Candidates for Berkeley Heights Town Council debated a number of town issues on Thursday evening at Governor Livingston High School.
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Berkeley Heights, New Providence, and Summit, the forum featured three men running for two open seats on Town Council.
Republicans and incumbents Kevin Hall and Craig Pastore are running for second terms, while newcomer Michael Simon, a Democrat, is running for the his first council term.
Although it looked to be a battle of two against one during the debate, all three candidates shared one sentiment — more community and volunteer involvement would create a better and brighter Berkeley Heights.
Marlene Sincaglia, a member of the LWV, quoted Plato: “Those too smart to be bothered by politics are doomed to be governed by those who are not.”
Simon agreed with her view, stating one of his top priorities, if elected, is “getting more involvement with residents as far as the council having an open door policy. There has been poor service by municipal employment. Residents are their clients and should be treated with respect.”
Hall said he wants to “create natural synergies with the School Board so we can share resources, and get kids more involved in the community.”
DOWNTOWN BERKELEY HEIGHTS
A major running point brought up by Simon was the development of the downtown area of Berkeley Heights.
“One of my top priorities is to see all the store fronts filled in the Downtown Development Zone,” Simon said.
Simon also talked about expanding the role of the Beautification Committee to help fill the void in the downtown area.
SECEDING FROM UNION COUNTY & RIVER FLOODING
While Simon focused on downtown development, Hall and Pastore discussed the possibility of seceding from Union County and how to make Berkeley Heights safer from flooding, with Hurricane Sandy in the our midst.
Pastore expressed that the town council and the Division of Public Works were working on the “de-snagging of trees in smaller streams to prevent flooding.”
Hall supported that notion by saying “tree trimming programs in November will be put in place so the trees don’t hit power lines.”
Along with safety from the elements, the two council members were insistent on finding a way for Berkeley Heights to break free from Union County. But Simon called separating from the County a “mute point because NJ Legislature wouldn’t sign off on it.”
Hall and Pastore said they believe Union County is spending too much of Berkeley Heights tax dollars on other towns.
“Anybody who sees it as a mute point doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Pastore said. “Around 550 people, non-union, are getting lifetime benefits. Union County is spending all willy nilly.”
Hall added, “The cost doesn’t add up to the service. Fourteen million dollars each year goes to Union County and there are questions about Union County’s spending. We want to investigate other opportunities.”
THE BERKELEY AQUATIC CLUB'S PROPOSED FACILITY
Hall and Pastore stressed that the Berkeley Aquatic Club isn’t cooperating well with , which the BAC wants to build in a residential area on the Warren Township border. Hall said all talks with the BAC are being “facilitated through an attorney.”
Simon suggested that if he were elected, he would try to find a spot in Berkeley Heights for the Aquatic Club instead of moving it out of town.
LACK OF TRAIN STATION PARKING
Simon also gave suggestions for the lack of parking, an issue brought up by an audience member.
“There’s parking behind Kings, and for now, the empty Pizza Hut lot is open,” Simon said. He shared the aggravation with parking, stating that the hardship of commuting to New York City almost prevented his family from moving to Berkeley Heights.
Hall and Pastore told the audience that parking is a chronic problem, but that they have been able to add 50 spots.
“There is parking on the other side of the railroad tracks if residents want to walk the extra hundred or so yards,” Hall said.
CONSTRUCTION ON PARK AVENUE
The Park Avenue problem was addressed by the two current councilmen.
Hall and Pastore let the audience know that it was a two-year project to construct the road.
The first part of the project is complete, fixing half of it, while the second part is planned to be completed next year.