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Two vie for seat on Bedminster Township Committee

BEDMINSTER TWP. – A Republican with a record of advocacy and a Democrat with “another point of view” will provide a choice in the race for a Township Committee seat in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

On the ballot for a three-year term are GOP incumbent R. Colin Hickey, who is serving his fourth year, and Democrat Jeff Beyer, who is making his second straight bid for the committee after running unsuccessfully last year.

Hickey and Beyer each discussed the issues in separate phone interviews with this newspaper.

The five-member governing body has been all Republican since Democrat Carolyn Freeman served out her term at the end of 2014.

Few local issues have sparked dissent during the coronavirus pandemic, but Beyer was critical of the committee’s Oct. 5 decision to hire a new organization to run its affordable housing services.

The committee replaced the Bedminster Hills Housing Corp. (BHHC), which had an administrator and several local board members, with CGP&H, LLC, of Cranford.

The BHHC had drawn criticism last year for neglecting and then reinstating a large “recapture” fee for residents who sell formerly income-restricted homes on the open market. The plan to replace the BHHC was not publicly disclosed until the Oct. 5 meeting agenda was posted online.

“The people in the BHHC reached out to me because they got so frustrated,” said Beyer, who voiced objections at the Oct. 5 meeting. “They got a letter saying there would be a change” yet the Township Committee “never sat down and discussed it with them.”

While Beyer acknowledged that the BHHC “had problems,” he said the committee allowed little time for rebuttals and “rushed” the change through. He said the process of decision-making “needs to be opened up.”

“We need some balance on this Township Committee,” he asserted. “It’s always the same people in lockstep.”

Hickey disagreed. “If he had been paying attention, he would have known this had been under discussion since last year,” he said. “He hopped on last weekend.”

CGP&H will provide “a much more comprehensive service” than BHHC has, Hickey said. Moreover, he said the committee learned that the BHHC had internal disputes such as rival factions stacking board seats.

“I wish Jeff had fully researched this because he may be unwittingly playing into the hands of people with their own self-interests at heart,” he said. “It’s a very complicated issue with a lot of players and it’s very difficult to boomerang in at the last minute.”

Hickey, 55, of Desiree Court, was appointed to the committee to fill a vacancy in August 2017 and was elected to a full three-year term that November.

He works as an independent consultant, helping start-up business. He previously worked for AT&T as its executive director of corporate development.

He has been a township resident for 28 years, spending the first 15 years in the Stone Run section of The Hills development. He and his wife have a daughter in college.

Beyer, 73, of Riverwood Avenue, serves on the board of the Clarence Dillon Library and is chairman of the Democratic Municipal Committee.

He owns a business, Enhancement Technologies, Inc., in Liberty Corner, that serves an international client base in the architectural products industry. He was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Vietnam.

A 32-year resident of the township, he and his wife have two grown sons.

Initiatives

“I can manage a budget, I can certainly help them (on the committee) keep the taxes low but I’d also like to see some investments,” Beyer said. “Interest rates are low now. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity.”

Beyer said the committee has done “nothing new or exciting” aside from launching the annual Farmers Market and the COVID-19 food pantry.

Hickey, however, cited numerous initiatives that he or his committee colleagues have led.

In the spring of 2019, he said, his background in utilities led Mayor Larry Jacobs to ask him to reach out to Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) representatives to address chronic power outages in sections of The Hills.

He and residents in The Hills worked with JCP&L to make improvements to underground wires, transformer boxes, overhead wires and the problematic Greater Crossroads circuit station, he said. Outages, he said, have been reduced but additional improvements are still sought.

The committee also spearheaded a legal fight against a proposed New Jersey American Water rate hike that would cost township homeowners an average of $90 to $100 per year, Hickey said.

Lawyers funded by the township and six other towns are leading the cross-examination of New Jersey American officials in hearings before the state Board of Public Utilities, he said. He expressed hope for a favorable settlement.

Also, he and Mayor Jacobs persuaded the state Department of Transportation to consider signage and traffic signal changes at the Route 206/River Road jug-handle, where motorists were making hazardous U-turns, he said.

As a member of a subcommittee to enhance technology and communication, Hickey said he helped to revamp the municipal web site, which went from being “dated and archaic” to a “much more user friendly” site offering more content, updates and online payment options.

The new site was inputted with pandemic-related information on which businesses were open, their hours and how they could be reached, he noted.

Hickey also said the pandemic led him to help create the township food pantry to collect food for local residents in need. He said that with help from Deputy Township Clerk Robin Ray and generous donations, the pantry served 650 families between April and June.

As the governing body’s liaison to the Recreation Committee, Hickey said he was involved in sending out a recreation survey that drew 576 responses in August and September.

The survey asked what programs and facilities residents might want to see, he said. “We had some ideas but we wanted to hear from residents. It was a way to get user input. It will inform our planning and budgeting.”

“I think I’ve been a very good advocate for the residents,” he said.

Community Center?

Beyer said that as a member of the library board, he saw the library’s leadership work to upgrade it from just a book depository to more of a community center.

He said that led him to think about the possibility of building an actual community center in the township. Neither The Hills nor the Bedminster and Pluckemin villages have a real “center,” he noted.

Such a project is something people could rally around because it could provide after-school activities and function as a center for music and the arts, Beyer said.

“I’m not saying I’m going to be a tax-and-spend Democrat but there are ways to build something like this without crippling the tax base,” he added. He said funding could also come from grants, possibly open space funds and in the form of donations from some of the township’s wealthier sources.

Hickey, when asked about the idea, questioned why the township would want to “replicate what we already have” at the library.

“It has become the community center,” he said. Moreover, he said The Hills has its own clubhouses to fill the role.

“I’m not sure it financially makes sense or is needed,” he said. “I’m not sure where you get the money to build and operate it and I’m not sure it’s a good investment of taxes.”

With respect to the 2020 municipal budget, Hickey said it was virtually finished in March when the impact of the pandemic hit. He said the committee chose to revisit the budget and cut spending to shrink the municipal tax increase from 1.6 percent to 0.64 percent.

“We pared everything down,” he said. “We looked at capital items, we deferred employee salaries. Our objective is always to do the right thing.”

Affordable Housing

A looming issue is development from state-mandated affordable housing quotas.

The township is required to zone for 28 income-restricted rental units by July. Five are being provided in the Elite Properties apartment complex under construction on Lamington Road, leaving 23.

The owner of land that includes the Bank of the America building on Burnt Mills Road has offered to build the 23 units. But with affordable units typically subsidized by a five-to-one ratio of market-priced units, township officials have said a project may need to accommodate about 150 apartments.

“We need to hear from the public in terms of what they want,” said Hickey. The project is “not even half-baked right now. There is no site plan.”

Beyer expressed familiarity with the 23-unit obligation but was unaware that the development site would be on Burnt Mills Road.

The estimate of 150 apartments “sounds like a lot of housing,” he said. He characterized the nearby intersection with Route 206 as “brutal.”

Beyer said some 900 new homes are planned further south on Route 206 in Bridgewater Township, and “the only way from Bridgewater to get to (Interstates) 78 and 287 is through that little checkpoint of Pluckemin.

“We’ve got to come up with some sort of solution because it could be a traffic nightmare,” he said.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.


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