RARITAN, NJ - An almost lifelong resident of Raritan, Republican incumbent, and current council president, Don Tozzi said he is proud to be from Raritan, a town that was named to the NJ Magazine’s list of top 100 towns last year, something that had never happened before.
“I believe that it can and will prosper and grow to meet the needs of our changing demographics,” Tozzi, who is running for his second term on council, said. “Like generations before us, we must do what is right for our businesses, homeowners and community as a whole.”
“We cannot afford to stop progress, but we can afford to guide it in ways that are beneficial and thoughtful,” he added. “We need to provide more services to our seniors. Our enhanced police coverage has provided a better quality of living.”
A graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School West, Tozzi said he was raised in a family of entrepreneurs, and worked to become a successful businessman after high school.
After graduating, Tozzi worked as a car salesman and became the youngest sales manager in the dealership’s history. Three years later, after suffering severe head trauma in a near fatal car accident, Tozzi began his own automotive detailing business and landed many high profile clients.
“That was 28 years ago, and my business is still operating in the Bridgewater area with a work crew to service my customers,” he said. “This allows me to meet the demands of public office and manage annual events, like the Riverfest and Raritan Rubber Duck Race, and the return of the Raritan Bicycle Race, attractions all intended to raise awareness.”
“I am also co-chairman of the Basilone Group, a non-profit company with the mission to keep the John Basilone spirit alive,” he added.
With the exception of a few years in Flemington after he was first married, Tozzi has been living in Raritan his whole life.
“This is the town where my family resides and where my roots run deep for three generations,” he said. “In Raritan, like in the old TV sitcom, ‘Cheers,’ everyone knows your name.”
“During our recovery from Hurricane Sandy, my wife and I walked the downtown area several times to assess how business owners were impacted and keep them informed on the progress of the power companies and getting them help if they needed it,” he added.
And Tozzi said he is proud to live in the town with his wife.
“I am happily married to the same person for over 21 years,” he said. “I am proud of my wife and cannot thank her enough for her support, she is truly my partner.”
Tozzi said he is now completing his first term on council, which he ran for three years ago to allow him to give back to the town by being part of local government.
Before serving on the council, and as council president for the last two years, Tozzi said he proposed the formation of the Raritan Dog Park, and was instrumental in setting it up.
“Before that, I also got involved in raising funds for the benches at the Maggie Grasso Memorial Garden at the Raritan Public Library,” he said. “As councilman, I was a driving force for reintroducing the town calendar during my first two years in office.”
Tozzi also introduced the annual Raritan Riverfest and Rubber Duck Race.
For Tozzi, two of his goals for the future, if re-elected, are enhancing the Riverfront and making improvements to Somerset Street.
“Improving one without the other would be fruitless,” he said. “Proponents of only the Riverfront forget that once you build the attraction, people need places to eat, to shop, to visit.”
The Riverfront area, Tozzi said, is a designated flood plain, so improvements have to be well-planned. And the area along Somerset Street, he said, needs attention, as well as more parking areas for shoppers, diners and store employees.
“Attracting the right investors is one of my key goals so that in working with them we can develop a commercial district that encourages people to stop and spend time and money in the downtown, rather than using Raritan Borough as a bypass to other destinations,” he said.
At this point, with the Riverfront, the Orlando Drive project is in its final phase, Tozzi said, and the mall area has available real estate with a property owner who is less compelled to get the spaces rented.
“It took almost a full year to complete the lease on the driving range,” he said. “Property usage there is the least of my concerns with guaranteed revenue that contribute to the tax base. I would like to see the open field utilized more fully to garner additional revenue for the borough.”
Tozzi said he introduced a concept to the council to turn the area into a Farmer’s Market.
And the main street business area, Tozzi said, is the backbone of the town. The storefronts need attention, he said, and business owners need to be held responsible for keeping their storefronts maintained.
“There are many shining examples where pride in their respective businesses reflects in their storefronts,” he said. “We introduced through Public Works with Sheriff Frank Provenzano a program using Somerset County Jail inmates to clean and paint every lamp post on Somerset Street at no extra taxpayer expense.”
“It is time for our borough building codes to be reinforced and to help our business owners achieve meeting those regulations,” he added.
Taxes, Tozzi said, are always a prime concern, and he said he is a strong proponent of maintaining stable taxes by carefully managing the three primary drivers – supporting an independent police force, continuing garbage and bulk pick-up and providing for education. He said that Raritan is one of the few remaining towns to maintain garbage and bulk pick-up without additional costs to the taxpayer.
“As a property owner and taxpayer myself, I fully understand the burden of our tax increases typically are driven by the rising costs of education,” he said. “Many Raritan children attend the Bridgewater-Raritan schools, which control a fair amount of our taxes. The council has been very focused on minimizing tax increases during the last three years I have served.”
Tozzi said the borough has lost some revenue streams lately, and he would like to revisit using the borough hall for civil court or leasing out open space property on Orlando Drive.
“There are other small towns in the state that have managed a renaissance, and Raritan is prime for doing the same,” he said.