Pennington Borough Council working on means of improvement

Mayor’s Business

Mayor Jim Davy began the regular September Pennington Council meeting by reporting that Standard & Poors has issued a rating increase for the Borough. The Standard & Poors rating for the Borough was AA+ two years ago, but subsequently given a negative outlook. That rating has now been upgraded to stable.

“This is all related to restoration of fund balance getting it to a financially healthy level,” stated Davy. “We have to recognize the hard work of [Borough Clerk] Betty Sterling, Chief Finance Officer Sandy Webb, and our financial advisors, Phoenix Advisors, for the hard work they did with Standard & Poors to get this outlook updated as well as to this Council for introducing and adopting a budget …where you concertedly worked to upgrade the fund balance.” An improvement of the fund balance of $100,000, year over year, was reported as of December 31, 2021. The Borough audit of the year-end financial statements was presented, and Davy confirmed the audit did not reveal anything concerning.

A “very rough” draft of new Borough Council bylaws was introduced by Davy and he asked Council members to forward their comments or changes to Sterling. Work on the document is ongoing with members of the Council.

Borough Noise and Lighting

Both noise and lighting ordinances are under consideration by the Council due to residents’ concerns over both topics. The Council has received a resident concern about gas-powered leaf blowers and another about a neighbor’s light shining in their bedroom window. Council has previously stated that the noise ordinance is in need of an update.

Council President Kit Chandler, Council Member Kati Angarone, and Davy conducted a noise/lighting survey and received 243 responses from Pennington residents. Angarone summarized the data for the Council noting that opinions were split: of the 58% of residents who reported they were affected by noise, 53% were in support of some kind of restriction.

“One thing we could do is explore some good neighbor guidelines,” stated Angarone. “Many, many people noted that a good neighbor approach might be the way.”

“As to lighting, 65% of residents were concerned about light, 66% stated they were impacted by light, and 53% in favor of an ordinance. It is worth noting that the Borough does have an ordinance for commercial, but not for residential lights”, stated Angarone. “There was no interest from any resident in sacrificing to regulate this,” Angarone continued.

Angarone explained they had done some research on how other communities handle challenges like that and that Laguna Beach offers residents a “good neighbor policy” that includes a letter as a first step. The Township gets involved if there is no improvement after that step.

“The survey proved to be a really useful way to gather input – it sent us in a direction, a good neighbor policy, that otherwise I don’t think we would have landed on,” stated Angarone.

“I think what we decided on was to update the current noise ordinance,” Chandler said. “We have two choices with a noise ordinance. You can look at the Hopewell Township route, because that is where you hire someone to measure the decibel sound. The other direction, which is the Hopewell Borough and Princeton route, is where you create hours where leaf blowers and lawn equipment are allowed.”

Davy stated that Angarone found that in Laguna Beach, the system seems to work. They don’t really have many problems using this system, according to Davy.

The Council concluded by discussing a potential ordinance and stated that this will be discussed again next month.

Communications Plan

Council member Nadine Stern discussed the ongoing creation of a Borough communications plan.

“Our next step is going to be a survey to residents to ask what is working well, what is desired in terms of communications, what modes of communication people think will be most effective, and how they would like to be able to provide input to us,” said Stern.

In addition to working on a survey of residents, Stern stated she and Angarone would follow up with listening sessions.

Council members expressed concern about how to reach people who were not already subscribed to Borough e-alerts and shared ideas on how to reach more residents.

First Aid Squad

During the public comment period, Naomi McCarty, President of Pennington First Aid Squad, spoke on the status of their emergency services.

“Currently, staffing is one of the biggest issues,” said McCarty, “and everybody is running thin.”

“The Fire Commissioner of Hopewell Township is looking into farming out the EMS services of the Valley to a private organization and that private organization will take first call,” explained McCarty. “Volunteers will go down and we will lose volunteers because they will not be needed on a regular basis”

McCarty recommended that the First Aid Squad could hire its own staff to fill in some of the gaps. That would help free up some of the fire staff that has been used to supplement services throughout the Valley so that they can have people be more active to do the fire inspections, according to McCarty.

“I just wanted people to know that COVID did a real number on people, especially in the area of first responders,” said McCarty. “We lost the ability to train people and people did not want to participate due to COVID. We have high school and college students volunteering and we are always looking for more. Please encourage people to volunteer.”

Chandler asked if volunteer numbers increase, would the Commissioners change direction on their decision? McCarty stated that she is not aware of any parameters that have been set.

“We are working with a group of about 20 active volunteers,” said McCarty. “There is a small group, including myself, that is providing a large amount of volunteer time. We would prefer not to go paid and the community has been wonderful in supporting the volunteer service. 

“We love the nature of the service that we provide,” stated McCarty. “We try to keep it so that it is a free service to the community. If we hire people we would have to do billing for services.”

Council member, Chico Marciante asked, hypothetically, what would happen with dispatch if the Commissioners decide to go with, for instance, Capital Health as a private EMS vendor?

McCarty replied that she assumes the fire commissioners can only afford one ambulance. 

“That is one of our concerns,” stated McCarty. ”How is that one ambulance going to service Hopewell, Titusville, and Pennington?”

“It is very complex and the fire commissioners will have to sit down and figure it out,” said McCarty.

The next Pennington Borough Council meeting is scheduled for October 3.

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