Past Mayor's Messages
May 2017 Update
I am proud to announce that our Borough Administrator, Ms. Andrea Bierwirth, in addition to helping balance the 2017 municipal budget, has also passed the difficult CFM exam and is now a “Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM)” in the state of NJ. This is the first time we have a Borough employee with the certification to help properly manage our flood plains.
Recently, Andrea successfully helped a resident file a “LOMA” – a letter of map amendment – to help get a homeowner’s flood insurance policy lowered based upon the flood elevation of the home. That will provide a significant savings as flood insurance rates increase.
Andrea’s achievement will also provide points in the FEMA Community Rating System in which the Borough participates to help lower flood insurance premiums for all residents paying for NFIP policies. Today the policy discount is set at 15% and we have set goals to get to the 25% discount level.
Read more about CFM certification….
The Association of State Floodplain Managers has established a national program for certifying floodplain managers. This program recognizes continuing education and professional development that enhances the knowledge and performance of local, state, federal and private-sector floodplain management professionals.
The role of the nation's floodplain managers is expanding due to increases in disaster losses, the emphasis on mitigation to alleviate the cycle of damage-rebuild-damage, and a recognized need for professionals to adequately address these issues. This certification program will lay the foundation for ensuring that highly qualified individuals are available to meet the challenge of breaking the damage cycle and stopping its negative drain on the nation's human, financial and natural resources.
April 2017 Update
Earlier this year the NJ Senate unanimously voted to create a special bipartisan committee to examine the state's school funding system and to make recommended reforms. The eight-member Select Committee on School Funding Fairness will hold public hearings throughout the state. Senate President Sweeney is the chair of the committee.
I was invited to speak at a public hearing on Monday, April 17th held at the municipal complex in Parsippany, NJ. This was an invitation as a direct result of attending the Mayors' Legislative Day held in Trenton on Wednesday February 8th and speaking out on the school funding issue and how it adversely affects our school district and property tax bills.
I stated the facts that we receive less in school aid today than we received back in 2010, even with enrollment up over 100 students. We only received $328 dollars more in aid for the 2017-18 school year than our previous year’s total aid amount. It is evident that the current school funding formula is not functioning as intended.
The school funding law of 2008 was altered to include provisions that have prevented districts with increased student enrollment from receiving fair compensation at the same time other school systems are overcompensated with so-called "hold harmless" aid that gives them money for students they don't have. In addition, the existing formula accounts for a town’s value and this component seems to be completely ignored also.
My question that remains unanswered is “how does a town like Manville become the 8th most underfunded school district in our State with over 500 districts”? I recently received a call from Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker who represents our town in Trenton. He has offered to help with the analysis of the existing aid formula and I look forward to meeting with him in the weeks ahead. In my opinion, there is enough school aid to go around, it is simply not being distributed in a fair manner.
It seems NJ property taxes are a hot topic in this year’s Governor’s race too. It is easy to raise taxes and much more difficult to lower them and still provide the same level of essential services. The Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders has introduced a 2017 budget that will raise county property taxes by $5 dollars annually on a $430,006 average assessed home. Lower assessed homes in Manville will pay even less.
Our local 2017 municipal budget introduced in March is basically a “balanced budget” with the same amount to be raised by taxation as the year before, $8,909,276. There will however be a slight increase in the municipal tax rate due to the 5 million dollar loss of assessed value from homes participating in the Blue Acres buyout program during 2016.
In closing, Memorial Day is approaching. I’m looking forward to our Memorial Day parade this year and taking the time to remember our military personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today. Until next month, Mayor Richard M. Onderko
March 2017 Update
One of your governing body’s greatest responsibilities is approving and regularly monitoring the municipal budget. The 2017 calendar year budget cycle is well underway with budget adoption planned for some time in April. With the on-going property tax crisis in New Jersey, we must vigilantly focus on the “long-term” economic welfare of our community and we have already begun to do so.
Keeping Manville affordable with the challenges we face is a top priority of your Mayor and Council. With an on-going 2014 Blue Acres buyout program removing ratables from our tax rolls, we obviously have to look for ways to save. We have entered into numerous shared services agreements and put spending restrictions in place to help increase our general account balance “carry over amount” every year since 2013. Our town debt currently outstanding is $7.2 million which has been paid down the past few years.
