My Focus As Mayor for Highlands

Hi, I’m Doug Card.  I’m asking for your VOTE and support as Highlands Mayor on November 8th.   I want to share with you the key areas I have worked on during my past 2-1/2 years on Council.    As mayor I will continue this focus.  I love this gem of a town!   Let’s keep this momentum going!

cropped-screenshot-503.png Code Enforcement

I hold a position of zero tolerance for code violations if we want Highlands to fill our empty storefronts and draw people in.  We need to show pride in our community and a respect for other property owners. This was a high priority for me when I was elected on council – and it still is. The new 2016 Master Plan Re-Examination Draft once again recommends code enforcement and property maintenance – and I fully intend to implement that requirement.

cropped-screenshot-503.png  Abandoned Properties

Highlands had an inventory of over 600 abandoned properties before Sandy. In 2015 Highlands implemented a Vacant Property Registry when we made our Code Enforcer full-time to aggressively address this issue. Absentee property owners and banks are being chased.  This pressure of writing up violations has resulted in 3 properties sold for rebuild; 1 sold for demo; 1 demo done by the boro; and 18 more properties issued violations for unsafe structures tagged for demolition by the boro. I strongly support this effort.

cropped-screenshot-503.png Stabilizing Taxes

I will demand a 10% decrease from department heads before even looking at the first budget draft  Highlands needs to stop wasteful spending and change its purchasing behavior.  These areas are now getting reviewed by our new BA hired in June 2016.  Our purchasing agent now demands processed purchase orders before any invoice shows up on the Payment of Bills. Our CFO is correcting line item categories so expenses are properly identified and itemized.  These actions were not in place before I came on Council. I am committed to lowering expenses in all departments without eliminating services that the residents of Highlands expect.

cropped-screenshot-503.pngGrants, Grants, Grants    

 No other way to say itHighlands needs to up its game and apply to the county, state and federal for all available funding opportunities. Utilizing the resources and skill sets of our recently hired personnel and current Council we can make this happen. I will focus on this weekly to make sure deadlines are met and applications filed. 

cropped-screenshot-503.pngShadow Lawn Density – Master Plan

I strongly believe our current zoning ordinance is more than sufficient for an interested developer to invest in that property.  Our current ordinance allows for viable development now – beyond what exists at that location – with the desired benefit of ratables.  I have read the Jennings court ruling about spot zoning and the known slump block.  The amount of engineer review by agencies would protect – and possibly strengthen – the dynamics of a slump block.  I do want to see that property developed, as I believe we all do; but I am not comfortable with the planned changes to please one property owner and certain members of the appointed board.  I also have a legal concern that the town might be placed in jeopardy if the new Master Plan Re-Examination language does not reflect our current ordinance.

cropped-screenshot-503.pngLease of the Clam Depuration Plant

I will keep fighting for the ClammersI sat in those negotiations as the representing council member. There were serious concerns on part of the governing body that clammers were getting a raw deal.  At first the Bayman’s Association portrayed me as the bad guy until they realized that on behalf of the town I was fighting for the clammers – AND fighting for the town to renew a lease of market value for town property.  A lot of division at the table and even in town because of this. It was a 2 year process working with 2 different BA’s and town attorneys. I was a driver and facilitator in those discussions. It turned into a win-win situation where everyone will walk away satisfied. That negotiated contract should be signed by year end. I take pride in being part of that outcome and positive change for the clammers.

cropped-screenshot-503.pngPumps and Flooding

Storm Water Management to mitigate flooding will be one of my highest prioritiesI work closely with all engineers and drawing plans where my mechanical expertise and oversight have saved Highlands thousands of billable dollars for T&M time.

