Morris Township reorganization 2021: Mayor says Township faces $1M in COVID and other new expenses

Mayor Jeff Grayzel is sworn in, Jan. 10, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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While our federal government was under siege last week, local government continued its work.

Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel on Wednesday alerted residents that COVID, new state pension obligations, and increased recycling and trash disposal costs, among other things, present a “$1 million challenge” to the municipal budget in 2021.

Below are statements from the Township’s annual reorganization meeting.

Video: Morris Township Committee reorganization Jan. 6, 2021:


From Mayor Jeff Grayzel:

Jeff Grayzel

Text of:

Opening Remarks, Mayoral Address, Closing Remarks
Morris Township – Jan. 6, 2021

1. Opening Remarks

As you have seen, we have pre-recorded much of the proceedings so far at our meeting, and my Mayor’s Address was recorded in advance as well. Since that happened prior to the events of today it is very hard for me to simply play the recording of the Mayor’s Address without first addressing what our country witnessed today. Those of you who know me and speak to me about issues relating to Morris Township that I always try to keep discussions focused on our town and our residents. The furthest I go are the borders of New Jersey because there are sometimes state-level issues that impact us here in Morris Township.

Jeff Grayzel starts his second term as Morris Township mayor, Jan. 10, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

But first and foremost are the residents of our town. Mr. Quinn likes to say that we check our politics at the door, which is what we do here every day. But the scene we witnessed today – the obscene scene – in our nation’s capital made me a little embarrassed as an American. I do not need to put into words what every one of us saw on TV today.

But what we saw on the flip-side of the chaos is something that we come back to time and time again. We saw were men and women in uniform come and put themselves in the middle of the chaos, put themselves in the middle of a situation of what they were unsure of what was going to happen. And they do that to protect us; they do that to protect our country and to protect our democracy.

So just as Rabbi Herson mentioned the unknown men and women who we rely on to protect us, that was front and center today in Washington DC. Rabbi Herson, you were right on with your words. We are thankful for these men and women who we will never know, whose names we do not know, who went out there to protect us and our democracy and our United States.

This does not just happen in Washington DC, but it happens overseas where our men and women protect our democracy in the places they are stationed. And we have the men and women just across the street at the Morris Township Police Department who protect our community day in and day out.

Out of the chaos today I am thankful for two things. I am thankful for your confidence in me to be you Mayor this year, and I am thankful for our men and women in uniform who protected our democracy.

We will now turn our attention to our recorded Mayor’s address.

2. Mayoral Address

Good Evening Neighbors and Friends. Thank you for joining us tonight on this special occasion. It is special not only because it is the first reorganization meeting we have ever held virtually, but we have the unusual occurrence of having had four swearing-in ceremonies.

Congratulations to Cathy Wilson for winning her second term on the Township Committee and congratulations to Bud Ravitz for winning his first election. I am honored to be joined by Mark Gyorfy as the Deputy Mayor for Morris Township in 2021. Committeeman Peter Mancuso is entering his 20th year on the governing body – quite a milestone!

The five members of your governing body all look forward to the day again when we can be sitting together on the dais and looking out at live faces in the audience. I am hopeful that day is finally coming soon.

Thank you to Rabbi Moshe Herson from the Rabbinical College on Sussex Avenue for starting off our meeting tonight with some very thoughtful words.

Tonight I am honored to take the center seat on the dais as the Mayor of this great town for 2021. In our form of local government the title of Mayor is assigned annually by the Township Committee, so we usually have a different Mayor from year to year. I thank my colleagues on the governing body for their confidence in me and their support to lead us in 2021.

This will be my ninth year serving on the Township Committee and my second as our Mayor being a steward of the public’s trust. I have learned much in my previous eight years on the Committee and will utilize that experience to navigate us through a year that will be difficult on our budget due to the impacts of Covid.

In my first term as Mayor in 2019 I had promised our residents that I would try my hardest to implement the government values I campaigned on. I believe I delivered on a good part of that, but there is still more to be done. I am a believer in always working to improve oneself and trying new things.

Just because you have done something the same way for a long time does not necessarily mean that you should continue in that manner. So this is my philosophy for Morris Township as well, and we will always work to improve ourselves in all facets of our operation.

While the Mayor might be front and center much of the time, it is truly a collaborative team effort by our five-member Township Committee. We are each assigned oversight functions for the various parts of our municipal operations, and those responsibilities will be announced later tonight.

The Morris Township reorganization meeting, Jan. 10, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Our team also includes our Township Administrator Tim Quinn, who is the right-hand-man for each of us. All six of us like to hear from residents, and you can find our email addresses on the municipal website at Morristwp.com by clicking on the “government” tab.

