Mayor William Torre embarked on his annual message, beginning with some jests about its length.
That length, he assured the public, was necessitated by the number of people who deserved thanks and commendation, among them all those present, the voters who elected him, and his family, who bear with his frequent absences from them on town business. With the possible loss of the municipal building and the projected construction of a new library and senior citizens center, he continued, the borough finds itself at a crossroads. The governing body is at present waiting for the insurance companies recommendations on whether to demolish what is left of the structure or restore it. Issues of structural integrity, building code requirements, and utility subsystems are involved, and the municipality will retain its own professionals to advise it as well. As the mayor observed, the existing structure is a beautiful one and a lot of "blood, sweat, and tears" have gone into it over the years.
Recalling the various challenges that have confronted the borough in the past four years since he first took office--blizzards; a water main break; wind storms, including Hurricane Floyd; the encephalitis scare that caused Halloween in the Park to be canceled last year; and lastly the plane crash and fire--he rejoiced that everyone, especially the Fire, Police, and Public Works departments, had risen to those challenges. But that, he said, is what government is about, "people serving people." He assured everyone that the borough will rebuild, one way or another, and meanwhile thanked God that there had been no loss of life of any borough personnel or residents. All departments are up and running at their various locations, for the use of which he thanked Mr. and Mrs. Meli, who leased the old bank to the borough for municipal offices, and Kundert Motors, who offered their Terrace Avenue space for the Fire Department garages. He also praised and thanked the various borough employees who turned out on their own time to help get the offices set up.
Turning to the vital matter of money, Mayor William Torre took pleasure in announcing that the borough is in excellent financial condition. Last year there was no increase in the local tax rate of 90.5 cents; over five years the local rate has risen only 1 percent; and the governing body will be plowing the surplus back into this years budget to keep the tax rate down. In this he said, he is following in the footsteps of former mayor Rose M. Heck, now Assemblywoman, who had held the line on taxes during her years as mayor. In 1999, he continued, the collection rate was 98.4 percent, a remarkable one and one that saves the borough from having to set aside large amounts as reserves for uncollected taxes, a frequent budgetary abyss. All this is not done by magic, he said, but by the dedicated work of Chief Financial Officer Michael Kronyak, ably assisted by the finance committee headed by Councilmen Andrew Link III and Herbert D. Heeren.
Turning to the boroughs service departments, he cited the increased numbers of calls made on the Police Department (1999 has seen an increase of 1,500 over 1998), pointing out that such "calls" involve not just picking up a phone but turning out, sometimes into dangerous situations, coping with the problem, and then writing up reports afterward. The mayor listed some of the years achievements: a motor safety plan, in which stop signs were replaced; a pedestrian safety plan, in which "Yield to Pedestrians" signs were placed on the Boulevard, and crosswalks there were striped (this program had been chiefly the work of Chief Financial Officer Michael Kronyak and traffic officer Sgt. George Shihanian); the bike marathon over Memorial Day weekend, in which over 200 local youths participated; the police officer baseball cards, a project backed by Ron Kistner and local sponsors; the acquisition of two patrol cars and a speed monitor, which is available wherever residents think there may be a speeding problem; the Y2K upgrade of the departments computers (which had to be done twice, after the brand-new server and workstations were lost to the fire); the hiring of new patrolmen and the promotion of experienced ones to take the place of the unprecedented number of officers who have retired in the last two years; and the acquisition of a $375,000 grant for cops in schools, gotten through the labors of Chief Colaneri and Lt. Castiglione.
The Fire Department too had seen an increased number of calls, but were always there, not merely for the borough, but going on mutual aid to Lodi and Rochelle Park, when those lower-lying towns were inundated by Hurricane Floyd. A new ambulance was acquired, and new turnout gear is on order, and the new headquarters is up and running after the fire. The mayor expressed his pride in the departments professionalism and lauded Councilman Garrett Pepes work as fire commissioner.
Nor was the DPW overlooked. This department, the mayor said "does so much with so little," including its own carpentry and electrical work and refurbishing of equipment. One particular piece of equipment, he added, is more than 50 years old, but is still operational thanks to inspired tinkering; when it finally dies, he added, it should be donated to the Smithsonian. Among the departments other accomplishments the mayor mentioned the tree-trimming project and the planting of 175 new trees last year, with more to come this spring.
