Sunday, December 28, 2008

Economic Downturn and Municipal Government: Global is Local

Surely we will all be affected by decision of the Federal and State Government in response to the economic downturn and its consequences. Many believe that local government is powerless to affect the overall economy, and must rather react to pressures adjusting policy accordingly. However, I believe that local officials also bear a responsibility to seek ways to address economic pressures. These are perhaps the single greatest threat to the quality of life of the people we serve.

Of course, we must scrutinize our budgets to curtail spending and avoid tax increases. Likewise, we must seek new revenue sources to offset the tax levy providing long term relief to our constituents. Further, we must streamline the delivery of services by local government using cutting edge technology where possible to reduce the financial burden associated with a demand for new or improved services to the public in a time of need. Lastly, government must look to share services among all levels of government, across town borders and regionally where appropriate. The individual taxpayer should pay a minimum required amount for the service received regardless of the government source of the service.

However, I believe the responsibility of local officials also extends to Stimulating Economic Growth. We must seek ways to stimulate the local economy in our towns, providing hope to our residents and businesses at a time when they so desperately need it. We must look forward bearing the past in mind and engage the public in discussion on the issues. It is difficult to lose hope while engaged in a project with a future goal. Hope can be restored to one who is desperate if a new plan is suggested and work is created as a result.

While we must first be concerned with economic activity within our town's borders, the overall economy can be supported by these grass roots efforts. For example, by attracting small to mid-sized businesses from a larger more expensive city to relocate in a small New Jersey town, local officials might be saving a business from closing its doors by offering a smaller rental payment and less demanding staffing alternatives, while creating jobs and rental income for constituents who might also be saved from desperation at a time of need.

I am sure that Federal and State Government needs all the help it can get. I believe global is local, and destiny is ours to dictate.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holidays in Highlands: A spirit of Warmth and Cheer

There is nothing like the Holidays in Highlands to lift a winter weary spirit. Just as we celebrate all year round, the holiday season in Highlands is a merry extravaganza. We begin with the Borough Tree Lighting where children meet Santa and Mrs. Claus to make their Christmas requests. Next we attend the Highlands Senior Citizen Club luncheon where stocking stuffers and games are abundant.

The Historical Society Holiday dinner is filled with carol singing, door prizes and the awarding of the coveted Golden Clam Award. And of course we cannot forget Breakfast with Santa at the Community Center or the Holiday Helpers activity night for kids. But the climax of the Christmas Season is always the holiday church services where the reason for the season is remembered and proclaimed to all.

This year I am very excited about an outdoor presentation and early services at the New Life Christian Church on Bay Avenue, and of course, the Choir Concert and later mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church at Route 36 and Miller Street.

The Holiday Season in Highlands also includes the Hanuka celebration of lights. The Menorah is lit at Borough Hall as a symbol. But a better reminder is our own Twin Lights historic landmark which might make us think of the Hanuka story all year long. Just as the lantern remained lighted for that miraculous week, so the Highlands Twin Lights remain lighted for us, a beacon to new arrivals illuminating who we are and igniting our faith in what is to come.

Highlands truly embodies the holiday spirit. We live it all year round. Whenever there is sickness or tragedy in a family, word spreads like wildfire and gifts and fund raisers abound to help a family cope. When Highlands folks achieve great accomplishments, word spreads just as quickly. We congratulate them with public signs, and personal greetings in the streets. We are a true community family. Living here warms the heart.

Our volunteer Fire Department has a huge membership roster, and our volunteer First Aid Squad is growing by leaps and bounds. These groups are examples of the Highlands spirit of giving. But nothing illustrates our spirit better than our actions in 2001 during the terrorist attack in Manhattan. Tears come to the eye just thinking about the many people who lined the streets, one to a car, willing and ready to take survivors home to their families. What a sacrifice for people who had families of their own here in Highlands who were distraught. Some drivers traveled interstate to drive as many as three or four different people to distant locations.

When thinking of the giving holiday spirit this season, think like the people of Highlands. I am proud to be part of Highlands Borough. The world should strive to be more like we are.

Happy Holidays to all !

