Thirteen months after suffering a debilitating stroke on June 8, 2016, Mayor Michael Gonnelli declared that he is physically and mentally fit. We met with the town’s leader (and No. 1 cheerleader) in his office on the second floor of Town Hall last Thursday morning for a brief catch-up on town affairs. Gonnelli, who will turn 62 on August 18, completed a long course of physical and speech therapy, and admits to getting weary sometimes and needing extra sleep, but other than that, Mike is at his desk every day in addition to zooming everywhere in his royal blue Jeep, checking out the state of his town. After a year’s worth of the blood-thinner Coumadin, he is now taking Plavix. He also plans on trying acupuncture with Ellanora Bowers at Kipnis for a nagging weakness in his right hand that affects his penmanship. The mayor, a former chief of the Secaucus Fire Department, has returned to his firefighting duties with Chicora Park (Engine 3 on Centre Avenue). He disclosed that his wife Linda just recently agreed to let him leave his pager on at night so he can at least hear the fire calls, if not always respond to them in the middle of the night. (Linda Gonnelli is fiercely protective of her husband; on the other hand, Mike Gonnelli is extremely persuasive!) Mike remains fiercely driven by the demands of his job and volunteer fire work. He is totally devoted to the community.
Two of our questions for Mayor Mike were about local roads. Potholes, ruts, and generally poor conditions abound on Seaview Drive at and near its intersection with New County Road (Paul Amico Way) at Secaucus Junction. The corner where drivers turn right from Seaview onto New County is especially deplorable. The intersection handles a large volume of truck traffic entering and exiting the Turnpike at 16X. We were surprised to learn that once traffic leaves the section of road maintained by the Turnpike, the road comes under town jurisdiction. The mayor immediately placed a call and found that the portion of Seaview Drive in question is slated for repaving the day after Labor Day, September 5. Mike said the work would be done at night because of the tremendous amount of traffic the road handles daily; also, a different type of paving material would be used due to the heavy truck traffic. The other road project we asked about was the replacement of the Route 3 Paterson Plank Road overpass bridge leading into and out of the North End. According to the Home News town council meeting account of March 11, 2014, Councilman Jim Clancy announced that the bridge would be replaced by the state Department of Transportation beginning in 2016. The initial plan by the state was to have only one lane of the busy road remain open while the work was going on. At that time, Mayor Gonnelli persuaded the DOT to somehow have two lanes remain open during the job that was estimated to take at least two years to complete. (The DOT cited crumbling concrete falling onto Route 3 and other structural problems as sufficient justification for replacing the bridge.) Gonnelli wasn’t sure why the work hadn’t started and asked Town Administrator Gary Jeffas for an explanation. Jeffas said the work probably wouldn’t start until later this year, and cited the DOT for delays in the project. (Whenever work starts, there will probably be some aggravating traffic issues residents will be subjected to. The Plank Road is the only artery that connects the North End with the rest of the town.)
As reported in our July 6 edition, the mayor announced at the June 27 town council meeting that Verizon FIOS lines were being installed in town and he predicted a late July/early August start to the cable and internet provider. Residents complained for years about the poor service and high fees of Comcast, which was the only utility in town, except for new construction on the outskirts of town where FIOS has long been available. The mayor and council explained that Verizon was wiring New Jersey cities and larger communities first before it would even consider smaller towns like Secaucus. Letters were written, phone calls made, and finally, after years of requests for FIOS, Mayor Gonnelli persuaded Verizon to provide the service in Secaucus. He offered that residents would soon be able to sign up for FIOS. “We put a lot of pressure on Verizon,” the mayor remarked. He explained that during Mayor Dennis Elwell’s tenure, the town and the communications giant could not agree on terms, and therefore, Secaucus was placed at the bottom of the FIOS list. Terms were finally agreed to, and Verizon trucks have been plying Secaucus streets for the last several months with linemen stringing the cable on utility poles in every section of town.
Another aspect of town business we wondered about is why the tax bills always seem to be late getting to homeowners, even though Secaucus usually finalizes its budget well in advance of the allowed deadline. Mayor Mike promptly called the Tax Office and put Tax Collector Lorraine Carr “on speaker.” She explained that the bills were late because the town had to wait for the county to certify the budget. Property taxes due on August 1 will have a payment extension until August 22; after the 22nd, interest will accrue. Lorraine noted that taxpayers can find what they owe online and pay that way, or they can visit the Tax Office and pay their taxes prior to receiving the bill in the mail. If individuals choose to pay their taxes online, Lorraine explained there is a $2.50 fee to do so if they use a bank account, or a 2.95% fee is using a credit or debit card. The Tax Office is located on the third floor of Town Hall.
Even in the middle of summer, in the extreme heat and mugginess, Town Hall was the usual bustling place it’s always been. We found Mayor Mike gracious and generous with information about the town and his own health. And did we mention, he’s extremely persuasive!