Also to be announced later tonight are the appointments to various Boards and Commissions that support our community. Thank you to the many people who volunteer their time to serve and for your dedication supporting your fellow residents.

One of the many elements of what makes Morris Township a great place to live is the quality of work these volunteers provide to the boards and Commissions they serve. These volunteers are also part of our broader team.

From day one when I started my first campaign over 15 years ago I spoke about open government. To me, that is more than just better communication with our residents. It is also about engaging people and seeking their input when we need to make tough decisions.

Our goal is to set a new gold standard in the way a municipality communicates and engages with its residents over multiple platforms and seeks their input about major initiatives in our municipality.

Our Communications Standing Committee, led by Deputy Mayor Mark Gyorfy and Cathy Wilson, did a fabulous job in 2020 raising the bar. The information-packed monthly summary of municipal events that comes out on the first of each month is an example of the improvements we have made.

But we need your help. We ask that all residents sign up for our newsletter called the “Municipal Messenger” so they are better informed of everything happening in our town. Residents can sign up on our website morristwp.com

We are all lucky to live in a town that is so well run. Our administration, our department heads, and our employees do a great job. Township Administrator Tim Quinn runs a very efficient operation. I see him as a combination of a captain steering our big ship as well as a mechanic who keeps that machine well-oiled on a daily basis. We are lucky to have him and I am pleased that we just renewed his contract for another three years.

And all our department heads are to be commended for their dedication and the great jobs they do on a day-to-day basis to provide the quality services that our residents have come to expect.

2020 was a tough year for our country, our state and our town. I want to again thank our 2020 Mayor Cathy Wilson for all the hard work she put in. The pandemic made the job doubly difficult this past year. Our local health department also deserves recognition for all the hours they put in guarding the community’s health.

While we all surely cannot wait to turn the page on 2020, I would like to review some of the accomplishments from this past year:

Most importantly, we navigated Covid successfully and kept all our operations up and running.

We held our municipal tax rate flat for the third year in a row.

We renegotiated the development plan for the Marketplace Mall on the former Colgate site, a project that was approved prior to my becoming mayor in 2019. The mall will now include outdoor pedestrian plazas and a pocket park among other improvements that will benefit our residents.

Two important environmental initiatives were accomplished with the banning of single-use plastic bags and the implementation of an electronic-vehicle ordinance that requires all new commercial construction to include E.V. charging stations.

In addition, there were many smaller steps taken to sustain and improve the quality of life in Morris Township.

There are a couple of goals we did not reach this past year, but we are getting close on. For our residents on the West side of town, the long-awaited quiet zone should be implemented in the near future. So many people who live near the train tracks have been waiting for many years for the train horns to stop blowing at the Kahn Road crossing at the former Honeywell site.

I am happy that peace and quiet is coming to your neighborhood very soon. For those of you on the east side of town, we finally have all our permits needed to build the long-awaited sidewalk on James Street. Our ultimate objective is to have connectivity for our residents to get to Morristown in one direction and to our Ginty Pool and field complex at the other end, as well as a connection to Loantaka Park.

Along with the work our new Transportation Advisory Committee is doing, our ultimate goal is to get more people out of their cars and get them walking and biking to their destinations.

As for 2021, we look forward to much continuing activity in our municipality:

In addition to the James Street sidewalk I mentioned earlier there will be several other sidewalk initiatives around town to make our community more walkable.

Brand new tennis courts at both the Streeter and Ginty complexes will be ready for spring play, and we added two dedicated pickle-ball courts at Ginty. We are also adding a new playing field off Madison Avenue at the old Honeywell facility.

Our Boards and Commissions continue to do great work, including our new Transportation Advisory Committee that surveyed residents on their habits this past year, our Environmental Commission taking on multiple initiatives, our Economic Development Advisory Committee looking to begin outreach to all our local businesses, and our Historic Preservation Committee continuing their work to document our local structures and preserve our vast history.

Our Planning Board has a backlog of applications, which is a sign that our town is healthy and people want to build here and improve existing structures. The new Marketplace Mall is now before the planning Board and will hopefully break ground this spring and we should have some new shopping opportunities as well as a new community gathering spot by the end of the year.

Additionally, Restoration hardware will soon be presenting their formal plans to the Planning Board for their new development on Madison Avenue.

A shared services study will be conducted with five surrounding towns, and an analysis will be done to see if we can all save money by sharing large heavy equipment. I am personally leading this effort that I hope will yield savings to our residents and provide positive budget impact.

