Tuesday, July 23, 2024
HomeLocal NewsMayor Michael Soriano's State of the Township Address

Mayor Michael Soriano’s State of the Township Address

PARSIPPANY —Ladies, gentlemen, elected officials, distinguished guests, and residents of the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills.  Thank you for being here this evening, and trusting me with the tremendous and humbling honor of serving as your Mayor.  I stand before you tonight after one year of service, at the end of the beginning, prepared to reflect on the challenges and successes that our administration, and our township as a whole, have experienced since January 1 of 2018.  I am proud to report that, through the efforts of our remarkable township employees, officials, volunteers, first responders, and residents, that the state of our township is strong, and growing ever stronger.

When my family and I made the decision to run for Mayor in the winter of 2017, I was not fulfilling a lifelong ambition.  I was not groomed by some entity to run for office, nor was I ever expecting to.  I was not waiting with baited breath for some moment.  I was not planning on leaving behind my tools, my career, my union.  Not even my commute.  There was no plan, no premeditation.  We made that decision together because we saw problems in the way our township was being run, and we wanted to fix them.  I have been building and fixing things since I was 18 years old.  Where I once applied those skills to pipes and wires, I now apply them to this place; my home, Parsippany.

We have made great strides in the past year, with much work left to be done.  While I will speak to those challenges and accomplishments as we move forward, I would be remiss not to, first and foremost, acknowledge all of those whose hard work makes this township function.  Our township employees are second to none.  Most produce sixteen hours’ worth of work over the course of an eight-hour day.  Their expertise, resilience to pressure, sound judgment, and commitment to this community can be easy to overlook, but I want each and every one of you to know that you are valued, supported, and acknowledged.  Our first responders, almost entirely volunteer, take countless hours away from their families to keep us safe from fire and medical emergencies.  Their commitment to the safety of every resident in this community represents the best of American values.  I find myself struggling to imagine a sufficient way to thank you for the sacrifices you make on behalf of our residents and businesses.  I will simply affirm that you have the support of the administration, the admiration of our residents, and a special place in my heart.

The most significant challenge we will face as a township over the coming years is how we respond to development.  Landowners want to convert the uses of their property to develop housing.  The courts have imposed affordable housing requirements that we must meet.  Homeowners want to maintain the character and quality of neighborhoods, as well as the value of their homes.

It would be easy for me to stand here and tell you that there will be no new development in Parsippany.  It would be easy to say that we will fight every developer, every judge, and every unit that is proposed in our community.  And the result of that unreasonable stance would already be known to us: losing the ability we have to manage and control those developments that are being planned.  We can fight tooth and nail against a 441-unit development with extensive community amenities, and end up mandated to allow an even denser 800-unit complex without amenities, and producing far more traffic, school children, and water usage.  Or, we can manage such a proposal.  We can reduce the unit count from 500 down to 441.  We can double the share of revenue we receive from the project, revenue that will offset our property taxes.  We can negotiate changes to traffic infrastructure to help alleviate the strain on our roads.  We can transfer some costly municipal services to be the burden of the developer.  That is what we can accomplish when we manage our growth in good faith.  Better outcomes for the residents of Parsippany.

We don’t dodge tough issues.  I am not here to make the correct political selection.  I am not here to make decisions that increase my chances of reelection while making things worse for our residents.  I am here to make the decision that will most benefit the people of this community in the long run, taking into account all possible consequences.  Development is the most pressing, and perhaps the most complicated, issue that we face.  The answers are rarely obvious, generally messy, and far from clear-cut.  I can’t promise that we will always agree, but I can promise that I will make the best possible decision for our township.

I don’t care where a solution comes from.  I don’t care if an idea is red or blue.  If I change my mind, it is because I’ve received compelling new evidence on the merits or drawbacks of a decision, not because of the political winds’ latest direction.

