Small Rocky Hill Borough generated big headlines in 2005

From shifts in town government leadership to construction of a major park

By: Jake Uitti
   ROCKY HILL — Documenting the events of 2005 in Rocky Hill may seem like something you could ask a new intern to do over a lunch break, but the citizens who experienced the historic borough’s ins and outs last year know it was anything but routine.
   Despite its small size, Rocky Hill, home to about 660 residents, generated big headlines last year.
   For example, the mayor for the past 12 years, Brian Nolan, abruptly resigned his position late in the year, with George Morren, who had been a councilman for 10 years, taking Mayor Nolan’s place. Mr. Nolan cited a lack of "time needed to serve" the Rocky Hill community adequately as the reason for his departure.
   And the process of this transition was hardly run-of-the-mill.
   The Republican Committee, under state law, nominates three candidates to fill a seat left empty by resignation, and the mayor and Eileen Uhrik, who lost a council bid in November, are the only members of the committee in Rocky Hill.
   In his Dec. 2 letter of resignation, Mayor Nolan — with the assistance of Ms. Uhrik — nominated three candidates to succeed him.
   The council three days later voted unanimously to appoint Mr. Morren as mayor for 2006. But it chose not to fill Mayor Morren’s seat on the council, waiting instead until the new council took office Jan. 2.
   Two candidates were elected to the council in the November race. They are Brad Merritt, who has a long history of service on Rocky Hill governing boards, and Brian Griner.
   Mr. Merritt was a member on the Borough Council for 12 years, from 1990 to 2002, as well as a member of the school board for five years. He ran as an independent after running as a Republican in prior years.
   Mr. Griner, a Republican, will begin his first year on the council in 2006.
   Public safety was another important issue before the borough last year.
   Since Rocky Hill does not have a police force of its own, the borough renewed contracts with the South Bound Brook Police Department to conduct traffic enforcement — while State Police will continue patrolling the borough. South Bound Brook, which has been conducting traffic enforcement in Rocky Hill for just under two years, is paid by the hour for its services. The department writes about 100 tickets per month for the borough and gives Rocky Hill daily police reports.
   Also last year, major steps were taken in the development of important land tracts in the borough.
   Rocky Hill’s Planning Board attorney and zoning officer, along withconstruction officials, deemed the application for the development for the controversial Schafer tract complete. The application is now scheduled to come before the Planning Board on Jan. 10.
   In April 2005, ground was broken on the 95-acre Van Horne Park on land purchased by Rocky Hill and Montgomery from the Schafer family in 1996.
   When complete, the park, shared by the two municipalities, will include two multi-purpose fields, two softball fields, two basketball courts, two playground areas, a pavilion and paved pathways. Landscaping of the park is under way.
   "We are in the home stretch" with the park, Mayor Morren said. "The park is very important."
   While cooperation with Montgomery was evident in the development of Van Horne Park, relations were more testy regarding a development plan on the borough’s borders.
   The Wawa convenience store at routes 206 and 518 in Montgomery is seeking to move to the former Princeton GammaTech site that borders the borough. The plan includes 12 gasoline pumps in addition to the new Wawa.
   Borough residents and officials have voiced concern about the aesthetics of the store, increased traffic in the historic borough, and potential oil and gasoline pollution of their wells, some located just 315 feet from the site.
   Groundwater contamination problems rocked the borough about 25 years ago because of operations at Princeton GammaTech. In fact, Rocky Hill’s municipal well site was on the very first Superfund list because of the severe groundwater pollution. The borough’s side of the argument will be heard during Montgomery’s Jan. 30 Planning Board meeting.
   But not all construction projects along Route 518 were so contentious.
   The Mary Jacobs Library is Doing well after its October renovation and expansion project.
   The size of the library doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet, with the children’s wing and computer inventory gaining in size, said Brenda Fallon, president of the library’s trustees. Because of all these gains, the library asked the Borough Council in November for an increase in funding to help pay for the building’s upkeep.
   Donations to worthwhile causes did not stop with the library.
   Members of the Rocky Hill Community Group raised nearly $5,000 for those affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in a spontaneous effort in September that revealed the generosity of motorists traveling through the borough. Resident Courtney White quickly mobilized a community effort to raise funds for the American Red Cross through collection points in the borough at Route 518 and Princeton Avenue.
   Other key events in the borough included the council’s approval of a $35,500 pavilion behind Borough Hall that will be used for community gatherings, as a shelter for recreational use and for people who use the playground.
   In August, police in Buffalo, N.Y., captured a 22-year-old Columbus, Ohio, man who was wanted in connection with six bank robberies in Central Jersey, including the April 30 robbery of a Bank of America branch on Washington Street.
   In a less notorious money matter, the council adopted a 2005 municipal budget in April that increased the tax rate 10 percent, the first tax increase the borough has seen in eight years.
   The $882,965 budget — of which $387,966 was raised through property taxes — hiked the borough tax rate from 53 cents to 63 cents per $100 of assessed value.
   The borough also finalized the purchase of a new ambulance for the Rocky Hill First Aid Squad. The new ambulance, a Ford chassis with a Horton emergency vehicle body, will allow for the long-awaited replacement of one of the existing ambulances. The replaced ambulance is believed to be the oldest active rescue vehicle in New Jersey.
   The new ambulance will be delivered soon — it is not yet in the borough, "probably because of the tragedy in the Gulf Coast," the mayor said, in reference to the demand for new rescue vehicles in the hurricane-damaged region.
   From bank robberies to resignations to a new park, Rocky Hill has made some heads shake in amazement from all the headlines a populace well below a thousand can generate.
   "I am looking forward to the new year," Mayor Morren said. "I hope we can have a peaceful and constructive council. I want to encourage everybody to think about why we are here."