It would take too much time to go through everything planned for the coming year, but I promise we will keep our residents fully informed on all the initiatives. Again, please sign up for our municipal messenger newsletter to stay fully informed.

We will also have one major challenge this year related to our budget. Like many businesses, Covid hit us hard. Revenues were down significantly in several key areas such as swim pool membership fees, parking lot receipts, and local hotel tax revenue.

In addition, this year the state of NJ will be requiring large increases to pension payments from all municipalities to help make up for the deficient state funding of our pension obligations.

As many of you have heard, recycling is also an issue across the United States. We used to get paid for our recyclable material but this year it will actually cost us money to dispose of the recyclable materials – a lower cost than disposing garbage but a cost nonetheless.

In addition, the cost of disposing garbage has gone up, and with so many people working from home and generating waste that would normally be disposed at the workplace, our disposal costs have risen dramatically.

There are other budget challenges as well which I will inform the public of over the next couple of months as we put the budget together. All told, we are looking at more than a $1 million challenge to our budget for the coming year.

We have some ways to soften the blows but it is clear that Mr. Mancuso and I have our work cut out for us leading our Finance Committee. Fortunately, because of our conservative budgeting philosophy along with the implementation of a fund balance policy we are better prepared for these financial revenue deficits than other communities.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone who helped me get to this point, by reelecting me to this governing body multiple times and having the confidence in me to lead our municipality.

I look forward to your continued support as we work our way through the new initiatives we have planned for this year as well as the budget challenges we need to figure out. I am very much looking forward to being your Mayor and working with the great group of colleagues I have on this Township Committee as well as the excellent employees we have working for us in our town.

We always try to have our residents’ best interest in mind when we make any type of decision. We are all here to work for you and with you to make our town a great place for all of us to live.

While we are turning the page on a difficult year we would all like to forget, we unfortunately still have to deal with the coronavirus for probably another six months. When the time comes I very much hope that all of our residents will make the personal choice to get the Covid vaccination.

Until that time we all need to remain vigilant with wearing our masks and washing our hands frequently – as tired as we all are of doing that. We are nearing the finish line, and now is not the time to let your guard down

Stay Healthy, stay happy. Here’s to a successful 2021. Thank you!

3. Opening Remarks

I want to again thank the residents of Morris Township for putting me in this position to be here on the dais today by electing me three times. I also lost a lot of elections along the way, but I did win three times out of all those tries. I would also like to thank my fellow committee members for having the confidence in in me to lead you as Mayor this year.

Like many jobs, if you want to do it right you have to be dedicated and you must be willing to put in the time. So I would also like to thank you to my family for allowing me to do this. It takes a lot of time away from my family and my home. So thank you to my wife and two boys for supporting me through all these years.

I would like to conclude tonight with a story about Morris Township. I just alluded to the fact that I won some elections but lost a lot of elections. In fact it took me five tries before I won my first election. Somebody told me early on that I would not win an election until my kids first started playing sports. And lo and behold they were right. I went on to become a coach, and I coached both little league and Morris United soccer.

Some of my best memories of being a dad and also being a resident of Morris Township come from those days coaching. And when I coached Little League I was co-manager with somebody who is a hard-core Republican, and as you know I am a Democrat. But we coached the kids because we loved the kids and we loved baseball and loved what we were doing.

We taught the kids to love the game; we taught the kids to respect the game; we taught the kids how to play the game. And we taught the kids that losing is OK; you try to win but sometimes you can’t win them all. Nobody can win them all.

But my favorite part about coaching both baseball and soccer was at the end of each game when all the kids would line up with the coaches behind them. Then everyone would walk by each other, slap their hands and say “good game” to each person. Some had some nice things to say about the other team. When you saw a kid who played well you gave them a shoutout.

But at the end of the day – win or lose — we were just neighbors once again. We were there to enjoy our community, be a part of it, enjoy the company of our neighbors,

I would like to leave you with that story because I hope that is the way we will act as a community moving forward; act that way as a state moving forward; and act that way as a country moving forward. You win some and you lose some, but at the end of the day we shake hands and move on. We can all happy that we live in a community and live in a country we can all love.


 

Deputy Mayor Mark Gyorfy:

Thank you, Mayor.

Before I get into my prepared remarks for this evening, I’d like to echo the comments on the events that unfolded at the Capitol complex today. As someone who worked in those buildings and walked the halls and grounds of Capitol Hill for several years, today’s events hit particularly close to home for me.

