ALLENTOWN – Municipal officials in Allentown have a full agenda of projects ahead of them in 2021 and they got the new year’s business underway when they held their annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 5.
The 2021 reorganization meeting marked a first for the historic borough on the far western border of Monmouth County as it was held in a virtual manner due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Only a handful of officials were present at Borough Hall; some officials participated from home, while residents had the chance to watch the proceedings via a live broadcast. The virtual meetings are expected to continue through at least the first quarter of 2021. A full meeting schedule with links and times of meetings will be posted on the borough’s website.
After Mayor Thomas Fritts called the meeting to order, Municipal Clerk Laurie Roth administered the oath of office to Erica Torsiello, who began serving her first three-year term on the Borough Council and to John A. Elder III, who began serving his second term on the council.
Torsiello and Elder will serve alongside fellow council members Michael Drennan, Robert Strovinsky, Dan Payson and Martha Johnson.
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) called in to congratulate Torsiello and Elder on their election to council terms. Gopal noted that although his legislative district does not include Allentown, he likes to stay abreast of all activities in the county.
Fritts said Gopal has been accessible and responsive to Allentown officials on several issues and he thanked the senator for taking time to call in to the reorganization meeting.
In other business, Elder, who is beginning his fourth year on the council, was elected by his fellow council members to serve as council president for 2021. Elder thanked Strovinsky for serving in that role last year and for providing guidance in the areas of personnel and buildings and grounds.
“Councilman Strovinsky has a wealth of knowledge in those areas,” Elder said.
In his address to the community, Fritts said his first year as Allentown’s mayor “didn’t go exactly as I planned. In March 2020 the world changed when we were hit with the deadly coronavirus pandemic. With a full plate of capital improvement projects already in motion, we had no choice but to adapt and overcome challenges ahead.
“We were not equipped to operate remotely, so installing new systems that allowed our employees to work from home became a top priority. The front door of Borough Hall closed to the public. We became reliant on online platforms, email, telephone and the mail. Our staff overcame the toughest of challenges and never worked harder to meet the needs of our residents.
“This governing body started working digitally to accomplish our priorities. We instituted new policies and procedures to get the job done. Most of my days were spent on Zoom meetings with other elected officials, government agencies and healthcare organizations to find out the latest opportunities available to assist our residents,” the mayor said.
“I want to extend a thank you to our volunteers serving on our boards, committees and commissions. You have all worked so hard. Although we have not been able to meet in person, your attendance has never been higher and our turnover has never been lower.
“To our business community, you have faced unprecedented heartache and financial shortfalls. We will continue to find new ways to help. We understand your livelihoods are at stake. … We have watched as businesses owners pivot because they are fighting to stay open. I encourage our residents to use all of our local businesses. They need us and we need them.
“And, I would like to recognize the selfless commitment from our first responders. They have taken on the greatest of challenges in uncertain times and risen to the demands of this pandemic. Our responders continue to serve as the virus is surging in Monmouth County. They have adapted to serve our community. We owe them a great debt of gratitude,” Fritts said.
Turning his focus to the new year, the mayor said 2021 “is the year of traffic. Monmouth County has approved our speed enforcement zones. The county has given us advice on how to launch this program. Speeders watch out! Tougher fines and mandatory court appearances are coming your way.
“My Mayor’s Ad Hoc Traffic and Parking Committee will be rolling out our agenda. We are launching internal and external programs so residents can have an active role in helping us achieve our goals.
“Financial challenges will always exist, so we will continue to identify new grant opportunities, reduce internal costs, expand shared services and operate more efficiently.
“Preservation to protect our borders is ongoing. We spent last year working with our land use attorneys, borough engineer and traffic engineer. We will continue to do that this year to combat threats that risk our small village,” Fritts said.
During the reorganization meeting, council members approved shared services agreements with: Plumsted Township for a chief financial officer; Upper Freehold Township for construction code services; Upper Freehold Township for code enforcement, housing inspector and zoning enforcement services; and Freehold Township for the Everbridge Emergency Alert System.