  • Update: Valley Street Pump Station has been a problem for many years when it was not repaired properly.  A project plan with approved bonding sat on a shelf – with engineering paid – but never executed.  This year we placed it before the DOT for additional funding at the same time Governor Christie froze those state funds with his 23 cent gas tax.  The last 30 feet of pipe going into the Valley St pump have now completely failed and are under emergency repair as Phase 1.  It was discovered that preventive maintenance was not implemented so contracts are being negotiated to keep this a permanent fix.  We will approach the DOT again to complete Phase 2 of this project.
  • Update: Jones Creek seawall and storm water management gate are in disrepair.  Our new DPW Supervisor recognized this as another area that did not have preventive maintenance in place.  That request for repair is getting introduced to Council.  Our DPW Supervisor also discovered 3 new duck bills hidden behind miscellaneous parts in the DPW yard.  He is evaluating which outfall pipes they will be used for.
  • Update: Captain’s Cove is in ongoing litigation and I cannot say anything about that – other than it is on my radar to get the issue resolved.
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Elections and Tax Budgets

 

Gotta love election time!  Signs popping up.  Signs disappearing.  Highlands Facebook pages spinning facts about candidates they support – or don’t support.   The good, the bad and the ugly shows its face at election time.  For me that shows how much Highlanders truly care about who they vote for.

The pre-Sandy conditions of our town are not one that many brag about.  It was our residents that kept our community alive through the thick and thin of it.  I have yet to talk to one person who could not deny that the past failures to implement maintenance programs in our town has placed  Highlands in the pickle that it’s in today.  Sandy pushed us over the edge where the old approach of  quick fixes – aka trying to cut corners on proper repair costs – no longer work.

It’s now time for the governing body to keep our community alive operationally. Fixing our town’s inherited problems is a real challenge, and it will take money.  Money from federal and state funding and any new revenue source that Highlands can implement and take advantage of.

This challenge -first and foremost – includes identifying waste that hides unnoticed in our history of yearly budgets.  My first commitment of accountability as a council member started with analyzing the budget line item of ‘Other’ expenses. screenshot-550 This is the one budget item that has not shown any spike impact (up or down) because of Sandy.  The ‘Other’ expenses merely show incremental increases from year to year without any explanation of accountability.  In my past 2-1/2 years on council I have questioned the details of those expenses.  Only to hear ‘That’s how we always did it’ as an answer from those creating their department budgets.  It’s time to cut unnecessary budget expenses, and time to internally control and manage the obvious expenses that Highlands cannot live without.

I was targeted with a formal complaint filed by certain department heads as a result of my questioning of department spending.  The complaints were properly reviewed by the state with a finding  that there were NO grounds for those complaints; and that I was acting responsibly in my role as a council member.  I consider that my highest Major Achievement – that I stood up to the old intimidation tactics practiced by those ‘in charge’ of Highlands operations.  I did not back down, and the taxpayers were placed back in front of the line as a result.

Now comes the hard and bitter truth about Highlands taxes.

It will be near impossible to lower taxes knowing the disrepair and neglected maintenance of our infrastructure.  Highlands can only rely on 3 sources of funding to support our critical needs.  They are federal and state aid funding; local town revenue; and unfortunately taxes.  BUT when existing waste gets properly identified the town can start applying the value of that irresponsible spending over to line items that address our critical needs.  The Highlands governing body CAN stabilize our taxes – while managing our debt – without raising our tax bills.  This will require a new approach on spending control which I have been hounding for over 2 years now.

As Mayor I will  focus on new areas of potential revenue that have been ignored in the past.  Highlands needs to start earning a return from our tax invested Salaries and ‘Other’ expenses.  The departments that can offer this underutilized potential fall under our new full-time Code Enforcer/ Sub Standard Housing Registry; our Community Center; our Construction Code Office; our Municipal Court; and our Beach and Waterfront.

Most significantly I will demand results of  increased revenue from an aggressive filing of GRANTS.  The amount of money that Highlands lost out on due to incomplete filings, and failures of personnel to act on the opportunity of receiving Sandy grants, is sickening.   In 2016 my fellow council members and I interviewed and hired new management personnel with the skill sets that Highlands needed to secure grants and state aid as a priority.  I am committed to work side by side with them on a daily basis to make sure that this demand for grant funding happens.

