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Berkeley Heights Township Council {_getChooseLabel(this.selections.length)}

The Berkeley Heights Township Council is the governing body of the municipality.. The Council establishes the laws and policies for the Township. An elected Council member serves a three year term. There will be a Candidates Forum on Tuesday, October 22 at 7:30pm in the Council Chambers, 29 Park Avenue

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    Gentiana Brahimaj
    (Rep)

  • Candidate picture

    Manuel Couto
    (Rep)

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    Julie A. Figlar
    (Dem)

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    Rina Franchino
    (Dem)

Biographical Information

Many candidates tout shared services as a way of saving money. What would be your approach to sharing services? What type of services do you feel could be shared? Are there any services that would not lend themselves to sharing?

Berkeley Heights downtown is made up of many small businesses. Are there any impediments for small businesses that prevent them from staying, expanding or coming to town? What should the Township Council do to remediate this?

Website www.berkeleyheightsfirst.com
My approach would be to do a thorough analysis of cost savings, risk sharing, efficiency gains, and what impact it will have on the residents of Berkeley Heights. Our residents deserve the best service for the best price. I will not support a reduction of services to our residents without a referendum or survey to obtain everyone’s feedback. The first thing I will do is meet with all employees to understand their challenges and work function. We should not only be looking for cost savings through sharing services but also through internal process improvements using automation and online services. A simple thing that comes to mind is cutting back on printing paper, eliminating local printers and implementing a central network printer using security codes for privacy and use Google Apps in a secure and efficient way. I will work with other towns to understand how they are leveraging shared services and determine opportunities to introduce innovation for enhanced services and capabilities. I will learn about their internal processes to see what efficiencies we can gain. We need to look at ways to offer our residents a more affordable means of garbage disposal and recycling. We should be teaming up with our neighboring towns to explore entering into joint contracts to give us more bargaining power. I cannot intelligently tell you what services would not lend themselves to sharing until an analysis is complete. What I will tell you is that I will not support shared services where Berkeley Heights is not at least equal in their representation with the other entities. I do not support agreements where another town or government entity (ex: Union County) has priority over Berkeley Heights.
As a Town Council we should build relationships with local business and property owners to understand their challenges and see if there are ways, as a town, we could assist them. I will investigate consumer demand and work with the local businesses to help them innovate for the future. I will work with neighboring towns to promote businesses in Berkeley Heights and their towns as well. For example, I would support expansion of Restaurant Week to neighboring towns to encourage others to check out Berkeley Heights and vice versa. We should be doing more to help each other instead of competing against each other. I will help fundraise for local events such as Winter Walk, to take the burden from the businesses for costly services needed for the events. Lastly, I will not pass ordinances that create unnecessary obstacles for businesses or assume to know better than a local business what will help them grow and thrive.
Website www.berkeleyheightsfirst.com
Shared service agreements have a place in many aspects of our lives Berkeley Heights currently has several shared services agreement in place. Municipal Court services with New Providence, Animal Control with Millburn, Public Health with Rahway, IT Services with Millburn,, Vehicle Maintenance for the BoE and Salt Storage for Union County. My approach would be three pronged; investigate what other municipalities are doing, perform a thorough analysis to ensure it is cost effective and advantageous to our taxpayers, and shop around for the best deal. As your Councilman, I voted down the one-sided Shared Service Agreement with Union County for a part-time DPW Director. After negotiations and a revised contract, I agreed to have faith and give it a try. To date, I feel that Berkeley Heights is not getting the attention that is required - catch basis repairs did not start until late August, the street sweeper has not been consistently cleaning our town, potholes continue to be a challenge, to name a few areas of concern. This Shared Service Agreement is a clear example of how Berkeley Heights needs a full time DPW Director. A service that must be explored is Recycling. Recycling for Berkeley Heights is an exponential cost to bear. We must discuss with other towns in and out of our area and possibly even investigate what other states are doing. I believe keeping our police, fire, and school systems under our control is the best for Berkeley Heights. Of course, proper analysis must be performed before I can say for sure whether it would be good or bad as each case should be analyzed for what is Best for Berkeley Heights.
