$5M State Grant Sparks Debate on Equity and Community Needs in Rutherford

In a recent meeting of the Rutherford Borough Council, a $5 million State Grant was announced, earmarked for the renovation of Memorial Field, sparking debates on community priorities and equity. The meeting, held at the new police headquarters on 18 Donaldson Ave, saw the participation of council members, assemblymen, senators, and residents, including young advocate Lauren Mullehy, who has been championing gender equity in sports facilities.

Senator Sarlo and Assemblyman Calabrese presented the grant, emphasizing the importance of youth and high school sports in enhancing community life and values. The officals underscored the dedication of Rutherford to address past neglect and incorporate stand-alone fields for girls’ softball and soccer. Assemblyman Calabrese lauded the council’s role in advancing Rutherford, while Senator Sarlo highlighted the project’s focus on equity.

Councilwoman Christie Del Rey-Cone commended young advocate Lauren Mullehy for her determination in advocating for gender equity in sports and encouraged other young residents to reach out with their ideas and needs. The council acknowledged and appreciated the efforts of all involved in securing the funds.

During the hearing of citizens, several community members voiced their concerns. Adam Zorro questioned the council’s prioritization, citing the needs of the west end residents who have been enduring decades of flooding and property damage. He urged the council to act upon the immediate needs of their constituents. This sparked a debate over the allocation of the grant, with Mr. Zorro suggesting that part of the funds should be applied to flood mitigation.

In response, council members emphasized that the grant was specifically earmarked for field renovations and could not be easily reallocated. They highlighted the challenges of dealing with FEMA for flood issues and reiterated their commitment to addressing the serious concerns of residents. The council president described the grant as “life-changing money” for young women in the town seeking a dedicated space, emphasizing the importance of equity and urging for constructive dialogue.

The council expressed gratitude towards assemblymen, senators, and former councilman Tom Mullehy for securing funds and supporting community projects. Councilman Matthew Cokeley emphasized the significance of the funds in making a generational change in the town, stating, “This is truly a dream for me come true.”

The borough administrator, Mr. Schneider, addressed various issues, including light trespass, parking meter contract amendments, and the choice of turf or grass for the new fields. He apologized for the delay in addressing light issues and assured residents of his commitment to resolving them. He also clarified the financial aspects of the parking meter contract amendments and the council’s intentions regarding Leisure Lane and the Pavilion area.

The council president declared October 6, 2023, as Knockout Opioid Abuse Day, addressing the opioid abuse epidemic in New Jersey and aiming to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and promote recovery support. This proclamation aligns with the state’s permanent designation of the day to combat opioid abuse, established in 2016.

The council concluded the meeting by approving several ordinances on first and second readings, including amendments to the temporary worker salary ordinance, retirement leave and health benefits, fire department annual uniform allowance, establishment of a handicapped parking space on Highland Cross, and provisions for vacant and abandoned properties

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