Milltown officials get set to face challenging year ahead

Mayor, council say priorities include saving money while tackling most pressing issues


As a new year begins and two new members join the Milltown Borough Council, local officials say budget and economic challenges are at the forefront of their thoughts.

Mayor Gloria Bradford said finding additional money-saving opportunities in these tough economic times, while maintaining local services, is among her top objectives. She also wants to resolve the Ford Avenue lawsuit in a manner that is fair and equitable, and to move ahead with building the new firehouse.

Other issues demanding attention are addressing the need to relocate the electric substation that flooded last year.

Bradford noted that new projects are constantly emerging, so priorities could change, but the governing body is prepared to deal with that.

“Each issue will be addressed in the best possible manner, using all resources available at the time, including solicitation of public input,” she said.

Two new faces will join the council next week — Republicans Gary Holsten and Robert Owens, who won three-year terms in November. They will replace Republicans Randy Farkas and John Collins on the dais.

When asked what the newly elected Republican councilmen will bring to the governing body, Bradford replied that as a retired police officer, Holsten brings experience that is vital in these troubled times, while Owens brings analytic engineering skills that could be useful in addressing everyday challenges.

Council President Brian Harto said he looks forward to working with Holsten and Owens, and he believes they will bring some new ideas to the table.

“This looks to be another challenging year as far as our budget goes, and hopefully with those new ideas we can be productive without much impact on taxes,” Harto said. “The design of our much- needed new firehouse is well under way, and hopefully we can see construction start by the end of the year.”

Harto said reducing the borough’s use of electric power has been one of his goals, and last year the town able to purchase some new street lighting. When installed, the lighting is expected to reduce usage by 50 percent per fixture, he said.

“I hope to have 100 of these fixtures installed by the end of 2010. I will also be working with our police department to identify some areas of town [that have more lighting than is needed], and possibly eliminate another 20 or so fixtures,” Harto said.

Holsten said that, more then ever, he realizes how decisions made by town officials will impact many residents.

“The federal and state levels are dictating a lot of the financial stress on local government. On all levels it’s going to take hard decisions to right the present economic crisis,” Holsten said.

The most pressing issue, he said, is electricity, both in terms of demand and moving the substation. While there are other important issues, he noted that financing means must be addressed before any projects are started.

Owens said he looks forward to finally getting to work as a council member. He said Milltown faces some sizable challenges with its budget and its aging infrastructure.

“Until I actually take a seat on the council and go through my learning curve, it is difficult to say which issues will take priority over others,” Owens said. “I will not start my term with a concrete agenda in mind, other than to study the issues laid out in front of me and to use my judgment to make the best decisions for the residents of Milltown. The most important thing on my agenda is to produce some positive change in the borough.”

Councilwoman Stacey Waters noted that, like many other towns, Milltown is facing tough economic times and may not be able to rely on state aid this year.

“We need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Waters said. “I would like to get a five-year plan in place that looks at the borough’s infrastructure. Too often this town waits until something is broken beyond repair before we do anything, which is not cost-effective or efficient.”

During the last few years, Waters said, some cost savings were achieved and department budgets were tightened, but officials will need to be creative and consider shared services and other ways to trim costs.

“As a borough, we need to look at potential new revenue sources,” Waters said, adding that residents should contact her with any ideas for saving costs or generating revenue. “We welcome all input and we will evaluate any suggestion brought before us.”

The council met with some of the local business owners a few months ago regarding electric usage and rates, and are currently evaluating resolutions, she said.

“We need to come up with an answer that works for the town and its businesses. Forcing our small businesses to close is not a resolution to me,” she said. “Keeping vibrant businesses on Main Street is good for all residents.”

The council’s lone Democrat, Ron Dixon, also cited the electric-related needs and Ford Avenue as the most pressing issues facing the town. Part of the difficulty in dealing with such issues, he said, is that they are complex, with some of the work going on behind the scenes. He noted as an example the current wrangling over the Ford Avenue cleanup involving the property owner and the federal government, which is in charge of the cleanup effort.