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Water Based Transportation: A Catalyst for our Economy and Quality of Life

A self sustaining year round economy is key to survival in this period of economic downturn. Our residents see the value in living in the Borough of Highlands year round. It is time to encourage businesses to value Highlands in a similar way. By encouraging year round commercial property uses in the downtown business district, the Borough can stimulate economic growth that will ease the burden on residential property taxpayers and provide jobs closer to home to improve quality of life for individuals and families in our Borough. Our water based mass transportation system is the key to achieving this goal.

A dining and recreational destination, Highlands has year round restaurants consistently serving a variety of top quality cuisine. Highlands is also home for first class distinctive year round lodging alternatives which are often fully booked due to high demand. We now have the opportunity to showcase Highlands' Bay Avenue business district as a unique and desireable location for commercial offices atop existing restaurants and storefronts, with temporary lodging and affordable permanent living space nearby. During this difficult economic period it is possible that offices currently located in Manhattan or its vicinity might consider relocating to Highlands. After all, we are only 45 minutes from Manhattan by ferry.

Office space on Bay Avenue might have minimal impact on the residents, especially if employees use mass transit to get to and from work. Employees in Manhattan are already accustomed to mass transit as the primary means of transportation. Some are already using the ferry to come to Highlands from Manhattan during the summer season. Local employees who live in Highlands can walk to work. Corporate clients are generally located in the city, and professional service companies usually travel to the client offices to perform their work. The ferry is within walking distance from the Bay Avenue business district, making travel from the home office to the client site pleasant and reasonable in time.

Occasionally meetings may occur in Highlands, where Highlands office staff would entertain clients in an effort to secure contracts. These clients might come to Highlands by ferry from Manhattan, met at the terminal by Highlands office staff. A brief walk or golf cart ride from the ferry to Highlands restaurants for lunch might signal the beginning of a beautiful business relationship. Commercial office uses could breathe new life into an already up and coming business district, our main street in the Borough of Highlands, providing new employment opportunities for Highlands residents and an increased demand for the businesses already here. It is also foreseeable that over time demand for other businesses (e.g. retail) would develop. All accomplished with water transportation at the center.

Highlands Borough will benefit from the enhanced value of individual commercial properties as they become more desireable and produce more income to the property owner. Better commercial assessments will relieve some of the burden now placed primarily on residential property taxpayers to maintain municipal operations. There may be potential for public-private cooperative funding of community projects benefitting our economy (e.g. facade improvement) once offices have relocated here and become part of the Highlands community. Our youth may wish to intern or take part time employment in these offices to test whether they would like to work toward those jobs, graduating from high school already with corporate job experience. The internship might include a trip to Manhattan to see work performed at the client site. What an educational networking opportunity!

Highlands is working with other municipalities in the Bayshore region and points north to establish a sustainable water transportation system for both commuter and recreational use, both arriving at the Jersey Shore and returning home. There are ongoing discussions regarding possible connection of water based mass transportation to land based mass transportation alternatives already in existence. This might entice those already using mass transit to give water based transportation a try. Furthermore, the reduced price of state subsidized transportation alternatives may make use of the possible mass transit loop more affordable.

Highlands is already a beautiful vibrant year round community. We should leverage what we've accomplished to improve quality of life and help Highlands taxpayers at the same time. Highlands businesses and residents have already invested our hard earned tax dollars in creating and maintaining our beloved Highlands as she exists today. We have all done a terrific job thus far. We should now consider taking our efforts to the next level, where our investment will produce even better return, not only financially, but in our future quality of life. Our families, our youth, and our businesses deserve it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mayor Anna Little on Economic Development: The Future of Downtown Highlands.....

The HBP has done a terrific job of making Highlands a destination.  The signature events spanning most of the year draw patrons to town and expand the identity of our town from a clamming or summer recreation town to a year round festival style vacation town and a varied seafood and dining location.

This year the water taxi and the concept of an expanded water transportation system has drawn positive attention to Highlands in spite of the ongoing Route 36 bridge project.  Most recently, Highlands was the subject of a NY Times Real Estate article where water based transportation was noted as well as acceptable schools, close beaches and hiking, biking trails, and valuable, but moderately priced real estate investment opportunities.  Notes about the history of Highlands included not only clamming, but also our signature event:  the Clamfest.

