The Fort Lee Mayor and Council held its annual reorganization meeting Thursday at , where Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and Councilmen Armand Pohan and Michael Sargenti, all of whom were reelected in November, took the oaths of office; Councilman Joseph Cervieri was selected as Council president for 2012; borough attorney Lee Cohen was reappointed for another year; and Sokolich delivered his annual State of the Borough Address before the governing body went through a litany of statutory, Council and Mayor’s appointments and nominations.
Rabbi Meir Berger of the delivered the invocation before a packed house in council chambers, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-37) and Freeholder Joan Voss (D-Fort Lee).
Democratic chairwoman Kay Nest provided some opening remarks, congratulating Sokolich, Pohan and Sargenti “for getting reelected and to once again work for the benefits of Fort Lee” and thanking Fort Lee voters for “bringing back these three very important individuals.”
“We are so fortunate in Fort Lee,” Nest said. “We have the best working team … and we are a team up here.”
Sokolich said that team “started in the onset of a recession, depreciating property values, skyrocketing debt and host of other problems.”
He went on to say the borough is in the best financial condition it’s been in the past 25 to 30 years, and the mayor continued by enumerating his administration’s accomplishments over the past three years, repeating familiar themes from his reelection campaign.
“A culture of entitlement no longer exists at 309 Main St.,” Sokolich said. “Our hiring freeze of permanent employees remains in place except for essential governmental services needed to protect your health, safety and welfare. Our workforce over the course of the past three years has been reduced by approximately 15 percent—in excess of 40 employees. Our bond debt has been reduced by approximately $30 million, which is historic. Our programs of attrition have saved over $6 million in salaries on an annual basis.”
Some of the other accomplishments Sokolich highlighted, saying they “don’t necessarily grab headlines” but are “as important as the ones I’ve just mentioned,” include the following:
- The e-ticketing program
- Self-insurance programs
- Continuing to “aggressively negotiate all collective bargaining agreements”
“And we’re very, very hopeful that in the very near future, we’ll be reporting to you that the PBA contract, which has been a long, long and arduous struggle, is about to settle,” Sokolich said.
- Relying on borough personnel for “in-house projects”
- Continuing an “aggressive grant-writing campaign”
- In-house engineering without having to hire outside contractors
- The ambulance co-pay program
“Each year, it’s gotten better and better,” Sokolich said. “The gross number is now just south of $1 million. It doesn’t cost taxpayers one penny.”
Sokolich also highlighted a municipal tax increase in 2011 of less than one percent—0.89 percent, in fact.
“We are working feverishly to get you to what I call ‘the tax promised land,’ which is zero,” Sokolich said. “And we’re hopeful that we’re going to deliver a very, very ambitious tax stabilization this upcoming season.”
He also lauded Fort Lee for its community events and the people who work tirelessly to make them happen, the borough’s emergency services, which he called “the best the state of New Jersey has to offer,” and what he called “perhaps the most memorable day in 2011, at least for me,” the commemoration of the borough’s 9/11 memorial in .
Then came what Sokolich referred to as the “one common thread” of State of the Borough addresses over the past 47 years—the property now known as Redevelopment Area 5.
“For 47 years this property has laid fallow,” Sokolich said. “I’m tired of reporting to you on it; I’m tired of dealing with it. But I can tell you, in it’s long and tattered history, we’ve never been closer. And I’m happy to report that we’re hopeful within the next two to three weeks, formal applications will be made before the Planning Board [and] public hearings will be conducted.”
He added that the governing body remains “hopeful” construction on the property will begin within the first half of 2012.
Sokolich then went into some of the work “that needs to be done” in the coming year, including potentially establishing special improvement districts (SIDs) “to hopefully improve our retail and commercial zones, and in particular Main Street” and continuing to strive for the “zero tax increase, if not reductions.”
After thanking the members of the Borough Council for focusing on “community,” and assuring residents that he has no other political aspirations beyond being Mayor of Fort Lee, Sokolich concluded his remarks on what was perhaps a surprising note.
“In my opinion, the most important impact I think that you can have on your property values in this borough is to make sure and to ensure that this borough provides an excellent school system,” Sokolich said. “There is not an affluent community, or an upper-class community, or a community with high property values in the state of New Jersey that cannot boast a strong school system.”
Noting that the Mayor and Council don’t run the Fort Lee school system or make decisions about it, Sokolich nonetheless asked voters to support the upcoming $30.2 million school bond referendum.
“It will provide the district with dollars, enabling capital improvement projects, desperately needed expansions and provide our administrators, teachers and, most importantly, our children to flourish,” he said. “During these desperate times, this district needs us.”
Below is a look at the Mayor's nominations and appointments to various boards and committees:
Board of Adjustment - Four Years:
Alternate 1 – John Nitti(two-year term through Dec. 31, 2013)
Advisory Committee for the Disabled - 3 Years
Environmental & Beautification – 3 Years
Councilwoman Ila Kasofsky (One Year)
Fort Lee Film Commission - 2 Years
Councilman Jan Goldberg (One Year)
Board of Health - 3 Years
Dr. Paul Friedman
Dr. Harris Levine
Historic Site, Structure, Cultural and Landmark Committee - 3 Years
Councilman Harvey Sohmer (One Year)
Housing Authority – 5 Years
Library Board of Trustees - 5 Years
Local Assistance Board
Joan Alter (Four Years)
Patricia Rumi (One Year)
Rent Leveling Board - 3 Years
Senior Citizens' Council
Kay Nest, Director (One Year)
Connie Arnow (Two Years)
Fran DiGiovanni (Two Years)
Dorothy Greenlaw (Two Years)
Sign/Façade Committee - 2 Years
Kathy Lee (Unexpired term through 2012*)
*Andrew Kim resigned
Class II – Donald Porrino – One-Year term through 2012
Class IV – Steve Sakin – Four-year term through 2015
Class IV – Byong Suh* – One-year term through 2012
Class IV Alternate 1 – Brian Radoian – Two-year term through 2013
Mayor’s Designee: Louis LaMastro (Through 2015)
*These people currently sit as Planning Board Members. Mayor Sokolich has sole control over the above appointments.
**Replacing Donald Porrino
Library Board of Trustees – Through Mayor’s Term 12/31/15
Joseph Cervieri (Mayor’s Designee)
Sign/Façade Review Committee
Mayor’s Representative(s) - No appointment made at this time through 2012
Mayor’s Designee – Donald Porrino through 2012