Mayor's Message

STATE OF THE TOWNSHIP
January 24, 2022

As 2021 comes to a close, and as we embark into 2022, these surges in COVID are beginning to make it feel a lot like Groundhog Day, but I am optimistic that there are brighter days ahead. Before we discuss what we hope to see come to fruition in 2022, we look back upon 2021, or as some call it, 2020, Part II.

As we all became more familiar with the dreaded pandemic, and as Covid-19 continued to make headlines across the nation, we have seen so many incredible things happen here in Little Falls over these past 12 months, 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, and this past year was no exception. I would like to congratulate Council President Anthony Sgobba on his reelection as Council President, who has served this town well over the past five years. All of the Council members work tirelessly for the residents of Little Falls and put in countless hours to make Little Falls a great place to live.

I would also 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, our Township Clerk, Cynthia Kraus, and our Deputy Clerk, Melissa DePiro. The administrative offices continue to run smoothly with minimal staffing, and your hard work does not go unnoticed.

Over the past 12 months here in Little Falls, we continued to get back to normal despite COVID-19 continuing to lead every headline. Little Falls had strong attendance at its Summer Concerts in the Park with the assistance of ABC, we continued to host outdoor movie nights, and the ever-popular Farmers Market which had over 8,000 visitors throughout its 24 weeks, and this year, despite the event being cut short by rain, the Township hosted its first ever Water Day. I need to thank Councilmembers Seber, Kahwaty and Hablitz for their dedication to making Little Falls such a great place to live, with so many events offered to people of all ages.

I also 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 throughout town to ensure that all remained safe.

This past year, as we got back towards normal, all Fall and Spring sports were able to utilize the newly renovated Sports and Recreation Complex, and the Townships annual Summer Camp program was back in full swing, thanks to our Recreation Director Mr. Pace, and our Assistant Recreation Director Tyler Passero. This past year, the gym floor inside the Recreation Center was also completely resurfaced with a new floor installed, which now officially includes lines for Volleyball and Pickleball, the newest and most popular sport for all ages. The new ADA accessible ramp at the Civic Center was also completed, now allowing easy access through the rear entrance of the building.

The Little Falls recreation programs had over 3,900 participants across 46 youth and adult activities offered by the Recreation Department, with the newest 2021 addition of Cross Country. Additionally, the Recreation Department also added a nationally known program called Mighty Mike: Bounce Out the Stigma; this was added to our “Champions League” Program which is an inclusive clinic style & non- competitive program that is offered for children between the ages of 4 to 21 with intellectual and developmental challenges.

In 2021, 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. Shortly, once completed, many of the new developments which have been approved will increase the tax base and ratables for the municipality which will greatly assist in continuing to stabilize the taxes in Little Falls while assisting in paying down the excessive debt that Little Falls has had since prior to me taking office.

Developments such as 44 Main, Autumn Point, and the Abbe sites have all been completed for some time now 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 three projects total 108 units and have only added two children to our schools.

This past year, the previously controversial Floor Area Ratio formula used to calculate home sizes was amended to more appropriately address one of the major concerns in town, flooding. The Township Council was also faced with a major decision in town regarding the introduction of the Cannabis Ordinances, and after hearing the concerns of the residents of the Township, adopted what I would consider an agreed upon and beneficial ordinance for all residents of Little Falls.

This past year, the Council has continued to authorize 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.

In breaking news, incredibly, just this past week, we have reached historic progress with respect to funding for the Peckman River project, which the Federal Government has announced funding for to the tune of over $146 Million. This is unprecedented, and once completed, will be absolutely life changing for so many residents of Little Falls who will no longer need to worry each time it rains. While this project protects so many of our residents here in town, there is still work to be done up stream to secure funds for bank stabilization to protect the residents between Francisco Ave and Passaic Valley High School. I will continue to work closely with the Army Corps and our Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill to finalize and fund the plan that will address, and 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 rainstorm away from flooding.

The Little Falls Library continues to adapt to the times of COVID-19, and while reopened to the public, continue to provide many events virtually.

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. Most recently, within the next week, to better assist in flowing traffic through Little Falls, especially during rush hour, the timing of the traffic lights will be modified to allow for more vehicles to make their through the traffic lights on Main Street during the highest traffic times.

With respect to our Police Department, this past year, 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. This year, the department recently received some surprising news, with the announcement by Chief Post of his upcoming retirement in 2022. I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Chief Post for his service to this Township for more than 27 years, and for his dedication to making this department as incredible as it is. I wish him nothing but success, prosperity and health in his future endeavors.

This past year, under his leadership, the Little Falls Police Department has responded to 17,970 calls for service, averaging over 49 calls per day. There were 839 motor vehicle crashes, 3,624 radar posts, and 133,983 miles patrolled, all within a town that’s less than 3 square miles.

As we progress into 2022, there will be some changes within the Police Department to better serve the residents of Little Falls. Recently, Lt. Bryan Prall was promoted to the rank of Deputy Chief, as he transitions into his future role of Chief of the Little Falls Police Department. I want to congratulate Deputy Chief Prall on his well-deserved and merited promotion. Under Deputy Chief Prall, the residents of Little Falls can continue to look forward to a reaffirmed commitment to community policing, and upcoming Coffee with a Cop events. The Little Falls Police Department will continue to support the Law Enforment Against Drugs program in the schools, and continue to run its Junior Police Academy.

