BELMAR, NJ — TAPinto Belmar/Lake Como asked the three candidates vying for the three-year seat on the Belmar Council — Democratic incumbent Thomas Brennan, Republican newcomer Jodi Kinney and independent Gerald Buccafusco — about their qualifications, important issues facing the borough and their top priorities if elected on November 3. Here is what they said, in their own words.

THOMAS BRENNAN

Thomas Brennan, 64, of 11th Avenue has lived in Belmar for 28 years. He retired as a music instructor and band leader at Belmar Elementary School after 18 years in that post. He currently is a performing musician.

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He and his wife, Merry, have three children: Ciaran, 28; Aislinn, 26; and Sean, 24.

Service to Belmar

Brennan, the only Democrat on the GOP-controlled governing body, is up for re-election to his third term. He has served as council president since 2019. He served on the Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2014. This past summer, he served as a volunteer with the beachfront's  “Friendship Force,” which assisted to ensure visitors were social distancing properly along the boardwalk due to the coronavirus health crisis. 

In the community, Brennan has served as treasurer and trustee of the Belmar Arts Council, treasurer and coach of the Belmar-Avon-Lake Como Little League (BALC), a soccer coach for Belmar Recreation and an assistant wrestling coach at Belmar Elementary School. He also has been involved with the Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater and Musicians on a Mission.

What are your qualifications for elected office?

(Having) almost 30 years of community involvement in Belmar, 18 years of knowing Belmar’s families through teaching their children, six years of service as a councilman under three different mayors and a record of accomplishment, transparency and bipartisanship.

I have questioned the council majority on a number of proposals and issues. Residents don’t see me fighting with the Republicans on the dais. That’s because I do not believe it’s in Belmar best interest to have contentious conflict at council meetings. However, I fight hard for what I believe in behind-the-scenes and my efforts have led to important changes in many programs and policies.

For example, I was the one who got text alerts, radio broadcasts, signage and other communications about beach operations and closures this past summer. I insisted we limit daily beach badge sales.

My efforts led to Belmar being ahead of the rest of the state in prohibiting single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam. I’ve fought to make improvements in flood preparation that have led to a lowering of flood insurance premiums. I approved the improvement of all Belmar’s parks and playgrounds. I voted to purchase a badly needed replacement firetruck, acquiring a demonstration model at half price.

For the Lake Como outfall pipe to stop flooding, I have seen the project through from beginning to end.

I have not always won my arguments, but I continue to fight for what is right for residents. In a country divided by partisan conflict, I pride myself in being able to work across the aisle for the best interests of Belmar’s residents and businesses.

What are the most-important issues facing the borough? And if you're re-elected, how do you plan to address those issues?

  • Fiscal strength.
    • Uncover new revenue sources.
    • Cut costs wherever possible.
    • Lower municipal debt.
  • Environmental leadership.
    • Complete protective dune project at no taxpayer cost.
    • Enforce ban on styrofoam containers, most plastic straws as well as single use plastic bags.
    • Work with the state to address flooding issues on Route 35 and adjoining neighborhoods.
  • Smart growth.
    • Ensure all proposals comply with existing land use codes: Master Plan, Seaport Redevelopment Plan, etc.
    • Collaborate with the mayor and council, redevelopers and neighbors to ensure that new construction “fits.”
    • Work with developers to ensure stormwater management best practices.
  • Community connections.
    • Ensure that programs for seniors and youth continue and expand.
    • Work with the mayor and council to bring back “Movies on the Beach.”
    • Enlist the Belmar Arts Council to create public art and to attract visitors.
  • Enhanced communications.
    • Continue to use Code Red/Blue messages to keep residents informed regarding any emergency information or unique events, like hydrant flushing, power outages, etc.
    • Monitor social media so we are aware of the issues that residents care about.
    • Continue to improve our municipal website and social media presence so residents and visitors have easy access to the information they need.
  • Quality of life.
    • Revamp the “animal house” ordinance to make it more effective.
    • With the Belmar Police Department, examine options to curtail/prohibit pop-up car rallies.
  • Bipartisanship.
    • Continue to work with Mayor Mark Walsifer and Business Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum to find best practice solutions.
    • “Keep what works. Fix what doesn’t.”

JODI KINNEY

Jodi Kinney, 48, of 10th Avenue has been a Belmar resident for 26 years. A 1994 graduate of Rutgers University, she earned her chiropractic degree in 2000 from New York Chiropractic College. Kinney currently owns and operates Intrinsic Chiropractic in Jackson and Kinney Chiropractic in Belmar.

Kinney and her husband, Dickie, have two children: son Devon, a sixth-grader at St. Rose Grammar School, and daughter Nayla, an eighth-grader at the Belmar-based school as well.

Service to Belmar

This is Kinney's ’s first time running for office.

What are your qualifications for elected office?

I have not yet had the opportunity to serve on any board or council, but I am very excited to have the opportunity now and I’m eager to be able to use my experience in moving Belmar into the future.

Some qualifications that would help me in elected office first come from my ability to run two small businesses. I know how to balance a budget. I have done build-out in both locations, so I have a working knowledge of construction, planning/zoning, inspections and permits. I am very familiar with marketing and advertising, as well as working with other business professionals.

