Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mayor's State of the Borough Address

2008 was a challenging year for Highlands and throughout our nation, with ripples worldwide. In Highlands we must embrace our challenges because they bring us an opportunity to refocus our goals. While 2009 will also be challenging in Highlands, we will overcome by seizing the opportunity to work together as a Council and as a community.

I am proud of the 2008 Highlands Borough Council and our accomplishments. The following are just some of them. Relative to the Route 36 Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge Construction, we established a committee to improve communication between NJDOT and Highlands Borough; Continued prior Mayor & Council's efforts for Highlands Avenue repairs funding in amount of $1,184,000; Obtained NJDOT funding for Valley Avenue drain repair; Discussed Bayside Drive repairs, relocation of the police communications system and Portland Road repairs; Discussed water based transportation via the Seastreak ferry service to alleviate traffic issues associated with construction and travel to and from Highlands/Sandy Hook by car.

Regarding downtown flooding, we supported a moratorium on FEMA flood maps to encourage investigation and impact of flood abatement improvements; Established a regular maintenance schedule for cleaning of storm drains; Designated a Borough employee responsible for the maintenance schedule and additional cleaning before and after storms; Obtained Engineering status report, inspection and proposed improvements for increased capacity at pump stations, capping of outfall pipes with valves, upgrades to bulkheads, storm pipe lining/repairs, and a possible new pump at Snug Harbor Ave; Discussed Federal Stimulus Infrastructure Grants as possible funding source for this multimillion dollar project because all improvement must be simultaneously implemented to be effective.

In the area of code enforcement we discussed the need for a Borough-wide Property Maintenance Inspection Schedule and related manpower; Discussed the possible assumption of BHI inspections in multi-unit dwellings to permit annual inspections instead of once every five years; Used a Scattered Site Redevelopment program to address vacant buildings, holding the final meetings relative to existing code violations previously cited in past years.

We also recognized the need for a new Borough Hall; Redesigned/remodeled Police Headquarters, updating the fire radio and moving emergency communications to the new Firehouse; Discussed technology needs and incorporation of a public library into the new Borough Hall, establishing a dedicated trust for receiving donations for the library portion of the building; Discussed demolition of the old sewerage plant on Shore Drive and establishing additional public parking.

We addressed Zoning and Master Plan issues focusing on improved commercial uses in Bay Avenue's downtown business district and the Steep Slope Ordinance which is needed to maintain stability of steep slopes in Highlands while maintaining aesthetically pleasing solutions to destabilized slopes. We improved our sanitary sewer system by creating a stronger Grease Trap Ordinance, establishing a flow meter at Basin 8 and designing rehabilitation plans for Basin 2. Federal Stimulus Infrastructure grants may be a funding source for these upgrades. We supported quality of life initiatives by enacting a stronger Shade Tree Ordinance, appointing a fully active Environmental Commission and Shade Tree Commission, and receiving a $220,000 Monmouth County Open Space grant to acquire #2 Private Road near Miller street for public access to the water.

To stimulate our economy in Highlands we promoted the Borough via television through the HBP Tourism Video and Comcast News makers taping. We encouraged area realtors to propose commercial office space as an alternative to residential uses in properties on Bay Avenue; Discussed the possibility of wireless internet connectivity via a broadband system downtown as a high-tech draw to vacationers and suggesting that high-tech businesses are welcome in Highlands; Discussed underground utilities as a visual improvement and for expansion of the Clam Festival; Discussed creation of jobs for Highlands residents and use of the proposed public library in cooperation with the Media Center at Henry Hudson Regional High School for Borough sponsored education and training programs; Re-examined Mercantile Licensing Procedures to allow new businesses in the Borough to open efficiently but with the safety of residents and patrons in mind; Discussed water based transportation as a mass transit system that would stimulate economic growth in Highlands and the Bayshore section of Monmouth County.

Finally, regarding the Budget, we cut all variable expenses 10-15%; Discussed bringing engineering services in house to reduce costs; Re-examined the Borough vehicle policy; Increased Fees and Penalties; Re-examined the Clam Plant Lease as a revenue source to the Borough; Discussed establishing a new lease of Borough property to Aqua Life Seafood Distributors as a new revenue source to the Borough; Obtained 1% contribution by police officers toward health benefit premiums; Supported elementary school consolidation study; Shared service with Highlands Elementary School in the area of snow plowing, recreational programming and police communications; Discussed possibility of cooperative purchase of electricity through the Bayshore Conference of Mayors.

In 2009 we will work toward completing unfinished business in all areas of accomplishment in 2008. I have already met with each member of your 2009 Borough Council. We have agreed that the first major action items for 2009 are: SFY 2009 and SFY 2010 Budget; Storm Drain Improvements/Flood Abatement; Code Enforcement (including Property Maintenance, Grease Traps and Scattered Site Redevelopment); Steep Slope Ordinance/Master Plan Re-examination/Downtown Zoning; And a new Borough Hall including a public library (privately funded).

In all seriousness I project that Highlands Borough will be fighting for our very existence in 2009 as we have never fought before. Due to the economic downturn I expect further revenue reductions to the Borough in the area of state aid. In May of 2008 the state declared that aid would be cut to force consolidation of small towns under 10,000 people. Highlands has a population of roughly 5,000. Your 2009 Borough Council will be exploring consolidation as an option toward tax relief. However, we will not take this drastic action without consulting you. I intend to ask your 2009 Borough Council for support in submitting referendum questions for the November ballot asking you whether you support Highlands Borough exceeding the operations levy cap to avoid the layoff of Borough employees and whether you support consolidation of Highlands with another town to reduce taxes.

Today I will establish a new committee to the Council, named the "Budget Review Advisory Committee." This will permit members of the public and business owners in the Borough to more formally participate in budget examination, making suggestions from several perspectives for consideration during our difficult budgetary work. I hope that future mayors will continue this committee's existence. We must all work together if Highlands is to survive this economic climate.

On a positive note I am encouraged by my early meetings with members of this 2009 Highlands Borough Council. Each individual council member brings a different area of expertise to this table. Our differences are Highlands' strength. I believe we all take to heart the best interests of Highlands Borough and the people we serve. I am looking forward to accomplishing as much in 2009 as the 2008 Council did, if not more. When we are faced with challenges, we are given a chance to refocus our lives. We must always remember to focus on the people we love most. They are examples of the people we serve. At the Council level, the people we serve must be our focus.

I am honored to have served as your Mayor with the 2008 Council, and I continue to feel honored to serve you with the 2009 Council that you have elected. Highlands Borough is the best little town on Earth. A Happy , Healthy and Prosperous New Year 2009 to you and your families.