2016 State of the Borough Address
Mayor Daniel J. Reiman
Together we acknowledge where we have come as a community and where we are striving to be as a town at the forefront of urban revitalization.
One of my favorite experiences as Mayor, and one of the most humbling is when I hear from former residents. Maybe they are in town to visit a relative for a holiday, perhaps they are coming to one of the many events or festivals that we hold throughout the year or they were just in the area and decided to take a look around the old neighborhood.
Whatever the reason, it is always the same story. Whether it’s by email, letter, social media posts, or in person, they tell me how amazed they are by everything we’ve done, by the progress that Carteret and its residents have made since they left.
They talk about the waterfront park, the upgraded ball fields, the revitalized neighborhoods, the streetscape improvements & the growing commercial districts and our overall growth.
They will then generally tell me how they wish that everything that we have today, was around when they were living here, when they were growing up or when they raised their families here.
There are several reasons to enjoy these comments and conversations.
The first is because these are people who came back to remember old times; and without fail find themselves talking about Carteret and its ongoing revitalization, and the exciting opportunities that are ahead of us.
The second, and without a doubt most important, is because these are people who are viewing our accomplishments as a whole – though we know it is made up of so many smaller parts. The view of the whole is sometimes difficult for us to do, because change is incremental.
We didn’t just wake up one day and have the best parks in central jersey, we didn’t suddenly cut a ribbon and have thousands of new job opportunities and new residential developments; you don’t flip a light switch and have revitalized neighborhoods overnight.
It happens over the course of years, and it takes hard work, careful planning and a daily commitment to be the best community we can be. Those changes have happened in Carteret and they continue to happen each and every day.
Nowhere is this commitment more evident than in the fiscally conservative course we have charted when it comes to municipal spending.
Just recently the State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs released a report showing homeowners in Carteret pay one of the lowest property taxes in Central New Jersey. That same report showed that Carteret has experienced the lowest rate of increase in property taxes during the past 15 years, reflecting only a 1.8 percent average annual increase.
This is happening in an environment, and at a time when property taxes have skyrocketed around the State. In fact, some towns have seen increases as high as 60 percent and they are still struggling to hold the line against further increases.
It has also happened in an environment where the State government, led by Governor Chirstie, having mismanaged its own finances for years, has systematically attempted to cure its own fiscal problems on the backs of municipalities and working class residents around the State.
All UEZ towns have been targeted and Carteret alone has lost millions of dollars a year in UEZ funding seized by the State to balance their budget. This same mentality of robbing Peter to pay Paul has seen the State underfund our Carteret school system by $16 million annually, by refusing to abide by its own court approved school funding formula; they are simply ignoring the law.
But the Governor does not bear sole responsibility, because while he was pillaging local coffers, the legislature, led by so-called leaders like Senate President Steve Sweeney sat idly by and did nothing, all too willing to play the role of silent accomplice, and enact the governor’s draconian attacks on the middle class.
Despite the Governor’s money grab, we have taken actions and implemented policies that have allowed us to maintain a fiscally stable town government.
Reducing the Borough workforce has resulted in millions of dollars in savings to taxpayers. Reduction of our total debt obligation has saved millions more.
We have utilized every available tool to hold the line on municipal spending and we have consistently been able to introduce budgets with increases well below the State mandated cap. It is on this economic foundation that we have been able to usher in the largest economic expansion in Borough history; an expansion that has included over $1 billion in private development and the creation of thousands of new private sector jobs.
This past year was one of the most successful in our history in creating new ratables and attracting new employers. In May, we announced that Amazon, after a national search, had chosen Carteret as the site for a new 1 million sq. ft. fulfillment center.
This facility, located just off of exit 12 already employs 500 full time workers with many more to come. Their decision to locate here and make such a significant long term investment is evidence of our aggressive and ongoing business recruitment and development-friendly environment.
And today, I can announce that Amazon will be opening a second facility in Carteret with an additional 900,000 sq. ft. at the former White Rose facility in Port Carteret. When operational, this new facility will create an additional 1,500 new full time jobs.
We have been saying for years that Carteret’s strategic location, with our close proximity to the Port and easy access to the New Jersey Turnpike makes us an ideal location for clean distribution and manufacturing based commercial developments.
