The last time I wore this suit I was returning home to Highlands as your Mayor after two years serving as Freeholder in Monmouth County. I meant what I said that evening (January 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm), "To my friends and neighbors, the people of Highlands, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to work for you and to represent you as your Mayor. I am honored and humbled. It is good to be home." The same words apply today.
On January 1. 2009 I told you that "Highlands Borough will be fighting for our very existence in 2009 as we have never fought before." I said that "Your 2009 Borough Council will be exploring consolidation as an option toward tax relief." But that we would not take "this drastic action without consulting you." I established a new committee to the Council, named the 'Budget Review Advisory Committee'" to "permit members of the public and business owners in the Borough to more formally participate in budget examination." I still hope that "future mayors will continue this committee's existence." I also hope that future Councils will consider the benefit of reducing Borough staff by eliminating professional positions and bringing expensive Engineering Services in house. I also hope future Councils will consider alternative revenue sources like the Clam Plant Lease, and an Aqualife Seafood Distribution Lease to offset future tax increases, and perhaps reduce taxes.
Regarding differences among Council Members in 2009 and 2010, I have recognized that "Each individual brings a different area of expertise" to the Governing Body. I still believe that "Our differences are our strength." And that "we all take to heart the best interests of Highlands Borough and the people we serve." I shared my hope that the "true 'Highlands Spirit'" would unite us in a common goal: To contribute to the betterment of the Borough, our home.
Our work in snow removal this past week is a prime example of what we can accomplish when we all work together. Volunteers from the Highlands Fire Department completed 12 hour shifts in rotation with DPW workers to provide continuous plowing, and local contractors provided the heavy equipment needed to move the 4ft to 8ft drifts of snow so that plows could enter the streets. While many were confined to their homes for nearly 48 hours, Highlands streets were cleared before many of our neighboring towns. It is the "Highlands Spirit" that makes us successful and keeps us surviving. We are strong when we are united, and there is nothing we can't do.
Much of the work I have had the honor of doing with three different Councils each year in 2008, 2009, and 2010 proves that by working together, we can truly improve our Borough.
2008 - In 2008 I established the Route 36 Bridge Construction Committee to improve communication between NJDOT and Highlands Borough regarding traffic impact and to make concerns of residents and businesses known to NJDOT and its contractors. The Bridge Update button on the Highlands Borough website posted construction updates to the public. We continued work from prior Mayor and Council on Highland Avenue repairs; Obtained NJDOT funding for Valley Avenue drain repair; Discussed Bayside Drive repairs, relocation of 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.
To address flooding downtown and high flood insurance costs, we supported a moratorium on FEMA flood maps to encourage consideration of flood abatement improvements; Established regular maintenance schedule for storm drain cleaning; Obtained Engineering report, inspection and proposed improvements for pump stations, capping of outfall pipes with valves, upgrades to bulkheads, storm pipe lining/repairs, and new pump at Snug Harbor Ave.
Regarding Code Enforcement we discussed need for Borough-wide Property Maintenance Inspection Schedule, assumption of BHI inspections in multi-unit dwellings to allow annual inspections instead of once every 5 years, and Scattered Site Redevelopment Program to address vacant buildings, cleaning them up to code, or tearing them down where appropriate.
For general improvement of Borough property and programming, we demolished the old Sewerage Plant on Shore Drive, established the Highlands Public Library, and recognized the need for a new Borough Hall with redesigned/remodeled Police Headquarters. We also updated the fire radio and moved emergency communications to the new Firehouse.
We improved our Steep Slope Ordinance; Enacted a stronger Shade Tree Ordinance; Appointed fully active Environmental Commission and Shade Tree Commission; Stronger Grease Trap Ordinance; Established flow meter at Basin 8 Sanitary Sewer, and designated plans for Basin 2 rehabilitation. We also received $220,000 Monmouth County Open Space grant to acquire #2 Private Road near Miller Street for public access to the water. To date there has been nearly $700,000 in grants received for this purchase.
The 2008 Council and I promoted Highlands through the HBP Tourism Video and Comcast Newsmakers tapings; Encouraged Realtors to propose commercial office space for properties on Bay Avenue; Discussed wireless internet connectivity downtown as a high-tech draw to vacationers and businesses; Discussed underground utilities for visual improvement and expansion of the Clam Festival; Discussed job creation in Highlands using the public library and the High School Media Center for Borough sponsored education and training; Improved Mercantile Licensing Procedures to allow new businesses in Highlands to open more efficiently; Discussed water transportation as mass transit to stimulate economic growth in Highlands and the Bayshore.
Most importantly in 2008 we cut variable expenses in the Budget 10-15%; Discussed bringing Engineering services in house to reduce costs; Reviewed Borough vehicle policy; Reviewed Clam Plant Lease, and a potential new lease to Aqua Life Seafood Distributors as alternative revenue sources to offset tax increases; Obtained 1% contribution by police officers toward health benefit premiums; Shared Service with Highlands Elementary for snow plowing, recreational programming and police communications; Discussed cooperative purchase of electricity through Bayshore Conference of Mayors to reduce utility costs to the Borough.
2009 - In 2009 after establishing the Budget Review Advisory Committee, and while continuing the Bridge Construction Meetings, our Council enacted zoning ordinances in compliance with the Master Plan, and created a Bond Ordinance allowing funding for a comprehensive solution to downtown flooding. We also supported economic development in the downtown business area for better quality of life to residents and increased property values, and improving Highlands' position in the FEMA Community Rating System for future funding and reductions in flood insurance costs.
2010 - With the 2010 Council we joined the Sustainable New Jersey Program; Supported the Clean Ocean Zone bill; Applied for a Tonnage Grant to improve Highlands' Recycling program; Established a Green Team; Scheduled a presentation on Ocean Tidal Power Generation; Delineated Flood Project Phasing to permit phased funding of the downtown flooding solution; Reduced our workforce to avoid a Levy Cap Breach and Tax Increases; Adopted the State Medical Insurance Plan to save costs and avoid Levy Cap Breach and Tax Increases; Accepted the PBA Agreement offered by the local union saving over $500,000, nearly 10 % of tax levy. We have ended 2010 with the completion of the Route 36 Bridge.
Many of you may know that I had the honor of serving the people of Congressional District 6 New Jersey as a candidate for U.S. Congress this year. I have done this for the benefit of the people of the Borough of Highlands and the Bayshore section of Monmouth County which is included in District 6. My family struggles as yours does with tax increases, job insecurity, and the fear of a bleak future for our children and grandchildren. Unlike the people of foreign nations who are denied the opportunity to participate in their government, "We the People" of Highlands, New Jersey in the United States do not have to suffer dictatorship by self interested officials 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 know our elected officials and communicate with them freely. Our local officials have direct access to County, State and Federal officials who all report to us. We should appreciate our freedoms, and use the gift of self government to its fullest extent. We must remember that our Military fights to protect our freedoms, and we must honor their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their families. Our government is only fully effective if we participate fully. I pledge to you that I will continue my work in whatever opportunity God puts before me to improve our government at every level for the benefit of our families, and this beloved Borough.
Thank you for three terrific years, and the historic honor of being the first Lady Mayor of Highlands Borough. I still believe that "Highlands is the best little town on Earth." I know that the 2011 Council and your new Mayor Frank Nolan will protect and serve Highlands Borough and you, the people with a fierce dedication. I will always be available from 52 Fifth Street for advice or assistance whenever I am needed.
Home is where the heart is. My heart belongs to Highlands, therefore Highlands will always be my home. A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year 2011 from our LITTLE family to yours. God Bless Highlands, and God Bless America.