HIGHLANDS – Mayor Carolyn Broullon gave a State of the Borough report at the St. Patrick’s Day meeting of the Borough Council, reviewing some of the activities, growths, and completion of projects of the past year and highlighting some of the plans the Mayor and Council have put in place for 2021.
She did it, she said, because “as a first-time Mayor, I wanted to address past issues as well as plan for Highlands’ future for both residents and businesses.”
Among items started last year, she said, and to be continued are the implementation of multiple infrastructure projects regarding flooding, buildings and equipment updates, progress on the new municipal building, negotiations for two Areas of Redevelopment, procedural changes to make borough operations more efficient, capital improvements and purchases for parks and open spaces, and raising awareness of the Mayors Wellness Campaign.
Additionally, goals set for 2021, besides “getting our residents vaccinated,” include updating utilities at borough parks, and moving utilities out of the flood zone, addressing inequities in tax assessments, installing a sewer meter at Rt 36 & Waterwitch Avenue for Monmouth Hills and addressing runoff issues at Monmouth Hills. Governing body officials plan on the completion of North and Valley Street pump improvements and Waterwitch Pump upgrades and installation of a backup generator, installation of a higher riprap rock wall in front of boardwalk at Veterans Park, creating an Overlook Park on Route 36 at the site of the former Stymie’s ice cream stand, entering the Community Rating System [CRS] program for lower flood insurance, validating all Borough owned property, updating the Open Space Plan and Registered Open Space Inventory, neither of which has been done in many years, cleaning Frank Hall Park, purchasing new apparatus for all Borough parks including the Skate Park, categorizing and scanning, updating the slope ordinance and replacing trees on the slope with sea grass after seeking a forestry grant to finance the project. The borough also hopes to remove unused phone and cable lines throughout the Borough during the course of the year.
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Looking back, the mayor noted in the first month of last year, work began on the Bayshore Family Success Center to expand recreation and outreach services, the borough joined the Monmouth County Health Department and the Recreation Coordinator joined her in programming the Mayors Wellness Campaign [MWC].
Among other agreements and improvements in the borough during the year, was entering an agreement with the Monmouth Affordable Housing Alliance to secure more affordable housing in the Borough to meet the mandated requirement.
The borough’s pandemic lockdown which began in March included closing all borough buildings to the public, and the borough continued to alter and create plans in the face of the ongoing pandemic. This included following Covid-19 protocols, opening discussions with JFK Meridian Health to have their rigs and staff in the borough 12 hours a day, an agreement that went into effect days later on April 1, having the recreation department start virtual programming, and borough volunteer organizations including the fire department and first aid squad participating in Birthday drive-bys as well as Easter basket deliveries to local families. The borough worked with food pantries at OLPH, the Atlantic Highlands United Methodist Church and the business community to help Atlantic Highlands and Highlanders who need assistance as well as with the Curbside Kindness food donation program organized by the Highlands Business Partnership. The borough also extended the deadline for property tax payments until June, then later extended it further until August.
By May, parks were able to be reopened, she said, and the borough received a Safe Roads to Schools Grant. The borough also faced the additional problem of increased traffic and heavy congestion within town with the opening of Gateway National Recreational Area’s beaches at Sandy Hook,
Covid news continued to dominate the report throughout the year, with the Mayor citing the death of Mildred Goleman at King James as the first borough resident to die from the disease. At the same time, PPE became difficult to obtain, but private corporations continued to offer assistance to the borough’s residents. With the restaurant industry especially hard-hit by regulations, the Mayor said she worked with the office of Emergency Management to enable outdoor dining at local eateries.
The annual summer Farmer’s Market ensured Highlanders had easy access to fresh produce, however, new Covid cases continued to be reported, and the borough cancelled all events through the end of summer. Although outdoor dining continued to be a benefit to restaurants, Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power in the borough for several days in August. Restaurants were able to resume limited indoor dining in September, an improvement that continued throughout the rest of the year.
During the year, road improvements in several areas continued to be made, the new borough parking lot on Bay Avenue was completed, Happy Potter ‘came to town’ with the advent of Teen Night movies, and the Film Fest went on at Kavookjian Field in October. The borough was able to hold a socially distant 9-11 memorial ceremony at Veterans Park, and the police department entered a partnership program with The Phoenix, a recovery program. The governing body hired a redevelopment attorney to handle the three areas selected for Redevelopment, bonded to fix Waterwitch Sanitary Pump Station, and partnered with Bayshore Family Success Center for an outdoor Baby Pop Up Pantry.
In response to the continuing Covid pandemic, the governing body signed a contract with IMM Care to test for COVID-19 in the Borough, VFW post 6902 hosted a flu shot event, and socially distant Photos with Santa were offered. Limited in-person programming began in December in the Community Center, the Blessing Bag Brigade held their 3rd Annual Thanksgiving meal as a take-away event and the Lions club gave away coats for tots. Free holiday dinners were provided by the Proving Ground restaurant before Christmas.
Reviewing these and more activities throughout the year, Mayor Broullon said “Our community really pulled together during this pandemic. Residents, staff, businesses, charitable organizations, and clergy all worked together to get us through the worst part of the biggest health crisis of our lifetime.”
She was also able to report that of the approximate 60 businesses in the borough, “no business establishment went out of business in Highlands in 2020,” an accomplishment in itself given the yearlong pandemic.
The municipal tax rate was also lowered in 2020, she said, the first time since 2014. Combined valuation of all properties in the Borough soared to $741,121,800, she continued, an increase in valuation of $128,761,777, the largest increase ever recorded in the borough. The borough also received NJ Healthcare Quality Institute accreditation for a 2020 Healthy Town Up and Coming.
In completing her report, the Mayor also lamented the deaths of many local residents, from Mrs. Goleman and others who died from Covid-19, to all who died of other causes. “May each of their lives be cherished and honored and may they all rest in peace”