HOWELL – Republican Evelyn O’Donnell and Democrat Andre de Garmeaux are seeking one available four-year term on the Howell Township Council in the Nov. 3 election.
O’Donnell is seeking her second term and de Garmeaux is seeking his first term on the governing body.
O’Donnell is serving as Howell’s deputy mayor in 2020. She is running on the Republican ticket with Suzanne M. Brennan, who is seeking her first term as mayor.
de Garmeaux is running on the Democratic ticket with Theresa Berger, who is serving the final year of her first four-year term as mayor and is seeking a second term.
The mayoral candidates are profiled in a separate article.
O’Donnell has lived in Howell almost all her life and was elected to the council in 2016, taking office in January 2017. She said the No. 1 priority for elected officials is getting everyone safely through the coronavirus health crisis that began in March and continues today.
She said taxes are the next priority to be addressed.
“We want to try to maintain a flat municipal tax rate, which is always difficult, but we have been able to manage that,” O’Donnell said.
Another priority with which officials must contend is New Jersey’s affordable housing mandate and its impact on a municipality.
“We need to try to convince the Trenton Democrats to, at the very least, listen to what Howell has to produce (in terms of affordable housing); because we have an enormous amount of property, they come at us with larger numbers (of affordable housing that is required).
“For instance, a shore town which is already very much built out is always given a smaller number (of required affordable housing units), but because Howell is fortunate to have a lot of land, Trenton says we have the ability to build (affordable housing) because we have all this property. So they give us numbers that are usually ridiculous,” O’Donnell said.
The councilwoman said state officials consider properties that cannot be built on as part of the available acreage when they calculate a town’s affordable housing obligation.
“That is just one thing that is totally unfair, to consider properties that are untouchable for us. This has to stop. We adhere every time to the (affordable housing) rounds, we deliver, much to the dismay of many people, and I understand that because I, too, am unhappy with being forced to develop property,” O’Donnell said.
“Affordable housing is not Section 8 (subsidized) housing. If somebody has an affordable place to live, they have a job, they are working. This is not a free ride, but it is designed to help those people who are starting off and in some cases people who are retired and whose incomes are fixed. We need to make the Trenton Democrats understand this mandate is truly unfair, and certainly unfair in how they deal the numbers out to us,” O’Donnell said.
de Garmeaux said the only way to stop building “is to elect people who vote against development projects in the first place. Stopping the over-development will be one of my top priorities.
“As a founding member of Howell Strong, I have been fighting over-development for years. We fought to stop a housing project on West Farms Road, but it got approved by the current Republican majority anyway, so now I am running for council to make sure it doesn’t happen again under the same old regime,” de Garmeaux said.
He asserted that O’Donnell was a member of the Township Council in March 2017 when the governing body initially signed off on a private company’s plan to construct a solid waste transfer station on Randolph Road.
Howell officials later reversed their position regarding the proposed facility and the matter is awaiting action by the Monmouth County freeholders.
de Garmeaux said Howell officials must do everything they can to stop the solid waste transfer station from being constructed in the township.
O’Donnell did not respond to a request for comment on the solid waste transfer station issue.
Regarding tax breaks that are given to some developers, de Garmeaux said that incentive is not fair.
“As the owner of Highland Kennel in Howell for over 40 years, the double tax hit on my home and business has been staggering. The Republicans approved a $6 million tax break for the West Farms housing project developer (Walters Group), which just increases the tax burden on Howell homeowners and business owners. It’s simply not fair to give these developers huge tax breaks while our taxes continue going up at record rates,” he said.
de Garmeaux said if he is elected to the council, he will use his platform as a public official to assist local charities.
“I would like to use my platform as a councilman to help our local charitable organizations, like the Howell Emergency Food Pantry. I have been a staunch supporter of the pantry for many years and because of the additional need due to (the coronavirus pandemic), I opened my business as a drop-off point for donations to help keep Howell families fed as we find our way through this pandemic,” de Garmeaux said.