  • For Example – Here is a failed follow through which I can share that was recently uncovered by our new BA:  Several years ago NJ Natural Gas had completed a gas main replacement throughout many sections of town.  As part of that project they had agreed to conduct partial re-paving of those areas impacted by the Gas Main renewal.   Depending on weather, we expect NJ Natural Gas’ paving contractor to begin working in mid-November to repair portions of the following roads: Snug Harbor Ave., Waterwitch Ave., Huddy Ave., Marine Pl., Barberie Ave., Seadrift Ave.  Should the weather turn too cold the work will be scheduled for early spring.

The way I see it, Highlands is at a tipping point of going back to the old way of budget management – OR moving forward with an aggressive control of budget spending, a high priority of securing new grants, and realistic long range planning.  That all depends on who you vote in as Mayor.

Let’s keep this momentum going!  Vote Doug Card for Mayor.

Council Member Doug Card

 

 

 

Highlands is looking good!

I found the old campaign card I handed out when I ran as a write-in for Mayor in 2013.

It was satisfying to know that since being elected to Council in 2014  many of my bullet points are now ‘in the works’.   I take pride in being a force behind these improvements – because contrary to what some Highlanders are saying, I do believe Highlands needed, and still needs, a wild card to get our town the respect it deserves .  I would like to share my assessment and comments on where Highlands now stands regarding those bullet points:

 New Leadership that is transparent and held to Accountability

Leadership: Unfortunately when a Mayor is re-elected the familiar and accepted SOP mindset continues.   “That’s how we always did it” doesn’t work when years of mismanaged neglect and disasters come into play.  The critical actions taken within our town, or any town, depends on the quality of the Mayoral appointments and the appointed council liaisons.  Fortunately for Highlands the 2015 council election forced a changing of the guard for the liaison appointments.  Highlands now benefits from that new involvement and a committed dedication to serve Highlands as a whole, and it shows.

 

Accountability: I fought hard within closed sessions to question Why and How? things were getting done.  I demanded results and disclosure on internal decisions and departments that I believed were not up to par.  Honestly, it was not received well by those who had been running things for years; but my points were eventually heard and acted upon.   It will take the leadership of a new Mayor and a new mindset for true Accountability to occur.

Evaluate all key personnel, tools & resources required to do the job right

This job responsibility falls under the town hired Borough Administrator job description.  When supervision of  key personnel, tools and resources are lacking – Highlands is lacking, and our payroll dollars get wasted.  I was on the interview committees for our new town Judge, our new Accounting firm and our new Borough Administrator.  The questions, demands and expectations for Highlands were spelled out clearly in all interviews.   The new hires have not only professionally met the town’s expectation of their job positions – they have exceeded them.

Brian Geoghan is our new Highlands Borough Administrator.  His resume includes: 25 years in Law Enforcement; an active volunteer Fire member;  an active EMT member; a Masters Degree and completion of the Certified Public Management Program; countless work related training programs on the topics of Management and Supervision; and he is currently earning a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Management.  He was my  top choice, and the top choice of the interviewing committee.  Highlands is already seeing the benefits of his expertise during these past five months of being hired.  My first directive as the appointed DPW liaison was to have our new BA hire a DPW Supervisor.  Brian’s hire of a new Working Supervisor for the DPW (Department of Public Works); and his hires of the temporary  replacements of a town clerk and Land Use Board secretary speaks volumes of  his commitment for retaining the qualified skill sets that Highlands needs to get the job done right.

Audit of Budget to Identify waste – Highlands has a new accounting firm that was interviewed by myself and Council member Broullon, as well as new Finance committee members reviewing budgets.  Jones Creek was cleaned out with County paid services at a much less cost (thanks to our new  DPW Supervisor).  Unnecessary use of funds have been identified.  A continued effort of identifying budget waste remains a high priority for me, and it will become more evident with the right Mayor working closely with our new BA.

