MANCHESTER – A new year, new ideas and new leadership were all part of the first council meeting of 2021.
It was also the first time the mayor and council held a reorganization meeting in a virtual fashion due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The last several meetings have been held online only due to the safety guidelines and the executive order of Governor Phil Murphy.
Councilmen Sam Fusaro, James Vaccaro and Robert Hudak took their oath of office collectively. They were re-elected for another four year-term in November’s general election.
Council members then moved to select a new council president and vice council president for the year. Councilman Craig Wallis was nominated and approved as council president while Joan Brush was chosen to serve as vice council president.
Fusaro, who has served on the council the longest, was last year’s council president. He said that serving in that role was challenging given the conditions that the pandemic had brought on.
“It has been a long year. Last year was very difficult for the township and its residents and employees. I think our employees did a tremendous job,” Fusaro said.
“Thank you for the support and it is truly an honor to do it. It is quite an honor for us both. Putting in place our EMS department (last year) was just humongous. It provided a service that we needed for the residents of the town,” Wallis said as he received the virtual gavel from Township Clerk Sabina Martin.
“I look forward to a much better new year,” Brush added.
Among the business items attended to were the approval of council assignments, appointments to various township committees, paying of bills and contract approvals. Also approved were the appointments of professional staff in the township.
One staff change that will be seen is the departure of Assistant Business Administrator James Gant who will be leaving his position to serve as Business Administrator of Sea Girt. Gant said “I have been very lucky to serve the town I grew up in. I was born and raised here. I learned and grew here and I will never forget that.”
Mayor Ken Palmer noted this was Gant’s last council meeting. “What is Manchester’s loss is Sea Girt’s gain. I think we can all attest that he is extremely professional, highly effective, organized, a tremendous leader and has developed to what will be a great BA.”
A bond ordinance for various water utility improvements was also introduced to appropriate $990,000. “This is a first reading and so there will be no public comment but basically we have a well that is about 25 years old and it needs the filters and the sand changed in it. It is expensive but it will be good for another 20 years plus. This is just providing the money to be able to do that,” Wallis said. The ordinance will have a public hearing on January 25.
Councilman Hudak stated during the council reports portion of the meeting: “Hopefully this will be a much better year than 2020 and a congratulations to all the professionals on their reappointments.”
Vaccaro said, “I am very proud to be able to continue my personal quest to be able to continue to help Manchester Township to be the best place to reside in Ocean County.”
The councilman also proposed a decade long energy master plan for the township. He said it would encompass the use of “alternative sources of renewable energy of wind, geothermal and more extensive use of solar energy applications – for example solar cells that rotate with the sun, solar roofing products and solar and wind generators to power lighting for our parking lots and recreational areas.”
Vaccaro continued saying, “most importantly electric car high speed charging stations sites. Presently we have 30,000 electric cars on the road in New Jersey and will expand in the near future replacing our 2.5 million registered gasoline powered automobiles and small trucks.”
“We will need to plan for the future,” Vaccaro added.
The official once again called for the governing body to discuss and adopt a ban on the growth and distribution of recreational marijuana within the township.
“Two point seven million voters gave the approval of legalizing recreational marijuana effective January 1,” Vaccaro said. He noted this made New Jersey the 13th state to do so.
Vaccaro added that negotiations between the state Senate, Assembly and the governor’s office continues “over penalties for underage marijuana use for possession, fines to be levied, the issue of cultivation licenses, the issue of employer rights, allowing employees to drug test their employees caused by requiring additional physical exams to ensure no one is being punished for smoking marijuana on employee’s time off and criminal charges related to marijuana use.”
“With all these issues I ask again for an ordinance banning marijuana within Manchester Township and distribution of recreational marijuana within Manchester Township.
Mayor Ken Palmer commended Fusaro on the length of time he has served on the township adding, “it is truly a benefit to have someone who has been around for the length of time Sam has been involved and knows what the decision making was in a lot of issues.”
“I look forward to helping move the council’s goals forward and the new year is always time to set goals and to understand what your focus is in the coming year. Last year we were all side tracked with the COVID,” the mayor added. “We had to govern on the fly and as a result certain things in the township that we normally do were set aside – for example such as paving which we didn’t do last year. Our park renovation programs were put on the back burner and so this is a year where we can gather ourselves, recommence those things that are important to the township.”
Palmer cited the bond ordinance regarding infrastructure improvements. “That is really my focus and goal for this coming year. Last year we started the EMS and we started the open space purchasing program.”
“We’re not really looking at starting anything new in 2021. I think we need to get our sea legs underneath us with COVID and focus on those things that we have in front of us for example restarting our in-house paving and finishing up Oaker Field which we are three quarters of the way done with for that park renovation and starting the next one,” the mayor said.
Mayor Palmer said Councilman Vaccaro’s energy master plan proposal was something the township needed to focus on as it included the addition of solar power. “We started that project last year with the Whiting recycling center and the solar farm out there and we passed resolution 2123 authorizing us to go out and find different options for different solar facilities around town and electric charging stations. Those are things I look forward to doing.”