A Message from Mayor Onderko

MayorO

Mayoral Address – Saturday, January 6th, 2024

Welcome to the 95th Reorganization of the Mayor and Council for the Borough of Manville. I would like to thank everyone for attending today. Happy New Year to all!   And congratulations to Dayna and Jade for being elected to the council. 

We are small-town America with a proud past, and we are enjoying new beginnings. It has been a long road back from Hurricane Ida’s devastation in September of 2021. Two feet of flood water were throughout Borough Hall and right here in this council chamber. It was a disaster that even warranted a Presidential visit from President Biden.

In rebuilding Borough Hall, I felt it important to put patriotism on display for all to see and to help remind my fellow residents we live in a great town.  We live in freedom in the greatest country to ever exist on planet Earth, we are very lucky to be a citizen of the United States of America and living the “American Dream.” A dream I pray we never wake up from.

Today, some important American Icons are now on display in our council chamber. The painting on the back side wall combines the strength and resolve of the American Eagle with the endurance, integrity, and national pride of the American flag. It was painted by an 11-year-old, Gerard F. Hirsch, in the early 1920s who was visually impaired in one eye.   

It is such fitting art symbolism for a town that suffers from a serious flooding problem and remains “Manville Strong”. A town where residents want to stay, endure the financial burden of rebuilding their flood-damaged homes and live safely. Over the decades many of our residents, our Hometown Heroes, answered the call to defend our freedom and fought in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and most recently the Global War on Terrorism to keep America safe. 

I’m back for another term as Mayor to continue the fight for Manville’s future and help my fellow residents still waiting to receive disaster aid from our government. In my heart, I didn’t feel it was time for me to step aside. Important work is underway to improve our storm resiliency by applying for two Hurricane Ida-related federal grants for up to 20 million dollars.   

There is much at stake to improve Manville’s future and it is worth fighting for. Just as George Washington fought in the Revolutionary War to give us Freedom along with the greatest founding documents to protect our individual rights for all Americans – the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If those rights are ever infringed upon, Americans like President Lincoln and others worked to ensure a better life where everyone is free and treated equally. 

Hanging on either side of the dais are two original copper-plated engravings of President Washington made in 1862 and President Lincoln in 1866 by a famous engraver W. E. Marshall.  The engravings are a reminder of their sacrifices made for our nation for all of us to enjoy freedom and are a reminder of the progress made since our nation’s founding in 1776.  

With 2023 in the rear-view mirror, we begin to look forward to 2024 and plan for a productive new year. Public safety and the revitalization of our Main Street business district, improving our storm resiliency, and the financial well-being of our Borough will remain in focus and are top priorities. 

The positive news from 2023 is that we successfully sold our sewer utility to New Jersey American Water and will use those proceeds to pay off all outstanding town debt and spend the remaining funds wisely. It will stabilize the municipal tax levy for the next several years.

We gratefully received extra state aid from the Department of Community Affairs, approximately 1.5 million over 2 years to aid our budget and acquire new emergency management equipment for our police department.  A recent $200,000 grant paid for the installation of our new flood sirens. 

We also received a 350,000-dollar federal grant to create a “Freedom Plaza” memorial on our south Main Street where an old gas station still stands. The environmental review is underway. The project will help beautify Main Street and provide extra parking for businesses. It will also include a monument to our first responders and veterans.  

Property taxes will always remain in focus. In the last two budget cycles, the municipal tax levy was increased by only 2.16% from the 2021 tax levy. I’m very proud to say we have one of the lowest “on average” property tax bills in Somerset County, helping make Manville a desirable place to live. And….

Thank you, Governor Murphy! The NJ Anchor tax relief program is greatly appreciated to help offset the high property taxes in NJ. To be honest with everyone, I received far more complaints about the condition of our Main Street than I did over recent property tax bills.

We did however receive some very disappointing news in 2023. It was the termination of a federally funded aid program called HARP to allow for home elevation projects to be funded throughout most of our town. The decision by NJOEM was made with no input from the municipality and dashed the hopes of our residents who applied for financial assistance and were pre-approved to receive the aid. Several privately funded home elevations are underway and there will be more.   