Today we are ready for the next phase of economic development.  Highlands is an exceptional place to do business.  We want to encourage economic growth in new areas adding new types of commercial uses in the Borough.  Our goal is to create a self-sufficient self-sustaining economy in Highlands.  Professional Services as commercial uses are key to achieving this goal.  Professional service businesses create little to no impact to residents, but result in an increased demand for services already existing in Highlands.  Professional service businesses may also create a demand for new services not already existing in Highlands, thus sparking start up businesses to fill corporate or personal needs of the workforce.  Professional service businesses also create high-quality jobs for people living and working in Highlands.

To attract professional services to Highlands we must maintain and expand Water Based Transportation for travel to and from Highlands.  We should also connect to existing railroad transportation in the area.  We may have to adjust the Master Plan and zoning regulations to permit additional affordable workforce housing, and to encourage downtown main street commercial buildings to convert residential space into office suites located out of the flood zone on Bay Avenue.  We should begin by creating a project that turns the mind toward business while thinking of Highlands as well as using the identity Highlands has already established through the HBP.  The Borough Council will soon be discussing the possibility of establishing Wi-Fi (wireless internet access) for use by recreational visitors in the downtown business district as well as recreational boaters and beach goers.  This novelty will not only improve quality of life downtown in Highlands, but might inspire thoughts about opening corporate offices here.  Corporate offices downtown would allow adults living in Highlands to take better paying jobs closer to home.  Quality of life would improve, because adults could live and work in the same town and children could be managed better because Mom and Dad work close to home.  The hope for high school graduates to gain work experience here in Highlands that expands wage-earning potential might lead more kids to seek higher education as a means toward even greater professional accomplishments.

But there's more.  Business incubation efforts of public-private cooperatives in Monmouth County and the possibility of Fortune 500 Companies taking advantage of research opportunities provided by the incubators might help Highlands encourage professional service businesses downtown because of available low-cost workforce housing for not only incubator participants, but also the spin-off corporations created once research results in successful applications.  The Highlands Borough Public Library project I am working on could include adult education programs in cooperation with area colleges or Henry Hudson Regional High School, helping residents in Highlands obtain qualifications necessary to fulfill job requirements in professional service or administrative positions.

Professional Services workforce might require daily lunch, florist services (for secretaries, office environment, and take home bouquets) retail, laundry and takeout food service.  Professional Services workforce might require health industry services within walking distance from the workplace, as well as workout and nutrition education services to comply with workplace insurance requirements.  Technology support services, and personal electronic device retail options might also be in demand.  General retail shops and boutiques might also spring up due to the need for convenience to the work place.  The possibilities are endless.

I have floated the idea of a marketplace at the old Connor's Beach location where Seastreak LLC now operates.   The marketplace could showcase shellfish distribution and the Highlands clam brand, while providing boutique showcases for all restaurants and businesses in the Borough.  Perhaps we could bring back the Carousel to Highlands and a two to three level parking garage, depending upon the height of adjacent condominiums.  A showcase of Highlands history and a nature walk on the beach with Ferry Terminal to complete the development.  A concept with a broad spectrum, but a cornerstone for economic development on the north end of town.

Development in appropriate areas of the Borough to accommodate workforce housing needs while preserving the recreational appearance of the town might help lower property taxes generally.  New business uses created in the downtown area might increase the number of properties subject to the BID assessment or increase the assessed value of those already included, thus providing better budgetary options for broader HBP programming.  A facade program and more landscaping improvements throughout the Borough would be great future projects.  Seminars about business use diversification, and explaining interdependent use examples would help businesses brainstorm about refining their uses to help each other.

Diverse economies which consist of interdependent uses are the healthiest.  Each use drives demand for the next in a circular fashion.  If we accomplish this type of diversification including professional service commercial uses and follow through on Clam Distribution to maximum potential I think we'll have accomplished affordable living in Highlands Borough and an excellent quality of life while respecting Highlands' history, maintaining our identity, and enhancing our year round lifestyle in the Borough.

Stay tuned to for future updates and feel free to join us in making this vision a reality.  There are always many opportunities for the public to get involved.  You may contact me or any member of the Highlands Borough Council via email using or by telephone at 732-872-1224.

It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve you as mayor.  You continuously inspire me.  I am truly grateful.

Mayor Anna C. Little, Esq.