Each year obligations to fund employee State pensions, health insurance costs, and debt service payments increase. The challenge is to offset those increases with cost savings to stabilize our municipal tax rate. Municipal tax increases have been $8 in 2016 and $24 dollars in 2015 on an average assessed home. We are targeting another low increase for 2017 as we work to balance the municipal budget. Our budget is approximately one-third of the overall annual tax bill.
With regard to funding our schools, the existing formula for determining the amount of State aid received by a school district is clearly not functioning as intended. The Borough’s overall “town value” has decreased significantly and the existing school formula is supposed to take that factor into account when determining the “local cost share” of the school’s budget. The School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) implemented in 2008 seems to ignore that factor helping make Manville the 8th most underfunded school district in our State. The aid calculation for the 2017-2018 school year only increased by $328 dollars in total! We receive less in State aid today than we received back in 2010 and our enrollment is up over 100 students.
In closing, the school funding issue is still being discussed in Trenton. I have made the leadership in our State’s legislature aware of the economic challenges we face here in Manville. One proposal on the table would give Manville $1 million dollars more in school aid each year for the next 5 years. This would nearly double the amount of State aid we currently receive, help to provide a quality education for our students, and most importantly, help stabilize our property taxes since school funding is over 50% of your tax bill.
The next 100 days are critical starting from when Governor Christie introduced the State’s budget in late February. A new school funding fairness formula needs to be implemented which will give more aid to Manville’s underfunded school district for the 2017-2018 school year.
Until next month, Mayor Richard M. Onderko
February 2017 Update
In the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend several important meetings looking out for the best interests of our Borough. I would like to give everyone a brief update on what was discussed and communicate the importance of each meeting.
I attended the New Jersey Association of Floodplain Managers’ (NJAFM) meeting held on January 24th in Trenton to address the impacts of a new federal administration and what outcome it will have on our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Interesting questions were raised: Will President Obama’s Executive Order 13690 dated January 30th, 2015, establishing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and influencing Federal investment in projects be repealed outright? What regulatory processes exist that lengthen rollback? Will the new Administration strengthen funding requests for flood mitigation and infrastructure?
I remain hopeful that projects can be undertaken to help lower flood water levels in our Borough. I refuse to accept nothing can or will be done to help us. The very next day I attended the reorganization meeting of our regional, multi-town flood Commission, the Raritan & Millstone Flood Control Commission. I spoke passionately to the Commission about considering smaller projects and to work with New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to make progress. It has been over 60 years without any flood mitigation efforts in Manville after two hurricanes hit NJ in August of 1955 and major flooding occurred.
In the weeks ahead, I will be inviting representatives of NJDEP to Manville. I believe it is important for them to see first-hand the adverse effects flooding has had on our neighborhoods and discuss ideas for projects and a path forward in 2017. I remain hopeful President Trump, who wants to put “America first”, will put more funding toward flood mitigation to help us eliminate the constant flooding threat we face.
I recently attended a Conference of Mayors’ meeting in Trenton held on January 26th to specifically address the school funding formula. The meeting was sponsored by the New Jersey League of Municipalities. I had the opportunity to address the panel, which included Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto, to ask how can Manville’s school district be one of the most underfunded districts in our State after the loss of rateables due to Blue Acre buyouts and the reduction in our town’s overall value? We receive less in school aid today than we received in 2010 even with enrollment up over 100 students. This is further proof that the existing complex funding formula is simply “unfair” or does not accurately account for economic conditions within our Borough. Fighting for more school aid for Manville is a fight worth taking on in my opinion. Any amount of additional aid, whether it is State or Federal, will help stabilize our property taxes and allow for a quality education to be offered to our students without cutting curriculum and teachers.
I attended the 25th Annual Mayors’ Legislative Day in Trenton held on February 8th that covered a wide variety of topics facing New Jersey taxpayers. Discussions evolved around how funds were distributed from the NJ Transportation Trust to providing affordable housing requirements with the recent court ruling on COAH obligations. In addition, the NJDEP commissioner stated that a 2017 priority of the DEP is to help reduce localized flooding. There’s no better place to start than right here in the Borough of Manville.