But that is not what makes us unique. What makes us unique is that we have been able to point to our steady tax rate and controlled spending and say to business owners and investors that “if you build in Carteret you will have the stability necessary to enter into long term relationships with tenants, without fear of significantly changing operational costs.”
This has resulted in an unprecedented expansion in this type of development and has proven a game changer in our efforts to attract new industry.
Take for example the completion of the 460,000 square foot light industrial complex at the former Ball Glass site. This facility, completed with 100 percent union construction, was built on a long vacant brownfield and will generate $42 million in revenue to the Borough over the next 30 years. It will house, Serta-Simmons, a national mattress manufacturer, who has chosen to locate in Carteret and has announced that the facility will create 280 new full time jobs when it starts full operation in the next few months.
And just up the road, construction is set to begin on the first of 2 new facilities on vacant property owned by Federal Business Centers. When completed these facilities will total nearly 375,000 additional square feet of industrial space, provide hundreds of new job opportunities to our residents while generating millions of dollars in added revenue to the Borough.
We are also unique in that we have demonstrated a willingness to invest and improve infrastructure to help encourage new development and aid the success of the businesses locating within Carteret.
Years ago, phase one of the industrial road breathed new life into Carteret’s industrial corridor and its completion under our watch has spurred a new era of development.
The expansion of New Jersey Turnpike Interchange 12 marked another important milestone in establishing Carteret as a premier location for clean commercial businesses.
Now, with the redesign and expansion of the Intersection at the base of the West Carteret Bridge, Carteret has once again demonstrated its commitment to improving our infrastructure in a way that benefits both commercial and residential property owners.
Representing a $3.5 million investment by the Borough and County, the new intersection design will create easier access to West Carteret while at the same time removing heavy truck traffic from Roosevelt Avenue. And, once completed, will further encourage economic growth within the Borough of up to an additional 800,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing industrial space in the western industrial zones.
At the same time we have taken steps to revitalize the Business District along Roosevelt Avenue in West Carteret. Work has now begun on our Façade Improvement Project. This joint venture between the Carteret Business Partnership and property owners will make significant and long overdue improvements to the commercial buildings along Roosevelt Avenue. To date, approximately 70 percent of eligible commercial property owners have signed on to the program and within months we will begin to see a complete transformation of this important commercial corridor.
This is just the start for the west side, as R.J. Hospitality will soon begin construction of a 125 Room 8 story Marriot Courtyard Hotel on the long vacant diner property. This facility will significantly improve the character of this highway commercial area and provide for a steady influx of customers for local restaurants and businesses.
Further south on Roosevelt Avenue and just off Peter J. Sica Industrial Highway, demolition is complete and site preparation has now begun on the former McGrudder Chemical property. The long abandoned property had become an eyesore visible from both the industrial road and surrounding residential properties. The Hampshire Companies have continued their commitment to investing in Carteret and will soon begin construction on a new 95,000 sq. ft. self-storage facility that will provide yet another source of ratable growth to the Borough for years to come.
We remain committed to improving our town, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood.
The past year provided us with a shining example of what can be achieved if government and private businesses work together.
It was well over a decade ago, we committed to work to rebuild a neighborhood of boarded up and abandoned buildings on lower Roosevelt Avenue, critics said that it could not be done.
And, when the first homes sold for record setting prices and rental units were filled as fast as they became available, skeptics said it would not last.
Now, that the fourth and final phase of this historic redevelopment, has been completed and the first new businesses in decades have opened their doors; we can confidently say, it could be done, it was done, we did it as a community by fostering private development, and it will last.
It is with the same confidence that we have committed ourselves to revitalizing the Downtown Washington Avenue Area.
Last year, we announced plans to transform this neighborhood into an Arts District. To create a destination to which residents from throughout Central New Jersey would come to enjoy live performances, dining and shopping. We announced that the cornerstone of this new Arts District would be a performing arts center on the site of the former Ritz Theater.
This year I can report that we are well on our way to realizing our vision.
The Carteret Performing Arts Center is in the final stages of design and construction will begin this year. When completed, it will host a 1,600 seat theater with performances that range from live music, off-broadway plays, comedy shows, Community Theater and cultural events.
There has been a tremendous interest in operating the theater from national companies throughout the performance industry and we are currently conducting interviews and expect to have an operator in place in the coming months.
