Category: Campaign

Get to know Berkeley Heights Township Council Candidate Rina Franchino (D): Week 3 Question

Get to know Berkeley Heights Township Council Candidate Rina Franchino (D): Week 3 Question

Please give the definition of transparency in politics and how would you try and expand it? Change is often used as a campaign buzzword — name the most important things you believe need change and why?

For Julie Figlar and I, transparency in local politics means:

  • Being accountable to residents in person. We need to take township government to the community, and not make residents come to us. Mayor Devanney and Team Purple have been out and around in the community in 2019, as well as using official Facebook pages and other outlets to show how progress is being made. Julie and I will do the same thing. We need to use mediums where residents are.
  • Give as much information as possible to our residents through the large number of avenues we have open to us. These include newsletters and e-newsletters, TAP into Berkeley Heights, in-person community forums, and social media. Our township and the Communications Committee just won a statewide award for their videos on upcoming events in town – proof that we’re doing a better job communicating with residents.
  • Being open to criticism or dissent. Residents deserve the right to be heard and not be disregarded or dismissed.

Plus, the more we communicate with our residents, the more transparency they feel they are being given – the two go hand in hand. If we are truly making the right decisions for Berkeley Heights, there’s no reason to not be transparent and communicate the reasons for those decisions.

But how you govern should also be transparent. For example, this administration approved lists of qualified professionals at the beginning of the year, vetting each professional before they could work for the township – instead of just hiring as we go. This list was public and presented to Council for approval in January. I am also extremely impressed that we are now going through proper financial steps in having the Council pass resolutions to apply for and receive grants and grant money, to properly hire professionals to do specific jobs for the town, and to make sure enough money is set aside for large infrastructure projects the township has planned. This all not only makes for good governance, but great transparency.

Based on these criteria, Julie and I know that Team Purple has exceeded what transparency in local politics requires. There’s more than can be done, of course, and we’ll join the governing body with that goal in mind.

However,  these are some important changes I believe need to be made, and that I would focus on if elected.  These ideas can all be considered part of our definition of transparency.

We need to communicate with residents and be transparent about what we plan to do about:

  • Property taxes keep going up, due to factors we have no control over, meaning we can’t keep the budget flat without slashing critical services like police officers or road repair funding.
  • We need to better convey where our tax dollars are going; I will work with our CFO to try to develop a more user-friendly budget that is easy for residents to understand around budget season.
  • In any future redevelopment agreements, we need to include some sort of penalty when developers do not uphold their end of the agreements and get built on schedule. These agreements should be clear to the taxpayers what is coming, and what the residents may get in return (a Community Impact Fee, for example, to offset any negative conditions created by that project).
  • We also need less divisive, partisan politics in order to bring Berkeley Heights residents together to make more positive changes.

On a personal note, I will also focus on how we can use shared services to provide more savings for Berkeley Heights taxpayers. We should host a Shared Services Summit in 2020, bringing together other towns to share ideas and find out how we can work together more productively in future. Not every idea will be a good fit for Berkeley Heights but we should actively examine every one of them to see if they are.

I encourage everyone to read more about Julie and I, and our detailed plans for Change We Can Agree On at www.bhteampurple.com. Please vote for Julie Figlar & Rina Franchino for Township Council on November 5th, Column A. Thank you for your support!

Get to know Berkeley Heights Township Council Candidate Rina Franchino (D): Week 2 Question

Get to know Berkeley Heights Township Council Candidate Rina Franchino (D): Week 2 Question

Residents are concerned about rising taxes in Berkeley Heights. The tax bill is made up of numbers from the County, School and Township. The Township’s portion of the tax bill is the smallest. Many costs are out of the Council’s control with the rising cost of services and employee benefits. However, tax payers want to know how you will control the budget while maintaining and improving infrastructure issues and services and preparing for the future. Please explain your plan.

Julie Figlar and I realize how important it is to make every dollar count – we do it every day as working parents with children to raise. That’s why we support the fiscally responsible policies launched by Mayor Angie Devanney and her administration in 2019. Shared service agreements with Union County, such as sharing the use of our salt dome, will generate $1 million over the next 20 years, and having the same Public Works director, has saved taxpayers $70,000 while greatly improving the speed in which our DPW is getting things done.

