Aughenbaugh, Vanderbeck to run for mayor

The Borough Council president will take on the incumbent mayor in the June 6 Democratic primary election. No Republicans filed for that party’s primary.

By: Scott Morgan
   HIGHTSTOWN — Where lies the future of the borough?
   As the June primary approaches, a pair of borough Democrats will seek to answer that question. This year’s mayoral race will feature Mayor Amy Aughenbaugh, who is seeking a second term as mayor, and Councilman Mike Vanderbeck, who is seeking his first.
   No Republican filed to run for mayor in the primary.
   While both the mayor and councilman envision a vibrant future for the borough, both face the challenge of getting it there. Despite both being Democrats, however, they have somewhat different views as to the best way to achieve that goal.
   For both the mayor and Mr. Vanderbeck, the future begins with a key issue — controlling property taxes. Taxes are a perpetual issue in the borough, landlocked in the center of East Windsor and left without physical room to expand. But where the two differ is in how they view the best way to combat the problem.
   Mayor Aughenbaugh said the borough’s future rests in the momentum begun with the downtown revitalization project. The mayor said she feels the borough is heading in the right direction by developing its identity as a historic town. By preserving its historic value and developing its downtown into a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly center, Mayor Aughenbaugh said the value and autonomy of the borough will be indelibly tied to its character. The key to maintaining that character, she said, is to control property taxes by communicating with state legislators and aggressively seeking state aid.
   The mayor said her wish to continue the forward motion of the revitalization — and thus further cultivate the small-town feel of the borough — will enhance the borough’s appeal both to the people who do or will eventually live there and state legislators who will seek to maintain the borough for its historic integrity.
   Mr. Vanderbeck sees things in a more financial light. The cold fact, Mr. Vanderbeck said, is that the borough needs to look at shared services to protect its solvency. Economic realities, Mr. Vanderbeck said — including a lack of ratables, looming property tax increases and uncertain futures — require heading toward shared services.
   Sharing services, such as trash collection, courts, emergency services and water/sewer departments, with nearby communities can save the borough the costs of running such programs on its own.
   Mayor Aughenbaugh said future budgets will be, in large part, dependent upon future departmental needs around the borough. Practically speaking, the mayor said, she will continue to seek ways to save the borough money through operational needs before committing to either the sale or partial dismantling of borough services.
   In addition, the mayor said, she will monitor how issues in the state government will develop. She said her experience as mayor has led her to understand all mayors in the state are in the same financial boat. She said it is important to keep the lines of communication open with the state to see how changing trends will affect the community.
   Despite their differences, both the mayor and Mr. Vanderbeck say they want to see the same prosperous town 10 or 20 years from now. They said they want to see an inclusive town, pedestrian-friendly, senior-friendly and still autonomous as a borough.
   "I want to see the same charming little town," Mayor Aughenbaugh said. She added she absolutely does not want to see the borough go the way of Windsor or Princeton Junction, which lost much of their identities to their neighbors and are no longer destinations in their own right.
   Mr. Vanderbeck said he wants to see the mayor and council sit down in 20 years to discuss little more than a bill list in a lively town in which the concept of shared services has come to fruition.
   "I don’t think Hightstown will ever lose its identity," Mr. Vanderbeck said, unless the borough loses its solvency.
   Despite that they are jockeying for the same position, both the mayor and councilman said they are not running against each other so much as they are pointing in different directions to achieve the same result. Both said they will continue to rely on the teamwork they have built during their time together in government.
   "It’s not between me and Mike," the mayor said. "We need to keep working as part of a team."
   Mr. Vanderbeck agreed.
   "We both have Hightstown at heart," he said. "But we have different visions on how to best serve the community."