Some flip-flopping on facilities

| 27 Sep 2012 | 12:49

— The mayor and council are rethinking some decisions made about keeping and selling certain township properties after an overview presentation by the township construction official. Those properties include the Johner building, which houses the township's Office of Emergency Management, the KOA campground out on Westbrook, and the Wallisch buildings.
Timothy Ligus discussed the township properties earlier this month, giving a different recommendation than the Facilities Assessment Committee gave earlier this year. Ligus suggested that the council reconsider selling the Johner building, think about selling the 169-acre KOA Campground property, and definitely work with the West Milford Library Board of Trustees to be part of the new building.

Go with the library

In his report, Ligus said it would be most advantageous and cost effective for the township to work with the library, which is constructing a new building on property adjacent to the township building. The library has offered to include the township in its building, adding a third floor for township purposes. An architect is going to do a walk through and Ligus suggested the township decide which offices it would like to move to the new building and get a proposal for the architect's services.
"That's the first step we should do," said Ligus. "The most cost effective way is going with the library."
The township building is not ADA accessible. When the new library is built, the old library, which is next to the township building, could become township property, giving them 3,000 square feet of accessible office space as well as 3,000 square feet of storage space in the basement.

Marked change

Ligus recommended that the township retain ownership of the Johner property, an opinion contradicting his earlier assessment. The council had decided to look into selling the building, which is located on Edgar Drive, just off Marshall Hill Road. It currently houses the township's Office of Emergency Management and the fire marshal's office and has 14,520 square feet of space. Ligus said he changed his mind about the property in part because of the situation with the Wallisch buildings. In addition to the personnel that would have to be relocated, Ligus said they have a generator there and emergency dispatch, all of which would have to be moved. Johner is a second command center for the township.
Mayor Bettina Bieri, who also was in favor of selling the building in the past, said she has changed her mind as well because of the facilities housed there.
"If something happened to the township facilities, Johner has all the emergency facilities," said Bieri. "OEM and the fire marshal staff can fit in this building. It's the emergency backup."
Councilman Joe Smolinski said he isn't sure about this change.
"I'm not sure the best thing would be to hold onto it (Johner)," said Smolinski, noting the council just agreed to look into a sale of the building, which is assessed at $1,151,000. If it is sold and put back on the tax rolls, it would produce more than $38,000 in tax revenue for the township.

KOA Campground

The township owns 169 acres of property on Westbrook that was once a campground and currently houses the building that is the teen center. The teen center has not been in use for quite some time, with renovations being done over time. Ligus suggested selling the property, returning it to a private campground. Bieri agreed with the suggestion, noting the Johner building is under utilized and selling the campground instead would bring the township twice the price of Johner. The campground has an assessed value of nearly $2.5 million.
Again, Smolinski had a different view. The township has invested a lot of money in the teen center already. and, he said, the campground resorting back to private ownership could bring some issues they had dealt with before.
"People have short memories about why it's not a campground. They forget the trouble we had there," he said.
Those problems included campers who would plant themselves year round and try to send their kids to the West Milford School District.
Bieri said the teen center needs much more work. She suggested they create a new center for the kids at Hillcrest Community Center. The location is better, she said, and the township is in the process of finalizing its long-term lease with the school district.
Smolinski also said the property doesn't have the amenities vacationing campers look for, such as a lake.
"There's nothing to attract them," Smolinski said. "A lot of the stuff is a pipe dream."
He agreed he would like the revenue that would be generated from a sale but wasn't sure it would be worth it.
"It's an idea," said Bieri

"Shocked" by the change

Smolinski and Councilman Lou Signorino said they were surprised by the change in opinion by Ligus and the Facilities Assessment Committee.
"I'm shocked with the turnaround," said Signorino. He said no one expected to sell Johner until they find a home for the people and equipment there. And he doesn't think it's necessary to have a second command center at Johner.
Councilwoman CarlLa Horton said she would be in favor of selling both Johner and the campground for the infusion of cash to the township.
The Facilities Assessment Committee has some legwork to do before returning to the council.

Update the costs for rehabbing the Wallisch property
Ask the Economic Development Committee to look into the saleability of the campground
Talk to the library architect
Get feedback from the chief of police on the Johner building.