My thoughts are with my former colleagues who dutifully serve the American people each day. We cannot condemn the actions that occurred today enough and it is my hope that those who have the power to influence those who tried to attack our democracy in Washington summon the courage to end the hateful rhetoric and move on to repairing the fractures in our republic.

I know tonight is about the year ahead, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few items that I wasn’t able to speak to at last month’s meeting since my time was cut short by a house fire during December’s winter storm.

I’d like to first acknowledge the incredible job our now Mayor emeritus Cathy Wilson did on behalf of our residents last year. Cathy led our Township through unprecedented times and saw us through many challenges we hadn’t faced in decades. I applaud her commitment to our community, for her ability to guide us through 2020 and for putting Morris Township in a strong position to start 2021.

Deputy Mayor Mark Gyorfy is sworn in for his second term, Jan. 6, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

I’d also like to thank former Committeeman John Arvanites for his service to Morris Township over the past three years, all while running his accounting firm and opening his new café on South Street. I know he has been put through the ringer to see this project through and I would just like to congratulate him on his grand opening in December and encourage everyone to stop by Lokl Café. Thank you John for your continued friendship and your counsel and advice over the passt few years.

Now, tonight, I’d like to congratulate Committeewoman Cathy Wilson and Committeeman Bud Ravitz on their election victories in November. We are lucky to have Cathy serve on this body for another term and I look forward to working on many of the issues that we are passionate about, such as traffic and circulation, land use practices, and public outreach.

Bud, your election was well-deserved after your hard-fought campaigns in 2019 and 2020 and I am excited to work with you on the standing committees that we are assigned to together and look forward to your input on many of the decisions we will make in the year ahead.

Next, I’d like to congratulate Mayor Grayzel on his second term serving Morris Township as Mayor. Jeff is one of the most determined people I know and has spent years of his life fighting for Morris Township residents, whether it was as a member of the public, as a candidate, or as an elected representative.

I admire your persistence and your drive for making sure our residents’ interests remain first in our decision making. I am looking forward to working with you closely in 2021 as Deputy Mayor.

Last in my recognitions, but certainly not least, I’d like to recognized Committeeman Peter Mancuso, another Mayor emeritus on the Committee, who brings a wealth of knowledge to our Committee having served our Township in two successful stints and is now starting his 20th year on the dais (albeit virtually).

While we may not have known each other well before I joined the committee in 2019, I will never forget the kindness he showed me during my first year on the dais with him, even though we were members of two different parties.

Peter, I appreciate your friendship and the lessons I have learned from you serving with you on various committees and look forward to being in touch more this year. It’s been a while since we sat next to each other in Town hall, here’s to hoping we’ll be able to again some time soon.

As we focus on what lies ahead of us in 2021, I am confident that Morris Township will be able to continue providing exceptional services for our residents while remaining steadfast in our commitment to fiscal responsibility.

I look forward to continuing our initiatives to increase resident engagement and addressing quality of life issues. Whether it is implementing new policies and initiatives to reach more residents for their input and feedback, or moving forward with local efforts to preserve and protect our environment, or implementing legislating changes that better prepare our community for the years to come.

I know this Committee will continue to push for the best deal for our residents, whether it is by working with developers to get more amenities for our constituent like we did at Colgate or creating forums to discuss common problems that impact our daily lives, like our Transportation Advisory Committee has with speeding and walkability in neighborhoods.

Dialogue is what makes a healthy democracy and I am proud of the level of dialogue that is happening in Morris Township.

One thing I can assure those watching tonight is that the Morris Township Committee will continue to strive towards being the model for proactive governing. We’ll continue to embrace public input, go out of our way to seek feedback and suggestions and challenge the standards of the past to better-encourage public dialogue.

I wish everyone a happy, safe, healthy, and more prosperous 2021.

Thank you.


 

Committeeman William “Bud” Ravitz

Happy New Year to one and all.

I’d like to start off by saying what an honor it is to have been elected by the people of Morris Township to the Township Committee. Thank you for the trust you have placed in me to represent your interests and that of our community.

I am committed to leading by example, and to being open and transparent in my thought process that will result in decisions I make and votes I cast. I intend to represent all the people of the community whether you voted for me or not.

There are thre factors that will guide me in the decisions I make. First, is the issue before us based on evidence? I’m certainly not the most knowledgeable person in the room, so I intend to rely on expert advice that is based on empirical evidence and sound science.

Second, does it benefit the community? Anyone who’s held a job knows that change is constant. Evolve or get left behind. We, on the township committee, are charged with not only operating the town as it is but to also smartly plan for the future.

