Some may question the science. But after last week’s ferocious storm uprooted trees through the center of Morristown–the latest in a series of destructive local storms since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011–town officials are not among the deniers.
“For those who don’t believe in climate change, believe it,” Mayor Tim Dougherty said at Tuesday’s council meeting, where he commended public works crews, police and firefighters for their response to what he described as Friday’s “tornado.”
His remarks preceded a unanimous council vote endorsing a national carbon tax aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists warn that rising global temperatures will bring disaster in this century if the trend is unchecked.
The council also authorized a 10 percent fee, from a developer tax, for the nonprofit Morris Arts to oversee creation of public art at redevelopment sites.
‘THESE STORMS ARE VIOLENT’
Tuesday’s symbolic resolution, presented by the Morristown chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby and backed by the nonprofit Sustainable Morristown, is meant to persuade Congress to impose a “revenue-neutral carbon tax or fee” on the extraction, production or import of fossil fuels.
Revenues collected from such fees would be distributed evenly to all U.S. households, to help them offset the higher costs of fuels they would need for commuting, heating their homes and so forth.
Tariffs would be imposed on countries that do not take similar measures to reduce greenhouse emissions. About 40 countries and 20 cities and provinces worldwide now have such policies, according to the World Bank.
Although the resolution passed 5-0 (Councilmen Michael Elms and David Silva were absent), there were some caveats.
While supporting the concept, Councilman Robert Iannaccone, one of two Republicans on the council, emphasized the mechanism for imposing carbon taxes must be determined at the national level.
Councilman Stefan Armington, a Democrat, urged the municipality to back its words by reducing Morristown’s carbon footprint. The council called for a local “climate action plan” when it adopted a resolution last summer supporting the 2015 Paris climate accord –a 195-nation agreement President Trump pulled out of.
“We need to show residents we have skin in the game,” Armington said.
Dougherty said global action is necessary. Nothing will change in the United States, he said, until citizens “change Congress” by voting out the GOP majority.
In the meantime, the Mayor said, Morristown must seek ways to minimize danger from falling trees — one motorist was killed in June and another narrowly escaped injury on Friday — while bracing for weather events of increasing frequency and intensity.
“These storms are violent. They come out of nowhere,” Dougherty said.
The council voted 4-1 to give Morris Arts a slice of developer funds to oversee creation of public art. Immediately, that will amount to $20,000 for the nonprofit to guide projects at the new Fox Rothschild triangular law office, and at an apartment complex planned next door at Market and Bank streets, according to town Administrator Jillian Barrick.
Developers of those ventures each agreed to pay $100,000 for public art under a “One Percent for Art” plan announced by the Mayor in 2016. Tuesday’s resolution dedicates 10 percent of such payments to Morris Arts.
Iannaccone cast the lone dissenting vote, noting that Morris Arts is a county-wide organization and suggesting establishment of a local committee instead.
Morris Arts will seek input from town residents and officials, Barrick said. Armington praised Morris Arts for community outreach during creation of its Gateway Totems — twin pillars celebrating Morristown’s immigrant history.
One Percent for Art refers to a tax of one percent of capital costs, to a maximum of $100,000. Soon after announcing it, Dougherty said, he realized an outfit like Morris Arts was essential to its success.
His opinion about some “terrible” proposed artwork clashed with the art community’s view.
“I knew right away I wasn’t the one who should be making decisions about what is proper art,” Dougherty said, getting some laughs from the council.
IN OTHER BUSINESS…
Bike-sharing proposals are on the town’s radar.
In a brief pitch on Tuesday, representatives of TransOptions extolled the health- and environmental benefits of connecting Morristown, Morris Township and Madison with advertising-branded bicycles for common use. The council invited TransOptions to return with more details.
Morristown also is reviewing fee policies for use of public spaces.
As the Morris County seat, the town is a hub for rallies, protests and charity events. A $50 deposit is required for the bathroom key at Lidgerwood Park–site of Thursday’s Road to Change tour stop–but Councilwoman Alison Deeb inquired about other security costs incurred by the municipality at such gatherings. The administration may propose changes soon, Barrick replied.
‘A BIG HEART’
Morristown resident Kevin McNally held himself together while remembering his son, State Trooper Brian McNally, killed in May while driving home from Marine Reserves duty in Pennsylvania.
“We’d like to thank the town of Morristown for its support, its caring, and the prayers for Brian and our family,” he said, speaking for his wife Barbara, a teacher at Morristown High School who did not attend the meeting, and the rest of “our clan.”
Hundreds of State Troopers and Marines came to Morristown for the funeral of the Afghanistan veteran. His father had special thanks for the Mayor and Councilman Iannaccone, Police Sgt. Brian LaBarre and Capt. Darnell Richardson, and “Coach Pete” — Police Chief Pete Demnitz, Brian McNally’s youth baseball coach and career mentor.
“Thank you for having the strength to come before us,” Council President Toshiba Foster told the grieving father.
Margret Brady also expressed thanks for the public outpouring after her husband of more than 60 years passed away. Wendell Brady’s memorial service drew a big crowd to Willow Hall last month.
“I was so overwhelmed by the kindness and thoughtfulness of everyone who came to help…you have a wonderful community with a big heart,” Marge said.
Then, in a pivot that would have made her husband smile, she raised a number of issues, including a $250 ambulance bill (after insurance) from Atlantic Health for a two-block ride to Morristown Medical Center. The Mayor promised to look into the matter.