Westfield’s Mayor Recaps a Challenging Year at Annual Reorganization Meeting
Wednesday, January 2, 2013 • 9:23pm
WESTFIELD, NJ—Westfield’s yearly reorganization meeting tonight began with an invocation by Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El, who spoke of recent difficulties and challenges and what it means to live as a community.
“We need to rely on one another. We need to support of one another,” said Sagal at one point.
The sentiment was echoed many times throughout the meeting.
Mayor Andy Skibitsky thanked Sagal for his thoughtful prayer and for the help that Temple Emanu-El provided for locals during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
At the beginning of his eighth annual state of the town address, Mayor Skibitsky called for a moment of silence in support of those in Newtown, CT. He then reminded and reassured the town that Westfield’s public schools have long had emergency plans in place and that the superintendent has been working with the chief of police to keep those plans up to date.
Skibitsky said that the schools and the town of Westfield have a history of working together. “That partnership today is stronger than ever,” he said, and he urged residents to read the report written together by Mayor Skibitsky, Superintendent of Westfield Public Schools Margaret Dolan and President of the Westfield Board of Education President Richard Mattessich.
Mayor Skibitsky spoke of how he and members of the town council are volunteers, paid one dollar a year with a check that, by tradition, is never cashed. He thanked the council ad said that it is his understanding that Westfield is the largest municipality in the state to have a volunteer council like this one.
Mayor Skibitsky thanked those who work for and those who volunteer for the town, and he thanked the residents for making Westfield what it is.
He spoke about how residents helped each other in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and the nor’easter that followed. Thirteen Westfield homes were condemned and 53 required extensive repairs as a result of Sandy.
The mayor thanked the police department, fire department and rescue squad for working all night during Sandy “under very dangerous conditions,” and he thanked residents for heeding warnings to stay inside.
When it came to neighbors helping each other during the crisis, “It’s not surprising that I heard many many stories,” said the mayor.
He said he was proud that the Westfield United Fund and the town partnered to set up the Westfield Sandy Relief Fund. In addition to giving to the fund, he said that Westfield residents could all help each other choosing to use Westfield businesses, especially after so many lost business when they lost power following the superstorm.
Mayor Skibitsky also spoke about fiscal restraint and sustainability. “Very tough choices were made,” he said, though some, like the refinancing of outstanding bonds at substantially lower interest rates, were easier.
Budget challenges included a decline in non-property tax revenues. “Salaries and wages are at 2005 levels,” declared Skibitsky, and a sewer fee was introduced to help cover costs so that municipal services could maintained.
Skibitsky said that Westfield’s fire department is one of the 25 percent of the state’s paid fire departments, with 28 full-time firefighters, plus the chief and deputy chief.
Skibitsky said that in 2013 much of the focus will be on using technology. The town’s Twitter account (@townofwestfield) and website, www.westfieldnj.gov, were heavily relied upon by residents in the aftermath of Sandy. In the upcoming year, the mayor said he wants to see the website updated and to see it become more mobile friendly. Westfield residents may also be able to pay their taxes online.
In addition, he noted, new technology is already being used to make parking in Westfield easier with a pilot program that was put in place last month for pay-by-phone spaces.
“The town of Westfield is really about its people, and I have great faith in the people of this town,” he concluded. “It is an honor to serve you. Thank you very much.”
Councilman Frank Arena added thanks to the mayor for his leadership during the aftermath of Sandy, especially with the two town-wide conference calls that were used to keep residents informed.