West Windsor Director of Community Development Pat Ward brought Council some local business news with anticipated projects for community development to handle this year, including new Qdoba and Chipotle restaurants; the Maneely tract on Bear Brook Road; renovations to MarketFair; a proposed 7-11 on Southfield and Route 571; a new 7-11 gas station at Alexander and 571; renovations and a convenience store at Sunoco (lower Harrison Street and Route 1) and the same at the Getty gas station on Washington Road and Route 1.
Ward presented the Department of Community Development’s proposed expenses and work-related costs for 2012 as Council held its second work session on the budget on Monday, March 5. Ward’s office manages the township’s land use, code enforcement, construction and engineering matters.
The engineering department anticipates projects such as road and sidewalk improvements; Penn Lyle Road Phase 2; resurfacing on Wallace Road (after the recent sewer pipe work), which Ward said will be going out for bid next month; Grover’s Mill dam repair, and the Duck Pond Run Park and pump station decommissioning.
Ward also mentioned the demolition of township-owned structures (possibly a prelude to redeveloping the municipal complex) as well as the installation of emergency generators for the senior center, and perhaps a new generator for the municipal building.
"Certainly what we went through with Hurricane Irene showed us that there was a problem that needed to be corrected for future power outages," she said.
Last year the engineering department handled the Alexander Road S-curve project, pedestrian improvements, and phase 1 of the Penn Lyle Road reconstruction. Ward commented that she may encounter "a possible redevelopment application from InterCap Holdings as a result of the lawsuit settlement" in 2012.
For code enforcement, anticipated projects in 2012 include Windsor Plaza, renovations at MarketFair, and the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) solar field project. That prompted questions and criticism of the project from Council. Councilman Bryan Maher asked Ward to comment on the installation of the solar fields at the community college, which he says is a horrible business decision given that the project costs $38 million and is expected to save $1 million per year in energy.
Ward told Maher that the township does not have a vote in what an individual business — in this case a college — is doing on its property. "It is allowed under local land use law and by local code, and we really can’t tell them not to do it because it’s not a good idea. What we want to protect are the residents who live around the solar field to make sure that there are no storm water or flooding issues and that what MCCC constructs is done with consideration for them," she said.
Councilwoman Linda Geevers shined some light on the negative part of MCCC’s project for West Windsor residents.
"All of those projects — renovations, new buildings, extensions, solar farms — as citizens we have to pay for that, we have to pick up the tab. Just because West Windsor is the host community for the college," she said.
Ward explained that it would be in the hands of local legislators going to the state department of community affairs and demand changes. "Right now we are not allowed to charge fees to county projects," Ward said.
Ward brought up some of West Windsor’s recent green initiatives, and Maher asked her to explain why West Windsor pursued the designation of "Tree City USA" by spending $20,000 a year on trees. She replied that it came from the Shade Tree Commission’s initiatives and it was a goal that was consistent with the township’s sustainability master plan.
"We go for that designation because we do it anyway. I think [trees] make for a healthier environment. We’ve always done that in West Windsor — and we’ve made sure to have a landscape architect because we want to have trees as a part of our environment," Ward said.
One of the things that Ward said the engineering, code enforcement, and construction personnel are looking to do is to invest in Toughbook laptop computers "that can be kept mounted in the car instead of having to come back after every inspection and then spend hours entering notes," she said.
This notion led to Councilman Maher questioning Business Administrator Robert Hary about expenses for tablet computers that are listed at $2,000 each in the capital improvement program. Maher said that Apple offers tablets and iPads for around $500 each, adding that he wonders where people are shopping to get such outrageously high prices.
The Department of Community Development requested $87,221 for salary and wages and $1,000 in operating expenses. Engineering has requested $191,251 for salary and wages plus anticipated overtime while last year the actual amount spent was $139,876.58. Engineering has also requested $62,130 in operating expenses which include $37,400 for consultants’ fees. Construction/ code enforcement requested $1,136,757 in salary and wages plus overtime and $44,400 in operating expenses.
Land Use has requested $193,417 in salary and wages plus $9,075 in operating expenses. The engineering and code enforcement budgets will remain flat from the 2011 marks, Ward said.
Ward’s department and has secured over $13 million since 1998 for open space preservation grants. Ward recounted that there were 15 meetings of the planning board in 2011 for which her department conducted work. Those meetings covered issues such as Windsor Plaza, redevelopment ordinances, the Princeton University maintenance yard and Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace which will be coming to MarketFair. Code enforcement also investigates zoning complaints and yard waste violations.
Ward spoke about her department’s plans to replace four 2006 model Jeep Liberties and a a 2008 Ford Escape, all currently used by the construction/code enforcement division, over five years from 2012 to 2017. The plan was set back one year by Business Administrator Robert Hary, so next year would likely see the first of the new SUVs. A total of $169,000 is budgeted for the project, known as four-wheel-drive (hybrid model) replacement.
For 2012, $32,000 was allocated for the purchase of one new SUV. That cost will be pushed back to 2013 and amounts each year from 2014 to 2018 would follow (in order) as $33,000; $34,000; $35,000 and $35,000. Both Ward and Hary said the township decided to spread out the costs and replacements over a five-year period rather than add $169,000 to capital expenditures in just one year.
The request, submitted by Ward in the 2012-’17 capital improvement program, stated "it is imperative to provide safe and fuel-efficient vehicles for code enforcement inspectors. The lack of funding for these acquisitions will result in increased maintenance expenditures and down time due to repairs."
In 2009 the construction/code enforcement department purchased a 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid to be used as part of a pilot program. If the hybrid vehicles were found to save substantial fuel costs the township had said it would purchase more hybrid vehicles for code enforcement and other departments. The Escape Hybrid currently has 19,297 miles on it.
According to Hary, the stated useful life of these township SUVs is five years. As of February 1 the four 2006 Jeep Liberties had mileages of 33,701, 37,302, 41,790 and 49,845. Meanwhile the 2008 Ford Escape (with a standard gasoline engine) has logged 25,202 miles.
Ward said these vehicles are typically used in stop and go traffic and on local roads. She added the important caveat that during winter months when there is usually more snow than this season has seen, the West Windsor Police also use the construction and code enforcement department’s 4 x 4 vehicles.
At the work session Councilman Borek asked Ward if because the hybrid vehicles are listed under capital improvements they could be funded using UCC (uniform construction code) funds, equating the transaction to allowances in the uniform fire code that permits departments to take funds from fees towards purchases that help them do their jobs such as cars or computers. Ward said it does apply.
"We are allowed to support our needs through the use of fees. That would encompass computers, cars, tools, ladders and phones," she said.
However Hary said there was a distinction. Police cars need to be bought as part of a regular budget and cannot be capitalized.
"All the four-wheel drive vehicles you purchase using capital funds. Capital is for any type of a truck. But whenever we buy a vehicle or a regular car for any department, like a police car, that comes from the budget," Hary said.
Although the expenditure is delayed until next year, Geevers questioned Ward’s proposed price of the SUVs. "I think that we could get a very fuel efficient four-wheel drive for under $30,000, and this cost will go up to $35,000 a year in five years," Geevers said.
Ward said that the department’s statistics and records showed that the township was encouraged to get a hybrid vehicle because it was determined it would save money on gas.
"What we thought was that with our type of work we don’t go a long distance, and it’s not that a hybrid necessarily saves you money. Basically we’re content with Jeeps and Ford Escapes for the lesser work that we do," Ward said.