The Ewing Observer recently interviewed Mayor Bert Steinmann about a number of issues facing the township in 2021.
The first part of the Q&A ran in the May issue of the Observer and addressed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the township.
Part two focused on development in the Parkway Avenue redevelopment zone and the economic environment for small businesses in the township.
The Q&A concludes this month.
Ewing Observer: In terms of any infrastructure improvements that started over the last year or might be happening in 2021, what do you what do you have going on? How about Sylvia Street? How’s that coming along?
Bert Steinmann: Sylvia Street is basically done other than at the crossing itself (over the train tracks). We’re waiting on CSX (the owner of the tracks) to put the crossing in, because they won’t allow a private contractor to do that.
Ironically we have to contract through CSX, but CSX will hire a private contractor to put in the crossing. We have to pay for it, obviously. So we made all those payments. We got the easement that we need from them. We just finished that up. They are saying that they can definitely have the crossing done by the end of the year.
We’re hoping, and I’ve been pushing them, to have it open sooner than that. I’m hoping for the summer.
You’d be surprised how much time it cuts off to get across town. Plus it helps emergency management, like fire trucks, ambulances, police. You’re not driving all around town to get to a certain part of town.
EO: How are things going at the the airport expansion? I know there’s some opposition.
BS: Things at the airport are going okay. I mean obviously they’re very slow. Well actually, as far as flights are concerned, that’s increasing every day. So they’re doing much better.
The flights leaving there are full. So in that sense, they’re doing really well. As far as the airport itself and the growth of the airport and the terminal, I’m really hoping that that is going to happen soon.
I understand there are people that are going to be upset with the airport, and I can understand that, but at the end of the day I have to look at what it brings to Ewing Township as far as a revenue generator.
Hotels for example. They benefits from the airport, and we made a ton of money on the the tax on room rates— just from travelers. So, we need that to continue, obviously.
And there are the side things that are spun off the airport—like food. They need people to bring food to the airplanes. Somebody’s got to make it, somebody got to deliver it.
There’s fuel. Somebody’s got to produce it, somebody’s got to bring it there. So there’s a lot of residual effects from that particular airport, not just planes taking off and landing.
It’s been it’s a good economic engine not only for Ewing Township, but also regionally.
I understand some individuals that don’t want it, but there’s a lot of things that I don’t want. It’s got to be for the benefit of everyone.
Trenton Water Works
EO: What about the situation with Trenton Waterworks? It seems like things have, for the most part, calmed down. I know the Trenton Council has made questionable decisions. Where does the town stand now in terms of its level of concern with the TWW’s?
BS: I’m not still not happy with their performance. They have this lead line replacement program that they’re running out.
They’ve done—and I probably would have done the same thing if I was in the city—all the city first. Now they’re coming into Ewing to replace those lead lines, and there’s quite a few people that signed up for that to have their lead line replaced into their house.
So, yeah, that’s coming along. I think it’s been far too long for this not to have happened before, but at least they are starting it. I don’t know exactly the duration and how long it will take to completely finish it.
I never really had any concern about the quality of the water. I think some of it was an overreaction on people’s part. Not that they shouldn’t think about those things. I think the terms of what the DEP wanted them to do (in terms of notifying customers) put the fear of God into individuals.
Not that it was benign, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as the notifications led you to believe.
I always argue with the DEP that they have got to simplify things. You know, a guy like me—I don’t have a chemistry degree. I don’t know what this stuff means, so explain it.
But they say that by federal law they’re allowed to it like that. Well, I never saw a federal law that said that.
Anyway, we kind of go along with the program and the DEP said they were going to sue the state or Trenton Waterworks if they didn’t start to accomplish some of this stuff.
They started the process, but they kind of threw an anchor out in the water, and so here we are.
EO: Would you still like to see more representation from the communities and involvement in running the utility, or in oversight of the utility?
BS: I think there should be some oversight from, say Ewing Township, Hamilton Township and Lawrence Township and probably a little from Hopewell—although, Hopewell’s water isn’t really affected, because they don’t have any lead line-type stuff over there.
But yeah, the towns absolutely should have a say, but not to the point where we should be running it. I do think that we should have representation though, so that at least everybody can hear our concerns as to what’s going on.
The only thing that I really don’t like, and I don’t blame Reed (Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora), but I don’t like them just thinking that the Trenton Water Works is a piggy bank for the city.
They took $7 million dollars to offset their property taxes. Trenton is mean they’re supposed to have a tax rate equalization, but Ewing Township isn’t getting any of that $7 million dollars or Hamilton Township or Lawrence Township.
EO: A number of people seem to feel that some of the officials there don’t have a high enough regard or concern for the rate payers in other communities, as opposed to the residents of their own community.
BS: I agree. The problem is that— like any other government—they are individuals there that have been there so long, and it’s so ingrained in them that everything is for the city that they work for, and they have disregard for the municipalities that are also being served by that same product.
The concern should be the same. Now obviously, if there’s something that’s broken in Ewing Township and something broke in the city of Trenton, I’m not naive enough to think that they’re going to come run the Ewing and fix that first.
I would do the same thing, but at the end of the day, it has to be done. I’ll be honest with you, I am in a battle with them now on Olden Avenue.
We’ve had a water main break on Olden Avenue, I would say at least five times in the last two years, and it’s always in the same spot.
In fact, I had a conversation with Reed and with the new director of TWW. They have to tear out the old line and put a new line in there.
