The new year is upon us like a blank canvas awaiting our imprint for the next 365 days. Mendham and Chester look to be busy in the coming year, and we have assembled a list of ten issues to watch. In no particular order we have:
1. The Regional School District Quandry: The West Morris Regional School District has been besieged with criticism for the past two years with a movement of citizens looking into breaking up the district because of a perceived funding imbalance. When all five communities and their mayors couldn’t agree on the specifics of a feasibility study, the issue appeared dead in the water. But there has been too much time invested for the issue to vanish completely. Expect to see the issue reassert itself in Board of Education meetings and meetings of the mayors in 2013.
2. Zero Based Budgeting: We are headed into another tough budget year, with escalating costs that municipalities and school districts can’t control (like healthcare) and the 2 percent cap looming like the sword of Damocles. The next six weeks will see a lot of hard decisions being made about how your money is spent.
3. Small Business Struggles: The local business districts in both Mendham and Chester are fighting for survival headed into 2013. New, aggressive strategies targeting local shoppers as well as ways to fill some of the growing vacancies are being discussed. But the issue remains that a weak business infrastructure threatens the solvency of the communities they reside in. Competing with box stores and internet companies have become a problem no one has the answer to yet.
4. Hurricane Sandy Fallout: One of the things that Hurricane Sandy brought to town, besides fear and anger and frustration, was a showcase of the strengths and weaknesses in emergency management planning. Look for increased focus on storm shelters, warming stations and communication infrastructure to be move front and center in 2013 as we all brace for the next attack on us by nature.
5. JCP&L Accountability: While there has been plenty of lip service given to holding JCP&L accountable for stranding their customers and risking lives in the past, this year a growing disquiet had boiled over into a full blown rage. Expect to see more complaints from our communities with the board of public utilities from both officials and members of the public.
6. AED Placement in the Community: What began as a really good idea has become law this year as automatic defibrillators are now being mandated by law in more and more public places. The issue will remain a talker because the maintenance and security of the defibrillators are still an issue to be worked out, as is who foots the bill.
7. Larison’s Turkey Farm: It has been dragging on for more than a decade, but this year should see some significant progress in the development of the Larison’s Turkey Farm property. Over the course of the last year the Chester Borough government has appealed to the public to participate in their visioning process to see what is feasible and desirable for the site. 2013 should mark a decision on zoning and the start of a new chapter for the Larison’s property.
8. New Court Arrangements: Mendham Borough has been exploring severing ties with the Mendham Township Municipal Court and moving their court cases over to Chester Borough. While not a momentous or unusual act, if done Mendham Township might be forced to reduce or eliminate staff or farm out their own court to avoid eating the rising costs. This idea is in its infancy, so it will be developing throughout 2013.
9. DWI and Drug Arrest Increase: With no change in enforcement patterns, there has been an increase in DWI and drug arrests in Mendham and Chester. While there is some causal link to a down economy, the numbers (some stats record a 500 percent increase) are alarming. Expect your local police departments to continue their zero tolerance policy on offenders while stepping up public relations and education to motorists this year.
10. Shared Services: Despite the quagmire combining Chester Police departments caused this past year, look for more shared services discussions to continue. And not only Mendham on Mendham and Chester on Chester. With the mayors in Mendham and Chester and Washington Township continuing to meet in the wake of their failed attempt to wrangle the Regional School District issue to resolution, there should be new efficiencies discovered and implemented in 2013.
Tell us: What issues are you concerned with in the New Year? Share in our comments below.