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Home Featured Hightstown Borough Council candidates discuss issues

Hightstown Borough Council candidates discuss issues

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Hightstown Borough Council candidates discuss issues
Voting on Election Day, voting ballot

Three candidates, including two incumbent Hightstown Borough Council members, are vying for two open seats on the Borough Council in the Nov. 7 general election.

Incumbent Borough Council members Joseph Cicalese and Cristina Fowler, both Democrats, are seeking re-election to the governing body.

They are being challenged by Michael Bollentin, who is not running as a Democrat or Republican. He was nominated by petition.

The term is for three years.

Also, Jeet M. Gulati is running unopposed for a one-year unexpired term on the Borough Council as a Democrat.

Bollentin is making his second attempt to serve in elected office. He ran for mayor in 2022 because he felt there was “little to no flow” of information to residents.

At that time, he also cited the lack of progress on redeveloping the former rug mill property and also offered some ideas that, if implemented, would have reduced the municipal property tax.

Bollentin, who lost the mayoral election, said not much had changed over the past nine or 10 months and that is why he is running for Borough Council. Little to no updates have been given to the public since last year, he said.

One way to improve the flow of information is to livestream the Borough Council meetings or to offer a Zoom option for residents who cannot attend meetings in person, Bollentin said.

He also suggested posting detailed regular updates to the town’s website and to make better use of social media to improve communication between government and residents.

The tax burden on residents and the lack of tangible progress on at least two projects are among the issues facing the town, he said.

To offset any municipal property tax increases, the town could permit cannabis dispensaries as allowed by state law. The sales tax revenue would generate municipal revenue and also draw visitors to downtown Hightstown Borough, he said.

The Borough Council adopted an ordinance in August 2021 to ban the sale, packaging, distribution and cultivation of cannabis. The town was facing a state-imposed deadline to decide on cannabis issues.

Hightstown voters, however, overwhelmingly approved a non-binding public question in November 2021 that asked whether the Borough Council should adopt an ordinance to allow the retail sale of cannabis products.

Bollentin said he would be a more visible Borough Council member. He would actively engage in a problem-solving process that is logical and rational. If something does not make sense, he would raise questions about it, he said.

Making the case for his election, Bollentin pointed to his background of lifelong public service, as a police officer and as an emergency medical technician.

“A candidate’s party affiliation – or lack thereof – has almost nothing to do with local elections,” Bollentin said.

“The Borough Council should consist of people who genuinely want to see the town improve and are willing to listen and to act on the desires of the residents,” Bollentin said.

Cicalese is seeking his second full term on the Borough Council. He was appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2019. He was elected to a full term in 2020.

Cicalese said he is running for re-election because he wants to continue to work with his colleagues on the Borough Council, Mayor Susan Bluth and the borough administrative team.

The most important issue facing the town is its aging infrastructure, and increasing costs to maintain and upgrade it, he said.

“It provides a challenge we can only surmount through being thrifty with our resources and seeking new opportunities for funding through grants and partnerships with other towns,” Cicalese said.

Cicalese said he grew up in the area and had always wanted to live in Hightstown. He moved to the borough in 2016 and became involved in volunteer activities.

“All of us on Borough Council are invested in the community, personally, as Hightstown is our home and our families depend on us to treat it with enough care to make it a good one,” he said.

“I promise I will always do my best to make Hightstown to be the best home it can for everyone who lives here,” Cicalese said.

Fowler is seeking her second term on the Borough Council.

“I bring my strong communication and public relations skills to the role of borough councilwoman, as well as my background in economic development, environmental sustainability and pedestrian safety,” she said.

Fowler said she has carried out two promises that she made when she ran for Borough Council in 2020 – to increase communications and to bring more vitality to the downtown area.

She created and implemented a Facebook page for Hightstown, which she said has grown in popularity. She also took steps to enhance the town’s e-newsletter.

Fowler said she also worked to bring back the Hightstown Memorial Day parade and the Hightstown Harvest Fair. The two events bring people to town, she said.

She said she would like to explore creating a business improvement district or forming an economic development committee to further enhance the downtown.

Since it would cost a “significant” amount of money, Fowler said she would try to find grants and outside sources of funding to implement them.

“The most important issue facing the town is the municipal property tax,” she said. “Most of the town has been developed, so there is little room to find new ratables.”

The solution, she said, is to create a way for cannabis manufacturing, cultivation and distribution to exist safely and without negatively impacting the town.

The sales tax revenue may not reduce the property tax, but it would likely stabilize the town’s share of the property tax by providing a recurring revenue stream, she said.

Fowler said she voted against allowing cannabis licensing in 2021, but the process has been refined since that time. She would like to introduce an ordinance to allow cannabis-related businesses.

“I love this town and I have worked hard for the town. I will always look to keep this an incredible, affordable and valuable place to live,” she said.

Jeet Gulati, who is running unopposed to fill out an unexpired term, could not be reached for comment before press time.