Friday, January 1, 2010

Mayor Little's State of the Borough Address: January 1, 2010

Happy New Year 2010 to you and your families. It is an honor to report to you regarding the experience of working with the Highlands Borough Council of 2009. The past year was filled with challenges, some created by actions of higher government, and some created by ourselves. We have all learned something from each other throughout this past year. We are all better as individuals for our experiences working together as members of this Governing Body.

In 2009, we continued to face many of the challenges that we faced in 2008 . Worldwide economic pressures yet unresolved resulted in new budget challenges here and in all levels of government. Moon Tides and sudden downpours continued to create flood management requirements. Bridge Construction continued to affect quality of life for residents and businesses throughout the Borough. Highlands felt an increased impact of the war in Afghanistan as we honored veterans and were reminded of the sons of Highlands fighting in the present foreign war, recognizing the needs of their families here at home.

We ourselves created a few new pressures on businesses via our ABC Ordinance enforcement and ID card requirements. We also sent business owners scrambling to rework the budget of the Highlands Business Partnership, and to determine new methods for running HBP signature events without the “seed money” provided by the annual assessment imposed by the businesses against themselves. Through communication about these issues, members of the Governing Body proposed changes to the ABC Ordinance and ID requirements, and business owners resolved to continue operating the Highlands Business Partnership as a nonprofit organization. Our work in these areas is far from complete.

Throughout 2009 the Highlands Borough Council continued our work on budgetary issues. Worldwide economic decline pushed unemployment into double digits, forcing state government to reduce aid to municipalities once again. Policy changes and new ordinances passed by the 2008 Council, and cost saving suggestions by Borough employees, saved Highlands from levy cap breaches yet again in 2009. The Budget Review Advisory Committee spent countless hours analyzing the Borough's budget and has learned much about the difficulty in making short term budgetary changes. The Committee has many long term goals which will be helpful guidance to the Governing Body in 2010. The 2010 Council can look forward to considering actions to facilitate the goals of this very valuable Committee.

Construction of the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge progressed with consequent quality of life issues, including traffic impact which created difficulty for residents and businesses alike. Through the Bridge Committee here in the Borough and via participation in the NJDOT construction meetings at the office of the Resident Engineer, we have made the concerns of residents and businesses known to NJDOT and its contractors. We continue to work on resolving many of the issues related to Bridge Construction, and will continue to post updates on the website under the Bridge Update button throughout 2010.

Our two most important achievements in 2009 were in the areas of zoning and flood abatement. In December 2009 the Governing Body enacted zoning ordinances in compliance with the Master Plan Reevaluation conducted by the Highlands Planning Board, and created a Bond Ordinance which would allow funding for a comprehensive solution to downtown flooding. Applications for funding assistance based on designs facilitated by the Bond Ordinance are expected to be submitted within the first quarter of 2010. These accomplishments were important in support of economic development in our downtown business area, improving quality of life for Highlands residents and increasing property values. Projects such as these improve our position in the FEMA Community Rating System giving us stronger eligibility for future funding and reductions in flood insurance costs.

I have already met informally with members of the 2010 Borough Council. There is certainly a different dynamic present in 2010 as compared with 2009. While our agenda for 2010 is still being formed, I am hopeful that in the true “Highlands Spirit” we will find unity in our common goal: To contribute to the betterment of the Borough, our home.

On this New Year's Day 2010 we should all be reminded of the gift given us by the founding fathers of our country, and which our military fights to preserve today. In many countries people are denied the opportunity to participate in their government. They are dictated to by leaders who are self interested and who disregard the needs of the people they serve. In Highlands we, the people, elect our government to represent our interests fairly and honestly. In our small community we are able to truly know our elected officials and communicate with them freely. We must all be encouraged to appreciate our freedoms and to use the gift of self government to the fullest extent. Our government is only fully effective if we participate fully.

Best Wishes for Peace and Prosperity in 2010. A Happy New Year to everyone.