At Scotch Plains council's first meeting of the year, Mayor Kevin Glover gave his second State of the Town address and set goals for the new year.
The mayor first pointed to the town's promise to improve communications after Hurricane Sandy, noting "great strides" made by fixing Scotch Plains TV, upgrading the town website and adding a shared radio station with Fanwood. He added that this year he would like to designate a council member to oversee the technology upgrades.
Glover then discussed revitalizing downtown and the suspension of the annual $400 fee businesses paid to the Special Improvement District.
"Well meaning efforts have not produced the results that we have so long sought after," Glover said, adding that he will not support reinstating the fee this year.
"Downtown suffers from a lack of foot traffic," he said. "Increasing foot traffic needs to and must be made our top priority."
To that end, the mayor said he plans to promote more family activities and town events in the downtown area including "craft shows and outdoor movie nights" in addition to the current summer concert series, farmer's market and Scotch Plains Day.
The mayor added that he believes the town can further invest in the recreation department, to enable them to hold more regularly scheduled outdoor activities, with funds secured from the Shackamaxon development deal.
The mayor reflected on the town's "every increasing tax burden" and how he was proud to say that last year saw the lowest budget increase in 10 years.
"How many times do people say they can afford the home here but not the taxes?" he said.
To save money, the mayor also called for the resumption of meetings with Fanwood on the proposed merger of the towns' police departments.
"Presently efforts have stalled," Glover said, "because of respectful differences on the proposed plan to accomplish it."
The mayor also discussed his suggestion to put the town's sewer fee back into the budget and regular tax bill, saying he would like to see it on the ballot as a public referendum.
"We learned this year that removing it cost residents $400,000 in lost tax deductions," he said. "The premise of this being a fairer way of paying for this service was not true. I'm told rolling it back into the municipal budget is not possible. We were advised we can do so by putting the issue on the election ballot as a public referendum. Therefore, I will ask this council to move by placing this matter on the ballot. Let us get the facts, options and hear what the public thinks."
The mayor's last points focused on the historical preservation of the Shady Rest building at the Scotch Hills Country Club and work on the Terry Lou Zoo property.
"This is where America's first American pro golfer John Shippen, an African American, played throughout his illustrious career and it has now fallen into disrepair," he said of the Shady Rest. "Your council outlined a plan to restore and save this historic piece of American history."
The mayor added that historic Shippen artifacts will be available to be housed in a permanent exhibit as long as the Shady Rest building can be secured.
On the Terry Lou Zoo property, the mayor said it has been "14 years that we have heard that this was the year we would finally turn this property from an eyesore into a passive park for all to enjoy. Let's make this year, 2014, the one when we finally deliver on that promise."
The mayor said he is asking the recreation commission to propose options for the property to council.
The mayor closed by thanking the town's first responders and volunteers and saying it has been a privilege to serve as mayor.
"We begin 2014 anew with a clean slate," said Glover. "We must pledge ourselves to work together for good of all of Scotch Plains. As I have said repeatedly, we can do better."