I also recently had a meeting with Somerset County’s Office of Emergency Management to discuss various topics of importance concerning our emergency operations plan, in addition, to inquire about available OEM grants. I look forward to helping update the Somerset County hazard mitigation plan this year from a Manville perspective. All municipalities will participate in this work effort and update their own local plans to remain eligible for FEMA grant money.
Providing better communication during times of emergencies is a top priority. The Nixle messaging service is used by our police department and by surrounding towns to communicate more effectively with residents. Simply text our zip code 08835 to 888777 to start receiving mobile phone alerts sent from our police department. You can visit www.nixle.com and sign up for all the notification options available. I find this to be a valuable service being notified of weather events, traffic accidents and road closures in our local area as they occur.
Mayoral Address – January 7th, 2017
Good morning. Welcome to the 88th reorganization of our town Council and a Happy New Year to all. I would like to recap the year that just passed highlighting some of our major accomplishments and give a brief overview of where we are headed in 2017 with setting goals and objectives to help move Manville forward.
2016 was a transformative year for me personally and for our Borough. First, I decided to retire back in February after a 33 year career in information technology and corporate finance. This allowed me to be able to devote more time to helping Manville. It was a difficult decision because I really loved my job and the company’s mission but it was the best decision given the situation having our Borough Administrator leave us due to his retirement. And as we are all another year older, as a hidden benefit of my old age, I signed up for membership in the Manville Seniors organization and look forward to their calendar of events this year. It’s really not so bad getting another year older being a senior citizen.
To be honest 2016 didn’t begin so well. I walked into an empty mayor’s office without much of a transition. We encountered a major snow storm in January and a massive fire that burned for days in February at the government depot on our border with Hillsborough. Our fire and EMS first responders gave mutual aid to our neighbor in need under frigid conditions. There is no doubt Manville first responders, including our police force, are among the very best and bravest.
During the summer Hurricane Matthew caught everyone’s attention. The storm at one point was projected to come up the east coast and there was talk of another “Floyd like” event for NJ. I grew up on North Second Avenue, which is one of our hardest hit flood zones, not too far from Borough Hall. Watching my childhood home be knocked down in March, I’m keenly aware of the adverse effects of flooding our town has encountered and may endure again with each approaching hurricane season. Climate change seems to have made severe rain events much more frequent and the threat of flooding now ever present. We need to manage our Borough’s finances going forward with that threat in mind.
As your Mayor, I take public safety very seriously and started work immediately to acquire our own portable generator for our emergency shelter. I know we lost power in the past at our shelter and I did not want our town to be in that position ever again. Working with our state OEM and various FEMA contacts we received a $75,000 grant to help offset 80% of the cost of purchasing the generator.
I would like to give a big “thank you” to our Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. I met her at an event and she told me if I ever needed anything I could call her cell phone. So I wrote down the number for future reference. As weeks past, I felt we needed help to expedite this purchase moving the grant through FEMA. I called the Lt. Governor and she picked up and got me in touch with a representative from our Home Land security department. Within a week or two, we were given the green light to make the purchase after months of waiting. The trailer based generator is housed at our OEM building.
We also entered into a new 3-year sheltering agreement with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2290. This ensures our veterans’ the peace of mind that they will never encounter any financial burdens while operating as our emergency shelter. Our veterans are a big part of our community and they deserve our full support.
In Manville, 2016 will most likely be remembered for a property tax crisis highlighted by the outcome of a town wide, county mandated re-assessment and a school funding formula out of touch with current day realities. The current school funding formula sadly makes Manville’s school district one of the most underfunded in the state. In addition, the on-going Blue Acre buyout program with 108 homes being taken off our tax rolls compounded the uncertainty. The overall value of our town fell 20% from the height of the real estate market back in 2008. The re-assessment was necessary to put an end to a run of costly property tax appeals we encountered every year since 2012. Based upon the number of tax appeals filed, it is clear our residents want lower property taxes.
