BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 5 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 Republican Township Council Candidate Gentiana Brahimaj for Week 2.

Week 2 Question:

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Residents are concerned about rising taxes in Berkeley Heights. The tax bill is made up of numbers from the County, School and Township. The Township's portion of the tax bill is the smallest. Many costs are out of the Council's control with the rising cost of services and employee benefits. However, tax payers want to know how you will control the budget while maintaining and improving infrastructure issues and services and preparing for the future. Please explain your plan.

The primary reason I am running for Town Council is to bring strict oversight to our budget.  New Jersey residents are burdened with some of the highest taxes in the country.  Union County is the 5th most expensive county in the state.  My approach centers around keeping dollars out of county and state control and keeping the decision making at the local level.  That is Berkeley Heights First!

We pay Union County 20 million dollars each year.  That money is used to maintain and improve County owned roads and infrastructure (e.g Plainfield Ave, Mountain Ave, Springfield Ave, Horseshoe Rd).  Union County is accountable to Berkeley Heights to ensure these assets are well maintained regardless of the political party of those on the Town Council. These services include tree trimming, grass cutting, catch basin repair, and trash pick-up (to name a few).  While I’m thankful that the county lived up to its 2010 agreement to replace the turf at Snyder Park, other issues regarding the county parks should have been addressed first, instead of fast-tracking improvements on the best field in Berkeley Heights.  I support a full analysis of all sports programs and field space needs, as an important input to the County strategy to invest in Berkeley Heights.  That is Berkeley Heights First!

The state imposes many requirements that impact our local tax base.  Recently, Governor Phil Murphy has invested millions of dollars focused on consolidating school districts.  As a 2018 Board of Education candidate, I gained deep insights into our Board of Education budget and expenses.  Berkeley Heights residents give the Board of Education ~$56 million dollars a year.  Every tax payer in Berkeley Heights has a vested interest in the quality of our schools in relation to the sustainability of their home values. As a parent I have a vested interest in the quality of our education,  but as an elected official with no employment connected to our public schools,  I have no conflict of interest and I will serve as an independent voice to make sure they are fiscally responsible with our tax dollars. We need to take a holistic view to understand what implications state mandated school consolidation would have on our community (schools, traffic, etc) and taxes.  Mountainside and Garwood are the first towns to participate in the consolidation.  If elected, I will work tirelessly to have a question added to the 2020 election ballot to determine if Berkeley Heights residents want to give control of our schools to the County and/or State.  With the resident’s  support, I will put forth a non-binding resolution that vows to keep local control of schools.

This is  Berkeley Heights First!

We can better manage things at the local level  because we are closer to our residents and our issues. Prior township officials addressed our largest infrastructure project, the new municipal complex while also addressing the impact of state mandated affordable housing (we are protected for 10 years).  Now, it is time to focus on driving efficiency into township business and maximizing revenues.  We must ensure employees are cross-trained in their duties to provide more efficient services. Once we drive efficiency to internal processes, we will free up resources with the goal to deliver the greatest customer experience to our residents.  Another example of improving process would be the process of filing for a permit.  Is it necessary for someone who wants to put a shed on their property to go in front of the planning board for approval?  I am confident the paperwork involved for the small home projects can be reduced if we eliminate the need to present to the planning  board.  This is what I mean when I say, Berkeley Heights First!

Another mechanism to address costs, while maintaining services, is to look at shared services.  My focus will be on our community.  My ability to discuss, negotiate, and recommend solutions and improvements is unlimited.  I will work with Union County, the Board of Education, and neighboring municipalities to reduce costs of redundant functions and review all contractual agreements to determine their cost efficiency and without there being a conflict of interest or impression of favoritism.  My main focus will always be Berkeley Heights and it’s residents.