By John Sorce |
HIGHLANDS – Optimism was the recurring theme at the borough’s reorganization meeting on New Year’s Day.
“Today’s an exciting day for me,” said Highlands Mayor Rick O’Neil. “To move forward with the town and to have inclusion, I really mean that. I want everyone to do their job, whether it’s a volunteer job, a paid position or an elected official. If everybody does their job, we pull the same weight and things will go well. I am very optimistic.”
A standing room crowd of about 200 Highlanders packed the Robert D. Wilson Memorial Community Center as Rosemary Ryan and Kenneth Braswell were formally sworn in as council members, joining the five-member governing body.
“It’s a great thing,” said Ryan, who was born and raised in Highlands. “I’ve been a volunteer for many years and I think there are a lot of great things that are going to happen with Highlands. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”
One of the biggest issues discussed at the meeting was flooding, an ongoing issue in Highlands. Braswell believes there is a solution to this issue, though they are still pinpointing exactly what it is. “Our flooding is almost a monthly occurrence, sometimes more frequently, and that’s been a huge economic hindrance for Highlands. We are going to be persistent in getting that fixed,” he said.
“We understand very well the nature of where we are and what is causing the flooding,” Braswell continued. “Once you understand that, you can start to figure out how to solve it. I think between the engineers and some ideas that we have, I think we’re going to be able to find a solution. It may be expensive, but I don’t know what’s more expensive, having a dilapidated economy in Highlands, or we can get this rectified and the economy will run itself.”
O’Neil touched on water and sewer runoff and post-Sandy problems as other concerns that will be worked on in 2018.
The mayor did not have any updates on borough hall as he has been away for two months. It’s one of the biggest projects facing Highlands, considering the administrative staff is still working out of modular homes. A new 15,000-square-foot facility with space for administration, emergency services and the police department is envisioned for the parking lot property adjacent to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church on Navesink Avenue. The first of a series of public information sessions regarding the new borough hall was held on Dec. 8 to inform residents about the upcoming process.
Braswell believes the governing body is more unified than in years past. “All the parts are in place, which has never happened here before,” he said. “We’ve had good people in council at times and we’ve had good administrators, but the leadership wasn’t quite there or we’ve had too many disagreements among our councilmembers. I think finally, between the professionals, the staff, and the council members, everybody is on the same page and has the same goals to steer this town in the right direction.”
Ryan said the members have worked together in other roles and have built a strong work ethic. “I think we all will work well together,” she said. “We have worked together before in other committees, so we know that we get along well and we’re all here for the benefit of the town. I was born and raised here, and I’m of the belief that we need to build from the bottom to the top, otherwise things will come tumbling down, as we’ve noticed with the flooding. Once we put our efforts into controlling the flooding, you can build up bit by bit and we’ll be a very strong town.”
As a proud, lifelong resident of Highlands, Ryan wants to see the outside perception of the town change. Once that happens, people will begin to realize what a wonderful place Highlands really is. “It would mean a lot for the people outside of this town to recognize how great the town is,” she said. “Perception is reality, and their perception of this town has always been incorrect. It’s a beautiful town and a beautiful place to live. I think it’s the best place to live on the Jersey shore. You get the river, you get the ocean, you get the highest point on the eastern seaboard and you have a national monument in town. It was the best place you could ever grow up and I’m glad I raised my children here.”
Also at the meeting, Michael Armstrong was introduced as fire chief, and Bill Mount as first aid captain. Matthew Chesak was sworn in as police sergeant.
The borough also acknowledged the service of Rebecca Kane-Wells, council member from 2003 to 2005 and 2009 to 2017; Doug Card, council member from 2014 to 2017; Carolyn Cummins, municipal clerk from 1992 to 2017; and Joseph Blewett, police chief from 1990 to 2017.
This article was first published in the Jan. 4-11, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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