Sadly, disaster recovery is simply taking too long. Over 2 years since Hurricane Ida, we still have abandoned, substantially damaged homes that are eye sores in our neighborhoods. This is something I am very upset about and will continue my fight to help speed up the recovery process. 

It is simply not fair that residents are still paying property taxes and sewer bills for homes they are no longer living in. Unfortunately, there is no sense of urgency to speed up the buyout process by FEMA or the Blue Acres program. Our federal government can certainly do better to help fellow Americans in need.

The best news from 2023 is that the Main Street construction project will be finished in the first quarter of 2024 after the installation of all new traffic signals. It will lead to a renaissance of our Main Street business district. This is a federally funded 7-million-dollar project that in my opinion took too long. I am happy it is nearing completion after almost 10 years of planning. 

The project was designed for public safety by making the pedestrian crosswalks safer and to slow traffic down.  The new, lower speed limit of 25 MPH will remain in effect the entire length once the project is completed. We can all do our part to help avoid accidents and fatalities by adhering to the lower speed limit. I would like to thank our County Commissioners for agreeing to lower the speed limit because it will save lives and reduce the number of serious accidents.   

During April, we plan on partnering with RideWise and our local businesses to launch another “Street Smart” campaign to bring awareness to the rules of the road. Pedestrians should always use crosswalks, activate the flashing pedestrian beacons, and drivers should stop when beacon lights are flashing that indicate a pedestrian is trying to cross the street. 

I have received recent good news from Trenton, The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) announced on January 3rd that it will open a new application round for Main Street New Jersey (MSNJ) designations on February 1, 2024. With this application round, the DCA will accept applications and designate qualified communities to join the MSNJ program. The prestigious MSNJ designation allows communities to receive on- and off-site technical assistance and training in historic downtown revitalization and management. MSNJ communities can also apply for grants to assist with physical improvement projects in their designated districts. Manville will leverage and partner with the Somerset County Business Partnership since we no longer have an active chamber of commerce. 

Last December, I attended a meeting in Trenton to learn more about the HUD “Smart Moves” grant program. This is a competitive grant of $15 million that will be awarded to three towns. The grant program is designed to create housing opportunities in towns that participate in the Blue Acres Program and were hit hard by Hurricane Ida. Manville should be at the top of the recipient list. The grant application deadline is this April.

I’m hopeful we will be one of the three towns awarded this grant. In addition, we recently submitted a 5-million-dollar grant application to help make Manville more storm resilient. We should hear whether we will receive the grant by April. I’m hopeful we will be successful and receive the much-needed aid.

We are currently working on re-examining our master plan and developing a designated truck route through town. We have a new warehouse being proposed on our border in Hillsborough. We do not want truck traffic going through Manville’s residential neighborhoods and school zones. It will become a quality-of-life and safety issue that is unacceptable for those who live near the proposed facility.  

We recently installed speed humps and radar signs to bring awareness to our residential 25 MPH zones throughout our town.  We will be installing more in 2024 to help slow traffic and keep our kids safe. In addition, we will be installing additional sidewalks for safe passage to our schools which has been a priority the past several years. 

In December, I attended and spoke at the 5th grade Dare Graduation ceremony.  I would like to thank the Manville Police Department for backing such an important program for our youth. The fentanyl crisis in our nation is troubling and a strong anti-drug message is much appreciated. 

In closing, a big THANK YOU to our Department of Public Works and Borough Hall employees and to all our volunteers who serve on our various boards and committees without being compensated. 

Our recreation department and volunteers had another outstanding and busy year holding various events and activities. And thanks to the Manville Arts Council volunteers for the “Bright Lights” home decorating contest that has brought the Christmas spirit to town for the past several years. Even the Grinch was impressed! 

For my community recognition awards, I would like to recognize our first responders who put their lives on the line every day for the rest of us. Our Police, fire, and rescue personnel who will be there in our time of need. To show your support and appreciation to our first responders, free yard signs are available today. Consider taking one home to proudly display in your yard. 

So, thank you all on behalf of the Mayor and Council for all that you do that makes Manville a special place to call home. We are small-town America that embodies the American Spirit, where patriotism will NEVER die! God bless Manville and may God continue to bless the United States of America. 

Mayor Richard M. Onderko

 

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