Mayor's Message

STATE OF THE TOWNSHIP
January 25, 2021

As 2020 came to a close, there is so much that so many of us wish we could erase. However, as we look forward to what 2021 has in store, we must first look back upon the dreadful year of 2020.

However, before I begin I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Little Falls for placing their support in me again this year in this year’s election.

Despite the unprecedented COVID-19 Pandemic, over this past year, there have been so many incredible things that have happened here in Little Falls, and we have so many great things that we have to look forward to over the next year.

Before I begin, I would be remiss if I did not mention that everything that happens in this town would not be possible if it were not for the incredible support that I receive day in and day out from all of the Council Members. This year, I would like to congratulate Council President Anthony Sgobba on his reelection not only to the Council, but as Council President, who has served this town well over the past four years as Council President. I would also like to congratulate Little Falls’ newest councilmember, Councilwoman Hablitz, on her election to the Council. While Councilwoman Hablitz is a Freshman here on the Council, her involvement in the Township and the events that have been run by the Township over the past several years have all been spearheaded by her, and under her guidance, and I know she will be a great addition to this Council.

Despite COVID-19 leading every headline in every news article all year long, there was a lot that happened here in Little Falls in 2020. Little Falls continued to host its Concerts in the Park with the assistance of ABC, it continued to host its outdoor movie nights, and this year, Little Falls hosted the newly infamous Farmers Market, which was a huge hit, thanks to Councilwoman Seber and Councilwoman Hablitz. I know that as we progress into the future, these events will continue to grow as we make Little Falls better each day. I need to thank our Little Falls CERT Team more than ever for their services this year as they assisted at all of our major events in town to ensure that masks were worn appropriately, and that all remained safe.

In 2020, we had a Township staple here in town undergo a substantial facelift, particularly the Sports and Recreation Complex. Anyone who made their way down Paterson Ave recently will have recognized the complete renovation and addition of a Turf Field, improved viewing areas, new storage facility, air-conditioned recreation center, and highly utilized Pickleball Courts. I am thrilled that the costs of these improvements were offset by over $1 Million in grant funding. These facilities will be utilized over the years by children and adults of all ages in our constantly expanding Adult and Youth Sports Programs.

In 2020, under the leadership of James DiMaria, the building department and the Township have continued to work with developers towards revitalizing, upgrading, and enhancing our Township in a positive direction which is simultaneously helping to ensure the financial future of the Town. The Singac Redevelopment along Main Street is now underway and will soon provide a substantial financial benefit to the Township.

Developments such as Autumn Point, and the former Paul O Abbe site have both been completed and have proven to have little to no impact on our schools, which was a concern of many residents here in town prior to them being developed. These two projects totaling 74 units, each unit with an average value in excess of $450,000, have added only two children in total to our school district.

Over this past year, the Council has authorized funding for road reconstruction and for sanitary sewer improvements, for improvements to municipal facilities, and for various pieces of equipment for all of our departments. This year, improvements to Ridge Ave and Micklejohn Ave were made, with substantial grant funding to offset the costs.

Thanks to the support of the CARES Act, the Township was able to spend roughly $750,000 which was all reimbursed by the Federal Government purchasing sanitizing machines, UV Lighting systems to kill viruses and bacteria in our public buildings, adding glass in our public buildings to keep both the public, and the Township employees safer, and to add a new Computerized Dispatch System to our Police and Fire Departments, to make their responses to homes and businesses as safe as possible, just to name a few.

All of the improvements seen in Little Falls over the past year were made with no local tax increase in Little Falls.

Unfortunately, 2020 registered historically low revenues to the Township due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is not unique to just Little Falls, and will be something that every town in New Jersey, and likely the Country will need to address as we prepare the 2021 budget. There are substantial shortfalls in anticipated revenues, to the tune of nearly $2 Million that will need to be addressed over the next several years, but this Council and I will do everything we can to ensure that there is as little impact to the residents as possible as we navigate these unprecedented times.

In 2020, we have reached historic progress with respect to funding for the Peckman River project. I have continued to work closely with the Army Corps and our Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill to finalize and fund the plan that will address, and hopefully eliminate flooding caused by the Peckman River. This is relief that many Little Falls residents need to help them sleep better at night, knowing that their homes are not one torrential downpour away from flooding.

On another note, I have continued to meet with the DOT and surrounding Towns to address the issues such as traffic, caused by the Route 46/3 construction project, and have diligently been following up with these meetings to ensure this project continues with as little delay as possible, which I have been happy to see making substantial progress, even through the Pandemic.

Our Little Falls Library has continued to adapt to the times of COVID-19, moving many events virtually, and I am excited to see what events they have in store for wen we can finally all be reunited together in person.

This Council and I, as we have from the onset, remain dedicated to our promise of Transparency. I hosted numerous virtual Town Hall style meetings on Facebook Live, and I hope to continue these into the future as we work to keep the residents abreast of all of the incredible things happening here in town.

I would be remiss if I did not thank the Clifton Health Department who continue to provide services to the Township as we now fight to get everyone vaccinated, and for their guidance though this pandemic.

With respect to our Police Department, in 2020, the Little Falls Police Department, led by Chief Steve Post, continues to maintain its accreditation as a department due to the policies and procedures that have been instituted to ensure the safety of our department and our residents.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Little Falls Police Department was a model for surrounding towns on officer safety and “COVID-Shifts” which kept our officers safe, preventing the spread of COVID throughout the department, while keeping the residents of the Township safe. The Department’s safety policies resulted in no spread of COVID-19 within the Department, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of the members of the Little Falls Police Department for their service, especially this year.

