New-look Boro Council vows to bring integrity

Harto, Waters take seats; Farkas named council president


Milltown officials looked toward a year bringing both change and challenge at their reorganization meeting Jan. 2.

The swearing-in of two new Borough Council members shifted control of the governing body from Democrats to Republicans, who now have a 4-2 majority.

The most pressing situation for the governing body this year is the litigation centering on the Ford Avenue redevelopment site, though several other issues in town also demand attention.

“We must resolve the Ford Avenue lawsuit, a lawsuit which would give complete control of the site to the current owner,” Republican Mayor Gloria Bradford said in her annual address. “We must give serious attention to the firehouse needs. We must address the increased electric costs and depleted surplus, and we must continue to clean up the brown water in town.

“But, in spite of all these challenges, I am certain that by working together, 2008 will be another good year in the history of Milltown,” Bradford said.

Republican Councilman Randy Farkas, unanimously elected to serve as council president for 2008, replacing former Democratic councilman Eric Steeber, agreed with the mayor’s priorities for the year ahead.

“Obviously, we have some very big challenges ahead of us,” Farkas said. “Ford Avenue remains to be the most important thing in the town.”

The council held an executive session last Thursday to discuss plans for meeting the borough’s affordable housing obligations, which is what the brunt of the site owner’s lawsuit addresses.

Farkas, along with newly appointed Borough Attorney Thomas Buck, said no information could be released, other than the fact that regulations from the state Council onAffordable Housing (COAH) require a greater number of affordable housing units in town, as anticipated by borough officials. An exact number of the units required has yet to be determined, according to Farkas.

Bradford said the Ford Avenue Redevelopment Agency, Borough Council and Planning Board are collaborating to deal with the litigation surrounding the redevelopment of Ford Avenue. The litigation, brought by site owner Lawrence Berger, seeks to thwart the borough’s redevelopment plans, citing the town’s failure to address affordable housing obligations.

“Each of these agencies is searching for a solution that will resolve our COAH requirements and benefit our community at the same time,” Bradford said. “On the bright side, the process to clean up the contaminated soil is about to start under the direction of the DEP [state Department of Environmental Protection]. This project is being funded strictly with grant money.”

Bradford praised the efforts of borough Chief Finance Officer Denise Biancamano for securing more than $400,000 in grant money for various projects and equipment in the town.

Electrical rates are increasing by 34 percent under a new contract negotiated late last year when an association including Milltown and eight other New Jersey towns made a new bulk energy purchase. Borough officials have less surplus funds to offset the increase because they used some of that money to relieve the tax burden in the municipal budget last year. Talks are still in progress to determine final rate figures, as the 34-percent increase will not put any money back into the surplus, according to Farkas.

“We’re developing a spending plan,” he said, noting that officials are trying to get surpluses back to acceptable levels, with the help of the borough auditor.

Bradford said the brown water issue is also being addressed. The first leg of the project consists of the cleaning and lining of the water main alongMain Street, from the Elkins Lane pumping station to the New Jersey Turnpike bridge. Work is slated to begin in the summer, as long as approval is granted from the DEP. After the work on Main Street is completed, the same type of work will be done on water lines in other areas of town where it is deemed most necessary.

Replacement of the water main between Clay andMain streets is also in the works, along with other improvements to the water distribution system on West Lawrence Street, Bradford said. The project is in its design stage, and work is slated to begin this spring.

Other projects in the works are phase II of the Milltown Bikeway project, which will connect Washington Avenue to Violet Terrace. As part of that project, 18 parking spaces will be added to the lot at the borough’s senior center. Construction is expected to begin in the spring.

Playground facilities are continuing to be added throughout the town, and street sign upgrades are an ongoing project, and one that will bring the borough into compliance with state-mandated standards. The mayor’s war on speeding in town will also continue and expand during the coming year, she said.

The Republican take-over

Buck, who served as a Republican councilman from 1998-2001, resides and operates a law office in Milltown. He replaces state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-18), who served as borough attorney for several years.

“It’s certainly no reflection on [Diegnan],” Farkas said. “He did a very good job as borough attorney, but sometimes change is good.”

A more significant change came with the swearing-in of newly elected council members Brian Harto and Stacy Waters, who defeated Democrat incumbents Bill Deinzer and Eric Steeber in the November election.

Harto, Waters, Farkas and Councilman John Collins now comprise the Republican majority on a council that was long controlled by Democrats. The two remaining Democrats are Joe Cruz and Mike Skarzynski.

“This is really huge forMilltown, that’s been so long a Democratic council,” Farkas said. “It’s huge.”

Middlesex County Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel, who has long been chairman of the Milltown Democratic Organization, resigned that post in December. Borough resident Craig Corson, a partner with the law firm of Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst and Doukas, New Brunswick, has taken the position.

Harto, a lifelong borough resident, is an electrical project designer for Brownsworth Engineering and is a coowner of eSoldAuctions on Main Street. A member of the Milltown Fire Department for 28 years, Harto is the curator of the Eureka Fire Museum.

Waters, also a lifelongMilltown native, serves as chairwoman of the borough’s Historic PreservationAdvisory Committee and as secretary of the town’s historical society. She is also treasurer of the Milltown Revitalization Committee.

“I have to say that it’s certainly politics, but we’ve had a problem with the council that was in power,” Farkas said. “I don’t really feel that there was much accountability.”