As we approach election day on Tuesday November 6th, I would like to talk about my team and our record, and you the voter can be the judge. We have been working very hard these past few years to transform our town’s business and residential community while simultaneously and successfully managing our legal commitments to provide affordable housing. And with the help of our tireless volunteers we have great achievements. Here is a partial list of the many great things that have been happening in Berkeley Heights:
- Began construction on the new Municipal Complex to deliver a state-of-the-art police department, administrative offices, recreation space, senior center and a library. As part of our inclusive process, we held over 19 public meetings over 4 years and made design changes to respond to resident inputs;
- Completed the Hamilton Avenue land transaction between the Township and the Church of the Little Flower for $2.85 million, then sold the property to a developer for $10.5 million. The $7.65 million gain will be used to offset borrowings to fund the new Municipal Complex;
- Successfully negotiated Berkeley Heights’ affordable housing requirement down from an original 860 new units to 210 actual units including obtaining legal protection from over-development for the next 10 years;
- Successfully negotiated with the various companies developing projects at the former King’s, former movie theater, 100 Locust Ave and Hamilton Avenue sites for higher-end residential housing that better fits our Town’s design standards and density limits while still meeting our affordable housing requirements;
- Successfully negotiated infrastructure enhancements from the same developers such as sidewalks, decorative street lights and sitting areas along Springfield and Sherman Avenues;
- Averted the potential closing of the Community Pool and loss of the YMCA by partnering with Y management to lease them land to build a state-of-the-art facility and town pool;
- Created a 15-year capital plan for investing in our roads and sidewalks to “smooth” related expenses while optimizing State and County aid;
- Enhanced our parks and athletic fields with new playground equipment, new dugouts, picnic areas, fencing and the introduction of a turf management company. In addition, we created and a new playground at Memorial Park, refurbished Veteran’s Memorial and added a beautiful town clock at the corner of Peppertown Park;
- Improved community engagement and enjoyment by creating Restaurant Week, Art in the Park and Beauty and Wellness Weeks. We also collaborated with local businesses to initiate the Winter Walk and the Annual Street Fair;
- Launched the “BE HEARD” program, including a community survey, that enhances communications with residents;
- Improved the downtown appearance through town signs, banners, trash receptacles and floral baskets—the bulk of which was funded through grants and donations;
- Aggressively applied for government grants relating to roads, recycling, sidewalks & paths, parks & sports fields, senior center program and transportation. Recently we were awarded a $300,000 Federal grant to enhance town/school safety and security;
- Provided Township departments with tools and equipment to perform their jobs more efficiently, such as a new wide-cut field mower that reduces the cutting time by over 50% and a new, 22-passenger bus for our seniors.
There is so much more to share but not enough space! However, the Municipal Complex does warrant a few special words.
There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding the cost of the project increasing from the original estimate of $28 million about two years ago to the current price tag of $32 million. Here are the facts: about 75% of that increase is due to the cost of materials and labor going up due to a hot economy and steel tariffs; the remainder is due to our decision to accelerate technology investments that we would have incurred a year or two later. Why? It just didn't make sense to move old technology into a brand-new facility. It is also important to note that the $7.65 million gain from the Hamilton Avenue property above will be used to offset the borrowing for this project. In addition, we have been working aggressively with our representatives in Trenton to ensure that our town will qualify to receive NJ Library Bond Act dollars which we hope will be significant. We have been laser focused on managing all of the moving parts associated with this important project. My bottom line here is this: let’s move forward together and get this project done!
Leaders are elected to lead and make informed, balanced decisions – and my team and I have done this. Our process for making decisions has always included listening to the ideas and concerns of our residents, regardless of political party. As I have often said, “We are the change!” We have the skill set and relevant experience to continue Berkeley Heights moving in the right direction.
I am very proud of all that we have accomplished and look forward to continuing this great work. This election is an important one for the future of Berkeley Heights – please vote for Woodruff, D’Aquila & Greco - Column B on Tuesday! The polls are open from 6am to 8pm.