Proactively Renew Downtown, Community & Boro owned property – I worked closely with the firms and engineers for our Streetscape project down Bay Ave.  We are now in Phase 2 to complete the sidewalks and lamp posts.  FEMA is involved with the tedious process of the relocation and rebuild of a new town hall OUT OF THE FLOOD ZONE, with an Architect interviewed by myself, Council member Broullon and Brian Geoghan our BA.  The council approved our recommendation of  Settembrino Architects for our new borough hall project.  The Community Center has been renovated; and non-compliant structures on town owned land are getting addressed.

Full-Time Code Enforcement to restore Community, Safety & Market Value – That full-time position replaced an ineffective part-time choice, and was filled by Dave Mercado.   The slow, slow process of addressing abandoned, blighted buildings and properties are now receiving the required summons to appear in court before our new judge.  It is a tough ‘catch me if you can’ dynamic with layers of absentee property owners, bank foreclosures and basically property owners failing to care or comply.  Demolitions have started as a result of the full time code enforcement effort.  Our Building Department and Flood Plain Advisor are guiding contractors and property owners with staying on top of the required FEMA mandates – which also adds to improved safety and market value.

Highlands is looking good and on the brink of looking great!!

I take pride in these positive changes, and it would be an honor to be your Mayor.

Let’s keep this momentum going!

Please get out to VOTE on November 8th!

Thanks,  Councilman Doug Card

 

Communication: Better or Worse?

When I ran for council in May of 2014 my campaign by-line was Communication and Transparency.  I read the Facebook pages and I’ve noticed some comments asking, Where is the communication and transparency?
I do know this – that the communication and transparency I envisioned did not embrace the use of Facebook as the answer and fix-all for Highlands.
Facebook is a great tool, and most of my fellow council members and I honor the official guidelines to not get involved and make random comments about town business.  I understand that not all of us can attend the meetings, so I truly appreciate the comments that are made by residents, and I read them every day to learn what you are happy or concerned about.
It wasn’t until I sat on the dais at Council meetings and participated in the executive sessions did I realize that the communication gap that needed fixing was internal.  That is where I placed my focus.  Asking questions and expecting answers so I could do my job.
The communication and transparency I now witness within our governing body as a whole has improved dramatically since that first year.  For me, it is a satisfying  breath of fresh air to receive the full disclosure of the facts, details and financials that are critical for us as a town to make the right choices. 
This town belongs to all of us.   I am very proud of what our council is accomplishing and I want everyone to be informed with the proper facts.  Council member Broullon has done a great job as communications liaison in posting updates that are official and respectful. Carolyn has also done a tremendous job in creating a new and official Highlands website that is finally user-friendly.
14542400_10206660216738000_7312806778340024933_o Check it out at www.highlandsborough.org
I know first hand that Highlands communication has gotten better.
I would consider it a privilege and honor to be your Mayor of Highlands.  That’s why I am asking for your VOTE and support.
Let’s keep this momentum going!

Councilman Doug Card

Highlands Mayoral Election

As a Council Member, I have worked very hard the past 2 years in taking the necessary actions that Highlands needed to move forward.

Because of your trust and support as voters, Highlands now benefits from the expertise and professional skill sets of new town hires:

  • New Borough Administrator
  • New Borough Attorney
  • New DPW Working Supervisor
  • New Full-Time Code Enforcer
  • Combined Land Use Board
  • Architect for New Boro Hall

A dedicated effort is taking shape to develop higher standards within the borough, along with improved town services for our residents.

I take pride in being a force behind this positive change.

As Mayor I will continue to effectively commit my time, focus and energy to promote the decisions and actions that our community needs.

I am asking for your VOTE and support.   Let’s keep this momentum going!

Thank You, and I am looking forward to talking with you as I walk door to door,

Councilman Doug Card