Council approves DWOA budget

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
Megan Brill presents the 2019 Downtown West Orange Alliance budget at the Jan. 22 Township Council meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council approved the Downtown West Orange Alliance’s 2019 budget at its Jan. 22 meeting after a presentation from Executive Director Megan Brill. The budget passed with a vote of 4-1; Councilman Joe Krakoviak was the only opposing vote. The DWOA’s total budget for the year is $238,000, a $3,000 increase from 2018. In her presentation, Brill highlighted accomplishments of 2018 and informed the council about the types of businesses located in the downtown corridor.

“The 2018 budget was $207,000 and we ended up using $191,596.52,” Brill said at the meeting. “We had a little bit left over but not as much as past years. Our biggest accomplishment was the murals. We’d been talking about murals downtown for a long time and it was difficult to get our business owners and property owners to be willing to paint something on the side of their building.”

The murals, one depicting Thomas Edison and the other an old-fashioned West Orange trolley, are on the sides of Prime Jewelry & Electronics and Angels Furniture in the parking lot of Schneider Hardware.

The 2019 budget is broken down into six categories. Approximately $101,000 will be spent on assessment income; office space and supplies will cost $28,000; and the township contribution will be $40,809.

Fundraising efforts will bring in $48,091, and a surplus from prior years will add $20,000 to the total. Another $100 will be added in interest.

“The administrative and office operations will see an increase of $3,000,” Brill said. “That is not a salary increase for me, it’s in-office support and extra office help, like our summer intern. Marketing and promotions we decreased by $2,000 and organization we increased by $2,000 to accommodate for some extra training and our association with Downtown New Jersey in addition to Main Street New Jersey.”

The line items of insurance and professional services, economic revitalization, and design and visual improvements will receive the same amounts of money as in the previous year’s budget.

Brill said that two new events will be added to the DWOA calendar this year. One is the Harvest Festival, similar to the Street Fair but held in October, and Downtown Thursdays. Downtown Thursdays will be held from June through August and will bring different events to areas in the downtown corridor in order to drive traffic to the businesses there.

“In addition, we’re going to keep the Street Fair, the West Orange Idol concert, the Mayor’s 5K, Breakfast with Santa and the Holiday Open House, and Small Business Saturday,” she said.

She added that there are 45 different kinds of businesses in the 300 storefronts in West Orange. Nine are health and wellness related, 21 are restaurants, 15 are takeout restaurants, four are bakeries, seven are banks, four are barber shops, 21 are beauty salons, five are nail salons, two are florists, and there is one each of a jewelry store, phone store, shoe-repair store, tailor and dog groomer.

“It should be noted that we don’t have the straight store walkway that people can park and lollygag around town in,” Brill said. “It is chopped up a little bit.”

Brill also discussed several items considered by DWOA toward the end of 2018 that it will focus on in the coming year. One will be the banners proclaiming the downtown corridor, which have been battered by bad weather recently.

“Usually we have about 105 banners up, but the new count that I just got is 56, which is not good,” Brill said. “So we only have about 56 banners within 3 miles of our area.”

She also discussed the possibility of expanding the corridor to the Valley area to help the businesses there, but is cautious about spreading the DWOA resources and staff too thin.

“As we get more and more popular with what we do and how we do it, the other businesses see the support that they get from us and they want it too,” Brill said. “We try as best we can without discounting the businesses that are on our side of the corridor to include them. If we expand, the ordinance doesn’t need to change, it’s just the list of streets. That’s a lot of lobbying with a lot of property owners that are paying thousands of dollars to be part of who we are. There’s value there, we just need to be conscious of not spreading ourselves too thin.”

Councilwoman Michele Casalino asked Brill if the town would be better off creating two business districts rather than expanding the corridor to the Valley.

“I’m afraid of you spreading yourself too thin,” she said at the meeting. “I think you may have to poll your existing membership about that.”

Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown also discussed expanding the corridor, saying it would be an important step for the town and residents who live in the Valley.

“Looking forward, with the Central Avenue redevelopment and all of the residents that will be in that area, expanding would bring us closer to being one West Orange as opposed to two separate areas,” Matute-Brown said at the meeting. “I think in the long run that would be beneficial for the town as well as the business owners.”

Councilman Joe Krakoviak asked Brill about metrics and how the DWOA tracks how many people are frequenting downtown businesses. Brill said social media and newsletters will be another focus in 2019.

“What we’re really concentrating on in the next six months is our Facebook and social media newsletters,” she said. “We’re pairing our social media with our email newsletter, probably sending them out every two weeks in the coming year. When people can easily find out information, they will readily come back.”

Krakoviak also brought up the fundraising budget, asking Brill why the DWOA took in less money in 2018 than in past years but is still planning on raising $48,091 in 2019.

“We lost a few national sponsors for the Mayor’s 5K,” she said. “So we missed out on that money, and we also had a cold day. We lost about $4,000 in folks being able to run.”

Brill said she is confident the DWOA will meet its fundraising goal in 2019, adding that the alliance is working on finding other sponsors and the new events will cover some costs.

“The Downtown Alliance is very excited about the coming year and we are encouraged by the majority of the council’s support of our budget and the work we have planned for downtown this year,” Brill said in an email to the West Orange Chronicle on Jan. 25. “In addition, this support of the council validates the many volunteers and trustees that work every day towards improving our downtown corridor.”