The story told at the Jan. 3 Highland Park Reorganization meeting could have been titled “The Little Borough That Could.” Each council member spoke eloquently and passionately about the accomplishments of the community in the areas for which they were responsible. And then the mayor summarized not only the accomplishments of the past, but also the plans to move forward – the overriding message being that the success of the community is due to the tireless commitment of its residents being that the incredible efforts of the residents “Working together, we can make 2017 a landmark year for Highland Park!,” said Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, who highlighted particular accomplishments in tax stabilization, economic development, infrastructure, quality of life, and transparency or citizen involvement.
The portion of the meeting preceding the speeches also left the observers smiling as the mayor acknowledged honored guests – NJ State Senator Patrick Diegnan and State Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, introduced the newly sworn in council members – incumbent Philip George (pictured) and new member Matthew Hersh, and called for the nomination for president of council. Councilmember Susan Welkovits was elected council president by acclamation.
Mayor Brill Mittler’s New Year’s Address:
2016 was an unpredictable year for the country, but a successful and rewarding year for Highland Park. I am happy to report on our progress in our four main areas of focus, and an additional area, transparency and resident involvement, as well.
- Our Parking Task Force will be presenting their findings and recommendations within the next few weeks.
- PSE&G is renting a former Borough owned landfill at the Upper Meadows to create a solar field, repurposing this unused piece of land. This will not only increase our revenue, but it will make clean energy usage of a contaminated site without costly clean-up.
- We are continuing to benefit from shared services with New Brunswick, Woodbridge, and the Board of Education, providing more efficient and tax-saving services for our residents.
- Our downtown development projects are progressing, as we have named a Conditional Developer for one of our proposed projects, and have designated all of Highland Park to be an Area of Rehabilitation, which expands our opportunities for smart growth in town.
- Our community is growing in the way of housing as well. New developments throughout town have resulted in over $532,700 of new net tax revenue in 2016.
- A number of new shops opened in town this past year, including a new art supply store, clothing store, vintage shop, mobile phone store and more.
- We have also upheld the reputation of our downtown by passing a Massage Parlor ordinance to ensure the safety and character of our community.
- The arts bring a new life into our downtown and we are doing many things to encourage them.
- Rite Aid store partnered with Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts to showcase artwork in nine windows facing South 4th The artwork is produced and curated on a rotating basis by Mason Gross students.
- Arts throughout the community are thriving, especially with our rejuvenated Arts Commission. They planned a number of events and programs to spark the creativity of our residents, including story telling and book making.
- Highland Park has a long history, and with that comes an older infrastructure. Like many older, densely populated municipalities in New Jersey, our gas and water lines are in frequent need of repair.
- Recently PSE&G upgraded a number of gas lines in the Borough. Major road gas lines were repaired this year and more side streets will be upgraded throughout 2017.
- Our DPW is now using a special salt brine mixture, which they make themselves, to pre-treat roads before they freeze. This prevents bonding of ice and snow to the road, making plowing more efficient and roads safer during the winter.
- Continuing our reputation of being New Jersey’s first Green Community, once again this year, we achieved the coveted Silver Sustainability from Sustainable New Jersey.
- And, as a Tree Community, we take the beauty and importance of our trees seriously. In 2016 we introduced our new Tree Dedication program. Through this program, residents can honor someone by purchasing a plaque for an existing tree in town. Visit hpboro.com to dedicate a tree in honor or memory of a loved one or friend.
- To ensure the safety of our residents, we lobbied the DOT and got them to reduce the speed limit on upper Raritan Avenue to 35mph. Additionally, new crossing signs, a one-way street designation, and new parking lines were installed to enhance pedestrian and vehicular traffic in that area.
The State finally released Transportation Trust Funds in the second half of 2016. We are now able to resume the street repairs that were started earlier in the year.
Quality of Life:
- We have a diverse population in Highland Park, both ethnically and economically. With the percentage of our children on free or reduced lunch hovering between 35 and 38%, it became evident that something had to be done to ensure these children have a nutritional lunch when school is not in session. Our HP Gives a Hoot program, funded by the kind donations of our residents, has served almost 400 lunches in to children in 2016. The program offered 10 scholarships for our HP Recreation Camp and sent 4 high school students to the YouthRoots mentorship sleepaway camp last summer.
- We recently passed an ordinance to produce ID cards for all residents of Highland Park, including undocumented immigrants. This ID card is accepted for all municipal services, including the Library, Food Bank, Recreation and more.
- I appointed a new Refugee/Immigrant Task Force to find the best ways to help our new immigrants acclimate to life in Highland Park.
- We broke ground and are working with an architect to finalize plans for construction of our new Highland Park Teen Center for all our high school aged residents.
- Our Police Department hired three new officers this year to help patrol our town and better serve residents.
- Our seniors remain a priority. Aging in place is a real possibility in Highland Park. This year, our Senior Center hired a full-time driver to transport our senior citizens to appointments throughout Highland Park and Middlesex County, as well as to take them on trips.
- Healthy living is important for all of us. Once again this year, all of our residents were invited to our Mayor’s Walks in the spring, summer and autumn. When the weather changed, our Stretch with the Mayor classes were held throughout the winter.
- Our Recreation Department continues to offer many sports programs for children and adults which encourage active lifestyles.
- The Highland Park Library provides ongoing programming and movies for residents of all ages.
- In 2016, Highland Park became the first municipality in New Jersey to be designated a HeartSafe Community. Staff and residents were trained in usage of defibrillators. And these devices have been strategically placed in all municipal buildings throughout town. Several retailers have also purchased the defibrillators. The status makes us more ready to handle the first signs of heart failure.
As many of you know, it is a priority of mine to be open and transparent, and I aim to embolden residents to volunteer and participate in the municipal government.
- Our award-winning Park Partners Community Grant Program is a perfect example of this. This grant program, which offers up to $2000 each for up to 5 projects which will benefit the community, is now in its fourth year, and we received the highest number of applications this year! The community Voting Session, in which the community votes for the winning projects, is February 12, 3-5pm at the Senior/Youth Center.
- We have also held a number of Open Public Meetings on key topics, such as the Area of Rehabilitation designation and the Buckwoods project, which have been well-attended and successful in helping residents understand these topics and voice their concerns. I appreciate the participation and input of our residents, and look forward to continuing this type of communication.