BRIDGEWATER, NJ - As Bridgewater Township reorganized for the new year Wednesday, the focus was on it being a momentous day as the township welcomed in a new administration.
“This is the second time in 36 years that Bridgewater has a new mayor and two new council members at the same time,” said newly sworn in councilman Timothy Ring.
Ring and newly elected councilman Michael Kirsh were sworn in during the annual reorganization meeting, as was new mayor Matthew Moench, who emphasized that the township became such a great place to live through hard work and the residents’ desires to serve.
Moench spoke to the gathered public and dignitaries during his first State of the Township address, and reiterated that Bridgewater is the best place to live, and they have to work hard over the next four years to keep it that way.
“This job as mayor, and as council members, it is public service, and it is an honor,” he said. “It’s an honor to serve as mayor of the place I grew up.”
“Every day, I will remember the trust and responsibility I have been granted to serve our residents, to do what is best for the town we love,” he added.
Moench said the most important thing the new administration will need to focus on is service to the residents, and being transparent about that service. He said the administration will be investing in constituent relations, communications and transparency through the creation of a constituent services department, led by new deputy township administrator Wells Winegar.
This team, Moench said, will be the first line of defense when calling the township, and they will serve as case workers to resolve residents’ issues.
“We can’t always guarantee a ‘yes,’ but we can ensure that your calls, your emails or concerns do not go unanswered, and that we help residents navigate the oftentimes difficult world of government bureaucracies and administrative red tape,” he said.
Moench said they will be focusing on an updated website to ensure better transparency with residents, as well as working in other mediums to communicate with everyone in town, such as a possible paper newsletter for those who might be less technologically savvy.
In addition, Moench said, he wants his administration to be fearless in the coming years.
“We will be unafraid to fight for our residents,” he said. “We got elected to make change, and if we make a mistake we will admit to it. Everyone will have the mindset that we will work to make things better.”
“It will mean not keeping things the same just because that is easier or we are afraid of change,” he added. “We will be fearless in our fight to protect our quality of life and improve our township.”
That starts, Moench said, with managing the township budget.
“We will work quickly and collaboratively with our CFO and our council budget subcommittee to prepare a budget that will protect the affordability of our township and be fiscally responsible,” he said.
“We will be fighting against tax increases to make sure people can afford to live here,” he added.
Moench said he wants to explore public and private partnerships, as well as shared services, particularly with the board of education.
Next, Moench said, they will be implementing an asset management plan for roads and infrastructure. He said they will be retaining a consultant who will inspect all the roads and grade them based on a specific criteria to prioritize the needs of the township in a 10-year plan.
That plan, Moench said, will be published for residents to read so they can see the criteria used, and what roads are being done in what order.
“We will begin that process immediately, and look toward presenting a capital plan later this year,” he said.
Moench said his administration will also put a focus on public safety.
“If you are not safe in your home, nothing else matters, and we will make sure that our police officers have the resources they need to provide us the protection we all deserve,” he said.
Moench said the police department will immediately be implementing a schedule change for officers that will allow them to put more people on the roads in a fiscally responsible way.
“Under Acting Chief Paul Payne’s fearless leadership, we will make the changes that should have been made years ago,” he said.
In addition, Moench said, they will work to increase community policing opportunities and improve anti-drug and alcohol programs in the township.
The administration will also work to improve communications with first responders, EMTs and firefighters.
Lastly, Moench said, his administration will put a focus on addressing overdevelopment in town, and look to reform the planning board, begin the master plan review process and look to tighten land use ordinances.
“We will continue our fight against the current Center of Excellence proposal,” he said to applause from the audience. “The planning board’s rush to get that application approved before today will not stop our efforts in protecting our residents from the negative impacts of that application.”
Kirsh echoed Moench’s speech regarding improving transparency and fighting overdevelopment in town through the new administration. He thanked everyone who supported him up to this point of his swearing in, and noted that he will be the liaison to the board of education, which is a good move for the former member of the zoning board because most land use applications affect the schools.
He encouraged kindness among residents in the coming years.
“We must remain vigilant and encourage greater tolerance across our community and our country,” he said.
Ring also said he is looking forward to what the next four years will bring, and is honored and humbled to be chosen to serve on council.
“I am confident this council will work together to deliver great results,” he said. “I promise to be open minded, and look at all sides of the issues.”
Also at the reorganization meeting, councilman Howard Norgalis was chosen to serve as president, and councilman Filipe Pedroso was chosen for the position of vice president.
“This is a new year, a new decade and a new administration,” Norgalis said. “It is a momentous time for Bridgewater.”
Norgalis reiterated the importance of listening to the residents and being transparent. He said he opened email@example.com when he was council president in 2011, and he still maintains that address and uses it to this day.
“I read every email that comes in,” he said. “I want you to feel you have a conduit to the council and mayor.”
Moench said that all the work planned through the administration will require teamwork to get it done, and he acknowledged the two new council members, as well as long time members Allen Kurdyla, Norgalis and Pedroso for their long-time commitment to the township. He also recognized the township staff and new administrative team, including new township administrator Michael Pappas, who was sworn in at the reorganization meeting.
“It is going to be a great year, and a great four years,” he said.