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The greatest challenge facing Franklin Township is its debts. The town needs significant revenues to balance its budget, so the prospect of accepting a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) project, where the lion's share of monies would go directly to the township instead of the county or the schools, is tempting. The problem, however, is that the PILOT will cost Franklin Township dearly. Triple-A rated farmland would have to be designated "an area in need of redevelopment," a program that was intended for truly blighted areas, so it could be turned into warehouses and parking lots. This type of development will bring trucks, pollution, and higher taxes.
Franklin Township's leadership has other options. Study after study has shown that farmland has a lower impact on taxpayers than any other kind of business. Instead of destroying our local food supply chain, Franklin could form a "sustainable development" committee to look for cleaner, less invasive, and long-term business opportunities. They could support local farmers in their efforts to expand their enterprises to include seasonal attractions, expansive farmers' markets, and local artisan fairs. They could attract solar farms, pairing them with bee and butterfly gardens to create safe havens for vulnerable insects which also support our food supply chain. They could invest in making Franklin Township more "walkable," inviting smaller vendors like Frenchtown has, and recreational activities along the Musconetcong River.
My professional background has been in the nonprofit arena working with children and families who have experienced abuse and neglect. The skill set that I have developed, as an executive director however, is both robust and transferable. I have demonstrated leadership, organization, budgetary, and public relations and marketing skills, I am an excellent grant writer, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to my organization annually. I am an accomplished public speaker and can represent what is best about Franklin Township. I am also a strategic and innovative thinker and researcher - I'm always trying to find ways to do things better.
I am also a fighter. In 2010, another developer proposed building an extension of Port Newark on prime farmland near my home. I was able to mobilize the community in opposition to this project. With help from my neighbors and other like minded community members, we organized to form a nonprofit so we would be eligible for grant funding. We raised awareness in both Franklin and our surrounding communities, mobilizing hundreds of people in opposition to the project. I helped to bring statewide attention to the project, garnering press coverage from the Star Ledge and News 12 NJ. In short, I was able to mobilize and organize a small army to fight against inappropriate development in Franklin Township, and that small army won the day. The developer withdrew. I have fought this fight before and will do it again for Franklin.
As I thought about what I wanted to fight for in Franklin Township - better fiscal management, sustainable development projects, expansion of its technological communications, etc. - one of the areas upon which I focused almost immediately was more support for the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in order to better prepare Franklin for the inevitable crises to come. Climate change is real, and one of the unintended consequences of ignoring that reality will be future pandemics. Scientists have warned us that a warming climate will give rise to previously unknown pathogens, and the impacts are likely to be catastrophic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities that currently exist in our society. Too many people are only one paycheck away from hunger, eviction, and financial ruin. Our supply chain infrastructure was shown to be much more fragile than anticipated. There has been conflicting messaging from leadership about what to do to stay safe. We can and should do so much better.
I would take a multi-faceted approach to respond to the current crisis and to prepare Franklin Township for future pandemics. Some of these steps would include:
*Creating a township-wide email and/or text group to ensure rapid and direct communications to all constituents;
*Sending regular communications to share information about resources, township business, and to ensure the accuracy of the contact information;
*This mode of communication should be utilized to provide constituents with pandemic-related information and resources, including the location of emergency shelters, feeding stations, instructions to prevent transmission, state or federal directives, and more. People need clear instructions, and this is a primary way to do that;
*Proactively identify vulnerable citizens to ensure their well-being in a crisis. As the parent of a special needs child, I know that Franklin does some of this already;
*Support the creation of a hyper-local food bank, seeking donations from local farmers, community members, and businesses, to support the most vulnerable among us;
*Ensure that the Office of Emergency Management and the volunteer fire department have the needed fiscal and personnel resources available to respond swiftly and effectively to emergencies;
*If not already in place, proactively create a multi-disciplinary response team, to include Franklin Township leadership, representatives from OEM, Fire, State Police, the faith community, the county health department, and other stakeholders. This group should be meeting quarterly to review and identify any gaps in response services;
*Franklin should be building a financial reserve to be designated for disaster response only. I could see this being used to purchase items like test kits, food, or PPE in the event of a future pandemic. These resources could also be used to provide micro-grants to community members in danger of losing their home or having utilities cut off due to pandemic-related economic losses;
*In addition to seeking new sustainable development business opportunities, Franklin Township should be convening a business round table, inviting local business owners to meet together to discuss how the township could better support them, to focus on job creation, and to create a climate of cooperation and collaboration to benefit Franklin Township economically.
If I had to sum up my approach in one sentence, it would be that I believe that Franklin Township's approach to the Covid-19 crisis and future pandemics should be proactive, preventative, collaborative, and communicative.