As we progress into 2021, the Council and I continue to keep the safety of the residents in the forefront of our minds, and this year, we hope to undertake the installation of the first speed humps as part of a pilot initiative. In the meantime, the Township has continued to update its ordinances to ensure that stop signs are appropriately placed throughout the Township wherever necessary. I would like to thank Councilman Vancheri for continued dedication to the transportation related issues in this municipality.

In 2020, the Little Falls Fire Department, led by Department Chief Jack Sweezy, Jr., has continued its Full Time Paid EMS Service, which has substantially reduced response times for our Emergency Medical Responders, which was particularly important in these unprecedented times. The Little Falls Fire Department and EMS squads now have one full year of shared services being provided to Elmwood Park, in what could be the most challenging year ever for EMS squads, which continues to generate revenue while employing individuals for the Township.

The men and women of our Little Falls Fire Department and EMS Squad deserve the recognition of the residents of Little Falls more than ever this year. There has been no worse time in recent history to work in this capacity, and the Little Falls EMT’s continued to provide this incredible service for all of the residents here in town. There have been no cases of COVID-19 having been spread to any EMT employed here in the Township while on duty and working in their professional role. Kudos to Chief Sweezy for all he has done in implementing his safety policies for the Department, keeping the men and Women of the Little Falls Fire Department safe.

As we continue into 2021, I am thrilled to announce the purchase of a used ladder truck for the Township that will be housed at Company 1 on Wilmore Road. Company 1 is in the process of remodeling their garage bay to house this truck, which will provide a tremendous benefit and a second ladder truck to the Township’s fleet of Fire Vehicles.

This past year, our Little Falls DPW suffered a tragic loss, with the passing of long time DPW Superintendent Phil Simone. Phil led this department, which has been known for the best roads East of the Mississippi after a snowstorm. We wish Phil eternal peace, and our condolences are shared with the entire Simone family.

As we continue to adapt in 2021, Ron Campbell is the Township’s new DPW Superintendent, and Ron Stell was recently promoted to the Township’s Foreman. Under this new leadership, this year, the Township will continue its road resurfacing program, as we continue to keep the Township infrastructure in working order.

In 2020, and during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Township’s new Senior Bus served to bring residents of Little Falls to ShopRite and doctors’ appointments during these ever-trying times.

As I indicated earlier, our Parks and Recreation facilities have also undergone some major improvements, and I need to thank our Recreation Director John Pace and our assistant Recreation Director Tyler Passero for their oversight of our Recreation Department as these programs continue to expand every season. This year, to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Township Recreation Department established a virtual recreation program to allow residents of all ages to remain active from the safety of their homes.

More recently, the Township Recreation Department installed its brand new Pixellot Camera System which allows parents, family, and friends to safely watch their children play indoor sports, while limiting the number of people in the building, a system that can be used for years to come, allowing loved ones who can’t make the game in person to watch from anywhere on the new app-based system. I would like to thank Councilman Al Kahwaty for his assistance in spearheading this project and getting the Township up and running for the start of our indoor season.

While a lot was accomplished here in Little Falls in 2020, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2021.

In exciting news, this year, the Township will be breaking ground on the start of its Streetscape improvement project, which we hope to have span the entire length of the Township over the coming years, and I am thrilled to get this project underway. This project will begin to bring the curb appeal back to the Township that has been slowly vanishing over the years with its outdated curbs and sidewalks along Main Street and surrounding streets. I am excited to see the progress on these projects over this next year.

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all of the employees of this Township who work so hard each and every day to keep this Town up and running, especially our Business Administrator Chuck Cuccia, and our Township Clerk, Cynthia Kraus. This year presented unique issues, and the Township’s employees quickly adapted to ensure that the Township remained up and running throughout the entirety of the Pandemic.

I want to thank all of you for placing your trust in me as your Mayor for these next four years, and for your overwhelming support over my first term. While I never imagined having to govern this Town through a Pandemic, what I have learned about the residents of this town since March 2020 is truly incredible.

During the worst of this pandemic, when the facts about this virus remained widely unknown, I put out a call for help for the residents of this town who were unable to shop for themselves. I received an overwhelming number of responses from residents of this town willing to help another who they had never met. This was truly inspiring. So many residents willing to spring into action to make sure that a stranger, whom they had never met before, could remain safe at home. This simple request alone helped restore my diminishing faith in humanity.

While there was so much bad that came from this virus, I hope we can all remember the good that came with it too. Whether it be the extra time with family at home, or the reduction in the hustle and bustle that we were all so accustomed to.

As we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I ask that everyone continue to push through, to do the right thing, and not invite yourself around others if you don’t feel well. I am not okay with this so called new normal. This is not normal. So let’s all do our part and get back to normal. The regular normal. The old normal.

I have truly enjoyed each day that I have been fortunate enough to serve as your Mayor. I look forward to getting back to the “normal” normal, and what the future of this Township has in store.

I know I’m a broken record, but if you ever have any issues, no matter how big or small, no matter day or night, I invite you to contact me by any means.

I look forward to continuing to serve as your Mayor over the next four years, and I wish everyone health and happiness in 2021.

Thank You.

James Belford Damiano
-Mayor, Township of Little Falls