BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - There is a contested Primary race for the Republican race for Berkeley Heights Township Council between incumbent Ed Delia and newcomers Peter Bavoso and Manuel Couto. TAP into Berkeley Heights has contacted the candidates and offered the opportunity to be profiled by answering the same six questions. 

Primary Election Day is Tuesday, June 7. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Manuel Couto responds:

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1. What Expertise will you add to the council?

A phrase used lately is, “Manuel Couto, can brings a new skill set, rounding out the council with his training as a Realtor® and business owner.” What that means is that with 30 years of working with people and the business community alike, as past President of the Meadowlands Board of Realtors, and working with NJ Realtors® on various committees, I have learned how to listen to people and create a win-win situation. That place where all parties can agree what is best, for the common goal. In this instance, the common goal controlling our own destiny and what is best for the Township of Berkeley Heights and its residents. TOGETHER, that can only be achieved by listening, disclosing and sharing information, and by staying focused on the goal.

2. As Taxes continue to grow, and the population of the town expands, do you think there will ever be a time that the taxes will become stable or reduced?

The expense of running any town, same as a business, or a family, is constantly stressed by various factors, both internal and external. Efforts to stabilize taxes can only be done when every council person is actively searching for alternative sources of funding. This means we must collaborate with the Board of Education, Union County and State officials to secure maximum grant funding for projects in our town, such as sidewalks, road repair, park and recreational improvements to supplement or replace local tax dollars. It is NOT enough to attend meetings, you must aggressively pursue any stakeholders in both public and private funding that can assist the town with alternative funding. The Safe Routes to Schools grant and NJ Transit and NJ Transportation have several programs, as does Union county. We must research and apply for any and all grants for which we might be eligible. We are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars and our residents deserve all Council members diligently seeking and obtaining these funds. This takes deliberate planning and not re-active action. Taxes affect the affordability of our homes and homes values. We need to seek to keep our town affordable to all residents.

3. Do you have a vision for Berkeley Heights in 5 years and 10 years? How do you see the town? Would you be happy with a tow with half single family and half multi-family homes?

Residents deserve a safe, people friendly downtown. A downtown where people can gather, shop, talk, and relax with green space and with stores that meet their needs. This must be balanced with an infra structure that can best utilize the public transportation hub available and housing that can match tomorrow’s needs. Growth is assumed to always happen, and right now, I think the town is at a nexus of planning that can best increase values to homeowners, while planning to keep the small town feel. NJ monthly once had Berkeley Heights as number 6 Best Small towns to live in… I think we were under-estimated. I think that proper planning today would maximize the benefits to homeowners and residents tomorrow. RESPONSIBLE development that meets our needs and complies with legal mandates and that do NOT waste our tax dollars on litigation or unnecessary expenses. Today’s housing lifestyles are varied and we need to recognize this and plan accordingly with all community stakeholders to ensure our small town feel. We need to improve the place we call home, for new families, as well as our seniors.

4. As a councilman, how will you support the business community?

Communication and collaboration. The volunteer Downtown Beautification Committee is doing a great job in working with the council and local businesses to create a more uniform and attractive downtown. Local input, planning and participation in the committees are always welcomed and needed to make any plan work. It’s not just passing ordinances, but it means getting out there, talking to the Chamber of Commerce, corporations and individual businesses, as well as residents. Collaborating with local business means: voices are heard, acknowledged and then worked into a plan that improves the business community to a place that the entire community is proud of. None of this is just “pretty signs” but an integral part of an overall plan to improve the downtown business district that attracts both shoppers and business alike. I believe that also, by adopting and enforcing ordinances that keep the town on path should be a goal of all Council members, and well as the business community. If we work together in unity, the success is so much sweeter.

5. How will you improve communication with the residents and businesses of Berkeley Heights? How would you handle misconceptions seen on social media sites?

It has been mentioned that the township web site is being updated to better serve the public and create one central point of information where residents can see what is happening in Berkeley Heights. This should create a central point of information that can tie into the media outlets presently used, such as: TAP, GL TV, and the Mayor’s round table. The web page must be consistently updated and maintained so that the most accurate information is available, and there must be a system for the public to contact city officials. The public is always welcomed at the Town Hall meetings and can address their concerns in an open forum with the council, and the Mayor has been consistent in his round table discussion reviewing the meeting and answering questions. It’s also the job of the council members to be visible in the community, listening to residents and possibly conducting an Open House/or Town Hall meeting forum where concerns may be brought up for discussion. With the number of social media sites, both public and private, misconceptions can only be controlled by one focused central point of contact that can then disseminate the correct information. Not everything you read on the internet, is true.

6. Do you believe there are better solutions to infrastructure issues in town?

I believe that there is always room for improvement (except for maybe my linguini with clam sauce), and that takes an active partnership between the public, the private sector, the business community, corporations, State and county officials, and the municipal council. Planning for the expected by utilizing experts, exploring solution based alternatives, and utilizing any potential State, Private or Federal grant dollars are paramount to improving our quality of life, now and in the future. This can only be done if we work TOGETHER to go FORWARD. Pointing fingers and saying no without a sound fiscally conservative rational solution does not work. Only by listening, sharing idea, and working TOGETHER can the town successfully go FORWARD.