Four candidates in race for two terms on Borough Council in Matawan

MATAWAN – Four residents are seeking two three-year terms on the Matawan Borough Council in the 2020 municipal election.

The candidates are Democrats Deana Gunn and Stephanie Buckel, and Republicans Anissa Esposito and Joseph Saggese.

Gunn is the current council president and Buckel is an incumbent councilwoman.

Buckel has been a Matawan resident for 16 years and said, “I never had aspirations to be involved in politics. I ran for office three years ago because I was disappointed in the direction the town was going before Joseph Altomonte was elected mayor.

“I wanted to be a part of a team that was changing Matawan for the better and I wanted to get involved and serve the community. Since joining the council, I have been a part of many major accomplishments and improvements to many areas of the borough,” she said.

Buckel, who is a teacher, said she has worked on a program that led to the improvement of roads that had not been paved in decades. She is the council liaison and chair of the Recreation Committee, which is using state and county grants to improve Main Street.

“We have worked to improve the parks, specifically Gravelly Brook Park, which was in desperate need.

“We have made major improvements to our historical culture in town, remodeling our Burrows mansion through matching grant money and the help of volunteers.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished in the last three years and I want to keep working to make Matawan a better place to live,” she said.

“At the moment, the single most pressing issue is stabilizing taxes and making sure we continue to provide our residents with a return on their investment. We need to continue working to maintain our infrastructure, which was sadly neglected for a long time.

“If re-elected, I plan to continue to beautify Matawan and to make it a community businesses want to invest in; to make our Main Street a place visitors seek out for enjoyment, such as shopping, dining, etc., while still keeping the quaint, small-town feeling,” Buckel said.

Esposito, who has lived in Matawan for 21 years, works as a paralegal. She said she decided to run for council “because I love my community and I want to give back. I am also concerned about the future of our borough as the budget and debt continue to go up along with municipal taxes, especially during the current (coronavirus health) crisis.

“I believe we are on an unsustainable path. I have also become very concerned about the culture of a lack of transparency and respect for all residents, which has had a negative effect on the once close-knit culture of the community, under the current administration.”

“My time on the (Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District Board of Education) thoroughly prepared me for a position on the council.
“I developed invaluable skills in all areas such as budgeting, contract negotiations, program building, stakeholder engagement and advocacy which I feel will be an asset to the community as a council member. … I love my community and want to help see to it that it thrives,” Esposito said.

She said council members “must address the spending and debt that has skyrocketed in the past five years with little to show for it. Our municipal tax levy is up $600,000 this year when people are struggling under economic shutdown.

“In 2019, we were the fourth highest taxed municipality in Monmouth County. Five years ago we were 23rd (according to) numbers from the Monmouth County Tax Board.

“Our assessed value has increased considerably, but our municipal tax rate has also risen and has been higher than both school and county rates for the past few years. We have to address this,” Esposito said. 

Gunn has lived in Matawan for 20 years and said, “There are many accomplishments I am proud of from my first term. We have repaired roads, fixed up parks and restored historic landmarks.
“We have removed eyesores like two abandoned gas stations on Main Street. We have laid the foundation for infrastructure repairs and upgrades that will allow us to take the next step in developing our downtown and the train station.
“We are working with the businesses and people who are interested in investing in Matawan. We are on our way, but we still have more work to do,” Gunn said.

Gunn said her background and experience is primarily in financial services. She is working to earn a master’s degree in public administration.

“Matawan taxpayers deserve a downtown they are proud of and a community with services and amenities for them to enjoy. I hope the residents give me the opportunity to continue with the team that has a vision of a restored Matawan and will continue to get things done,” she said.

“Due to the (coronavirus) crisis, we need to be mindful of our local economy. We have been in touch with our business operators so they are aware of any state and federal support (that may be available). We are listening to what they need.

“Since dining outside is something that will help restaurant owners get back on their feet, we have waived the fees for outdoor dining permits and streamlined the process to make it easier,” she said.

Gunn said municipal officials implemented a lakeside dining program which was a creative solution to support Matawan’s businesses and to bring new options to residents.

If re-elected, Gunn said she would like to continue working to enhance the downtown and transit area to attract new businesses and customers to Matawan.

Saggese has live in Matawan for six years and works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“I decided to run so there can be a true sense of transparency within our government and so all residents are equally and respectfully heard, regardless of their political background.
“(If elected to the council), my first issue would be that Matawan’s government becomes respectful to all residents.
“Another issue is to have all town meetings recorded and to be accessible at any time so all residents may view the meetings at their convenience,” Saggese said.