Our plans for the issues that matter to you.
Leading with Fiscal Responsibility
Susan was part of the team, in the time of uncertainty and crisis, that worked hard to make sure a reasonable budget was delivered with a 0% increase to taxpayers.
Bret’s experience in finance, both in his full-time job and as a small business owner, will bring a level of expertise and understanding to the council. This will help ensure we continue to utilize taxpayers’ money wisely and responsibly, while continuing to provide the services residents need and want.
Our goal is to continue not to add to the taxpayer burden in Berkeley Heights through 2021 as we all struggle with the economic fallout from the pandemic.
In 2020, Susan, along with the rest of the Council, continues to make sure we take advantage of grants that aid in fixing our aging infrastructure.
Additionally, Susan created and is the liaison to the volunteer-led Grants Committee which has been successful in its freshman year, earning a Municipal Innovation Award. They have been working on grants to help liveability for our seniors, our first responders, green infrastructure and the Littell-Lord Farmstead.
We will continue to find ways to take the burden off taxpayers by looking for creative sources of funding and ensuring grant money is utilized and managed properly.
Shared services help local governments become more efficient, cut costs and, ultimately, chip away at the property taxes that make the state so expensive to live in.
This has already been utilized for our DPW, municipal court, 9-1-1 dispatch, the salt dome and more. Getting assistance and advice from our state’s shared service czars, who help facilitate new opportunities with neighboring towns to save money, helps reduce our residents’ burden.
We will continue the great work this administration has done in exploring shared services where it is appropriate, be it from neighboring towns, county or state.
Programs/Services For BH Businesses
We’ve seen our fair share of businesses in downtown Berkeley Heights struggle to stay open and there will be even more retail space available once new development projects are completed over the next few years.
Our small businesses need support from the community to thrive, and their success is ours in many ways. Whether it is through tax incentives, mentorship programs, a better network or more competition for ideas, we can improve the local BH experience while reducing burden on taxpayers.
We have laid out a multi-point plan to reenergize and sustain our businesses for the long-term. It is called THRIVE, and you can read more about it here.
Cracking Down On Empty Storefronts
One of the impediments to Berkeley Heights having a more cohesive downtown is empty storefronts, particularly long-term spaces that have remained unoccupied. They are both unattractive and do not offer services for residents.
Property owners have the luxury of sitting on vacant commercial spaces because they can take advantage of tax write offs, and we pay the price. They can set rental prices at the extreme high end of the market because they see benefit regardless of whether the storefront is occupied or not.
We will explore ways to encourage property owners to keep their retail spaces occupied in order to shift the economic model to favor residents and small businesses.
Downtown Zoning Reforms
Some zoning regulations around downtown Berkeley Heights are out-of-date and need to be reviewed and revised. From a list of approved businesses that reads straight out of 1990 to the wide variety of zoning types, it creates unnecessary obstacles for businesses to open.
These zoning plans have not been updated for decades in some areas, and are not either set up in a way that makes sense today or aligns with what our residents want from our local businesses, as per the master plan survey conducted last year.
We will support the recommendation of the Township Planner and develop a more comprehensive zoning plan that will stop inhibiting our ability to create unified hubs throughout town.
Protecting Our Town
Local Heroes Program
Our first responders play an enormous role in protecting the citizens of Berkeley Heights. These local heroes volunteer their time and energy to serve and protect us all. Without them, residents could not only find their lives at risk, but would be forced to pay out of pocket for emergency services.
Right now, our first responder groups (incl. the BH Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department) are struggling with recruitment. A more formalized recognition program could help reverse that trend.
We will look to create a new, long-lasting partnership among the Township, our first responder groups, local businesses and YMCA in order to make sure our town is properly supported for years to come.
Focusing On Our Senior Citizens
During the pandemic, it has become even more evident that Seniors in Berkeley Heights are vulnerable and at risk of being left out and left behind. They are more isolated due to COVID-19 but their need for social contact remains real and urgent.
As part of our global focus on inclusion, we need to do a better job for our Seniors. We must give them opportunities to safely socialize, ensure they can use devices to manage their lives comfortably and increase recreation opportunities, accessible transportation and town-wide communication.
We will work with the Senior Advisory Board to accelerate efforts that address their needs and concerns and leverage funding resources in order to do so.
Prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion
As Berkeley Heights grows, we want to make sure it does so in a way that is diverse because the best way for everyone to see that people who don’t look like them are actually just like them is to have them as friends and neighbors.
With the new development projects in the queue, it’s important that all residents, both current and new, feel welcome and safe in our community. Our Diversity Council has done a great job since it’s inception and the town’s government can help carry forward its important mission.
We will support Berkeley Heights inclusion measures like making permanent Mayor Devanney’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Committee to help further enact change in our community.
Recreation Across All Ages
Recreation means many things to many different people. Whether it’s our sports fields, walking paths or playspaces for people of any age, we can do a better job of planning and effecting change on these projects.
As a coach in our youth sports program, Bret is certainly passionate about the conditions of our fields but as we all spend more time outside this year due to COVID-19, we all appreciate the desire for more outdoor activity. Also, Nate and Hobbes would like to see a dog park that is walkable from downtown.
We will work with the Mayor, Rec Commission, Board of Education, PAL and other stakeholders in order to prioritize and move forward with new, proposed and ongoing projects, like Susan’s disc golf initiative.
Centralized Garbage Collection
Have you wondered why you see so many garbage trucks driving around Berkeley Heights? Have you thought about the long-term ramifications all of these different trucks have on our infrastructure and environment?
We need to find a better solution to reduce those effects on our community, while fitting the needs of individuals. Centralized garbage collection, which was supported by 70 percent of residents per a survey done last year, could be one way for all of us to save money and reduce our individual burden.
We would support a referendum question on centralized garbage pickup to ensure that all voices are heard, and explore other options that can help save money and protect our town’s infrastructure.
Continue Work on Roads/Sidewalks
There has been continued work done on repairing our town’s infrastructure over the last two years, but we’ve got a lot more work ahead of us. Our roads and sidewalks are still not where we need them to be and residents are concerned about the progress being made.
Seeking out alternative sources of funding can help expedite some of these infrastructural projects. This includes identifying potential grants that can help us defray some of the costs and working with the NJEIB on responsible interest-free loans.
We will work to move our infrastructure projects forward as quickly as possible in a fiscally responsible way, and keep our residents well-informed of progress and next steps.