Lambertville, N.J., officials continue their effort to encourage improved community engagement as they deal with citywide financial and infrastructure issues.
The most recent of these initiatives was the Lambertville Community Forum held in the multi-purpose room at Lambertville Public School Saturday, Feb. 1.
“We thought that trying this more interactive format would be much more interesting for people in town than your typical presentation in a Council meeting,” Lambertville Administrator Alex Torpey said.
A steady stream of residents filed in and meandered through nine individual stations detailing short- and long-term challenges that the city faces.
Issues were categorized and identified across different stations where municipal staffers were on hand to explain the challenges and answer questions.
Residents were encouraged to leave comments and suggestions after visiting each of the stations.
Stations addressed topics such as the city’s finances and facilities; flood mitigations and climate impacts; meeting affordable housing obligations; improving traffic and parking; and preserving the city’s historical architecture and character.
“We do a lot of community meetings on different topics, so we are also experimenting with this format a bit to try and see if we get more people to come out,” Torpey said.
It seemed to work. Residents filed through and spoke with municipal officials and each other.
“People are interested and engaged,” Lambertville Councilman Wardell Sanders said.
One of those residents was Mark Dolan, who said the forum was “exciting” and “bold.” He said it’s important to improve the city’s infrastructure.
“How we’re going to pay for it is another side of the coin,” Dolan said.
While Dolan remained optimistic about the conceptual plan to address the city’s future challenges, others did not share that optimism.
Resident Karen Taylor had “reservations” about the scope of the plan and wondered how a city with millions in debt services would be able to afford improvements on such a grand scale.
Lambertville Mayor Julia Fahl acknowledged the scope and cost of what she said needs to be undertaken, but argued that she wanted to raise awareness of the problems facing the city while also allowing time to consider viable solutions.
She added that the challenges facing the city are related to each other and so are the solutions. She also said it would make more logistic and fiscal sense to tackle issues such as the deterioration of city buildings and affordable housing obligations at once rather than piecemeal.
Torpey said that the format was designed so “no one leaves the event without having all their questions answered, or at least the chance to get into all the questions with a staff person who can speak to them.”
Emily Carone of the Lambertville Library board of trustees said it is time to look at the big picture regarding Lambertville. “We need to bring in more tax ratables to support our services,” she said.
“Most likely, this event will be the first in a series of conversations about these plans and ideas,” Torpey said. “We want people to have free rein to discuss, ask questions of, and give feedback to our staff, which we’re going to then use to incorporate back into the plans.”