One of my guiding principles as we move forward will be the new Master Plan we have commissioned to quantify and calibrate the data and resident input needed to manage our future.  Our last Master Plan was written in 1976.  This was a time when the suburban office market was thriving, closer to the start of World War 2 than to the year 2019.  It was a good tool for its time and allowed Parsippany to thrive over the decades that followed.  But like all tools, its use has worn, rusted and dulled and the time for a replacement has come.  Using the input from residents at our first public Master Plan meeting late last year, with many more to come, our planner has begun work on a Master Plan that will prepare us for the challenges of the 21st century.  As a township, we do not get to set economic realities and technological breakthroughs.  We are here to manage them in the best way possible.  I look forward to working with planners and residents over the next several months to ensure that the end product reflects the needs and desires of our community as a whole.

In preparing for our future, I have never lost sight of the need for vast improvements to our energy infrastructure.  I vividly remember the difficulties that most of our residents faced in March of 2018, as nor’easter after nor’easter knocked out power for days, and in some cases weeks, at a time.  It is unacceptable to me, as a Mayor, as a homeowner, and particularly as an electrician, that this can happen anywhere in the United States.  But just yelling at and about JCP&L won’t help the next time a major storm comes through.  That’s why my administration has been working tirelessly with JCP&L, the state of New Jersey and the Board of Public Utilities to strengthen our electrical infrastructure.  It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.  We can’t stop winter storms.  We can’t stop the cold.  But we can, and we must, keep the lights and the heat on.

Electricity, of course, is not the only infrastructure need we have in Parsippany.  The way we address traffic congestion on our streets will be of deep importance as our local economy continues to grow.  That’s why over the last year, my administration has been working with the county Engineering Department and state Department of Transportation to seek improvements to our Route 10, Route 46 and Route 202 to ease traffic congestion.  An unfortunate reality that we face as a township is that our most vital arteries are not under our control.  Only in partnership with other levels of government, and with strategic use of traffic signal adjustment and road changes, can we address the issue of traffic.  These changes are still in their infancy, but we are working towards major progress in the years to come.

One of the great pleasures I’ve had in serving as Mayor is getting to know the men and women of the Parsippany Police Department.  As a private citizen, I experienced nothing but positive and professional interaction with our local law enforcement, and I continue to know that all of our officers come to work each day with service on their minds and the community in their hearts.  The promotion of Andrew Miller to Chief of Police has been one of the highlights of my administration; his leadership and resolve to run a professional, service-oriented department has continued a legacy of strong community ties within the department.  As we move into 2019, we plan on continuing that progress.  Maintaining a fully-staffed department will help us reduce overtime costs while increasing our capacity to address emergencies and patrol the township.  A new community policing initiative will further develop the relationship between our police department and our township’s businesses, youth and immigrant communities.  Finally, we will be formally pursuing accreditation, a process that will affirm the Police Department as amongst the most professional in the nation.

I am also proud that our newly appointed township prosecutors have proven to be amongst the most successful in the State of New Jersey.  When we appointed Lisa Thompson and Monica Madin last year as the first all-female team of prosecutors in our township’s history, as well as the first Muslim prosecutor in Morris County, I expected great results.  What these two have been able to achieve, however, was beyond my expectations.  With the help of our team of public defenders and court staff, the Parsippany court system has cleared a backlog of cases that was taken as a given for years under old leadership.  This clearance has sped up the justice process for hundreds of people, ensuring speedy trials and the ability to examine cases more closely.

Speaking of attorneys, our administration has been able to fulfill a promise to reduce our government’s excessive legal fees, providing relief for taxpayers who for years had suffered the burden of frivolous lawsuits, unnecessary consultations, and seemingly endless billings.  Last year’s budget slashed legal fees by $100,000, and we expect that number to continue to decrease as we settle old litigation and leave past practices in the rearview mirror.  The team of attorney’s that we’ve assembled to help us address various matters represent the best in the business, and I see everyday that we’re getting more for less.

We’ve also begun to decrease our reliance on sewer and water surplus funds to balance our budget.  Zero-percent tax increases, forced in two election years, have left our township’s finances in dire straits.  As anyone who owns a credit card knows, you can spend with no consequences to a certain point in time, but irresponsibility will eventually catch up to you.  Make no mistake: past spending increases without an equivalent increase in revenue is catching up with us, and getting out of our fiscal mess won’t be easy or painless.

