Town council discussions have established three strategic priorities for 2015, including providing financial stability, creating an inclusive and well-run community and improving service delivery, according toMayor Liz Lempert.
While the council has not yet passed a list of specific priorities for 2015, working sessions have outlined a number of initiatives in line with the strategic priorities, she said.
Unlike last year, which saw several large administrative reorganizations, the town council will primarily focus on several projects slated for developmentthis year.
In particular, the town will focus on harmonizing existing town and borough parking ordinances, seeking bids for the potential installation of a solar array at the local landfill and creating a plan for the inclusion of bike lanes on Hamilton Avenue are important upcoming projects, Lempert said.
“This is an exciting time for the municipal government because we are still in transition and we have a lot of opportunities to do more self-assessment and adopt policies that will put us in a good position moving forward,” she said.
Councilwoman Jo Butler said that maintaining financial stability is at the top of the council’s concerns for the coming year.
“Costs are always increasing, concerns exist about taxes rising and we need to focus on maintaining low costs while improving infrastructure,” Butler explained. “We feel we are at a debt limit and have to be cautious about what capital projects we undertake.”
At the same time, the town council needs to continue achieving the promises of consolidation, she said.
While working sessions regarding the establishment of priorities have not proved too contentious, discussions often arise regarding how to achieve goals, Lempert said.For example, she noted that the traffic committee recently recommended that bike lanes be added on Hamilton Avenue, but citizens have voiced concern over how the lanes will fit into the town’s larger “complete roads” project, which aims to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in road construction.
In response to citizen concerns, the town council intends to consult with a representative from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to develop a bike master plan, she said.
“We are having a healthy debate on how to make the town safe for all forms of transportation while addressing specific community needs,” Councilwoman Heather Howard said.
Lempert also said that continuing to improve relations between the University and the town is a personal priority, though she added that communication between the two parties has been good.
“I think it’s like any relationship, you always have to be working on it to figure out how to make it better,” she said in regard to town and University relations.
University Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget said that progress has been made in the last year in strengthening communication between the town and University due to the mutual collaboration effort of both Lempert and University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83.
“President Eisgruber has visited the town council twice and has had really excellent conversations,” Appelget said. “That has become a great avenue of discussion between the President and Mayor and Council and I think it permeates to all levels of government and the University. We are in the same community and working together.”
Lempert noted that she also hopes to increase student involvement with the town over the next year, citing her intention to begin direct student outreach over the course of the next year.
“Most of the time relations are administration to administration,” Lempert said. “But I have been approached by individual students and student groups, and it would be great to see what sort of opportunities and partnerships we can build.”
Developing a list of priorities for the coming year helps orient the Council around what they want to accomplish, Howard said of the planning exercise.However, the list is not static, as the council will continue to respond to new situations or issues as they arise over the course of the year, she added.
“Of course events that we cannot predict will arise, but I think [the priorities] keep us focused by reminding us of our core, common vision,” Howard said.
A vote on the town council 2015 priorities is scheduled forFeb. 24.