BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Call it the "soft" send-off _ before Mayor Carol Bianchi officially will give her last speech as mayor and steps down at the scheduled Jan. 2 township reorganization meeting, she addressed an audience that included her family and supporters, and also received commendations from her fellow Township Committee members at the last meeting of 2019.
"It was an absolute pleasure to serve with you," said Deputy Mayor James Baldassare, Jr., who is in line to move into the position of township mayor for 2019. He called Bianchi a "unifier."
Todd Edelstein, who ran as an independent candidate this past year and is a frequent questioner of local government actions told Bianchi, "You have done a great job this year." He cited what he felt as her most important action as adding a second public comment opportunity to Township Committee meetings.
Bianchi has been a member of the Township Committee for six and a half years, and mayor for two one-year terms, an appointed position in Bernards Township. Bianchi chose not to seek re-election this year, and her spot on the Township Committee will be filled by a new member, Republican Janice Fields, starting in January.
"It was a very wonderful send off," Bianchi said after the meeting on Dec. 10. As the departing mayor, Bianchi will give her official summation of the previous xyear at the 2020 reorganization meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 2 in the main meeting room at town hall, 1 Collyer Lane in Basking Ridge.
After listing what she felt were the highlights of her tenure on the Township Committee _ during which she served twice as township mayor _ she added, "What I will remember most of all are all the good times with the residents."
"You truly are the reason I took this job and would do it all over again," Bianchi told the audience.
Bianchi referred to her involvement with the town pool and library, numerous community celebrations, Charter Days, parades, First Responder and National Night out events, celebrations with the Basking Ridge Indian Community on Holi, Dandiyaa and Diwali, bike races, employee appreciation events, the winter tree lighting, girl scout and boy scout events, as well as the Veterans Day Field of Honor and Christmas Caroling downtown.
She added she had received some "beautiful" mementos from friends and residents, including a gift of flowers and a flag made of wood from Basking Ridge's longtime white oak tree with an engraved plaque on the back.
During her speech on Dec. 10, she said, "We had many achievements over the past six and a half years, thanks to the teamwork of the staff, professionals, our Township Committee, and the people of this town who contribute a great deal in volunteerism as well as your important participation in government."
She also said that one of the most important achievements to her is that the township kept the municipal portion of taxes from growing by more than a "low" increase despite a number of budget pressures including state aid cuts, pension and health benefit increases, and losses in interlocal contract revenue.
"In that period of time, while we prefer no tax increase, the total municipal portion including library and open space went from 31.7 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2014 to 33.2 cents in 2019. The tax levy also remained steady. On average the combined municipal tax levy increased 1.65 percent per year from 2015 to 2019.
"To put it further in perspective, the impact on the average assessed home in Bernards Township increased a total of $280.85 over 15 years. Our ability to achieve our strong financial picture is due to the pay as you go policies of my predecessors and we have continued it," she said.
The Bernards Township Committee also passed a resolution in her honor at the year's last Township Committee meeting, which was held on Dec. 10. The resolution listed the many boards and committees on which Bianchi had donated her time.
The resolution opened by noting most recent priorities and achievements: "Carol Bianchi has worked tirelessly at keeping the lines of communication open with township residents through the Mayors Corner newsletters as Mayor in 2016 and 2019; established a Communications Task Force in 2019 to promote the use of township communications and recommend ways to make improvements to the township’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and electronic notifications; established the Vision 2020 / Planning for the Future Task Force in 2019 to develop a township-wide survey promoting resident participation in creating a report that reflects the goals and priorities for the Township for the next decade; and established an Affordable Housing Task Force in 2019 to explore ways to comply with affordable housing obligations."