Western New Jersey

Resolution snag pushes back move-in date for Phillipsburg municipal building

PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. - Phillipsburg’s move-in date for the new municipal building has been pushed back. 

In a 2-2 vote on Tuesday, council member Mark Lutz and council president Todd Tersigni voted against a $2,700 phase one environmental study, which was a safety check, required of both buildings prior to moving.

The proposal came from RT Environmental earlier in the day and council member Joshua Davis, who called for the vote, didn’t have a printed copy to present to council.

Lutz said he voted "no" because he hadn’t seen the resolution or proposal prior to the vote.

Mayor Stephen Ellis said the rejected vote meant town employees would have to remain in the current municipal building even longer.

"I request that you take ownership of that," Ellis said.

Also, Phillipsburg changed its registration, licensing and occupancy prerequisites for rental properties after some internal debate.

Ordinance 2017-08 states that certificates of habitability are not required for landlords with no code violations in the past four years. The landlord must still complete an annual registration statement and have his or her property inspected.

Lutz cast the dissenting vote, arguing that the ordinance lacked teeth. Lutz said he wanted it in writing that the police chief would give reports in nuisance properties.

Police need to work with the ordinance, which requires regular reporting, according to town officials.

If he has to be compelled to send a report to regular meetings, he'll have the same attitude toward this ordinance, Lutz said.

Blane Fehley, a regular proponent of government transparency and ordinance enforcement said there was already a law in effect -- but not enforced -- compelling police to fine and report troublesome tenants.

Fehley said it was wasteful to propose a new ordinance on the matter when the town could enforce the existing one.

Phillipsburg is increasing a town clerk's hours to provide 20 hours per week of service to Alpha Township. But what began as a comment on the town's shared services agreement with Alpha ended with resident Melissa Paulus calling for town officials to take care of Phillipsburg interests first and to hold departments accountable.

Paulus said the town’s website wasn’t updated regularly with current information and meeting minutes, effectively hampering its understanding of town affairs.

It's a common complaint at council meetings.

While the mayor presents a report at every meeting, department heads – including Police Chief Stettner -- are not required to present monthly reports on their activity.

"Taxpayers are entitled to see what's going on," Paulus said.

In other news, Phillipsburg officials are searching for a new supermarket to replace Ahart’s Market, which has closed. 

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