By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – Stephanie Murray will once again serve as Middletown’s mayor in 2018.
Speaking inside a bustling, packed courtroom at 1 Kings Highway on Jan. 7, Murray was quick to thank her family and supporters, but also expressed appreciation for one of the “hallmarks” of her hometown – its sense of community and dedication to volunteerism.
“A community is not just about geography,” Murray said. “A community is about people taking care of each other. Community is about being part of a team.”
That was the overriding theme of Murray’s speech to residents after she was sworn in by Freeholder Director Tom Arnone and Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.
Murray succeeds Committeeman Gerry Scharfenberger, a six-time mayor, who led the township throughout 2017. She was re-elected to Middletown’s governing body in November alongside her running mate, Tony Fiore.
“Even though this is my third time as mayor, I am as thrilled as I was the first time,” she said. “I am also filled with an even healthier dose of reverence, having learned from the first few times around the block.”
Murray, who recently took a part-time job as West Long Branch’s borough administrator, believes experience will help her govern throughout 2018, a year sure to be filled with plenty of decisions and changes for the governing body.
In the second half of the meeting, the Township Committee unanimously approved another $25,000 in legal fees to fight the Monmouth County Reliability Project – a $111 million proposal by Jersey Central Power & Light Co. to build a 230kV transmission line along 10 miles of the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line commuter rail line from Aberdeen to Red Bank, running through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown.
Middletown, as the lead agency, has teamed with Aberdeen, Hazlet and Holmdel to form a municipal consortium to fight the project in court. The $25,000 installment is for Bevan, Mosca & Guiditta, P.C., a Basking Ridge-based law firm, which the township retained in 2016 to litigate on their behalf. Maser Consulting, a Middletown engineering firm, was also brought on to the legal team. The four towns have collectively spent nearly $200,000 in legal fees to fight the MCRP.
In December, the MCRP’s legal record closed in the Office of Administrative Law, and the project is now in hands of Administrative Law Judge Gail M. Cookson. A residents’ group called RAGE (Residents Against Giant Electric) has also spent nearly $450,000 of their own money for legal fees. RAGE leadership anticipates a decision by Cookson at the end of the month.
“We certainly think this is the last payment we have to make and are very optimistic about the outcome,” Murray said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed but we’ll stay prepared.”
Other new projects slated for Middletown in 2018 include a township-operated garbage pickup program and the construction of a new town hall.
In his final address as 2017 mayor, Scharfenberger said the new trash policy is the “most high-profile program” for residents this year. The township said the program will help lessen the impact on taxpayers, but some residents have been unhappy with the new service. It went into effect on Jan. 1.
“While change can sometimes be difficult and worrisome, we are confident that this move is overwhelmingly the best, most cost-effective choice for Middletown,” he said. “After the system becomes routine, we think residents will agree.”
The project to rebuild the town hall complex is expected to make strides this year. Tentative design plans have been drawn up for the $20 million project, which Scharfenberger vowed would be accomplished without impact to taxpayers.
Murray said the project will be underway by January 2019 and added news that the township will market a segment of the property for outside development to offset the cost of the major project.
Other initiatives the mayor plans to focus on this year include keeping the municipal rate flat after a decrease in 2017, along with expanding the township’s heritage tourism program to include more historic districts in Middletown.
“Middletown is not only a hub of education, culture and activity, but the paramount (example) of a successful community,” she said. “Again, this is because of all of you.”
A Middletown First
With over 350 years of recorded history it’s hard to come across a “first” in Middletown, but volunteer first responders made it happen last week.
Surrounded by her family, Kimberly Kraynock was sworn in as the first female chief of any emergency department in Middletown history, after she was elected by her peers from five volunteer companies as the EMS Chief for 2018.
Kraynock, a Keansburg resident with 14 years of experience in the volunteer EMS field, said the afternoon was one filled with plenty of emotion.
“You never think you’re going to get there, at least in my opinion. You work so hard towards something like this and you don’t really ever expect to get there sometimes,” Kraynock said.
“It’s hard to say thanks,” she continued, “so you just have to make sure to do the best you can for your department and the town to make as many improvements as you can.”
Kraynock has been with the Port Monmouth First Aid Squad for the past eight years and also spent time in Tinton Falls and with the Lincroft First Aid & Rescue Squad, where her career began.
Murray administered the oath of office to Kraynock and the two embraced each other before and after the swearing in. Afterwards, Murray said it was a historic day for Middletown.
“I’m so proud, I really am,” Murray said. “I think it’s about time and you’ll be seeing a lot more as time goes by.”
Kraynock said she plans to focus more on collective training with all the departments, practicing in active shooter situations and integrating other associations in town to first responders’ events and programs.
“There are a lot more female volunteers in your organization than you realize,” Kraynock said with a smile. “It’s about time we start showing that.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 11-18, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.
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