We have begun putting into place the infrastructure that will support both the Performing Arts Center and the Arts District. Nearing completion is a 450 car parking garage which will provide parking for theater goers, shoppers and residents in the new mixed-use development.
We have also engaged a prominent national planning firm to design a streetscape for the Arts District, that call for streets resembling piano keys, crosswalks that play music as you cross, as well as street art that includes fire and water features.
The neighborhood will be revitalized by the planned construction of new residential units and thousands of square feet of new commercial and restaurant space.
When completed, it will be a downtown arts district, unrivaled by any other in the region.
Our commitment to the arts does not begin and end on Washington Avenue.
We recently announced that we are under contract to purchase a former parochial school. Once the acquisition has been completed it is our goal to partner with the Middlesex County and N.J. State educational agencies in developing an academy dedicated to visual and performing arts. Just one block from the Washington Avenue Arts District, the school will provide students from Carteret and Middlesex County an opportunity to receive training in the arts and will become an important part of our efforts to expand access to the arts and make Carteret an incubator for artists.
Last year, we officially opened the Blazing Star Cultural Arts Center. Located in the former library building on Carteret Avenue, this center is quickly becoming a meaningful contributor to arts and cultural programming in Carteret and throughout the area.
Since opening, the center has hosted exhibits, improv and open mic nights, musical performances, lectures, and programs designed to engage our citizens of all ages. In all, the programs run from the Blazing Star Cultural Arts Center have attracted over 3,500 participants in its short existence thus far. What is perhaps most impressive is the large number of our younger residents that have taken an active role in these programs.
This year we held a summer teen arts program in the park where teens worked with a professional artist to create their own work and receive training to lead community workshops. Through those workshops the teens served hundreds of other members of our community.
We also have established a Teen Advisory Board at the Blazing Star. The teens on the Board volunteer their time to provide arts, history, and cultural programs to residents. Through their participation, they gain valuable leadership skills and professional experience. I am happy to report that the Teen Board has grown from 5 members to 30 members in under one year.
These are just a few examples of how our commitment to the arts has begun to provide positive results in our community. And, this coming year we will be expanding our Arts in the Park Program as well as adding new music programming to our summer recreation menu.
But, our commitment does not end with the arts. We continue to advance projects that will strengthen and grow our town for decades to come.
This past year we won an important victory in our fight to expand public access to the Arthur Kill Waterway. For years the Borough has sought to construct a Municipal Marina at Waterfront Park. In fact, the idea was proposed 22 years ago.
But we took on the challenge starting in 2005 and we have confronted bureaucratic hurdle after bureaucratic hurdle. We were denied our initial approval by a federal agency that was influenced by special interest groups seeking to prevent public access to this important natural resource. We appealed because we believed they were wrong and we believed that this project is vital to our future vision for Carteret’s waterfront redevelopment.
We hired the best experts in the world; from Denmark to Dubai and stateside from Virginia to Florida. We assembled an expert team to fight back against the abusive over reach of the federal government and their endless departments and agencies.
We won that appeal and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued its approval in December and, just this past week, the United States Army Corps of Engineers reversed their original denial and have now green lighted the project and issued a permit to proceed with the public marina.
I am proud to report that this summer we will begin remediation and construction on our Municipal Marina which will be largely funded by the $19 million in grant funding already awarded by State agencies and Middlesex County for this specific project. Because of our commitment to clean up our natural resources and our willingness to fight for our vision, this longstanding goal will soon be a reality.
Further north along the waterway, we are proceeding with plans on the intermodal transportation hub.
This past year we held numerous meetings with State and federal officials and their many bureaucratic agencies seeking to advance the Carteret-Manhattan Ferry Project. We engaged the foremost experts in the field of transportation who conducted an extensive needs analysis and who determined that Carteret is ideally situated to serve the growing regional transportation needs. And, most importantly, we conducted test runs from our waterfront to lower and mid-town Manhattan.
Dozens of residents participated in the test runs by boarding a commuter ferry at our waterfront pier and traveling to Manhattan and back. The results were fantastic. Commuters would be able to make their morning and evening commutes in under 50 minutes without the need to sit in traffic at one of the already congested tunnels or bridges.
Once in place the ferry will further highlight Carteret as a premier location to call home and will ensure that Carteret continues to grow.
Mindful of the fact that Carteret’s full potential as a vibrant town is ahead of us, we must improve our aging infrastructure to meet our future needs.