Berkeley Heights has many small businesses that have been in town for decades. I heard complaints that our downtown is not walkable and our downtown is not visually appealing. As your Councilman, a leader on the Downtown Beautification Committee, Realtor, and small business owner myself I know what entices people to an area. Changing our downtown will not happen overnight. It has been a process for several years now and we are beginning to see a difference. I revised and implemented changes to town ordinances that require new construction to be uniform in building materials, set backs, as well as signage. We also require streetscapes to be improved or installed; sidewalks, trees, and decorative street lights. I have also led the efforts for the adopt-a-basket program, holiday light display, various banners that line Springfield Ave, and many events drawing visitors to town. My work on the Peppertown Park Committee hopes to create a walking and bike path through the downtown area uniting the downtown with the train station. Seeing the impact from these construction and streetscape ordinances will take time. We need to continue to work with building owners and small business owners to help promote their businesses.
Website www.bhteampurple.com
As part of my plan to focus as a Council member on improving our Sports & Recreation programs and opportunities, I want to actively explore the possibility of sharing services to increase those programs and opportunities. As Mayor Devanney said in her campaign last year, we can’t afford to be in separate “silos” anymore; we must pool our collective resources with our stakeholders: the PAL, the Recreation Commission, the Township, the BOE and the County of Union. I also support my running mate, Rina Franchino’s call for Berkeley Heights to host a shared service “summit”. Rina and I are entirely opposed to shared service ideas that might save a few dollars here or there but at the cost of fewer or less available Township services to residents. We want to explore options that benefit the taxpayers, and some agreements may simply not be a good fit such as merging a paid fire department with our volunteers, which would result in a large tax increase.
As Rina and I have campaigned across town, we’ve listened to many small business owners in Berkeley Heights as well as residents. From these conversations we know that rents are too high, poor parking is a major challenge, and a proactive response from the Township is needed. Berkeley Heights government must get to work on meeting our challenges head-on and this is exactly what Mayor Devanney and Team Purple are doing. Rina and I support the Economic Development Committee plan as the best way to see how we can attract and sustain small businesses in Berkeley Heights, bringing together ordinary residents and their ideas with business owners, Berkeley Heights Business and Civic, landlords and more. We also recognize the importance of working with Connell as they look to transform their office campus into a mixed-use community. That means ensuring strong commercial links between our downtown and those who may move into the proposed community in years to come.
Website www.bhteampurple.com
We have already seen great results from two shared service initiatives introduced by Mayor Devanney and Team Purple in 2019. Berkeley Heights also needs a Council member who will lead the effort to identify every available option when it comes to sharing resources, and who will weigh the pros and cons in pursuing such options. I will make this my top priority if elected with plans such as Berkeley Heights hosting a shared services “summit”. By bringing together our neighbors (elected and departmental), shared services gurus, and others, we can generate new ideas to keep taxes under control without hurting our quality of life. We should work with partners on all levels to see where we can get the best “bang for our buck”. Julie and I want to explore options that benefit the taxpayers, and some shared service agreements may simply not benefit our community on the whole such as merging a paid fire department with our volunteers, causing a large tax increase.
Julie Figlar and I have met with many small business owners in Berkeley Heights. They’ve told us about the challenges they faced in staying in town - high rent, poor parking, and a lack of proactive responses from the then-Township government were all part of the problem. While this is far from being unique to Berkeley Heights, our town must take action to remedy the problem. That is what Mayor Devanney and Team Purple are doing in creating an Economic Development Committee. This would focus on how we can best attract and sustain small businesses in town. Volunteers and resident input will definitely be needed as will close cooperation with other stakeholders. State experts have come to other towns to review their business climate and make recommendations free of charge, and we should welcome this input. We also know the importance of connecting any improvements made at the Connell Center with our downtown, ideally avoiding duplication of businesses and services at each location.