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 Democratic Township Council Candidate Julie Figlar 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.

For Rina and me, fiscal responsibility isn’t just a talking point; it’s a way of life. Similarly, local government has to be very responsible with how we spend our tax dollars – yours and mine – and rely on smart, long-term planning to keep down the rate of tax increases every year. That’s why we support the plans for long-term economic growth and responsible planning that Mayor Angie Devanney and “Team Purple” brought to the table when they took office in 2019. 

For example, instead of only paying off the interest on the township’s debt year after year, Mayor Devanney hired a financial advisor who worked with her administration and Council to put in place an 18-year-plan to pay off our debt.  We not only refinanced our existing debt and saved $1.3 million just by locking in a long-term loan, instead of renewing the loan every year, but we created a strategy that allows for future capital projects - such as road paving and infrastructure repair - to fit into our annual debt plan, without any large spikes in debt service from year to year. This move resulted in a total of about $3.8 million in savings.

This administration has spent months with our auditor, poring over financial records and properly accounting for grants and other monies coming in and out of the township’s bank accounts. They have set up better tracking of township expenses, resident tax payments and are ensuring that all of our financial activity abides by best municipal finance practices. 

Shared services are also saving taxpayer money while offering residents more services. The salt dome shared service agreement with Union County will generate $1 million in revenue over the next 20 years, while sharing the same Department of Public Works (DPW) director means we saved taxpayers $70,000 in 2019 alone while getting more roads, catch basins and other critical infrastructure fixed.

Looking ahead, Rina and I support the Economic Development Committee that was recently established. As a small business owner with my husband, Jason, I’m proud to support plans that will help small businesses grow and thrive in our downtown. One example is a “Shop BH” program – a tax rewards program for customers who shop locally. Madison has done this successfully for many years; we could set up the same program here. Rina and I also will fight to include penalty clauses in any future agreements for redevelopment projects, making developers pay hefty fines if they don’t follow through on their side of the contracts in a timely fashion.

As for improving our sports fields and recreation programs, we should seek out each and every opportunity to work with Union County to preserve active and passive open space, and to improve the condition of our fields. So much of our tax revenue goes to the County year after year, it’s time we got more in return!

My goal is to keep annual tax increases down while improving in all of these areas. This can be done if we act responsibly and put politics aside to get things done.  It’s one of the reasons why Rina and I want to be elected to the Berkeley Heights Township Council. Please vote for us on November 5th, Column A so that these great ideas and more can be become a reality.