BELMAR, NJ — Three of five candidates vying for two Belmar Council seats shared their views to support the business community during a forum sponsored by the Belmar Business Partnership.
Republican incumbents Thomas Carvelli and James McCracken and independent James Bean addressed the group of business and commercial property owners during the October 17 event, held at Doughboy’s restaurant. Democratic newcomers Cheryl “Cheri” Russo and Maggie McBride declined the BBP’s invitation to participate (READ MORE).
Carvelli, who is currently serving out the one-year unexpired term of Mayor Mark Walsifer, focused his remarks on three areas of interest to the business community: promotional activities, redevelopment and parking.
Under the new GOP-led administration, a multipronged approach to driving consumers to the Belmar district has included hiring a full-time multimedia director “to refine our image, develop our concept and drive our message — primarily through social media content,” he said.
As a result of bringing promotional activities in house, the Belmar Seafood Festival, San Gennaro Festival and Belmar Restaurant Tour were reworked toward creating a more a “family-friendly” environment.
In terms of redevelopment, Carvelli acknowledged the borough’s need to grow and adapt to its evolution from a summer shore town to a full-time home for property owners and a destination for visitors year round.
He specifically addressed payment in lieu of taxes agreements (PILOTs) inked in recent years by the borough with developers, which have come under fire because they are not subject to municipal or school taxation.
“That’s why we are committed to striking tax incentive deals with developers, instead of PILOTS, that preserve current tax revenues and assessments for all parties and phase in the final assessment once construction is completed,” he said.
Carvelli also threw his support behind a seaport development plan in its beginning stages to bring a NewYork City ferry service to Belmar.
As for parking — or the shortage of it in Belmar’s downtown district — Carvelli believes it can be managed through “sensible parking and traffic engineering.” And if a ferry service should come to Belmar, a parking garage with most likely a dedicated parking authority would be needed to handle the new volume of commuter traffic.
Independent candidate James Bean told the group that when he served on the council from 2011 to 2014, he did not support the special assessment placed on businesses and commercial property owners to fund Belmar’s special improvement district, which is managed by the BBP. Rather, “it should be the responsibility of the town, and why you pay taxes to the borough,” he said, adding that his solution was to have the borough directly fund the SID through a subsidy in its budget.
But given the borough’s current financial situation, Bean said he does not foresee that being considered in the near future. If elected, he added, he would need more information from businesses before he could make a decision on whether to support BBP’s annual budget of about $135,000 raised through the special assessment.
As a councilman, Bean said he would concentrate his efforts on keeping the borough safe, growing and affordable in order “give your business the best shot in Belmar.”
“You cannot operate your business with trash in front of your building, windows smashed and people breaking into cars and breaking into buildings,” said Bean, who served on the borough council as a Republican from 2011 to 2014. “It’s not a good business environment.
Belmar’s commercial sector will be able to grow as more buildings go up, offering more retail space — an increased inventory that will trigger a decline in rental prices and bring in a diverse mix of businesses to attract more customers, he said.
Referencing this year’s 21 percent municipal tax hike to make up for budgetary shortfalls left by the previous administration, Bean said, “I will do all I can to make sure the numbers match and we have a growing Belmar — keeping it affordable so we have a higher standard of living for people coming here.”
GOP incumbent James McCracken, who is running for a full term on the council, stressed BBP’s crucial role in promoting the business sector through cooperative advertising, events, façade grants and beautification efforts — in partnership with the borough.
“Small businesses don’t have the resources that a collective partnership has, working with a municipality, to promote those businesses and to promote the downtown to get shoppers here,” he said, highlighting BBP’s mission to foster economic development and revitalization through private and public partnerships.
This year, the borough council made several changes to events to “be sensitive to the local residents, as well as to support the business community,” McCracken said. This included moving the Belmar Seafood Festival to Pyanoe Plaza, reworking the San Gennaro Festival held on Main Street and supporting the Belmar Restaurant Tour.
However, the move of BBP’s popular Cruise Nights to Pyanoe Plaza this summer was not so eagerly embraced. “It is my personal goal that Cruise Nights are back on Main Street in the future,” he said.
McCracken pointed out the importance of working together to have an infrastructure system of parking, roads and sidewalks that supports redevelopment projects, while “ensuring pedestrian safety, motor vehicle safety, bicycle safety and the safety of everyone in our community."
In being among the governing body’s Republican majority for the past year, the councilman said the borough has hired competent individuals to run operations and manage it in a fiscally responsibility manner.
“We are committed to make sure the beach, marina, tourism and BBP coordinate their efforts to work together,” he said. “We are committed to the BBP and to make sure they have the resources and tools to advance their mission."
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