In the near future, the Little Falls Police Department will be launching a town-wide information dissemination campaign, titled Little Falls – Information Network for Awareness, or LF-INFA. The goal of this program is to utilize existing technology platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Code-Red, while also expanding into others, to communicate and disseminate information to all residents, business owners, and visitors to Little Falls. As this program is instituted, more information will be provided.

During 2022, Deputy Chief Prall intends to reinstitute the Special Police Officer Program. These officers, once trained and in place, will allow us the flexibility to bolster the departments capabilities with community policing, traffic enforcement and patrol related duties. They will also serve as a force-multiplier during states of emergency or when additional man power is necessary.

Another priority of Deputy Chief Prall is to resurrect another once vibrant program, the police K-9. Unlike the traditional K-9 that everyone knows, the Little Falls Police K-9 will be different. The police K-9’s mission will be “To comfort, support and enhance the quality of life of those who are suffering from a personal condition or community crisis utilizing the human/canine bond and its power to heal.” The police K-9 will be integrated into the Community Policing Bureau and will assist with all community good-will programs. Additionally, the K-9 will assist victim’s of crime, incidents involving children, tragedies that may afflict our community, and improve the overall mental-health and wellness of our own officers and community members.

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, as well as their families, who selflessly say goodbye to their loved ones who work during holidays, emergencies, and all hours of the day and night.

The Council and I continue to keep the safety of the residents in the forefront of our minds, and this past year, in an effort to assist with an ongoing issue in town, the Council approved the installation of the first speed humps as part of a pilot initiative. This year, speed humps were added to Jacobus Avenue and Van Pelt, and follow up meetings with the residents will be scheduled to determine whether this program continues on additional streets through Little Falls. I would like to thank Councilman Vancheri for continued dedication to the transportation related issues in this municipality.

This year, I am hopeful that the installation of the Traffic Light at the intersection of Francisco Ave, at Cedar Grove and Wilmore Roads will be completed, adding a level of safety for everyone that uses that intersection on a daily basis.

In furtherance of this Council’s dedication to safety, this year, due to staffing issues in the past, the Little Falls EMS program is moving to a full-time program. While the EMS program being run in Little Falls over the past few years was a substantial improvement compared to the times of Volunteers responding to calls for help, by moving to a full time EMS program here in Little Falls, no longer should any Little Falls resident wait for an Ambulance to respond during their time of need. All of these major improvements are being made under the guidance of EMS Coordinator Mike Bandurski, who has spent countless hours ensuring that the Little Falls EMS program runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible to provide this incredible service to Little Falls residents.

In 2022, the Little Falls Fire Department will be led by its newly elected Chief, Ken Cichy. Last year, the Township acquired a new ladder truck that will be housed at Company 1 on Wilmore Road. This ladder truck has been in service almost all year here in Little Falls and is a great addition to the fleet of fire vehicles keeping the residents safe.

The Little Falls Fire Department, less than 24 hours after Chief Cichy was elected, was called to duty for a working fire at Montclair State University in a dormitory. The Little Falls Fire Department quickly jumped into action knocking down the fire while ensuring everyone’s safety, including all of the members of the Department. Thankfully, the residents of this Township can sleep with the peace of mind that the Little Falls Fire Department is ready to jump into action any time of day, no matter the weather. I want to thank each and every member of the Little Falls Fire Department for their dedication to the residents of this Township.

In 2021, under the Guidance of DPW Superintendent Ron Campbell, the Little Falls DPW continued to keep up with its traditions of making sure that Little Falls roadways were back to black immediately following every snowstorm. This 15 man crew is responsible for maintaining all of our parks and fields throughout the town, as well as maintaining nearly 140 various lots that were affected by FEMA buyouts. To assist in doing so, this past year the DPW received two new Ferris Lawn Mowers which mow and mulch at the same time, increasing the DPW’s efficiency and productivity.

This year, Wilmore Park has never looked so good with its new plantings and Holiday Décor. The Little Falls roadways have also remained clean all year round which has been made easier with the Townships new Street Sweeper.

In 2021, the Township also received the excavator that was recently acquired under a grant to assist in keeping the Peckman river clear from shoals and debris as we continue to keep the maintenance of this river at the forefront of our minds.

The Little Falls DPW has also been tasked with making Little Falls a litter free community. In 2022, an objective of the DPW is to ensure that Little Falls remains litter free as we strive to maintain a clean community.

In the face of adversity, so much has been accomplished here in Little Falls in 2021. Little Falls began its Streetscape on Maple Street which was funded entirely by a grant from the DOT, and in the upcoming spring, that Streetscape will continue to make its way down Main Street from Maple to Center Ave. The Streetscape will bring our downtown and our community into the 21st Century as we revitalize our downtown and bring back its curb appeal. The Streetscape will include decorative streetlights, as well as new curbs and sidewalks, along with modern garbage receptacles, and benches and areas for everyone to enjoy.

I have truly enjoyed serving this Township as Mayor over the past 5 years. I want to thank all of you for placing your trust in me as your Mayor during this time.

This Council and I, as we have from the onset, remain dedicated to our promise of Transparency. Over this next year, I hope to host several more Town Hall style meetings on Zoom this year allowing everyone to attend from the comfort of their own homes.

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

As always, 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, and I wish everyone health and happiness in 2022.

Thank You.
James Belford Damiano
-Mayor, Township of Little Falls