Keeping Manville affordable will be the top priority of this governing body during 2017 and in the years ahead. The one major accomplishment I’m most proud of is acquiring over $500,000 dollars of aid and grants to help stabilize our municipal property tax rate during 2016. That amount of money equates to over a $100 dollars savings on an average assessed home in town. This was a team effort of the council and across all our departments. I thank all our Borough employees for their dedication to our town during some tough fiscal times. Acquiring the much-needed state and federal aid for Manville will remain a priority.
We worked hard to balance the municipal budgets the past two years with increases of $24 in 2015 and $8 dollars in 2016 on an average assessed home. Governor Christie’s 2% property tax cap has helped confront the property tax crisis we face living here in NJ. This law helps curtail any excessive spending to rein in the growth rate of property taxes.
So the transformation of Manville has begun and it will continue; focused on lowering the operating costs of the services we provide. Our municipal court was outsourced to Hillsborough beginning in 2016 and we did not replace 3 full-time employees who either retired or resigned saving significant budget dollars heading into our 2017 budget cycle. Our projected budget surplus will also help offset any significant municipal tax increase this year.
Last July, we hired our new Borough Administrator, Andrea Bierwirth, after a long search for the best-qualified candidate for the job. Andrea’s municipal and financial experience has been a big help in getting our financial house in order. We began work on a 3-5 year capital program and analyzed our long term debt payments from prior bond issuances. In 2018, a major bond repayment will be completed which may allow for a capital improvement plan to be executed at that time.
2017 should be a good year for our Borough after a resurgence of our community spirit in 2016. The Manville High School football, wrestling and cross country teams had successful winning seasons. Our rec program offerings throughout the year, especially our Community Day event and recent tree lighting on our Main Street were well received. Our library is thriving with its many program offerings and increased circulations. There’s no doubt we live in a nice community with great potential.
With a new President taking office later this month, there is a sense of renewed optimism about the future of our country. This recent holiday season saw record spending. Consumer confidence seems to be back. This all paints a favorable picture for redevelopment to finally begin for the Rustic Mall property.
I am hopeful we will see a shovel in the ground this year with a project that may consist of luxury apartments, limited commercial space and some low- income senior housing. The time is now to put the past behind us and move the project forward for the good of our town center to help rejuvenate our Main Street business district and increase our tax rateables.
Three other important work efforts are on our radar in 2017. One is to codify our Borough ordinances and develop an on-line, searchable catalog of the laws that govern our Borough. Another is to have our tax maps updated. They need to be converted to an electronic format to accurately reflect our tax rateables. And third, our on-going participation and achievements in the Community Rating System will allow for further reductions in flood insurance premiums that many homeowners pay.
Residents currently paying flood insurance receive a 15% discount. We would like to achieve a 25% discount level this year as flood insurance rates continue to escalate. These deliverables are long overdue and come with some additional budget costs that are unavoidable. But the benefit to our residents is well worth the expense. I think we all can agree there is plenty of work to be done in the months ahead.
Recently I received a post-campaign email message from President-elect Donald Trump that I would like to share an excerpt from that pertains to addressing the many problems that confront us as Americans…
And I quote our President-elect… “I REFUSE to accept that it can’t be done. This is the country that declared its independence, won two world wars and landed a man on the moon. This is America. We can and we WILL get it done.”
That message resonates with me concerning the future of Manville and getting help with flood mitigation work to actually lower flood water levels here. I refuse to accept it can’t be done!
Of the 21 towns in Somerset County, Manville is by far the most impacted. It has become a regional issue also. Our multi-town Raritan and Millstone flood commission is doing a great job keeping the spot light on the problem.
I am hopeful with new Presidential leadership in Washington DC, that cost-effective plans for helping Manville will become a reality. By taking action to help lower flood water levels during times of flooding, it will help save homes and neighborhoods which will give our residents a sense of renewed hope.
In closing, I have a picture hanging in the Mayor’s office from the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team’s win over the Soviet Union. It’s inscribed “Do you believe in miracles?” Well, I believe in miracles. I believe in hard work and with perseverance, our efforts will eventually pay off and progress will be made. Let’s keep the faith!
To read about our progress this year, please sign up for the “Community News”, a free monthly newspaper mailed to homes that will keep everyone informed of our progress throughout the year. I am looking forward to a productive 2017.