I can’t have the businesses there constantly being affected by this particular situation, and they all agree.
Now I’m waiting to hear back that they’re going to replace that whole line. Hopefully it will happen within the next year. I’m hoping it’s going to be before this year, during this year.
It affects Home Depot and it affects the grocery store, Aldi’s, and the restaurants there. It affects the same people constantly, and occasionally one did break up towards McDonald’s.
Town and gown relations
EO: I noticed on a couple of occasions over the past that we have received communications from the College of New Jersey where they have been working with the township on different initiatives.
Talk to us a little bit about the relationship of the town with the with the college, what they’ve done over the past year in terms of helping deal with the pandemic, and how they’ve addressed the pandemic with their own students
BS: The new president, Kate Foster, and I have a really good relationship, as I did with Barbara Gitenstein (the previous president).
Kate’s just a little different. She’s more of a hands-on type individual. We started this particular program where the president of the college and the mayor visit certain college students homes, occasionally to say,
“Hey, how you doing? Welcome, and this is what we expect.”
EO: Do you go to homes in the town where the students are renting?
BS: We also worked to let people know that we cooperated with the college, and they stepped up as far as the COVID situation, and that they frowned on parties. Some students were suspended.
They’ve been proactive in that sense. Obviously we still get complaints from the permanent residents with complaints about the kids.
I hear their concerns, but there’s some things that you can’t control, and there’s a certain amount of freedoms that even a college student can enjoy.
Obviously many of the complaints are about street parking at the rental homes, and we try to enforce parking as best as we possibly can. The problem is that, I think, some of the permanent residents have an unrealistic expectations.
They think, if you’re a college student, you shouldn’t even be parking on my street, you know, and that’s just totally against the law. If you have a properly registered vehicle and a license, then there’s no prohibition on parking in that area.
We can’t say you can’t park on a street because you’re a college student. Obviously we watch, and if they’re parking facing the wrong way, we can address that. If they’re parking too close to a stop sign, we can address those types of things.
There’s been approaches that we’ve taken based on the recommendations of permanent residents. Things like having a limited number of hours that they can park on the street, but then I hear,
“Well I’m a permanent resident, so I should be able to park there all the time.”
We talked about parking by permit on the street, and it all sounds like really good idea, until they (the permanent residents) come up with, “We should get an unlimited the number of permits.” Well, we can’t do that either.
The other thing I tell people is that even if we restrict parking by permit or have a time limit, all you’re going to do is push the problem to another street where you don’t have parking limit.
We try to handle it as best as we can, and I know in some areas that’s not good enough, but we keep trying, and we keep trying, and we keep listening to see what we possibly can do to resolve some of these particular issues.
One of my biggest problems is actually students taking street signs. I can’t tell you how many there have been.
I think we probably replaced, in the last six months, at least 18 to 20 signs. I think they’re using them to decorate their walls and homes. It’s like, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
In fact, on one corner, we’ve replaced the sign four times in a month. We’re trying to come up with a creative way to control it.
I wish there was a chip that we could put in them, and we actually are actively exploring that, but it doesn’t really make economic sense, because right now the system that they have is very expensive. It’s cheaper for us to print a new sign.
The college is aware of it because we bring it to their attention. We had even had a moratorium where we’re saying, “Hey look, if you have a street sign, or know somebody who has a street, please bring it back. They’ll be no consequences.”
But overall, our relationship with the college is excellent. You can’t blame everything on students.
EO: How is Campus Town at TCNJ doing?
BS: They were struggling, but they’re doing much better. They’ve got a new restaurant (Arooga’s Grille House and Sports Bar) coming in where Landmark used to be. In fact, I met with the owners recently and they’re hoping to open in August. It’s a chain and there’s three of them in New Jersey.
It’s more of a family type restaurant than the previous restaurant. They actually have a really good control over how they distribute liquor. If you buy a drink, basically that’s on your tab that you have one drink, and then they have a limit as to the number you can have. They also won’t two drinks at a time.
So if you want a shot and a beer, they would bring you your shot, you finish your shot, and then would bring you your beer.
EO: Is there anything else that I haven’t brought up that you think it’s important people know about?
BS: Yeah, I want to personally thank all the people in town for their cooperation during this pandemic. Honestly for me, that was really positive.
I’m still working every year on infrastructure—whether paving roads, upgrading things, adding park amenities and things like that. We’ve been very active in the last seven or eight months.
Also, all along while I’ve been mayor we’ve been filing for grants, but we’ve been even more proactive this time than any other time.
In fact, we’re putting in two new tennis courts at Banchoff Park. We had to shut them down a couple of years ago because of the condition they were in.
Hopefully we’ll have that done before the end of summer—maybe even in the middle of the summer.
We are putting in more security cameras, because we had some vandalism at the Community Center. What I get upset about is the fact that they’re destroying stuff that’s for them. It’s teenagers and individuals who just think it’s fun to bust windows or throws pool furniture in the pool and things like that.
At the batting cage, people were taking the replacement fluorescent light tubes and going through the batting cage and smashing them. There was glass all over the place.
For the life of me, I cannot understand that. So that’s been very upsetting to me.
Anyway, all of our recreation programs are going to be active this year, although they’ll be scaled back to a version where we’re complying with all the COVID state regulations and stuff like that.
EO: How will you be ramping up the recreation programs and the senior programs?
BS: They’re going to be doing more outside than inside, and when they’re inside, we’re going to limit the number of people.