By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
January is at hand, and while to many that simply means the season of snowplows and disastrous weather is nigh, to those in local government, the first month of the year represents a time of great change. Many municipalities have now officially entered the process of governmental reorganization, physically implementing the outcomes of the previous election cycle; it is a time to welcome new officials to office and unveil policy goals for the coming year.
Among the communities that recently restructured their local government is Middletown, where the Republican ticket, comprised of incumbents Gerard Scharfenberger and Kevin Settembrino, received over sixty percent of the vote last November. While that victory assured continued GOP control of the Township Committee—indeed, Republicans fill all six seats—the actual makeup of that body has been altered, with Stephanie Murray assuming the role of Mayor.
Murray, who was formerly the Deputy Mayor, a position now held by Kevin Settembrino, was first elected in 2012. Though she is a relative newcomer to the political scene, her first term has been characterized by a “baptism by fire,” which included the tremendous ordeals of Hurricane Sandy, during which Middletown triumphed and retained its prestige as one of the more desirable and safest communities in the state.
With this illustrious past, one must wonder what the future holds? Well, according to the members of the Township Committee, there are numerous good things on the horizon.
“Our main focus is to craft a budget that will be as lean as possible while coming in under the governor’s two-percent cap,” said Committeeman Scharfenberger, whose term as Mayor ended earlier this month. “In addition, we are going to aggressively pursue the attraction of more businesses into town to expand our commercial tax ratable base and help ease the burden on residential taxpayers.”
Making sure that fiscal responsibility reigns supreme may be among the foremost priorities for Middletown’s leadership; however, it is not the only thing they hope to accomplish.
“The Township Committee, in 2014, is looking to expand it’s ability to communicate with residents,” said Committeeman Tony Fiore, who knows the importance of being able to reach out to the community in times of need, having served as Mayor during the trying days of Hurricane Sandy.
“We are currently in development of a mobile app that will allow residents to receive alerts and see what’s going on in town on the go,” he said. “We are also working to enhance our services such as snow plowing and leaf removal by installing GPS units that will interact with our GIS system to give us on-demand results of streets that have been plowed during snow storms and where the trucks are for example.”
With a “Polar Vortex” bearing down upon the GardenState and inclement conditions so severe that Governor Christie was forced to cancel his inaugural ball, most residents will probably welcome anything related to snow plows with open arms. Of course, the Middletown Township Committee’s aspirations don’t end with the spring thaw.
“We will embark on celebrating everything that makes Middletown great through Middletown 350,” said Committeeman Fiore, referencing the Township’s ongoing anniversary celebrations. “Middletown 350 is an opportunity for residents to come together to celebrate our deep roots in history, volunteerism, and the like.”
Middletown has made history as an innovative and, despite its size, close-knit community for the past three-hundred and fifty years; the Middletown Township Committee plans to continue that tradition into the coming year, under the guidance of a new mayor and proven leadership.