These shared service agreements are working. When I’ve gone door to door, I’ve heard many residents tell me that they’re glad to see how many more roads and catch basins are being fixed – and they’re right. Streets are being swept, trees are being trimmed with the help of Union County, and more recycling services are being offered. If elected, I want to take the lead on examining opportunities for shared services in other areas, such as agreements to share the use of our wastewater treatment plant.  If agreements like these benefit our taxpayers while also making local government more efficient and effective, we should continue to examine possibilities like these.

Going forward, the Economic Development Committee that was recently created will enable Berkeley Heights to develop long-term, responsible growth in our downtown and the wider business community. Every dollar raised through commercial ratables is a dollar homeowners don’t have to pay in property taxes, and smart investments in areas like our wastewater treatment plant can lead to increased revenue.

In addition, we need to hold developers accountable.  Going forward, Julie and I will fight to include penalty clauses in any agreements on future redevelopment projects, fining developers if they don’t keep to their side of the agreements and build within the timetable agreed to in the redevelopment agreement.

While the Mayor and Township Council have control over only a small portion (18%) of our property tax bill, it still means we have the obligation to responsibly manage that portion. Julie Figlar and I will join the team of leaders that has been doing just that in 2019 and will continue to do that in the years to come. It’s why we ask for your vote for Berkeley Heights Township Council on November 5th.

Shared Services: Smart Ways to Save Money While Continuing the Progress

Shared Services: Smart Ways to Save Money While Continuing the Progress

BY RINA FRANCHINO

As a candidate for Township Council along with Julie Figlar, I am proud to see how Team Purple, lead by our Mayor, Angie Devanney has practiced what they preached when it comes to running a fiscally responsible government. Sharing services is one area which can yield great results in both saving dollars and providing the same level or even increased services. Berkeley Heights needs a Council member who will lead the effort to identify every available option when it comes to sharing resources, and who will weigh the pros and cons in pursuing such options.  I will make this my top priority if elected.

We have already seen great results from two new particular shared service initiatives this year.  The first is sharing our salt dome with Union County; this will bring in tens of thousands of dollars in new revenue every year by having the County contribute.  The second, to bring on former DPW Director Joe Graziano (now serving in a similar role in Union County) as our temporary, part-time Director, is saving taxpayers $70,000 a year, while leading to a much more efficient Public Works Department that is getting more work done than recent years.  More roads are being paved, more trees are being trimmed, potholes are getting repaired more quickly, basin repairs are finally getting done,  and our drainage issues are finally being addressed with short and long term improvement plans.

There are many other ideas out there that could – emphasis on could – benefit our town while protecting the quality of our services. I want to serve as the Council’s “point person” on shared services in order to give this topic the attention it deserves.  As a working mother of two, I understand how important it is to make every dollar count, both at home and as a teacher in the classroom.  It’s the same concept at the municipal level.

This year, the State appointed two Shared Service Czars and allocated $10 million for collaborative shared services throughout New Jersey. The money will fund grants and efforts to smooth over the “rough spots” of contention that prevent some towns from working together, as well as feasibility studies for municipalities considering collaborating.  We need to engage these czars (one who is former Mayor of Summit, Jordan Glatt) to get advice and help provide assessments.  Funding supports local units’ shared services efforts; there is additional funding available to support one-time costs incurred during government consolidation efforts.  Berkeley Heights should be at the front of the line.

To that end, if elected I will push for Berkeley Heights to host a shared service “summit” in 2020, inviting neighboring township officials, shared services experts, neighboring department heads, and others to share ideas, offer advice, and examine ways towns can work together to save money without impacting the quality of the service we provide our residents. Berkeley Heights can play a major role in promoting fiscally responsible policies that will make communities like ours more affordable, especially for senior citizens who want to continue living here after they retire.

