As a sitting volunteer on two Committees of the Town Council for over five years, I pay very close attention to our local government. Recently, there have been mailers and TAPinto articles containing inaccurate information about what was accomplished in past administrations along with inaccurate information about what has been accomplished in the current one. Given my bird’s eye view, I want to set the record straight for the benefit of residents.
Take a look at the facts:
- The current administration is campaigning by making a claim that more roads were paved in 2019 than the previous administration did in 2018. To date, the current administration has paved zero roads and Union County paved Plainfield Avenue. The prior local administration paved 14 roads and Union County paved 2 roads in 2018.
- Berkeley Height pays Union County ~$20million (23.4% of your tax dollars) each year in taxes. For this, we receive services in return (so this is nothing new—despite what the campaign is saying). Here’s what the County always does:
- Pave County roads: In 2018, the County agreed to pave Plainfield Avenue
- Clean out catch basins, trim trees, pick up leaves and plow snow on Union County roads
- Share equipment and other additional services
- Receive County grants every year such as these: Kid’s Recreation Trust, Municipal Aid, Historic Preservation, Greening Union County
And here’s another fact: Every year, we send more tax dollars to Union County then we receive back in services.
- Union County has been sharing our township’s salt dome for >10 years. Union County partially funded the original salt dome construction. The formal agreement to reimburse Berkeley Heights for the County’s share of the “new” salt dome now in place has been in the works since 2017 (before the current administration). See for yourself in the December 2018 Newsletter. This is not NEW revenue to Berkeley Heights. https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2164/Berkeley-Heights-Newsletter-December-2018-PDF?bidId=
- The Shared Service Agreement with Union County to provide Berkeley Heights with a part-time Director of DPW is not saving taxpayers $70,000 a year. In fact, the DPW Director position is still in the 2019 budget. The agreement actually reduces DPW services to residents since the DPW Director hours were cut from 40 hours per week to 8 hours per week. See for yourself in the agreement https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01012019-359
- Communication has improved. Our current town administrator has a strong background in journalism, social media, and digital marketing and she communicates with residents frequently.
Here’s the thing: Having served on these committees for over five years, I have learned that change takes time. We are impacting people’s lives, so you have to be thoughtful on the changes you implement. Mailers and TAPinto letters proclaiming that everything good happening in town was initiated in 2019 is just not true. As someone who has worked very hard to help bring about the positive changes in Berkeley Heights, including improving downtown aesthetics, recreational spaces, safety, and the vibrancy of the business community, I can’t help feeling personally insulted. We need a Mayor and Council that work collectively to serve the best interests of the residents of Berkeley Heights, properly represent the facts, and value the efforts and input of the volunteers that serve on the various committees of the township regardless of political affiliation. (In past administrations, I can attest that this was the case.)
So, what does this mean for voters? To ensure residents receive value from the taxes they pay, it’s important to have qualified people on the Council—people with smart ideas and the ability to question the status quo, as it has in the past. Current Town Council Manny Couto is running for re-election. He has worked tirelessly for the last three years for the benefit of ALL residents in Berkeley Heights – not just Red (Republicans) and Blue (Democrats) but also Independents. He is a realtor and small business owner who has contributed to multiple committees. Town Council candidate Gentiana Brahimaj is a self-made woman whose career spans the legal, administrative and hospitality industries. She ran for the Board of Education in 2018 and has volunteered in town for years.
As someone who has volunteered thousands of hours for our Town, I ask that before you go to the polls on Tuesday, November 5thplease do your homework and get the facts. This is a critical election to Berkeley Heights as it could tip the scales and create an unbalanced council. I am supporting Councilman Manny Couto for re-election and Gentiana Brahimaj because they represent what is best for Berkeley Heights. They will always put Berkeley Heights FIRST! Vote Column B.