I am happy to report that our administration has helped attract $40 million in new ratables to Parsippany.  From filling vacant office space to the opening of new restaurants, these businesses are providing Parsippany residents with new employment opportunities, as well as allowing for outside workers to contribute to our local economy.  Our township can only thrive through continued economic growth, and the expansion of opportunity that $40 million in new value provides is of great pride to us all.

While these new ratables will help alleviate some of our fiscal issues, it will not alone allow us to return to financial stability.  I have made this promise before, and I will make it again: I will not turn to budget gimmicks and artificial, election-year stunts to give off a false appearance of zero tax increases.  Decreasing our dependency on sewer and water surplus is the first step in the right direction, and we will continue to ween ourselves off of that crutch over time.  My goal is to have a healthy and sustainable budget, without the need for wild swings in tax adjustments, over the long term, and we can only achieve that goal through political courage and self-discipline.  I look forward to working with the Council, who have the final say on Parsippany’s budget, to make that long-term vision a reality.

One of Parsippany’s greatest strengths is our diversity.  Significant numbers of our population have origins on five different continents, and celebrating that heritage is of vital importance to all of us remembering both where we came from and our unique American value system of openness and integration.  It was with those values in mind that I was proud to help facilitate Parsippany’s first annual Indian Flag Raising for Indian Independence Day this past August.  Our township is home to one of the most thriving South Asian communities in the United States, and welcoming guests from our state legislature and the Indian Consulate in New York to celebrate the occasion was a distinct honor.  Our Indian community is entrepreneurial, hard-working, deeply valuing of education and prosperity, and has immense respect for both their own traditions and those of America.  We also held our township’s first annual Italian Food and Culture Festival.  Our Italian-American community is a bedrock of our township’s social fiber, touching all aspects of our lives, and celebrating that heritage was another milestone for Parsippany’s cultural tradition.  The more experiences we have together, the deeper the bonds of understanding between all of our cultures will become.  I look forward to continued work with the entire spectrum of Parsippany’s residents.

Our final initiative to announce is the opening of the Boonton Reservoir for passive recreation.  This fall, we joined officials from the Morris County Parks Commission and Jersey City to begin the work on a Master Plan for what will soon be amongst the premier hiking attractions in the State of New Jersey.  In addition to providing recreation opportunities for our residents, this 40-year lease will allow for a major increase in security to protect this public body of water.  The property currently has massive holes in its fences, and is frequently used illegally for camping, fishing and other activities.  This agreement will allow us to patrol the area, help those who have emergencies while on the property, and ensure that the quality of the water stays strong and free from pollutants.  Our administration and the administration of Mayor Fulop in Jersey City have built a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and I look forward to working with Jersey City on Parsippany’s largest piece of property.

In closing, I’d like to discuss this township of ours, and what it means to me.  Parsippany was ranked in 2018 as the #1 Place to Live in New Jersey by Money Magazine.  I am proud to lead a community recognized with such a distinction.  But while I’m grateful that a national publication has seen what all of us in Parsippany already know, the character of this township goes much deeper than numbers in a spreadsheet and rankings subject to weighting fluctuations.  Parsippany is more than just 25 square miles on a map.  We are the sum of all of our people.  Parsippany is 55,000 hopes.  It’s 55,000 dreams.  It’s 55,000 ambitions, and 55,000 hardships. It’s 55,000 successes, and 55,000 challenges.  Parsippany is 55,000 people, making our way through life, doing the best we can.  55,000 people working hard to build a life, to raise successful children, to care for loved ones.  55,000 people living out our own American dreams with all of the adversities and all of the triumphs that come with it.  That, at the end of the day, is what this township is.  And that, more than any governmental accomplishment or goal, is why I could not be prouder to be your Mayor.  Thank you, God bless you, and goodnight.

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Presented by Kiwanis Club of Greater Parsippany

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Frank L. Cahill
Frank L. Cahill
Publisher of Parsippany Focus since 1989 and Morris Focus since 2019, both covering a wide range of events. Mr. Cahill serves as the Executive Board Member of the Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce, President of Kiwanis Club of Tri-Town and Chairman of Parsippany-Troy Hills Economic Development Advisory Board.
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