Recently, we received our final NJDEP permits and in the coming months will begin work on a $9 million Noe Street Area Drainage Improvement Project to improve stormwater flow on over 700 acres of residential property in town.
After Hurricane Irene and then again after Hurricane Sandy, engineers were tasked with developing a plan to alleviate recurring flooding and backups in the center of town. That plan which has now been approved by the State of New Jersey call for increasing the size of our underground storm sewers, installing additional on street catch basins, and new flood control gates at Noe’s Creek and for the construction of a 2 acre storm water retention pond and pump station on Noe Street.
Unique to this project is our decision to simultaneously develop that retention pond into a new Borough Park that will serve as an all season, multipurpose recreational facility that includes a fountain, a walkway and will also allow for ice skating in the colder weather months.
When completed, it will become part of the best kept and most modern system of parks in Central New Jersey.
Investing in upgrades and then maintaining our park system has been a priority since day 1 of my administration and this year Bishop Andrewz Park will see increased public parking, handicap accessible sidewalks and the Borough’s second spray park as we make a significant investment in this neighborhood park.
And we continue to invest in our residents by creating programs to help them develop job skills and then find positions where they can put those skills to work. That is why we partnered with the New Jersey Community College Consortium to hold work training sessions for residents, offered grants for companies hiring local residents, sponsored regular job fairs and launched a jobs page on our municipal website that alerts residents of local job opportunities as they become available. We have partnered with Amazon, RWJ, Serta, Fedex, Continental Coffee and the many other Fortune 500 companies choosing to call Carteret home. I want to thank these companies and their representatives for being here and for their very wise decision to locate in Carteret.
We have worked hard to improve the quality of services provided by our own municipal workforce.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of public safety. Each and every day our police officers, firefighters, EMT’s and other emergency service personnel report for duty with one goal; to keep our Borough secure and to keep our residents safe.
We have committed ourselves to doing everything possible to make sure that they have the tools they need to accomplish that goal.
That is why we have upgraded our dispatch system to assist 911 operators, and installed Mobile Data Terminals in all police cars to allow for immediate access to criminal and motor vehicle databases. We have also purchased body cameras for all police officers and added dozens of special law enforcement officers to supplement the work of full time officers, allowing them to focus on crime prevention, and we have increased the minimum level of staffing to ensure adequate police presence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
We are in the process of installing a state of the art camera system and emergency notification towers that will feature one touch 911 access around the recently renovated Bishop Andrewz Park.
And, I am happy to report because of the efforts of our police department and other public outreach initiatives like our monthly neighborhood watch meetings and our award winning National Night Out, crime rates in Carteret are down across the board.
According to numbers recently released by the New Jersey State Police, year ending 2015; robbery was down 26 percent from the prior year; assault was down 30 percent; and burglary dropped by 37 percent.
Overall, crime was down significantly and we have continued to see this trend continue into 2016.
Last year we completed upgrades to our Fire headquarters adding 4 additional bays to store upgraded emergency equipment and to improve emergency response time.
We also secured homeland security grants that allowed us to buy a new ladder truck and a new pumper truck to further enhance the ability of our volunteer and full-time personnel to respond to emergency situations.
And we enhanced the equipment used by our firefighters through the purchase of new radios, breathing equipment and an onsite oxygen generator.
Carteret’s bravest and members of our EMS answered the call to duty over 3,700 times last year, responding to over 700 fire calls, over 2,200 EMS calls and assisting with over 700 lock outs.
This year we will continue to invest in our emergency services when we begin renovations on our new Office of Emergency Management headquarters on Pershing Avenue.
To all of our emergency service personnel, whether career, part-time or volunteer, allow me on behalf of a grateful community, to say thank you for all you do on a daily basis to keep us safe.
It has been said, if you want to know the character of a community, look no further than the character of its residents.
I am humbled by the number of people who have aided our efforts to build a better Carteret. To our Borough staff and to all our volunteers who serve on our various boards, agencies, and committees - I say thank you!
To our Borough Council, my colleagues and partners in all that we do and accomplish I thank you for your service
Indeed, there are many more that have played a role in advancing our agenda of fiscal responsibility, increased economic opportunity, and an ever expanding sense of community pride.
Because of the contributions they have made, I am able to report that the State of the Borough of Carteret is strong, and there are greater things to come.
Thank you & God Bless You.