BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 8 election, the candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAP into Berkeley Heights.

The following answers are from Republican candidate Manuel Couto for Week 2.

What do you feel are the major problems with the roads in town -- i.e. potholes, marked and lit cross walks, general paving, storm drains, etc? What do you feel should be priorities for the DPW?

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Every day we read the news, and when it comes to roads, we realize that the entire state of NJ faces the same issues we face, on a larger scale. Their remedy appears to be to raise a tax or taxes. None of us in Berkeley Heights wants to pay more in taxes. What we do want are safe roads to drive on, and safe sidewalks for the kids and adults to walk along; roads without collapsing catch basins (FYI, best remedy is to take a picture and send it with the location to the DPW (either, or, catch basins that are open and allowed to drain away from our homes and keep our streets from flooding or collapsing further. Roads that don’t make the car rattle as you drive down the street… and I believe it is possible. By researching, aggressively and consistently pursuing additional grant dollars from Union county (19.4 miles of county roads were scheduled for repaving in Union county in 2016), Federal, NJDOT and NJ Transit, I think that we may be able to accelerate the 15 year plan that is in place to repair and surface the roads, without raising taxes. Unluckily, this cannot be accomplished overnight, nor can it be done in a matter of months. It takes money and is something that takes research and planning, collaborative effort and timing of grant fund availability, while at the same time continuing the prudent and cost effective system of road repairs that started a few years ago when the council took action.

We all want better roads without a tax increase, and offering to repair all the roads at once, I feel is akin to making a promise that cannot be kept. If we hired more staff, either on contract basis or on a more permanent basis your tax dollars still come into play. Oh, not just your tax dollars but as a tax paying citizen of this town, my tax dollars. The current system offers the municipalities to request and take advantage of whatever grants that may be available. The town has a priority of streets and a schedule on their repair dates, always subject to change. We need to include seeking alternative funding as a priority in our road repair plan. This will not all be as quick as we would like and can be expensive if not prudently managed. My job would be as a steward of OUR tax dollars, keeping costs low, looking for new ways to fund projects and improve our roads and quality of life in Berkeley Heights.

What do you feel should be priorities for the DPW? This sounds like a question for an armchair quarterback, but safety is and must always be the number one priority.

I talked to some of the workers at the DPW, and they are working their best to do what needs to be done in the town. ( I see them tirelessly mowing the lawns, repairing curbs and catch basins, cleaning and chipping the leaves to keep the curbs and gutters clean, and the walkways throughout town passable. (Did you know that most streets in town are limited access streets with private walk ways to the next street through woods and behind some homes? The DPW was cleaning those walkways, before the school year, so kids can walk or ride their bikes to school, as well as painting the curbs and walk ways). On the town website they have an approximate schedule of what they have to do, and when they arrive at the office, there is always a new list with an emergency to attend to. I think they do an awesome job, and when I see them in uniform, it’s always working around town). Their work is full time and seasonal, and includes mowing, leaf removal and snow removal to tree trimming and emergency details during storms. Catch basin repairs are full time and streets are mostly limited to the warm weather due to asphalt supplies. The director has to maintain control effectively and report to the town council his equipment and man power needs, and the council must balance his needs with town department needs and determine a town budget that manages both. But safety and security must always come first.

A town is a business with OUR tax dollars funding services. If you have a fixed amount of income, then by raising one expense, you must either, cut another one or find additional funding to balance the budget. Peter Bavoso and I are determined to try to find those new dollars. It is also a balancing job between funding sources and outlay of dollars, and trusting the best people to do their job, and managing our fiscal and human resources effectively so that our town and its employees can live up to their potential.