Mayor Rick Proctor focused his State of the City remarks last night on regional flood mitigation efforts and the city's response to Hurricane Sandy while touching on some redevelopment topics. He also warned of a tough budget year, thanks to another water utility deficit that will raise water rates.
In terms of redevelopment, Proctor hopes groundbreaking will occur on the 115-unit Meridia Lafayette Village on Main Street this year and aims to see completion of the 108-unit Meridia Water's Edge adjacent to the library. He also touched on downtown streetscape efforts and new equipment for the Fire Department in his remarks, which lasted about seven minutes.
The city sustained an estimated $35 million in damages related to Hurricane Sandy, roughly $15 million of it to city property and another $20 million to private property, Proctor said, and applications for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already are under way. Sandy felled 200 city trees, 84 of which fell on private homes, and also wreaked havoc on the Recreation Center and its equipment.
A hydrology study of the Robinson's Branch of the Rahway River by the Army Corps of Engineers should be completed this spring to address flooding in the area of Central and Elm avenues and New Church Street, the mayor said. The city also is moving forward with the acquisition of several properties along Essex Street and Grand Avenue to raze existing homes.
The mayor said he postponed his State of the City remarks -- traditionally delivered during the annual reorganization meeting in January -- to talk about the city budget but state aid figures still are delayed. He expects a tough budget year, given a water utility shortfall last year of $700,000 that had to be supplemented by the city, as well as retirements in the police and fire departments. The City Council last night introduced an ordinance, which is scheduled for adoption at the March 11 meeting, that would raise water rates.