I've long commented on the look of other towns and how well they are taken care of, and what a pleasure it is to visit them. I've often commented on Madison, a town of mature street trees, well cared for homes, and a "picture perfect" downtown.
Their town has wide walks with pavers, not cheap bricks, lovely benches, proper tree pits with thriving trees, flowers, and even trash receptacles that are not only attractive but that are dumped routinely so you can actually throw things in them.
Its store fronts look the same now as they probably did when they were built. They fit with each other. There are design standards. They are painted and repaired. They achieve much of this, I'm sure, through zoning ordinances, which we do not have.
Forget these fundamentals, for even when I tried to put in place a simple sidewalk ordinance I was rebuffed, and the tree ordinances met with anger and hostility.
These fundamentals are different from the issues you raise, which relate to the maintenance of what we do have.
The knee-jerk answer from many is "Well, those towns have more tax dollars to spend on appearance and maintenance because they have more 'ratables,' i.e. more money" Well, you know, I'm not sure that's the correct answer!
The proper way to answer that question is to ask "How much money do these towns, be they Livingston, Millburn, or Madison, spend, and what do they spend it on?" I think we might be surprised.
I do think if we ask today we will find out that we do have limited funds available for maintenance. We brag how we were able to reduce the workforce by 40 people over the last four years in order to keep "taxes down." Well those 40 people were the ones responsible for the things we are talking about. Parks, shade tree maintenance, and Community Service were decimated. The workers are gone.
And key people with vision, are also gone. We've disinvested in personnel for planning, failed to hire an economic development person, and so on. And the Business Improvement District lost the key driver for change—Tom Lonergan.
But the issue is more than money. It's a matter of priorities. What IS important to the majority of the people? Does the majority care what the downtown looks like? Does the majority care that the park in Watchung, by the stores, is filled with trash and the cans overflowing? And I don't mean the people living there. I mean the majority of the entire town, i.e. all 37,000.
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