BERNARDS TWP., NJ - After officials and residents alike have expressed "dissatisfaction" with the services provided by both Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) and Optimum/Altice's internet service at recent meetings, the Bernards Township Committee is considering setting up a special committee to push to improve that service.

A public work session on the establishment of a Utility Service Improvement Advisory Committee is on the Township Committee agenda for the meeting set to begin at 8 p.m. this Tuesday, Sept. 15.

The resolution notes that JCP&L has a state monopoly to provide electricity to township residents and businesses, and there are two cable operators in town, Optimum/Altice, which operates under a municipal consent franchise, and Verizon, which operates under a statewide franchise.

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At the last meeting, resident Priti Shah spoke about the slowness of internet service in the township, especially with many residents and township students working from home on their computers.

The resolution up for discussion on Tuesday notes that cable services within the township does not cover all areas, in particular within the Hills area, with spotty service, slow speeds and bandwidth, and interruptions that result in no service for long periods of time. 

"Reliable and dependable internet services are increasingly imperative to customers for virtual work and schooling, both of which rely on dependable and reliable electric and cable service," the resolution notes. 

Anger at JCP&L flared up again when the Aug. 4 tropical storm resulted in power outages of at least a week for many township residents. Prolonged outages also followed Superstorm Sandy, previous storms, and have even occurred on days without inclement weather, officials have noted.

Approximately 788,000 JCP&L customers were affected by Tropical Storm Isaias.  8,000 utility workers from JCP&L and from 17 different states worked around the clock to restore power as safely and quickly as possible, according to JCP&L.  The storm also resulted in significant damage with large trees falling against electrical equipment, bringing down utility poles, wires and hundreds of road closures.

"Despite these challenges, JCP&L was able to restore about 50% of customers in Bernards Township where 6,700 customers were affected, within 48-hours of the beginning of the restoration effort on August 4, with a majority of customers in Bernards Township restored by the end of the day on August 9," said Cliff Cole, spokesman for JCP&L. 

Last month's invite to Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) to attend a public forum in Bernards Township to explain power outages after Tropical Storm Isaias and sometimes even in calm weather _  has recieved no answer thus far, Township Mayor James Baldassare said last week.  According to JCP&L, they have responded multiple times to the requests and are happy to sit down with township officials at the appropriate time.

The Township Committee followed up the mayor's direct invitation with a request that the state Board of Public Utilities look into the power company's response to the storm and try to get to the reason for persistent power outages. Baldassare last week said the township hadn't heard from the state, either.

Call for residents to be able to vote in-person if they prefer

Another proposed resolution on Tuesday's agenda calls for voters to be given a choice if they would prefer to vote in person on election day on Nov. 3.

Mail-in ballots are slated to be the primary method of voting in the November general election, as they were in the primary election held in July, the resolution notes.

The resolution up for a vote on Tuesday asserts that the Bernards Township Committee is concerned that the predominant use of mail-in ballots during the July primary election was "difficult at best and represents but a small fraction of the ballots to be cast when compared to the upcoming General Election."

The Bernards Township Committee feels that voter "choice" should refer to "how to vote, not just "who" to vote for in a given election cycle, according to the proposed resolution.

The  municipal building at 1 Collyer Lane Basking Ridge will be open for the meeting, and will adhere to the state's social distancing guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Indoor gatherings are limited to 25 percent of this room capacity or no more than 51 individuals, according to th township. All attendees must wear face coverings and remain six feet apart. The meeting also will be livestreamed and can be found by clicking on the “Watch a Meeting Live” icon on the homepage, and can also be viewed live on Optimum/Cablevision channel 15 and Verizon FiOS television, channel 35.