2018 - Mayor Ben Smith Speech
Historically (and I mean decades ago) the outgoing mayor would give a year-in-review speech and then turn the gavel over to the new Mayor. Over time that changed to the new mayor giving a speech about the prior year when he or she wasn’t the mayor, which never made much sense to me. We decided to mix it up this year and change the tradition. I get to give the recap and Betty Ann Fort will speak about where we are going.
2018 was another year of change on the Township Committee. At the front end we welcomed John and Jonathan to the committee and on the back end we said thank you to Liz Duffy for her 4 years and a month of service on the TC. In the middle were a number of milestones. I will touch on a few.
UNICOM Global bought the former Merck HQ. After years of sitting mostly vacant and unknowns of who would buy it and what they would do with the property, Merck was able to sell the site. They sold it to a large company in the IT space that favors long-term relationships, favors supporting mom-and-pop businesses, retaining employees and supporting their local communities. I think this will be a tremendous relationship in the long term. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and we are only months into this partnership.
Liz and I started a Readington Business Association. In the past the Township Committee hasn’t done the best to hearing from these constituents. We invited all business to attend a first meeting in the spring. We have met monthly since then to exchange ideas and concerns. Every member of the Township Committee has attended the meetings (in pairwise combinations to satisfy OPMA). The RBA group meets on the third Wednesday of the month at East Whitehouse Fire.
Instead of listing business that started or failed, I will highlight something new. After years talking about it, we saw two entrepreneurial groups started farmers markets to bring local products to all of you; one at the Shoppes at the Farm and other at the Bishop’s Plaza.
We saw our community come together for a number of issues and events. This chamber was packed on three evenings to hear a proposal for large cemetery in northern Readington and argue for or against. The fourth meeting has yet to be scheduled. Citizens were also concerned about the County’s proposal to replace the single lane historic bridge over the Lamington River on Mill Road and replace it with a two lane bridge that could support heavy trucks. Citizens attended a county meeting and submitted their written comments. The TC opposed this proposal via written resolution. Thirdly, on the evening of 24 December three citizen groups added to what the Beautification committee has already been doing, by making Readington prettier by lighting luminaries on Main Street, Old Highway 28 and School Road. I hope to see that continue in the years to come
But all was not happy affairs. Some were continuing long slogs. Affordable housing mandates have continued to hang over the heads of every New Jersey municipality. The legal log jam broke in 2018 and a number of municipalities settled their cases. The numbers are still eye wateringly high. Ironically recent data shows that NJ was the #1 state that people moved out of in the last year with two people moving out for every one that moved in. The details of the flow are interesting with more people moving here for jobs than leaving, but a leading net drain was retirees. Why the courts think that we need to build housing when there isn’t the population growth demand, I just don’t know. “Ours is not to wonder why….” Readington is moving forward to comply with the law. For one example, the Nelson Street project received final approvals to move forward.
Legal matters continue to move forward a glacial pace. The sewer case has been going on for over a decade—up to the NJ supreme court and back for a damages round. It looks like it may finally be over. In the end the judge reconsidered, reversed his opinion, and decided that Readington did not owe the developer almost $1mm in damages. He ordered the money to be returned to the tax payers and the deadline to appeal has expired. Just at this point the developer declared bankruptcy. First chapter 11, then chapter 7…liquidation of assets. Now we are dealing with the bankruptcy court to get our money back.
All three years of my first term in office has had the same issue looming over our heads. To channel “Game of Thrones” for a second, “the appeal is coming.” We filed the Solberg condemnation appeal and then two years of silence from Appellate Division. Late last summer the hearing was scheduled for October, but then moved to early 2019. Oral arguments were this morning. Now we wait, perhaps months, for the Court to issue a decision.
Grace Peters celebrated her 100th birthday last spring. We issued a proclamation of Grace Peter’s day and I attended to congratulate her. Sadly, at the end of the year Grace passed. Carlton During, of Readington Farms and QuikCheck, passed last year. A number of long-time firefighters passed including Bucky Lance.
To end my part on a happy note, one of the nice things about being mayor is getting out and talking with our citizens. Such as going Eagle Scout ceremonies to meet and congratulate our young leaders. Or going to Scout meetings to talk about Citizenship in the Community. Or attending annual dinners for Fire Companies and Rescue Squad. Or breakfasts at the American Legion. I could go on about the many events that happen in Readington. But I’ll leave it at that and turn it over to Betty Ann Fort to give us her vision 2019.