BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — The Township came a step closer to creating a Seniors Affairs Committee after the council voted to introduce an ordinance that would establish the permanent committee. 

According to the language of the ordinance, the new committee is designed to “provide information to the public on various aspects of aging, as well as to identify the needs of, increase communications to, develop and coordinate resources for, and explore appropriate solutions to issues affecting the Township’s senior citizen.”

A public hearing and vote for final adoption are scheduled for the March 2. The new Seniors Affairs Committee, if voted into existence, would replace the Senior Advisory Board as the standing committee serving the aging population in Berkeley Heights.

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Speaking after Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Angie Devanney expressed eager anticipation for a Senior Affairs Committee in supporting and better understanding the diverse range of needs and desires of Berkeley Height's senior residents. 

“We realized we wanted to create a permanent standing committee,” said Devanney. “There are different groups of seniors that we have to listen to.”

The mayor traced the origins of the committee back to 2019, during the beginning of her administration. Senior residents and stakeholders in Berkeley Heights came to her raising concerns over issues such as staying in town after retirement and the general care of seniors.

“Seniors want to age in place, they want various types of recreation whether it’s active or passive,” noted Devanney. “What we need to do as a township is to do a survey to get a handle on the needs and wants of our seniors.”

During a conference session held during Tuesday’s meeting, the council and attending public heard a presentation by Patricia Jacobs, a founding member of the organization New Providence Our Community for All.

Jacobs lent her expertise on aging at home and her experience working in New Providence. Her commentary focused on how a community can promote the well-being of seniors in town through data-driven surveys that best captures the needs and desires of its seniors. 

Part of her organization’s project is to provide such information. In October 2020, a survey was conducted in New Providence which led to Our Community For All to publish its results. Over 800 New Providence residents participated in the survey. 

Jacob’s comments on Tuesday highlighted the fact that the majority of seniors today want to continue living in the communities they've called home for the majority of their lives. Moreover, these aging residents want to continue being participating members in their native municipalities. 

With retirement, however, comes the inevitability and practical necessity of downsizing one's life.

Addressing the question of why seniors are leaving towns like New Providence, Jacobs pointed to the cost of living.

Aging adults look for smaller dwellings with less taxes and upkeep as they enter their retirement years. Given the lack of single level, smaller houses, it’s hard for the town’s aging population to stick around town's like New Providence or even Berkeley Heights. 

Larger homes mean greater property taxes, an economic challenge for those entering their retirement years. 

Aside from the housing issue, Jacobs urged the Berkeley Height's audience to consider existing assets in town. She emphasized her organization's approach doesn't focus on asking for more programming funding, but seeks to analyze the existing assets in town — like recreational resources — and better fashion what the town has at its disposal.

“We may not be able to easily fix property tax and income tax, but we can address recreation and walkability; and we can explore working on housing as a community,” said Jacobs.