BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The township is sound and the future is bright, Bridgewater Township Mayor Dan Hayes said in his state of the township address during Thursday’s annual reorganization meeting.
“Together, we maintain the vision we set at the start of my administration, achieving a quality of life in Bridgewater that is the exemplar of other communities,” he said. “As I speak with residents throughout the township I continue to be impressed with the level of knowledge, commitment and passion they display in their efforts to better our community.”
Hayes outlined the accomplishments of the township in 2016, particularly its economic growth.
“The township economy remains vibrant as both the commercial and residential sectors have exhibited growth in value,” he said.
Hayes said the township has remained a leader in the life sciences industry, with companies in that industry occupying millions of square feet of office and research space in town.
In addition, Hayes said, Bridgewater continues to attract businesses, including Linde Americas, one of the world’s largest gases and engineering companies, that recently moved its North and South American headquarters from New Providence to the Somerset Corporate Center in Bridgewater.
“From speaking with industry leaders throughout the year, we know these businesses are choosing Bridgewater because of our location, highly educated populace and the ability to be near both competitors and customers alike,” he said.
Hayes said the Center of Excellence made strides in 2016, with the council designating the front 66 acres as an area in need of redevelopment, in order to attract new companies valuing co-location with a mix of residential, office, hotel and retail uses.
“Once completed, the site promises to become the model for redeveloping aging corporate campuses to meet the more sophisticated and technologically advanced needs of today’s commercial enterprises and their employees,” he said.
In addition to company uses, Bridgewater is poised to see the beginning of construction on the Chimney Rock retail development, with retail space that will include Whole Foods, Nordstrom Rack, Sacks Off 5th and more. Hayes said they are also looking toward the opening of Hampton Inn on Route 22.
As for already opened businesses, Hayes said 2016 saw the opening of a number of doctor’s practices since the merger of Somerset Medical Center and Robert Wood Johnson Medical Unit, as well as Hunterdon Healthcare renovating space in the former Bank of America on Route 22.
At the Bridgewater Commons Mall, Hayes said, the American Redstone Grill became the third stand-alone restaurant there.
Aside from business, Hayes said they have continued to be vigilant when it comes to land use, including with preserving open space and providing for active and passive preservation of parks.
“In 2016, the township preserved 10 acres off North Bridge Street that abuts an existing 10-acre open space parcel which may be used in the future for active or passive recreation,” he said.
In addition, Hayes said, the township continues to partner with the county to preserve land, and the park advisory board is continuing to tour existing parks and make recommendations about new equipment.
“In 2016, they worked with Ingredion, a leading global ingredients solutions company with research and development operations in Bridgewater on a unique opportunity,” he said. “Ingredion purchased and then donated $25,000 worth of playground equipment. Working with the township park staff, their employees volunteered for an entire day installing the equipment at Harry Ally Park.”
Fiscally, Hayes said, the township is continuing to maintain a low municipal tax rate, with a management of the budget to make sure funds are directed where they are most needed.
“By maintaining a low municipal tax, we increase our competitive advantage in trying to attract new residents and reduce the property tax burden borne by us all, especially seniors and others on a fixed income,” he said.
Hayes said the township has implemented the Shop Bridgewater program to offer discounted goods and services while supporting local businesses, and has improved the process for collecting taxes.
As for the infrastructure in the town, Hayes said, the maintenance of roads, storm sewers, sanitary sewer lines and facilities is a major municipal responsibility. He said an ad hoc committee was formed to review and rank roads in the township and provide suggestions for areas of increased investment.
Hayes said they will be using those recommendations to create a plan for the next five years.
“For each of the last five years, we have increased the amount of funding in the capital budget that has been allocated for the repair of these critical assets,” he said. “While we have been able to repair, resurface and maintain a significant number of roads during this time, the number of roads that are in need of resurfacing continues to grow and we have reached the point where annual maintenance is not keeping up.”
In addition, Hayes said, they have developed a new philosophy where whenever they repair sewer lines, they will look to simultaneously repair roads and storm drainage.
The fourth goal of the administration, Hayes said, is to continue providing essential services to residents as they are needed, including police protection, roadway maintenance, building inspections and more.
“We continually strive to provide our residents with valued, innovative and interesting programs that foster inclusion and invite participation by all,” he said, adding that they have established a Facebook page and Twitter handle to make information more readily available.
Looking ahead to 2017, Hayes said, they will continue the work started in 2016, continuing to focus on transparency, inclusiveness, forward thinking, accessibility and resourcefulness.
“We will work to continue to maintain our competitive edge in attracting new and diverse businesses to the township,” he said. “We will look for new and innovative ways to provide government services to our residents in a format that is easy to use and quick to achieve the results they expect.”
Also at the meeting, outgoing council president Filipe Pedroso thanked the council and administration for the work they have done over the past year.
“I want to thank each and every one of you for placing the trust in me to lead you throughout the year, and I hope that I served you well and proudly,” he said. “In return, I can say that I have gotten to gain a deeper appreciation for each of you, and I can confidently say that the residents of Bridgewater Township are lucky to have you represent them.”
Pedroso thanked residents, administration and others for their service to the township. As a resident of the township since 1978, he said he has grown up in town and is watching his children grow up there too.
“I know that Bridgewater is one of the greatest places to live,” he said. “I, along with my governing body, work hard to pass on to the next generation all that is great about Bridgewater.”
“I am truly humbled and honored to serve all Bridgewater residents,” he added. “Every time I come and sit in these seats, I think about what a great privilege it is to be here.”
At the meeting, councilman Allen Kurdyla was elected council president and councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose was elected vice president for 2017.
“This governing body will work with Mayor Hayes to properly challenge and review all proposals to ensure that whatever proposals come up, they will help all Bridgewater residents,” Kurdyla said.