Second, I have a household that I run with my husband and two children. They are back to school and look forward to recreation programs and sports, so I am eager to help bring these back to the town safely.

Next, as a health care professional, I am very in tune with (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) regulations, safety and health guidelines during a pandemic.

Lastly, I want to stay as positive as possible throughout this whole process now and when I am on the council. There is so much negativity in the world and I’d like to help Belmar to be able to rise above. That said, I believe I have the experience to be a well-rounded councilperson.

What are the most-important issues facing the borough? And if you’re elected, how do you plan to address those issues?

I feel the biggest issue facing Belmar today is getting through this pandemic. We have to balance keeping our businesses open and keeping residents safe, especially if this goes into next summer with another influx of summer visitors.

Businesses, especially restaurants, are facing an uphill battle as the weather starts to get colder, unless the state allows for more occupancy. I would work with our social media director, as well as tourism, to help attract more business to the town. We want businesses to survive and then thrive during and after COVID. But we must be able to balance business and tourism with keeping residents safe.

Belmar can take pride in the fact that since the beginning of the pandemic, not one Belmar employee has tested positive for COVID — no one working at the borough, Police Department, Department of Public Works and none of the lifeguards.  We need to continue to keep our town employees safe and healthy through the winter.

The next issue is our water bills. Unfortunately, mismanagement in the past has allowed for our rising water bills. There was leftover debt, as well as broken water meters all over town that demanded Belmar to pay an enormous amount of money back to the water company. I would work with the town to ensure all meters are repaired and that outstanding debts from those homes are paid.

The other issue with our water bill is our outdated and inefficient infrastructure.  Sewer water and rainwater runoff intermixes, and when there’s a large storm, all of that water gets pumped to a water treatment plant that must treat it all as sewage. This costs the town hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. I would work with the current administration to try to cost-effectively fix our infrastructure so to help reduce our water bills back to what they were.

Another issue that’s of great importance is recreation.  As the only candidate with school-aged children, recreation is very important to me. I look forward to bringing back (Department of Recreation) sports, junior lifeguards, Belmar 5 and “Movies on the Beach,” as well as bands in Pyanoe Plaza, the Belmar Seafood Festival and the San Gennaro Festival.

Our seniors lost their senior center, so I’d love to safely bring that back to them. Plus, I would poll residents to see what things are important to them to bring to town that would keep residents active and engaged — all while staying safe.

Our Main Street business district has so much potential to be a great downtown. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, there are many vacant businesses along Main Street. As a business owner and someone who likes to shop, I’d like to be able to work with our marketing and advertising people to attract more businesses to Main Street that are year-round businesses. We know Main Street is busy during the summer, but what can we offer patrons year round to keep that bustle going into our winter months — places where people can dine, shop, listen to music and be entertained.

I believe with my experience and my love for the town, I would make a great addition to the Belmar Council. 

GERALD A. BUCCAFUSCO

Gerald “Jerry” Buccafusco, 66, of Fifth Avenue has lived in Belmar for six years, after spending many summers — since his boyhood — at his family’s home in the borough.

An attorney by trade, he retired in 2013 after serving a total of 23 years with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson Vicinage — the last three years as assistant trial court administrator.

He and his wife, Marlena, have a daughter, Marissa.

Service to Belmar

This is Buccafusco’s first time running for office.

What are your qualifications for elected office?

I have regularly attended meetings of the borough council since the imposition of a property tax increase of over 20 percent in 2019, and I have voiced my concern over the lack of transparency on many items before the council, as well as the council’s lack of responsiveness to residents’ concerns.

As an attorney, I am comfortable addressing legal issues before the council. My background in administration, budget preparation, human resources and government, in general, provides me with the professional qualifications for this position.

What are the most-important issues facing the borough? And if you’re elected, how do you plan to address those issues?

One of the most important issues facing the borough is the lack of fiscal responsibility and sound financial planning. This is critical if Belmar is to prosper and remain affordable for all residents.

Municipal spending continues to increase as well as the borough’s debt. For 2018, the borough’s total general appropriations were $15,332,055. The adopted 2020 budget has the total general appropriations at $17,909,298 — an increase of $2,577,243. Future budgets must control operating costs.

If elected, I would first propose a decrease in spending on nonessential items. If necessary, there should be mandated cuts in departmental, nonsalary spending. I would request the administration complete a comprehensive study of nonunion and management salaries in other comparable municipalities, as well the number of full-time employees, by department, in those municipalities as compared to Belmar.

In addition, I would recommend a review of the functions of each municipal department with an eye toward operating efficiencies and/or possible consolidation.

Another issue relates to redevelopment plans, especially for our Main Street business district. Redevelopment plans must be well thought-out and responsive to the needs of business owners, residents and taxpayers. One of my first steps would be to call for a review of the borough Master Plan and the Seaport Redevelopment Plan. I would also push for public participation in the formulation and review of redevelopment plans by the borough.

The borough also needs a boroughwide comprehensive traffic and parking study.

WATCH THE CANDIDATES ADDRESS THE ISSUES

IN THIS SPECIAL TAPINTO BELMAR/LAKE COMO SPONSORED EVENT 

Belmar Council Candidates Talk Borough’s Top Issues During Virtual Forum 

 

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