BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 3 election, the candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Berkeley Heights.

The following answer is from Democratic Township Council Candidate Bret Sayre for Week 2.

Week 2 Question:

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Please prioritize the top three infrastructure issues in the township. What timeline and estimated price tag would you attach to each project? How would you recommend the township pay for each project?

As the owner and leader of a small business, I’m no stranger to making tough decisions on a constrained budget. And whether it’s a baseball analytics company or Berkeley Heights, the approach and challenges remain similar. Living within our revenue means is vital not just because it’s basic economics, but because we have a responsibility to not put undue burden on the tax-paying families that make up this community. 

Prioritizing infrastructure is something we have finally started to make progress on over the last couple of years. However, we have much longer to go, and we need to ensure we’re not letting the foundation of our town literally slide away. It’s for this reason that I reject the notion of singular infrastructural projects with price tags and timelines. We have priorities for our town that need to be continually supported and maintained over time so that we end up in fewer situations where large costs are needed to repair something that has been left to linger in disrepair. Additionally, we need to stop viewing infrastructure as just concrete, pipes or grids. It’s also the people who protect our community that make up its very fiber and need support.

In no particular order, here are the top three infrastructural issues facing our township in the medium- and long-term:

Drainage. The continued impact of global warming is felt in countless ways across the planet, but in Berkeley Heights we feel it through more frequent and higher-intensity storms. The drainage we have is not set up to handle the impact of our current level of storms, and we need to responsibly take action in order to keep our community safe in the long run. The West Side drainage study is a great place to start, but that’s all it is: a start. We need the patience and the commitment to ensure our entire town is evaluated, prioritized and, where necessary, improved. This is not a cheap problem, and not one with a short-term solution, which unfortunately makes it hard to tackle politically. We can’t let that stop us.

Roads/Sidewalks/Paths. We already have around $750,000 per year dedicated here, but our needs outpace the money we can set aside for it. However, we have to do it properly and not just focus on checking boxes to avoid setting ourselves up for an even more fiscally painful future. Our focus must be on regular evaluation to ensure the roads, sidewalks and paths in greatest need receive the proper help. With the right planning, we can save money long-term just by identifying needs and aligning them with action. We should also be securing as much grant money for paving as we can and working with Union County to ensure our most heavily-traveled roads are as safe as possible. Finally, in the right economic environment, leveraging low-interest funding from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank to get us back on a schedule where we are maintaining and not outright fixing is an additional option.

Volunteer First Responder Organizations. We cannot talk about infrastructure without addressing the men and women who volunteer their time to keep our town safe. We are blessed to have an active and talented Fire Department and Rescue Squad, but they need help to continue providing life-saving services. As a town, we need to work together to address issues not just of recruitment but of retainment. That started with LOSAP being passed via referendum for the Rescue Squad, but there’s more to do. It will be a priority of mine to work with the FIre Department to find a solution to best address their retention issues. Additionally, Susan and I proposed a Local Heroes Program as part of our platform: a partnership between the Township, our first responder groups, local businesses and childcare providers to make it easier for current members to stay and more attractive for potential members to join. The cost of not having strong volunteer first responder organizations won’t just be felt in lives, but in our pockets as well.

It is the responsibility of Council to view these all as living, breathing issues for our town that cannot be wished away because they are hard or assigned false parameters so we can claim completion. They are continuous needs. If I am elected, I will do the proper due diligence to make sure your hard-earned money is spent on what is really important to protect our town. Anything less than that is unacceptable to all of us as taxpayers.