Incoming Bernards Township Mayor Carolyn Gaziano and outgoing 2012 Mayor Mary Pavlini both named the same top priorities in managing the township: municipal finances and fiscal management — all while dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and preparing for future storms.
Gaziano was named township mayor for 2013 by her fellow Township Committee members as the annual township reorganization meeting on Wednesday night. At the same meeting,
Gaziano and Township Committeeman John Malay, re-elected last November over two Democrats, also were sworn into additional three-year terms on the all-Republican Township Committee. Gaziano is beginning her second full term, and Malay his fourth.
In her first speech as mayor, Gaziano said that this year she will focus on "fiscal management, emergency preparedness and community.
"We will continue to scrutinize spending and keep taxes in check," she said. During the 2005-2011 time period in which municipal taxes statewide rose by 53 percent, she said the municipal portion of Bernards Township tax bills rose by 2 percent.
With that in mind, Gaziano outlined other goals for 2013:
- Early in 2013, Gaziano said she and other members of the township's emergency response team will review the Sandy storm response and the township's emergency management plans. She said she will strive to make additional improvements in communications, adding an alert system for cell phones. "I will work with our legislators and the BPU [state Board of Public Utilities] to hold JCP&L [Jersey Central Power & Light] accountable for their failures," she added. "The must be forced to improve their emergency planning and preparation, and to invest in infrastructure."
- In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, Gaziano said the police department will continue working with the school district's administration and the township to ensure residents are safe.
- She said the township will proceed with plans to renovate the township courtroom in the municipal building — the same room where the Township Committee and many other boards meet — to transform it into a multi-use facility for the township that could function as a warming center or central meeting area during an emergency. To that end, the room will be equipped with movable chairs and tables, new electronics, monitors and internet service, and a generator, as well as better audio-visual equipment to improve visibility of exhibits during government meetings.
- In promoting the township's Farmstead Arts Center at the Kennedy Martin Stelle Farmstead, one of the "many historic treasures in Bernards," the township has scheduled its first annual rubber duck race along the Passaic River at the farmstead. Along with the duck race, there will be an art show and "farm to table" food event, scheduled for June 8, she said.
- Instead of the mayor's brown bag lunches, Gaziano said she will each month for a physical activity at one of the local parks. Those activities may include cross-country skiing at the Environmental Education Center, ice skating at Southard Park, rollerblading at Dunham Park, walks and bike rides, she said. Dates and times will be posted on the township website, she said.
"I think your intelligence and enthusiasm will lead us into a great 2012," Malay told Gaziano following her comments.
Township Clerk Denise Szabo said of all of the members of the Township Committee: "They know when to roll up their sleeves."
Pavlini recalled the two weeks of daily meetings by all members of the professional, volunteer first responder, school officials and others in the aftermath of Sandy as the "most rewarding and challenging" part of her career.
She complimented those she had worked with, and added, "All the great things here in Bernards Township are because of the people."
Pavlini began her final summation of 2012 by noting, "Financially, Bernards is on solid ground."
Pavlini said that the local municipal governing body has controlled taxes by controlling spending and debt.
She said that aim had been met through such initiatives as reducing municipal appropriationsby $786,000; reducing salary and wages by $306,000; achieving another perfect annual financial audit by an independent auditor; maintaining a AAA bond rating; and maintaining the township's debt-free status, achieved at the end of 2011.
The township has worked to absorb this year's costs for Sandy — estimated last month by Township Administrator Bruce McArthur at about $600,000 — through the regular budgeting process rather borrowing additional funds. Federal assistance funds are expected to eventually repay most of those expenses, officials have said.
The reorganization meeting also was attended by state Sen. Tom Kean and state assembly representatives Nancy Munoz and Jon Bramnick, all Republicans representing the state's 21st legislative district; and by Somerset County Freeholder Bob Zaborowski.