WEST ORANGE, NJ — Meet West Orange Township Council candidate Michelle Casalino:
Michelle Lemma Casalino is a lifelong resident and long-time community advocate. Michelle met her husband Anthony at West Orange Mountain High School in 1980. They decided to settle in their hometown to raise their three children who all attended West Orange schools. Her daughter Dana (WOHS 2008; University of Massachusetts/Amherst 2012) is a Public Relations Manager, her son Anthony (WOHS 2009; Muhlenberg College 2013) is a Financial Analyst and her youngest son Joseph (WOHS 2015) is an Accounting/Finance major at the University of Delaware.
After attending Montclair State University, Casalino began work at Federal Leasing Corp. a division of New Jersey Mortgage and Investment Corp. Her finance and marketing skills developed as she quickly progressed through the company. She was also employed at New Jersey Mortgage and Investment Corporation, where she developed her knowledge of residential and commercial mortgages.
For the past 15 years Casalino has worked as a Regional Business Director for Madison Commercial Real Estate Services located in Lakewood, New Jersey. She holds an Individual Producer License with the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance and is a certified licensed Title Insurance Officer.
Q. Why are you running for Township Council?
A: In September, 2015 I was honored to be chosen from a pool of applicants to fill a vacant seat on the West Orange Township council. After serving for nearly ten years as an elected official for the West Orange Board of Education, I was excited and humbled to be given an opportunity to serve our great community in a new capacity. I felt that that the timing of my third term ending and my youngest son graduating from the school district the year before was right. My business experience in marketing and real estate, coupled with my ten year experience as an elected official who had to balance the needs of its residents while lessening the burden on the taxpayers would be beneficial to our Township Council and community.
Q. What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: I feel that balancing taxes while continuing to provide quality services is our most important issue this election. Nationwide health insurance cost are increasing rapidly, and providing health benefits for our municipal employees represents 1/6 of our municipal budget. We need to seek additional revenue to supplement these increases so that we do not decrease our services or staff.
This past year I have spent a great deal of time researching township challenges and concerns, including property taxes, senior citizen services, jitney shuttle transportation, pedestrian traffic safety, infrastructure improvements, recreation programs, property maintenance, Downtown Redevelopment and Police and Fire support. I have worked with township administration to directly address and outline
creative, positive solutions for several of those concerns. I have coordinated with our township grant writer to seek out awards that can bring in additional revenue and provide additional services that our residents seek.
After reviewing this year’s municipal budget, and attending a series of neighborhood revitalization seminars I am convinced that it is paramount that we bring more investors into our community to increase our tax base. I have been working with our township administrators and committees to diligently promote the great things that are happening here in West Orange. This past year we held residential and commercial realtor open houses so that realtors can better educate their clients about our township offerings and services.
Q. What other issues are important?
A: Recently there have been hot topics discussed at our council meetings such as our Senior Citizen Services and Pedestrian Traffic Safety.
Senior Citizen Services are very important and they should be reviewed frequently. The administration has pledged to work on creating a Senior Citizen Newsletter and to update our website to improve communications with our residents. I have also been working with our grant writer to obtain a grant to study “Aging in Place” for our community. Other towns have had contracted Montclair State University to conduct this study to gain pertinent information on improving their Senior Citizen Services. I appreciate our residents bringing this information to us and I have acted upon it immediately. My hope is that our grant writer will be able to secure funds within a few months and we will be able to conduct the Montclair State University study as early as this spring.
Ever since Interstate 280 opened in the 1970’s West Orange has been plagued with traffic concerns. West Orange is located geographically in the heart of Essex County, which has also made Pedestrian Traffic Safety extremely challenging. I applaud our residents for organizing and the administration for supporting the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board. Their work has been instrumental in providing much needed awareness on this topic. A few months ago our Planning Board had amended the Master Plan incorporating Complete Streets, which I fully support. Also this past summer I supported amended Ordinance #2488-16 which extends the 25 mile per hour speed limit school zone by Kelly Elementary and West Orange High Schools on Pleasant Valley Way. Our Township Engineer along with the Essex County Planning Department is currently working on a plan which I will support to expand the zone even further. We are also seeking a grant from the Department of Transportation to implement the recommendations from the Complete Streets plan.
This past year I have also supported the bus loop project at Gregory Elementary School to address safety issues which have impacted their students, parents and staff. Ongoing assessments by school officials are being made to improve the morning and afternoon drop off. By working with parents, staff and neighbors the Gregory Elementary School community has improved its Pedestrian Traffic Safety environment.
Q. Besides running for office, what other ways are you involved in the town?
A: From 2006-2015 I served on the West Orange Board of Education as a Certified School Board Member. I served as Board President in 2008 and 2013 and Vice-President in 2015. I lobbied to enforce new registration procedures in order to ensure that only West Orange residents attend our schools. I developed new cost-effective policies and procedures related to use of our school facilities, transportation and custodial overtime. My efforts through the years have resulted in cost savings of over $2 million dollars and $4 million dollars in grant awards.
I served on the Eagle Rock Civic Association for several years, where I began to form working relationships with the West Orange Police Department and the West Orange Fire Department. I currently serve on the fundraising committee for the Friends of the West Orange Public Library and the promotions committee for the West Orange Downtown Alliance. I am a member of the Friends of Thomas Edison National Historic Park, a member of the West Orange/Orange UNICO and a trustee for the West Orange Scholarship Fund. As a Councilwoman I serve as Township Council Liaison to the West Orange Board of Education and the West Orange Public Relations Commission.
As a parent I was honored to serve on PTA Executive Boards at Redwood Elementary School, Edison and Liberty Middle Schools. At West Orange High School I sat on Executive Boards for the Mountaineer Touchdown Club and the West Orange Lacrosse Club. My efforts have assisted in raising over $200,000 throughout the years for student activities. I enjoyed being a Girl Scout and Cub Scout Troup Leader when my children were younger. The Casalino family has been active in the West Orange PAL for over 40 years. My children participated in the football, baseball and cheerleading programs. My husband Tony a former PAL player and coach, serves on the Executive Board and is the current Football Commission for the league. I volunteer my time to assist him with the annual PAL Golf Tournament which he chairs.
Q: What else would you like to say about yourself or the township?
A: In these difficult economic times, our township needs an experienced leader who works diligently to provide accountable and qualitative results for decisions they make. I am proud of my record which I have outlined in my answers above. I pledge to continue to work hard for all our residents by providing the best services possible while lessening our burden as taxpayers. It is not an easy task but it is one which I have been committed to for the past eleven years. I hope that the good people of West Orange can support my efforts once again by electing me on November 8, 2016 to their Township Council.