Lastly, are we being good stewards of our environment? I’ve made it no secret that I believe the most existential threat to humanity is the dramatic effects of climate change. It’s real. It’s here and already having an impact on our township. Reducing our carbon footprint, as individuals and as a community is a top priority of mine.

Two principles were always on my mind throughout my campaigns for township committee.

I wholeheartedly believe that we have more in common than can ever divide us. We are a nation of many cultures united under one flag. Morris Township is a multi-cultural community where our friends and neighbors bring to us all a wonderful and diverse dynamic.

People move to our community, people live in our township to better themselves and provide the foundations a good future for their children. They should have the same access, the same opportunities that anyone can have to make a positive difference in our world.

New Morris Township Committeeman Bud Ravitz, flanked by his wife and mother, at his swearing in, Jan. 6, 2021. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

The other principle I espouse is that we must be better citizens if we want better government. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport. It requires constant nurturing. It relies on an informed and engaged public. Elections matter. Elections have consequences.

In 2020 more people became politically aware and actively engaged in the political process than at any other time in my life. The fast-paced information age and young, civically-minded people have added a dynamic that has changed the conversation.

Over the last 20 years or so we’ve forgotten how to have a conversation. It means talking and listening to one another and not talking at or over each other. I am ready and eager to have conversations with you, the residents of Morris Township.

The preamble to our Constitution states “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I pledge that I will uphold those words to the best of my ability.

Where there once was a culture of helping each other we now have politics. It is up to we the people, to act in a more civil way toward each other, to once again start caring how our actions or inactions may effect others and overcome the selfishness that has divided us.

We must all take some responsibility for the safety and well being of our friends, family, and neighbors.

A quick side note on historic events transpiring in Washington DC today. Storming the US Capital is not being patriotic. It’s the exact opposite. It’s plunging a dagger right into the heart of democracy in the United States. Let’s all hope that cooler heads prevail now and through Inauguration Day.

2021 will be another challenging year for all of us. But a new year also brings us renewed hope, renewed vigor, and opportunities to be who we envision ourselves to be. Let us not strive to be better than anyone else. Let us strive to be a better person than we were yesterday. Let us strive to be the community that other communities want to emulate.

There are so many people to thank. Anyone who’s been involved in a political campaign knows that it’s the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes that make all the difference. This election was no exception. Thank you to one and all. I was honored to have my brother James and sister Georgia administer my oath and I was delighted to have my mother at my side.

One particular person stands out for going above and beyond and so she gets a special shout-out. A woman whose roles in my life are immeasurable. My campaign manager, my wife, my inspiration, my best friend, and my love, Lee Schwartzberg.

I would not be the person I am today if not for her. We’ve all heard the cliche that behind every great man is a great woman. I’ll tell you today that it’s not exactly true. Behind every great person is their significant other who walks right alongside ensuring he/she can be at his/her best every day.

I look forward to working closely with all the members of the township committee, department heads, Scott Carlson, and Tim Quinn to make immediate and positive impacts not only as a member of the township committee, but to also continually improve the lives of the people of Morris Township through 2021 and beyond.

I conclude by reading some final words from Alex Trebek from a show taped 10 days before he died: This is the season of giving. I know you want to be generous with your family, your friends, your loved ones.

But today, I’d like you to go one step further. I’d like you to open up your hands and open up your heart to those who are still suffering because of Covid-19. People who are suffering through no fault of their own. We’re trying to build a gentler, kinder society. And if we all pitch in, just a little bit, we’re gonna get there.”

I wish everyone a happy, and healthy 2021. Let’s keep each other safe out there.

Thank you again.


Benediction Intro

Thank you Mayor. I am humbled to be able to introduce Sister Merris Larkin who will be providing tonight’s benediction. Sister Merris belongs to the Sisters of Charity, an institution, which has been a part of the fabric of Morris Township since the 1800’s.

For those who do not know Sister Merris, she has been a part of the Assumption family on Macculloch Ave for over 40 years and has run the school as its principal for over 25. Under her leadership, Assumption School was recognized in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education as National Blue Ribbon School for its academic achievements.

For those who have had the privilege to know Sister Merris, whether they are student, faculty, or a parent, they know Sister Merris to be the backbone of Assumption School who has guided her students to live their lives through faith, determination, and respect. I don’t say this because it on the school’s ‘about us’ page, but because of the impact her life’s work has had on my life and the lives of so many others in our community.

Thank you Sister Merris for taking the time to conclude tonight’s ceremony with your benediction. Your reading tonight is especially meaningful in the wake of the events that unfolded today in our Nations’ Capitol.

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