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Secession Talks Continue at Berkeley Heights Council Meeting

Liz Keill

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 • 10:13pm

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The next few township council meetings will include discussion on the possibility of seceding from Union County and joining Somerset or Morris, Mayor John Bruno said at Tuesday's township council meeting.
 
He would like to see a resolution on the August 6 agenda so it can then be on the ballot in November. 
 
“We’ll have to do some heavy lifting with letter writing and getting the message out,” Bruno said.  The mayor referred those present to a position paper by David M. Reiner that described a secession movement in Essex County in 2004. It was published in the Rutgers Law Review.
 
Bruno said the function of county government should not be to build golf courses, ice rinks or hospitals. He added that Berkeley Heights taxes to the county have gone up by 7 percent, with an $11 million increase this year.  “They pride themselves on not making cuts in personnel or services,” he said, with Runnells Hospital alone employing 400 people. “They’re not looking at the bottom line. They expect you to cut your expenses to make their ends meet.”
 
But resident Steve Yellen said, “What saddens me, Mr. Mayor, is that it isn’t politically feasible to try to secede. There’s no legal precedent. If one town is allowed to go, any other town would want to do the same.”
 
Bruno said, “The chances aren’t great. I understand that. It’s a steep hill to climb.” But the mayor said he couldn’t sit back and do nothing. “Berkeley Heights is a great community to live in until you’re about 64 years old.” Then, he said, people must often leave the township and New Jersey because of the cost of living.
 
“We don’t go to the county to lobby. We say we’ll leave, but then we accept community grants," Yellen said. "We have other options. This is not the right advocacy.”
 
Resident Eugene Deutsch also questioned the move to secede, including the cost for doing so. “Why are we going off on this particular tangent? The bottom line is that this would have to be a legislative matter. The Senate will not move a Republican bill.” He suggested instead that the Berkeley Heights mayor should meet with other mayors in Union County and work to “change the mod for the freeholder board.”
 
Councilman Tom Picone said, “How do we get a seat at the table?  Union County won’t change the way it elects its officials.”   
 
Councilman Robert Woodruff weighed in on the issue, as well. He said the matter has more to do with public financing than with politics.  He has received calls from Essex and Morris county officials, he said, but when it comes to taxes and roads, no one had an answer on how those expenses would be handled.
 
In other business, Mayor Bruno urged the public to attend the Memorial Day Parade at 9:30 a.m. next Monday. “This is a time to honor our troops and remember the war dead,” he said. The ceremony will be followed with hot dogs, ice cream and other events.
 
An Eaton Court resident asked about mosquito control. “I got fed up with mosquitoes attacking and called the Union Count Mosquito Commission,” he said. With tree trunks left in the area, creating holes and puddles, “it’s a losing battle.” He said the county official told him his area had been dropped from the map for coverage. “He told me ‘I’m glad you said something'.”
 
The mayor said the Department of Public Works has started bringing out tree trucks and will be continuing the process for the next 70 to 90 days. He anticipated the work would be completed by Sept. 15.
 
The next council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 11.
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