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Borough of Leonia
Monday February 26th, 2024 :: 05:14 p.m. EST


Mayor's Update - February 26, 2024

Mayor's Update - February 26, 2024

Affordable Housing 

This past week, I attended one of my first Mayor’s meetings.  These are hosted by the Bergen County League of Municipalities and bring together the Mayor’s across Bergen County to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern.  The topic for my first meeting was a very important one – affordable housing.  

A majority of Leonians support affordable housing opportunities, including myself.  How you go about satisfying your affordable housing obligations and how those obligations are calculated however can make the difference between what is realistically achievable and what isn’t.  A bill (S. 50) making its way through the NJ state legislature today is not, in my opinion, realistically achievable but still has considerable traction benefiting from strong developer support.  

S. 50 will effectively re-write the affordable housing approach to favor developer interests even more so than today and, at the same time, assign affordable housing obligations which are impossible to achieve and could potentially bankrupt communities like ours.  As drafted, we have every right as Leonians to be terribly concerned.  

Yes, we need to help more people benefit from affordable housing.  There is no doubt in my mind about that.   However, I believe imposing unrealistic burdens and punishing municipalities for failing to satisfy them does not advance the goal of actually providing more affordable housing in the long run.  

To help us come up to speed on this complex topic as a community, I’m arranging as a first step (and I encourage you to attend if you can)  a presentation at an upcoming Mayor and Council meeting by one of the foremost legal authorities in New Jersey on affordable housing, Jeffrey R. Surenian, Esq. 

I will ask Mr. Surenian to explain what the implications are of the affordable housing legislation being drafted and how Leonia can best address the requirements if it should become law.  

My other reason in putting a spotlight on this particular issue is to generate more public awareness around it.  There are big time implications for Leonia here.   I’m not kidding when I say unrealistic requirements benefiting developers in the draft bill are not only unachievable in Leonia but can also effectively bankrupt us.  

I hope the session featuring Mr. Surenian will also encourage more informed debate on this topic throughout our community.  I will announce the date/time in a future update as soon as it has been finalized.  In the meantime, let’s talk this up as a topic of interest and peak the interest of as many Leonians as possible to learn what’s happening and maybe contact their state representatives to share their opinions.  

Budget Update

The most important priority in the short term is our 2024 municipal operating budget. All your municipal services including Police, Fire, DPW, Recreation Commission, Library etc. are included in this budget.   It does not include the Board of Education which is separate by law.

On Monday, March 25th at 7:30 pm, we will have a Town Hall meeting (location TBD) so Leonians can receive a budget briefing and weigh in with their comments.  Presenting will be myself, Finance Chair Christoph Hesterbrink and Borough Administrator Marisa Mesropian.  All members of the governing body will likely be present to hear your input first-hand.   

For context, last year’s municipal operating budget stood at approximately $17.4 million.   In 2024, with the loss of $500 thousand a year in federal funding, mandated state increases in pensions/benefits, costs associated with a required revaluation, inflationary headwinds, and a sizable increase in debt service, we are faced with one of the most substantial budgetary challenges in many years.  Our initial budget expense assessment is $19 million and we have identified $470 thousand in savings on that number so far. To minimize tax increases everything is on the table for service cut consideration, no exceptions.  

The timing of our Town Hall on March 25th is ideal as we will have a pretty good idea by that date how we can get the most we reasonably can out of service cuts/savings opportunities and what we must still incrementally raise in taxes.  

Budget introduction is not until April so this will give us the opportunity to hear from you and weigh your input accordingly before formal introduction.  If you’re interested in our municipal finances and the impact the budget will have on taxes/services, please try to attend on March 25th.  If you are unable to make it in person, the session will be live streamed and recorded for later viewing. 

As I review the numbers and where we are, I suspect no one will be happy with the budget we ultimately introduce.  Everyone will probably have different views of where to cut and how much.  Others will favor tax increases.  If everyone is unhappy to some extent it may just indicate we reached a compromise that might be the best under difficult circumstances.  

We must recognize the current tax load borne by homeowners in Leonia (93% of the burden) is not sustainable.  This is a real problem.   If we don’t address this problem effectively, we will likely repeat the circumstances we find ourselves in this year for every foreseeable year in the future.  Obviously we don’t want that to happen. I believe a big part of the answer lies in new revenue and ratables which fit the character of Leonia.  More to come on this as the advisory committee working on redevelopment (aka revitalization) continues their work and is getting closer to presenting all of us with a few ideas for consideration. 

Increasing Transparency

Beginning with the DPW Committee meeting which was held on February 20th, I am opening to the public select committee meetings with department heads and governing body members. Many of the ideas/recommendations reported out of committee are presented for consideration before the full Mayor and Council during the course of any given year.   Traditionally held without the public present, I am opening some of these committee meetings as part of my commitment to increased transparency which allows you, if you so desire, to see how your governing body committees work “behind the scenes”. 

Each of these important committees are chaired by one member of the Council and have two additional Council members assigned.  They work with their respective department heads overseeing the particular committee’s area of focus.  This is where the ‘rubber meets the road” and a lot of the hard work is done on behalf of Leonia.  

If you wish to attend a meeting (there will also be a public comments period at each), please keep an eye out both on the website and the electronic message board in front of the library for announcements about the next committee meetings which are open to you.  Our committees are: Police, Fire, DPW, HR, Finance, Laws & Ordinances and Facilities.  The only committee which will not have an open meeting during 2024 is the HR Committee as it regularly deals with confidential personnel matters.  

Kulite’s LHS Scholarship Program

It is now official…Kulite has reinstated their Leonia High School scholarship program at my request following a series of discussions we’ve had to strengthen the relationship between Leonia and our #1 taxpayer and employer.  This award is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Anthony D. Kurtz who founded Kulite Semiconductor Products, Inc. in 1959 and was a true believer in the benefit of higher education.  Each year Kulite awards scholarships to five LHS seniors selected by our LHS Math and Science departments.  Each of the five students receives a $1,250 per year award for four years contingent on continuing academic performance.   I want to personally thank Kulite for taking this action and commend their demonstrated commitment to Leonia and corporate social responsibility.  

Volunteer Opportunities

Don’t forget to check out the volunteer opportunities to help Leonia get even better.  Be part of the solution and put your skills and interests to use on behalf of Leonia to get us to the right answers.  I guarantee you will be impressed with the level of talent and energy your neighbors are bringing to bear on various initiatives.  Who knows, you may even make some new friends in the process of doing a good deed for your town.  The Volunteer Page is here:  Apply for a Volunteer Board/Commission Position | Leonia, NJ (  

Did you know?

5 Nobel Prize winners have lived in Leonia including Enrico Fermi (Physics) and Harold Urey (Chemistry).  This number of Nobel Prize Winners from Leonia is more than some U.S. state totals!   We truly live in an extraordinary community with a very rich history.  

Kind regards, 
Bill Ziegler
Mayor, Borough of Leonia

Borough of Leonia
312 Broad Avenue
Leonia, NJ 07605

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