Turning to parks, the mayor recalled the regrading and planting of the playing areas of Woodland Park, where sprinklers were installed with the financial backing of the various sports teams; the boroughs endorsement of the state Open Space Trust Fund and his own appointment to the County Board for administering it; the reequipping of the playground area in Woodland Park with the help of grants obtained by Assemblywoman and former mayor Rose M. Heck, and Governor Whitemans attendance at the opening ceremonies; the acquisition and installation of new playground equipment at Miers Park; the acquisition of a new street sweeper, and of the new Christmas lights for the central business district, the first phase of a project backed by the Chamber of Commerce. The mayor announced that a truck that will mechanize sewer cleaning will be acquired; at present a worker has to be lowered into sewer pipes to clean them out manually. He concluded by saying how proud he was of the DPWs keeping Hasbrouck Heights clean and green."
The Health Department, under Councilwoman Marlene Verrastro as commissioner and Mrs. deRussy as registrar, performs many services for residents from babies to seniors. Food-handling establishments are inspected twice a year, and courses in food-handling safety are offered. The departments records, the mayor added, which go back to 1900, were all saved, though this years dog license renewals were destroyed by water damage.
The mayor enumerated some of the activities of the zoning and land use departments: he himself, along with Councilman Andrew Link III, Councilwoman Marlene Verrastro, and Borough Attorney Ralph Chandless, worked to make the farmers market a reality (a project of the Hasbrouck Heights Chamber of Commerce); ordinances were passed eliminating home offices in residential areas, requiring the return of shopping carts to their stores, and appointing an official zoning officer; and building inspector Terry Naletko continues to hunt down illegal sump pumps. The mayor also mentioned the outstanding job done by Sarah Chiha.
No year-end wrapup would be complete without mention of the labors of the boroughs officer of longest tenure, Recreation Director Andrew Feintuch, who is now in his 29th year of service to the borough. Among new programs to be offered this year are an essay contest on "what Hasbrouck Heights means to me" and the creation of a department slogan. The library, which the mayor called the heart of the town, continues to plan for its new structure, which the mayor assured Library Director Michele Maiullo would become a reality sooner or later. Welfare Director Lee Kulakowski was praised for combining economy (with such programs as finger imaging) with compassion, when she supported keeping the program local. The department had been particularly hard hit by the fire: all the food for Christmas baskets was lost, but everyone rallied round to help. The Hilton sent bags and bags of food -- and bags to distribute it in. The mayor also recalled that forgotten but this year very busy department, the Office of Emergency Management, headed by Emergency Management Coordinator Dr. Roger J. Szanto, who is supported by a staff of volunteers. Even before the recent emergencies, Dr. Szanto had been busy updating the boroughs emergency plan, as required by the state, identifying and surveying shelter sites in the borough, and formulating a school emergency plan with the cooperation of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Stepura.
The mayor concluded his report by listing some other events and developments: the boroughs entering into a cooperative arrangement with 15 other towns to take advantage of energy deregulation by bargaining together for gas and electric service, for businesses and residents as well as municipal government; the updating of the master plan for the Boulevard; the franchise agreement with Cable Vision, which will give the borough two public service channels and the equipment and training to make use of them (the Heights Night festivities were taped, and may be the first events to be broadcast), as well as Internet access wiring for the schools and library; the boroughs continuing efforts to get Teterboro Airport to reroute air traffic away from residential areas; and the number of grants for various purposes, many acquired through the good offices of Assemblywoman and former mayor Rose M. Heck. Last of all he thanked all those who helped make Heights Night the resounding success it was: Lisa and Peter Traina, Marge and Bert Heeren, Marlene and Tom Verrastro, Marie and Mike Fitzgibbons, Edwinna Carroll, Rosalie and Mack Nickels, Carolynn Lee, Lis Moser, and Dorothy and Pat McCarthy, who lent a large screen TV, so everyone could watch the ball drop in Times Square from the comfort of the Heights venue.