God bless our Borough by keeping us safe from future flooding and may God continue to bless the country we all love, the United States of America.
Mayor Richard M. Onderko
A busy summer in Manville…
These are financially challenging times in Manville as we work hard to confront a property tax crisis in New Jersey. Keeping Manville affordable is a top priority of your governing body. I hope you will join with me, and members of the Council, to preserve the quality of life we all enjoy in our community. I remain optimistic that with hard work and everyone’s cooperation, we will be successful.
We had a busy first few months of 2016 with many accomplishments. We hired a full-time Borough Administrator, Ms. Andrea Bierwirth, in mid-July. She has hit the ground running and has greatly helped with the adoption of the municipal budget for 2016 in September and with the overall daily operations of the Borough.
The governing body has worked hard and had a plan to practically balance the municipal budget the last 2 years by implementing numerous cost saving ideas. In addition we have aggressively sought various governmental grants to benefit our community and help stabilize the municipal tax rate. We received $250,000 in additional aid from Trenton to help offset the loss of property tax revenues from Blue Acre buyouts.
This year, the Borough applied and received grants for a trailer based generator for our emergency shelter, for new sidewalks near our grammar school, for parking lot lighting improvements for our library, for flood planning work to improve our standing in the Community Rating System and for various youth services grants to benefit our recreation program. The portable generator has been delivered and will be kept at our OEM building. It is a tremendous relief knowing we a solution to our power needs in times of emergency for our shelter.
We entered into a new emergency shelter agreement with the Veterans of Foreign Wars post 2290. This agreement assures the VFW that it will incur no financial burdens with the use of their facility as our emergency shelter. Our veterans are a big part of our community and they deserve our full support.
We do have a strong sense of community in Manville. Our recreation department along with our library, which is now a member of the Somerset County Library System, offers numerous programs to benefit our residents. Visit the Borough’s website for more information, www.manvillenj.org.
Our recent “Community Day” event was a prime example of a community that thrives as a direct result of the efforts of our volunteers. Our sense of community will continue to strengthen as we care about each other and are willing to contribute our time and efforts in making Manville a great place to live.
We encourage our residents to become active participants in our community. Think about volunteering in town. Try to attend Council meetings and please support our local businesses to help Manville thrive. We look forward to a productive 2017 with your support. A happy holiday season to all!
Mayor Richard M. Onderko
Seeing many new faces at the last council meeting, I would like to make a general statement about why I serve everyone as your Mayor.
I got involved with local politics several years ago after seeing my property tax bill creep higher and higher every year. Some who worked for the Borough at the time said Rich just raise taxes 300.00 dollars every year. We all know that is unsustainable in today’s economy and only benefits those who work for our Borough.
We have a property tax crisis in NJ and raising taxes further only makes the crisis worse. We have the highest property taxes in the nation. In NJ we have a school funding formula that simply is not fair resulting in an underfunded school district that ends up costing us all to pay more in taxes. Some like to point out that our taxes are still lower than some surrounding towns. I really don’t care. I only care about what we all can afford here in Manville.
I ran for Mayor with a simple message to work to stabilize taxes and then have them ultimately lowered. Without setting that goal and objective, given the situation we face without any flood mitigation to lower flood water levels and save homes, Manville would no longer be affordable in the years ahead if business as usual continued.
I recently retired to devote more time to solving some of Manville’s problems. I worked in the private sector for 33 years in corporate finance. In a world driven by profit and loss statements, when your revenues decline corrective actions must be taken to remain profitable and to stay in business. Everyone is aware Manville has lost revenues with the recent buyout of Blue Acres homes. But many may not be aware we have already begun to take necessary corrective actions.
We outsourced our municipal court to Hillsborough via a shared services agreement and saved over $100,000 in the 2016 budget. With a recent retirement of a DPW worker, we are simply not back filling the position resulting in another $100,000 savings. All other vacant positions will be re-evaluated for their absolute need. Our old business administrator retired late last year and we saved money utilizing Jersey Professional Management on a part time basis for the first 6 months of this year for some additional savings. And more importantly we successfully filled out a State aid application which depicted Manville’s finances becoming a big concern while accounting for the loss of rateables, prior flood expenses and revenue loss with the run of property tax appeals the last 4 years. In my opinion, ongoing, mandated State oversight as a result of the aid application will be a big benefit to Manville tax payers.
