Plus, there is no good reason for Berkeley Heights to miss out on free money. But the fact is, because of the current relationship with our town leaders and the County, we are in fact, losing opportunities to reduce the tax burden in our residents.
Our Plan: We take your tax dollars seriously. We understand that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford to live in Berkeley Heights. This is a particular hardship for our aging residents, who are retiring and wondering if they can afford to stay in their homes. It is also difficult for volunteers or those who choose to work in a field that isn’t more financially lucrative but whose work is vital to improving the lives of others – teachers, home health aides, community development workers, and many others.
This is why we need to improve relations with Union County to ensure Berkeley Heights is getting its share of grant money and other available funds. We will:
- Review all state-contracted vendors currently providing services or supplies to identify ways to cut costs.
- Ensure we receive available library grant funds; Berkeley Heights has received the lowest amount in library grants in Union County three years in a row.
- Make sure we maximize state and county grants available for road repaving and field repair.
The Issue: The $28 million-turned $32 million Redevelopment Plan is going forward. We need to have new, independent-minded Council members that can ensure the project is managed as transparently and efficiently as possible.
The project already went $4 million over budget before a shovel was even put in the ground. This despite repeated statements from members of the governing body that they would hold the cost of the project below $28 million. In addition, the previous, publicly promoted statements the Mayor and Council made about the average tax increase residents would face were wrong. This is why Councilwoman Susan Poage (the only Democrat on the Council) voted “no” to spending the additional $4 million.
We fully support the need for a new Police Station, Emergency Dispatch Center, Town Hall, and Library, but are disappointed by the manner in which the Mayor and Council have handled the process. Many residents feel they have never even been informed about the project, let alone asked for their input and support, leading to an erosion of trust and confidence in township government.
Our Plan: We need to ensure the municipal complex projects stays within budget and is built in an appropriate timeframe.
Angie’s tremendous record as the Berkeley Heights Township Administrator, along with Alvaro’s 25 years of business experience experience and Stephen’s in-depth understanding of Berkeley Heights issues, means they can hit the ground running in making sure the Municipal Complex project is handled much more effectively going forward. We will work hard to identify every possible way to hold down the cost of the project while finishing it in an appropriate timeframe; we will strive to achieve savings below the Guaranteed Minimum Price (GMP).
Another priority is to ensure the complex and the surrounding areas fit in with the town’s Master Plan. The complex should also showcase environment-conscious features such as solar panels. In the future, we need to make a much stronger effort to actively educate and engage the public from the beginning of projects such as these, and to be more transparent with the process and the details.
The Issue: Most residents have never heard from our opponents or other elected officials, and feel ignored, disregarded or simply just in the dark about how our town is run. Meanwhile, our Mayor wastes taxpayer money on a monthly interview segment that few people watch; segments like these were previously done for free by the GL TV studio that produced news programs for its residents, but the Township put a halt to that partnership. Much more can be done to communicate with members of our community at little to no cost – a webcast over Facebook Live, a podcast, or other formats.
Our Plan: Bring back the print Township newsletter to provide a print source of news for those who want it, paying for it with the money wasted on the “Mayor’s Roundtable” currently on TV. These could be made available in public places for residents to pick up. Expand updates on Township actions and get residential input through regular e-newsletters, online surveys and other digital methods such as directly engaging them on Facebook. Other priorities:
- When possible, avoid last-minute approvals of important resolutions/ordinances – like the $4 million increase of the Municipal Complex on the Epic contract – to allow time for residents to learn about what is being proposed and send us feedback.
- Provide residents with ample information and notice of important Council meetings.
- Utilize free video options to convey town news and happenings to the community at large.
- Hold quarterly meetings on weekend afternoons to update residents and get their feedback at a convenient time for them.
- Restore relations with the GL TV studio and bring back news coverage of Township events.
- Identify ways to enhance the past survey of residents to get feedback about their recreational needs.
- Seek input from residents on what is being imposed and encourage them to send us feedback.
Our Plan: If elected, we pledge to do our part to ensure Berkeley Heights government looks more like Berkeley Heights. We will embrace our diversity in who we seek to serve on our volunteer committees, in the programs we support, and the actions we take. We will encourage more multicultural events in town, and reach out to the leaders and members of of various religions and ethnic backgrounds, to get their ideas on how we can make those in our community feel as if they are valued members of our community.
In addition, we will:
- Establish or support programs that address the need for greater inclusion of residents in positions of authority (African-Americans, Latinos, APIs, GLBTQ). This may include workshops or programs that address racism, bigotry, homophobia in a constructive, community-building fashion.
- Partner with our Police Department, Board of Education and our schools to encourage such programs.
- Support existing groups in our community that are working hard on these issues, such as the Diversity Council.
The Issue: Most residential roads are in poor condition; the Mayor and Council has a 15-year waiting list for road repairs but won’t spend additional funds to speed up the process. Meanwhile, sidewalks across town are in disrepair with many in a state of near-collapse. Our roads and sidewalks reflect our town’s quality of life, and they’ve been neglected for far too long.
