmed a Zoom meeting was held on the same day to finalize the specifications to get them to the State.

Councilwoman Murphy explained some of the Council had concerns that the containers wouldn’t work in some parts of the city.

“We are shopping for different options for this bid,” Villano said. “One of the options is if we entertain these containers, I believe that has a five-year life. If you decide to do a three-year contract, you will be paying the same cost over three years rather than five. What we have right now is going to be a three-year contract with two one-year options to extend the contract. You can either provide the containers to the residence, or bid it out the way we have it now with two collections a week. The new bid includes options for different size containers as opposed to only the 95-gallon large containers”

After an extended debate, Villano explained the contract will have options, but pushed towards getting the information to the state urgently explaining, “We need to move this down to the State, that could take a month or two. The State could override you, the insurance company or anyone because they are regulating how we can bid these garbage contracts. The state may have comments before they allow us to accept bids.”

The Mayor suggested two options for the first bid, either five years or three years with two one years of option. The Council decided with no objections to bid out the contract in two different ways: five years and three years with two one-year options.

During the second half of the meeting, the council also passed the first reading of an ordinance that allows a change of the police contract to raises the minimum salary. The Mayor explained they have been working on this for a long time and it will be voted on at the next meeting.

For this year, the council decided to not move forward with the authorization to approve a fireworks display at the Montclair Country Club on October 2nd due to complaints filed by veterans with PTSD and public complaints for their pets. Councilman William Gibson questioned the need of using fireworks and said that it has caused a tremendous amount of difficulties for the public.

“It’s October, not July 4th,” Gibson said.

The Council also received recommendations for the Civil Rights committee from the legal department and Clifton’s EEOC Officer, Doug Johnson. Councilwoman Pino suggested moving them to the Civil Rights committee to review, as opposed to discussing it with the full Council. That was approved with no objection.

The next council meeting will take place on September 20th.

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