I also want to work with Union County to identify ways we can pool our efforts to preserve green space in our town. There are only a few acres of land that can’t be built upon by developers making it critically important that we do all we can to preserve and create open space. Shared service programs may be a way to do that. Finally, I want to work with the newly formed Grants Committee to seek money from various state and county programs where shared services may come into play.  Programs such as the Union County Kids Recreational Trust Fund grants need to be utilized to their maximum extent so that we can leverage our tax dollars.

Julie and I care about making Berkeley Heights the best it can be. As longtime residents, parents, and community leaders, we will work with the rest of Team Purple to promote fiscally responsible government, maximizing our tax dollars without hurting township services. That is Progress We Can Count On! For more about our campaign visit us on Facebook at Rina & Julie 4 BH. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]with any questions or comments.

See you around town! – Rina

Progress We Can Count On

Progress We Can Count On

By JULIE FIGLAR and RINA FRANCHINO

As the Team Purple candidates for Township Council, we’re proud to ask for your support to keep making Progress We Can Count On in Berkeley Heights by electing Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino to Council.

Understanding our community and the needs of our residents is something we value and live every day.  We interact daily with our younger population and as mothers of young children we listen and talk to our community continually, whether it is on the sports fields, at PTO events, neighborhood barbeques, at the dance studio, Girl Scouts or even in the grocery store, we are part of the fabric that makes Berkeley Heights great.  Running for Council was a decision we made because we are here for the long run, and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

When Mayor Angie Devanney and Team Purple took charge in January, Berkeley Heights was facing tremendous challenges.  We are proud to stand behind their record of accomplishments in year one including:

  • Keeping costs under control;
  • Cutting waste;
  • Fixing more roads with grants and alternative financing for repairs;
  • Building a bi-partisan group of committee volunteers;
  • Adding new committees to address critical needs, boosting environmental and historic preservation efforts as top priorities, and much more.

Together, we can do even more – we’re ready to join Team Purple and deliver Progress We Can Count On! We’re running a positive, issues-driven campaign that focuses on how we can make Berkeley Heights government work better for everyone, building on the accomplishments made by Team Purple in 2019. Here are some of our specific ideas to do this:

  • Host a “Shared Service Summit” in 2019, inviting neighboring township officials, shared services experts, neighboring department heads, and other stakeholders.
  • Refine the Township Master Plan to include specific plans for revitalizing our downtown, using the township’s citizen and business committees as a focal point.
  • Appoint a Council “point person” to lead the coalition of residents and stakeholders involved in our Sports and Recreation programs to create an action plan with a timetable.
    • This would include incorporating our commitment to improvement of fields and recreation spaces as part of a Parks & Recreation Master Plan, as well as any long-term infrastructure plans and working to create more walking/biking/jogging trails along the Passaic River.
  • Develop a 5-year budget forecast and a 5-year ratable forecast, both being essential for long-term planning needs.
  • Conduct a professional Management Study in 2020 to find additional cost savings and efficiencies which would complement our budget and ratable forecast.
  • Continue to evaluate the feasibility of shared service agreements on services such as 9-1-1 emergency dispatch.
  • Ensure that any future (re)development agreements include penalties for if/when developers do not meet certain project deadlines.
  • Work closely with Union County to preserve green space in our town.
  • Together with the Environmental Commission and our business community, enact a ban on businesses providing plastic bags/straws to customers, joining the growing movement across New Jersey for environmentally sustainable policies.
  • Pass an ordinance ensuring all establishments in Berkeley Heights that serve food to print in their menu when/if their food is cooked in any sort of highly allergenic substance, such as nut-based oil (peanut, coconut, etc.).

This is just the beginning.  You can read about these ideas and others in greater detail on our website www.BHTeamPurple.com (to be live by September 15). We also welcome your ideas and questions, so please shoot us an email at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. Our platform will continue to grow and be updated as our campaign unfolds.  Stay tuned to our website and our Facebook page, Julie and Rina 4 BH (facebook.com/bh4all) for updates as we get closer to Election Day, Tuesday, November 5th.

Thanks for your support and we look forward to seeing you!

– Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino, Team Purple