Our Plan: Develop a fiscally responsible plan that significantly speeds up the road repair schedule, drawing on best practices followed by other towns across the state. Use cutting-edge technology to ensure that when roads are paved, they last far longer before needing to be paved again. Make sidewalk repairs a higher priority within our long-term budget plans. Increase grant opportunities for safe roads/sidewalks for kids walking to school.
The Issue: Our town-owned sports fields are in poor condition, ridden with holes and lacking even basic features like shelters for players; the Township created a committee but has failed to do enough to upgrade and rehabilitate the fields despite having years to fix the problem.
Our Plan: We will propose that developers pay a Community Impact Fee so that our community benefits in additional ways from this development; one large project these fees could go toward paying for is repair of our deteriorated sports fields. Read more about that plan here.
Seek out more grants to improve our sports fields. Neighboring towns like New Providence and Mountainside have asked for and received hundreds of thousands of dollars more in total grants. Actively support a committee of interested stakeholders (PAL, Recreation, Board of Education, Union County) that can raise funds to repair and upgrade the fields. Provide the equivalent revenue gained from the occupancy tax on the new hotel at Connell Center, on the other side of Rt. 78, to provide additional funding for this.
Our Plan: As strong advocates for inclusion and diversity in Berkeley Heights, we support the need for greater access to affordable housing for middle- and working-class families to live, and stay, in our community. With nearly 1,000 new housing units expected to be built in the next few years – nearly a 25% increase in total Berkeley Heights housing units – it is critical that we responsibly plan for the changes this population influx will cause. This means real, sustainable plans for dealing with increased traffic, wear and tear on our roads and sidewalks, fewer parking spots, more use of our recreation facilities, increased responsibilities for our police and public works departments, and its impact on our schools and budget.
Our current government has no comprehensive plan to address any of these urgent concerns, nor have they shown any intention to plan for them. We cannot afford to find ourselves scrambling to deal with these issues 3 to 4 years from now!
We will develop a clear, realistic management plan to tackle these challenges. This will include ideas and involvement from residents like you – our very own “town of experts” – and will enable us to responsibly address the needs of our changing community. Berkeley Heights is a great town, and we’ll work hard to plan for the future – so we can keep it that way!
Our Plan: We will brainstorm ways to incentivize more residents and business owners to recycle, and continue to educate people on proper and improper recycling practices. We will ensure recycling containers are placed near all major business plazas and government buildings, fields and other locations. In addition, we will mandate that certain elements of taxpayer-funded projects are “green,“ including the new municipal complex.
We will also push for:
- Improved walking and biking paths.
- Solar panels on the roof of the new Municipal Complex, and other environmentally responsible measures.
- More shared services agreements with neighboring towns on initiatives such as bulk trash pickup.
- Improved coordination with County to better communicate to residents current policy on recycling.
- Increased communication to residents about alternative ways to recycle products not accepted by the recycling company.
- All Town committees and organizations adhere to environmentally-conscious practices.
The Issue: Small businesses keep closing in Berkeley Heights, while residents lack adequate parking for commuting and shopping. Meanwhile, zoning regulations allow for buildings as large as 7 stories to be build in other parts of town. We must adopt a cohesive, long-term planning approach to balance our small-town feel with the need for change.
Our Plan: Create a Downtown Redevelopment Taskforce to do research, engage business owners and residents, and propose clear set of proposals for revitalizing the downtown. The governing body has dealt with minor issues such as standardized paving stones and building signs, but they have not acted to address the core of the problem: businesses cannot afford to stay in business, and residents want more and better options to shop locally. The Downtown Redevelopment Taskforce would be a public-private partnership and would enable us to begin fixing the real problems and proposing new solutions to issues such as:
- How to encourage landlords of vacant buildings to rent or sell the property to viable business owners.
- How to make our downtown more pedestrian friendly.
- How to attract the types of business our residents want to see most in their town.
- How to establish appropriate zoning regulations for businesses in other parts of our town.
This Taskforce would link these ideas to our “Master Plan,” thereby creating a responsible, long-term planning document to be put into action.
We are now embarking on the largest public project of our community lifetime – a new municipal complex with a price tag that has increased from $28 million to $32 million without a single shovel in the ground. Along with ensuring strict fiscal responsibility of the municipal complex and other development projects underway, we will also focus on:
- Care and longer-term maintenance of our neglected roads
- Improvement of our sports fields
- Recreation services and facilities
- Taking full advantage of grant funds available to our town to reduce the costs of these improvements as much as possible
Based on conversations we have had, and will continue to have, with residents, as candidates and future elected officials, we will also:
- Actively welcome and promote the inclusion of all residents in town government, so that every resident feels they belong in Berkeley Heights.
- Be both fiscally and socially responsible in our decisions, especially when it comes to the big development projects taking place in the years ahead.
- Embrace our “town of experts” – the residents – and bring your expertise to the table in solving the real challenges we face.
- Ensure recreational and infrastructural needs are being met, not just the ones everyone knows about.
- Give our full support and appreciation for our incredible volunteers.
- Live our values locally including taking action to protect the environment, and promote civility, understanding, and respect among all residents.
- Thoroughly review and reform Township practices to maximize transparency and improve trust and confidence in our government.
This is no ordinary time, and we need more than ordinary leadership in Berkeley Heights. On November 6, let’s vote to make Change We Can Agree On and move our town in the right direction! Vote Column A.