I hope that this letter finds each of you healthy and returning somewhat to a normal routine. 2020 has certainly challenged us to shift our habits in ways never imagined. As I write this letter, distance education is coming to a close, churches can once again open their doors, “non-essential” retail and restaurants are about to re-open to the public, although be it at a limited capacity and the pool staff is preparing to open the Chester Area Pool. Indoor recreation and gyms are still closed. I ask that you please support our local businesses the best that you can.
A special thank you is in order to the Chester Borough Staff under the leadership of our Administrator Margaret Nordstrom. Although the building closed to the public in March, and the staff began working from home, the business of the Borough continued. Daily staff calls were held so that all employees, and me, were aware of what was happening in the respective departments. This was so important as guidelines came routinely from the state as to changes in operations and previous practices. The staff is now back in the building, although until safety measures are put in place to limit public access to the staff offices, the building remains closed to the public. The Mayor and Council continued to hold meetings via Zoom, and it should be noted that the public is always invited to participate in these meetings. Please see the Borough website at chesterborough.org for access instructions.
As for the effects of COVID-19 in Chester Borough, there have been 7 confirmed cases, with no new cases since early May. Of the seven, six were men and there was one woman. Thankfully, we had no loss of life. The age breakdown is as follows: 30s – 2, 40s – 2, 50s – 2 and 60s – 1. As a municipality, due to medical privacy laws (HIPPA), information regarding those infected was not shared by the Board of Health. Thank you all for adhering to social distancing guidelines and sheltering in place. The curve was flattened, and for all of your efforts, we are grateful.
So many people exemplified extraordinary acts of kindness towards their fellow residents during the past few months. Meals were prepared, masks were sewn, donations were given to provide meals for those working in the hospitals, donations were given to the Chester-Mendham Food Pantry, the list goes on. We came together as a community, so again, thank you.
Thanks go out too to Harrington Construction and the Chester Volunteer Fire Company. When the shutdown began, I reached out to the CVFC to see if we could raise their giant American flag on Main St. The Borough DPW had already placed flags on the light posts, but we needed something that could rally us to get through the next several weeks. As they always do, the CVFC said, of course, we could use the flag and, on the Borough’s behalf, reached out to Harrington Construction to see if there was a vehicle we could borrow from them for a few weeks that could be used to hold the flag, and gratefully, they said yes. Thank you to the Harrington’s. Our “keeper of the star” suggested that we light the star on the hill at the Seward Preserve, something that is normally only lit during December. The star was refreshed, and it was lit. If you were to look at it in the night sky today, as of Memorial Day, it has been boasting red, white, and blue lights and will remain that way until Labor Day. Chester Borough is a small town and efforts such as these are what make small-town living so special and unique.
Now onto the finances of the Borough. Due to the fiscal conservatism of the Council, the Borough is in very solid financial shape. The budget increased 1.7% over 2019, resulting in an increase in municipal
taxes of $61,619.17 for a total budget of $3,686,144.13. Our aid from the State of New Jersey remains flat at $146,071. The collection rate in 2019 was 97.7% and we were able to increase our fund balance, or savings account to $1,868,038. Each year, monies are used from the fund balance to support the budget. This year, $406,000 was used to offset a larger tax increase and $250,000 is slated to be used as an accelerated debt payment on a bond issued in 2016 for road improvements. The plan is to pay this debt off over the next three years. However, the Council also decided to hold off on making the payment until tax receipts come in for the third and fourth quarter of the year. We anticipate that due to the economic downturn, our tax collections may be reduced. If necessary, those dollars slated for the debt payment could be reallocated to support the general operating expense.
It might be of interest to note that in Chester Borough there are 657 taxable parcels which include vacant land, residential, farmland, and commercial properties. There are 462 residential properties or 70.3% of all taxable parcels. A strong commercial tax base helps ease the taxes on residential properties. It is for this reason that the Council continues to pursue the expansion of the sewer system in the Borough. Smart, thoughtful, planned growth is paramount to maintaining a quality of life that is affordable for all. The Borough’s request for the sewer expansion is at the NJ State Department of Environmental Protection, moving through the system.
The Borough also is the collector for taxes for the County, Library and both the Consolidated K-8 and Regional High School systems. County taxes increased .002%. The Borough’s equalized share of the West Morris Regional High School District budget increased from 4.37% to 4.85%, from $2,079,081 in 2019 to $2,341,706 this year, an increase of $262,625 which is a 12.63% overall increase. The formula for the regional high school district is based on a combination of equalized property values and student enrollment. The Borough’s equalized portion of support for the K-8 school district increased from $3,661,984 for 2019 to $3,737,246 or a 2% increase.
The State of New Jersey has extended the adoption of its budget until September 30 due to the Coronavirus, and as a result, towns have not yet received a certified tax rate. It was recommended by the State of New Jersey to send estimated bills out for the 3rd quarter taxes, which are due August 1st with a 10-day grace period.
Included in this mailing is the estimated bill for the 3rd quarter, which looks different than the regular bills that are mailed once a year with 4 stubs. In October, you will receive your 2020 final and 2021 preliminary bill. The payment made in August will be reflected and the balance for 2020 will be due November 1.
On behalf of the Council and myself, we wish you continued health. It continues to be a privilege to serve as your Mayor.
Janet Hoven, Mayor