WeLoveMillburn tackles town issues
Thursday, January 20, 2011
BY LAURA D'ONOFRIO
The Item of Millburn and Short Hills
Six years ago, a handful of residents questioned the 2005 school board's projections for the growth of the student body. Now, with 40 more active members and an email list of 1,200 people, there are new issues the civic group WeLoveMillburn is keeping its eyes on.
Co-Founder Mike Becker said that in 2005 the soon to be members ranged from 30 years old to 60 years old but they all thought the Board of Education demographic numbers were wrong. The board at that time was also proposing a $40 million new school construction bond.
"We analyzed their demographic study. We didn't believe there would be the growth they were projecting," said Becker. "So I named the group WeLoveMillburn, made a website and we campaigned against the $40 million school bond."
It seems the community agreed. The public eventually voted down the bond, said Becker.
Later in 2006, the school board presented another $21 million school bond. WeLoveMillburn ran advertisements and newsletters offering pros and cons of the idea.
Becker said that bond passed, but the board didn't spend all of the bond funding.
Over the years WeLoveMillburn has taken a stand on a number of issues and closely monitors school board as well as Township Committee meetings.
With such a large number of interested residents, it would be difficult for everyone to be present at town meetings. But in a way they all are, says Becker.
"We report to our group through our closed circuit Yahoo e-mail group," said Becker. "I can send a message in real time to WeLoveMillburn regarding a meeting. For a member who isn't present they can send an email or question about a certain subject which I can then raise at the meeting."
Some of the key issues the group has been involved in throughout the years include the tax assessment of The Mall at Short Hills, the Downtown Redevelopment Plan, the purchase of the Paper Mill Playhouse and parking and traffic issues.
Becker explains that in February 2006 WeLoveMillburn exposed the fact that The Mall at Short Hills was asking for a property tax reduction while at the same time they were applying for a new mortgage giving their worth a much higher rate.
President of WeLoveMillburn Ralph Inglese says six years ago the community wasn't being adequately informed about these issues, and that is where the group came into play. He adds that although there are more news services today, WeLoveMillburn aims to dig deep and offer more analysis on the issues that others might miss.
"Our primary criteria are issues that affect the entire community and that are not already being adequately addressed by other groups," said Inglese. "We don't want to compete with other organizations in town but would like to collaborate when appropriate."
Inglese also handles organization of the group's meetings and officers and advisers. He utilizes an electronic bulletin board where members post news stories, ask questions, raise new topics of concern and respond to each other's posts.
WeLoveMillburn board member Francesco Borghese says residents often have a misperception of the organization.
"We fought the $40 million school bond which was a hot issue," said Borghese. "A lot of people painted us as people who hate taxes and don't care about education."
Borghese says the claim is obviously wrong and that WeLoveMillburn cares about the community as a whole, not just one facet or another. He recalls that one of his primary motivations for campaigning against the $40 million school bond was that the price of living in town was driving people out.
"I saw many friends leave town because the taxes were too high," he said.
He adds that three years ago the group stated that there was money in the budget that was unaccounted for. "Nobody believed us. Now that the news is out it is sinking in that people can trust us," said Borghese.
Inglese makes the point that as a group with a non-profit status they cannot endorse candidates. But that doesn't mean group members can't run for office.
In 2006 three members of WeLoveMillburn ran as a slate for seats on the Board of Education in 2006: David Dwyer, Ralph Inglese and Elizabeth O'Brien. None of the three garnered enough votes. The winners were Dr. Mark Zucker, Samuel Levy and Janet Landau.
According to Becker there have been some concerns that WeLoveMillburn declined to involve itself in. Issues such the PetSmart plan, the Summit Medical Group's new building application, the T-Mobile cell tower issue and the Chai Center's ongoing application to build a new synagogue were all ideas brought to WeLoveMillburn's attention.
Becker explains the group didn't join these causes because they were either restricted to a particular section of town or had their own advocacy group.
However, WeLoveMillburn always has its doors open when it comes to the needs of the community, said Becker. WeLoveMillburn encourages residents who have an issue or opportunity that may affect the whole township to contact the organization through welovemillburn.com.
Major issues we have been
deeply involved in as a group:
The Millburn school system and the decisions that the Board of Education make can affect the entire town and all residents whether they have children in school or not. We are very involved here. We have been involved in bonds and also total school operating budgets.
Grandiose plans like the Downtown Redevelopment Plan that came at the absolute wrong time could also have had a huge effect on all residents. We took a stand and helped get the citizens out and helped convince the Mayor and members of the Township Committee to vote down their own plan.
Property Taxes (highest in the state for years in a row now) have been something we have spoken out on and been involved with. We are the group that told residents that while the Mall At Short Hills was asking for a property tax reduction, at the same time, they were applying for a new mortgage giving their worth at a much higher rate.
Issues we have left to other local groups
or worked with as individuals:
The original PetSmart plan complete with a pet hotel was a local issue and a local group was formed to successfully fight the plan. In the end, a smaller business was approved by the Zoning Board.
T-Mobile's attempt to build a 140-foot cell tower near Glenwood School is another issue that the South Terrace residents have gone to work on. www.NoCellTower.com
The Summit Medical has temporarily pulled their application to the Zoning Board of Adjustment after previously asking for relief from 8 variances in their attempt to build a large new medical practice. Local residents seemed quite upset with the size and scope of the projected building on Chatham Road.
The Chai Center located at the corner of Old Short Hills Road and Jefferson Avenue is also having hearings in their request for 4 variances which would allow them to build a 16,350 new house of worship and community center. There has been a group called SaveMillburn.com working on this.
The Livingston Short Hills Coalition has not been successful in its attempt to stop a new large development on South Orange Avenue where Tutor Time currently resides (actually located in Livingston).
Residents have been involved in the deer issue, car idling emissions, park beautification and other issues.
Please let us know your issues.
When you think there is something that truly effects the whole community, please do let us know by writing to info@WeLoveMillburn.com and we will consider it or let you know if there are other groups involved in your issue.
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