By Jennifer Ortiz
Howell – The former office building on Route 9 north at New Friendship Road that now serves as Howell’s municipal building was formally dedicated as the seat of municipal government by the Township Council.
The dedication ceremony was part of a council meeting that was held on Jan. 25.
In 2011, Councilman Robert Walsh, who was serving as mayor, and his fellow members of the governing body executed a contract to relocate most of the municipality’s operations from their aging home on Preventorium Road to the modern building on Route 9. While some people questioned the move, the government eventually found its new home on the state highway.
Mayor Bill Gotto said he wanted the new municipal building to be commemorated in the correct manner because it is a milestone for Howell.
“I am glad I was part of the decision to come to this building. It made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons then and it makes even more sense now,” Gotto said during the ceremony. “It was not an easy task and we could not have done it without all the residents of Howell. I want to thank you and all those who were part of it.”
Walsh said, “It was a two-year battle, negotiating back and forth. Many (residents) were for this happening. Many people who worked for the township at the time were for this happening. But to see it, from the beginning stages when it was first mentioned, to when it finally happened and what it is today, it exceeded all the expectations I had. This is something that will be everlasting. It created efficiency and saved money.”
Walsh said the building gives Howell officials options.
“Whether we want to do something down the road and sell this building for three or four times what we paid for it … Whether we want to stay here for a long time and expand on the services we (officer), that will be for a future governing body to decide. To say I’m proud is an understatement. Thank you all,” he said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, former councilman Juan Malave congratulated the council members on the new town hall and said he was proud of the decision that had been made to obtain it.
Malave also commended the council on the introduction of an ordinance having to do with sewer user chargers. The ordinance, if adopted, will result in a second straight year of lowered sewer rates.
“So hopefully that goes through … I thank you for that, every little bit helps,” Malave said.
The blizzard that barreled through New Jersey on Jan. 23 and dumped almost 2 feet of snow on Howell and surrounding towns was also an item of discussion during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Angel Sanchez asked why the snow had not been plowed to the curb on some streets.
Gotto said that first and foremost, the township’s plan is to make roads safe for emergency vehicles.
“In less impactful storms, in normal conditions, we would have been able to go curb to curb usually within the first 12- to 18-hour period,” the mayor said.
Gotto said because the storm went on for a long time, actions that were taken at the beginning of the storm made it appear hours later that nothing had been done. He said what residents observed was not a result of mismanagement.
“It’s just the magnitude of the storm that did not allow us to work the way we would have normally done it,” he said.
Gotto said some vehicles that are used to clear snow from streets following a storm that is less significant than the Jan. 23 event could not be used in the storm that approached 2 feet of snow.
Daniel Cardellichio thanked officials for communicating with residents about the impending blizzard several days before the storm arrived.
Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro said, “I have to applaud residents for heeding those warnings. As much as it is an inconvenience to keep cars off the street, there is a science to madness. Kudos.”
Township Manager Jeff Mayfield said residents may view the snow plan on Howell’s website.
Nicastro raised the issue of residential developments that are not receiving municipal services such as snow plowing because they are still under construction and the roads have not been dedicated to the township.
“This is something I think we need to pay more attention to. The problem becomes this … we won’t go in (to developments under construction, but partially occupied), because they are not on our plow list; (when) we get enough complaints, then we will go in there last to do the plowing. Why aren’t we holding these developers a little more accountable? There has to be a time limit to say, ‘you are not finishing your project, you are not providing your services and we are calling your bond,’ ” he said.
Walsh agreed with Nicastro and said, “What can we do differently?”
Township Attorney McKenna Torcivia said there is a list of developments under construction that are tracked and followed up on.
Council members said they did not believe that was enough.
“It is unacceptable that people buy a home in Howell, pay taxes, and our trucks drive by and don’t plow their streets,” Walsh said.
Gotto said if a property owner is not maintaining his property and it is affecting the safety and welfare of residents, the council should be able to do something about the situation.
Council members indicated that the issue will be examined.