From 2015-2017 it was my privilege to serve on the Berkeley Heights Township Council, the last year as Council President. I know firsthand the required time commitment to effectively perform the job. Kudos to all of the candidates for volunteering for what is essentially an unpaid position (there is a stipend that equates to roughly $5/hr. when considering all of the meetings, preparation, and other time commitments), and exposing yourself to those on social media that will try to bring you down.
I didn’t really know Jeanne Kingsley prior to serving as her running mate in 2014. She had recently met my wife and asked her first if I would consider running—The rest is history. Benjamin Franklin once said that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” Jeanne is one of those people—Her commitment and energy in support of our Town is endless. She is a CPA and Finance Professional, a skill set that is sorely needed on our Council. The Mayor and Council cannot simply rely upon consultants and municipal employees to make decisions. All members of the Governing Body need to evaluate the risks and rewards of every business decision and transaction, and then chart a strategy for execution. There is simply no one in this race that is as well-equipped and steeped in the workings/issues facing BH than Jeanne to perform this job function.
Just a few of the accomplishments under her watch follow below:
- With the assistance of volunteers (both Ds and Rs), Jeanne was the driving force behind securing our $410,000 Safe Streets to Transit grant for improvements along Plainfield Ave—This is the largest non-roads grant in BH history.
- She worked with the Recreation Commission and BOE to recover over $110,000 in unused grant money without requiring new Township funds.
- Jeanne helped keep the YMCA in Town and the Community Pool Open with the Y picking up the tab for the construction and maintenance of a new facility and pool, all while shielding the property from being included in our affordable housing vacant land inventory. That new facility is now open and is a tremendous resource for our residents.
- Locust Ave. Project – A 55 and older community development providing a new housing alternative for our senior population with ZERO impact on our school system. The project is located on an abandoned commercial property that sat empty for 10+ years. Jeanne helped negotiate a traffic light at Snyder and Hamilton avenues and sidewalk/streetscape enhancements along Hamilton paid for by the developer.
- Jeanne pushed for the Kings and Movie theatre projects to include infrastructure enhancements along Springfield and Sherman Ave., including improved pedestrian walkways and sitting areas. These project betterments will improve the overall beauty of our central downtown.
- Embassy Suites Hotel – The room tax creates a new positive revenue stream for the town. In addition, the new expanded liquor license will generate an additional $450,000 in revenue.
- Implemented “zero based budgeting” (e.g., starting from scratch each year instead of simply increasing budgeted amounts from the prior year).
- Led the effort to present the 2020 budget with zero budget increase – despite reduced Township revenues due to the pandemic.
- Implemented a six-year rolling capital plan to better manage capital needs and the overall debt structure of the Township.
- Developed a funding plan for the ongoing road repair program.
- Strengthened the partnership with the BOE to conserve costs and stretch our tax dollars.
- Partnered with the Office of Emergency Management to sponsor a carbon monoxide and fire alarm inspection program.
- Worked to secure funding for a new Senior bus.
- Worked with Seniors to make sure that their specific needs would be adequately addressed in the new municipal complex.
- Founded the volunteer Downtown Beautification Committee.
- Created Downtown Design standards with the update of Article 19 of the Township’s building ordinance to ensure consistency in future development projects.
- Implemented live-streaming for Council meetings in 2016 and those Planning Board meetings that address major projects beginning in 2018.
- Helped institute electronic alerts to provide regular updates to residents.
- Established Swift 911 emergency communication portal; created a monthly Mayor’s roundtable.
Our Town, was, is, and has the potential to remain great. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise—We can’t let the vitriol being spewed nationally permeate into our local elections. Serving on the Council requires working effectively with the community, to take action, and bring about positive results. It requires relevant and applicable life/business experience, the ability to solve difficult problems, and strategic decision-making for the benefit of all residents of Berkeley Heights—Not just the “Ds or the Rs”.
Join me in thanking Jeanne for her unwavering commitment to Berkeley Heights and her desire to serve another term for ALL of us by casting your vote for her and her excellent running mate, Jeff Varnerin, in this election.
Stay safe and be well.