Unfortunately we were the worst town in Somerset County with the most tax appeal filed the last 4 years. The Borough of Manville was hemorrhaging revenues each and every year as residents and businesses appealed.
The Somerset county tax board back in 2013 mandated the reevaluation of Manville for the simple fact that more revenues were refunded yearly than the cost of a reassessment of the entire town which only helps ensure property tax fairness. The new value of our town should have been set back in August of 2013 so everyone paid fairly for the services we all enjoy based on the market value of their homes. However it was delayed simply for political purposes by our previous administration. The delay was not in the best interest for Manville’s finances. The Somerset County Tax Board detailed the seriousness of the situation in a letter dated January 3, 2013. Others who did not appeal were forced to pay more in taxes because of the revenue loss in tax appeal refunds given out.
As residents took advantage of a depressed real estate market in Manville, they became comfortable with the notion that the appeal would last forever and that is simply not the case. The intent of any reevaluation is to bring everyone’s home up to 100% of fair market value. If you feel the new market value of your home is still set too high, you have every right to appeal your property taxes based on the new 2016 assessment by the April 1st, 2017 deadline.
We are also looking into becoming the 16th town out of 21 towns in Somerset County to enter into a yearly assessment program where 20% of the town will be reassessed each year for a rolling 5 years which will enable market value adjustments to be made to the entire town. In the past that type of town wide adjustment was not legally allowed. I personally never want to see us in a situation ever again where our old assessments were so out of touch with reality after a national real estate bubble burst and Manville encountered 3 significant flood events that lowered selling prices of all homes throughout town and not only for those found in our flood zones. Tax appeals filed could not be denied.
For those residents who never filed a tax appeal, I believe the 2016 tax increase is significantly less than the increase felt by those who previously appealed. I’m told that in a typical reassessment program one third get a tax increase; one third stay about the same and one third get a tax reduction. This governing body will be making additional budget cuts before adopting a final budget in July accounting for any state aid we will receive.
I remain optimistic that taxes can be stabilized. Last year the municipal budget tax rate increased less than a penny, that equated to a 24 dollar increase on your average home for the year. Once a final municipal tax rate is struck this year, we will work toward maintaining or lowering the rate in 2017. I would like to remind everyone that our tax bill is comprised of a school budget and county budget that makes up 2/3rd ‘s of the overall bill. Those tax rates get set outside of the control of this governing body.
In closing, I think we all should support Governor Christie’s recent efforts to re-engineer the school funding formula to a new “fairness formula” which will bring property tax relief to Manville as one of the severely underfunded districts in the state.
It’s time to get our financial house in order. I can assure you the transformation of Manville has already begun. It’s long overdue and I am happy to lead the way as your Mayor. Let’s all work together to keep Manville affordable in the years ahead.
For those of you here tonight to voice your concerns or complaints over your home’s third quarter tax bills, I will gladly meet with you this week one on one to investigate and help explain your bill at your convenience.
Mayor Richard M. Onderko
2016 Municipal Budget Adoption Delayed…
The municipal budget cycle has been delayed this year from the April time frame to early July due to a pending financial aid application submitted to Trenton. The Mayor and Council felt it best to apply for discretionary aid due to the significant loss of property tax revenues from the on-going Blue Acres buyout program and from expenses incurred directly related to flooding.
This aid, if awarded, will help offset any significant increase in our municipal tax rate for 2016. In 2015 the municipal tax rate increased only .008 of a penny which equated to about a $24.00 increase on an average home in town. The new average home assessment value in Manville is now set at $229,565.93 after the recent town-wide re-evaluation performed in 2015.
As a reminder, approximately two thirds of the property tax bill is comprised of the school tax and county tax which get set outside the control of the Mayor and Council. The tax bill for August will be an estimated bill for the municipal budget portion. This governing body will do its best to hold the line on any unnecessary spending and look for additional budget savings to help lower the November tax bill. We remain optimistic our case presented for State aid will be successful.