Monday - Friday
8:00 - 4:00pm

908.756.0080

15 Mountain Blvd
Watchung, NJ 07069

Happy New Year and welcome to all of our residents, friends, relatives and elected officials who have come to join us at this reorganization of the Watchung Municipal Governing Body.

I want to welcome newly elected  Council member Dr. Ron Jubin and Council member Freddie Hayeck who join the Watchung Governing Body to govern with honesty, integrity, humility and in the best interest of Watchung. 

 I  am extremely thankful for the opportunity and privilege to serve as Mayor of Watchung.  As elected public servants we have been entrusted by our residents to manage the affairs of the Borough  to create and keep a safe environment for all people who live , work and visit Watchung.  This responsibility includes our police, fire, emergency services as well as safe streets and roads and  quality education programs for children and activities for our residents health, education well-being  and enjoyment. 

2020 was a year filled with challenges regarding  the public safety of our residents during the COVID 19 pandemic.  This unprecedented worldwide pandemic required an all hands on deck joint effort among all of our employees and residents and businesses to work together to maintain order, safety and help all in need due to loss of employment, remote education, closures of businesses and health, medical and basic necessities needed within the community and actions to help stop the spread of the virus.   I thank all of our employees, volunteers and residents and businesses for rallying to help us all get through these difficult times.    I look forward to working with all of my Council colleagues, Daryl Eisenberg Knegten, Lindsay Goodloe, Ron Jubin, Pietro Martino, Wendy Robinson and Freddie Hayeck and our new Municipal Clerk Edith Gil and our new Chief of Police William Kelly and all of our employees as we move forward into the future to make Watchung the best it can be.
 
This year has clearly demonstrated that our residents with their diverse experiences , expertise and abilities are the greatest asset in our community.  I look  forward in 2021  to working together as a unified Watchung community  in  bipartisan collaboration to strengthen the bonds between us and help each other as we live, work, educate and raise families in Watchung.

Our number one responsibility is public safety for all of our residents, businesses and visitors.  Through our persistence working with  Somerset County Officials  we improved public safety on our county roads in Watchung by having the speed limits lowered.  We still have more work to do to get Hillcrest Rd safer.   I want to thank and recognize the sacrifices made by our many volunteers in Watchung who serve in various capacities on the Rescue Squad and Volunteer Fire Department as well as the many committees and commissions all which make Watchung a great community.  As we come out of the State of Emergency later in the year  I plan to work with the Rescue Squad and Volunteer Fire dept. to create more opportunities to have activities in the community to bolster the enthusiasm and strengthen the numbers of volunteers for our Fire Department and Rescue Squad.  I encourage volunteerism within our community for all of our residents to recognize the value and importance of helping our neighbors and friends and bringing unity among the community. 

Second, we keep improving  technology and communications,  with postings on the website, and facebook and nixcle alerts;  transparency of information with live streaming of the council meetings and  migration to zoom meetings for the Council and the planning board and board of adjustment to provide residents with the ability to keep informed and to interact with all Borough officials about information that affects their lives and our community even during the pandemic.  We are retaining experts to update and redesign the Borough website and incorporate a public information and communications plan to better inform our residents and improve responsiveness of the Borough to meet the needs of the community.  We continue to improve the technology in our borough to have records more accessible electronically by having the records digitized.

Third, I formed the  WIDER Ad Hoc committee  to investigate and address issues and acts of racism, discrimination , and inequality in Borough activities and operations.  We investigated complaints and held 6 community meetings to speak with all residents to gather facts and information to be used in the  establishment of  a standing Watchung Inclusion, Diversity, Equality and Respect committee.  Through our leadership, WIDER which will continue to review our policies, procedures and operations regarding recruitment, retention, training, support, advancement  and recognition in all operations of the Borough including our volunteer committees to best ensure that Inclusion, Diversity, Equality and Respect are adhered to. 

Fourth, we continue to work with our grant writers to apply for phase 2 of the New Jersey State Library grant to move forward with planning and overseeing the process for building a new state of the art library which will include space for the arts center/technology and community center activities.   The financing for the cost of construction of the new Library/Arts/Community Center is anticipated to be 50% from the State of New Jersey Library Grant Program; 25% from the sale proceeds of the current library and arts center properties to be sold for redevelopment and creation of future tax ratables for Watchung; and 25% from donations, major benefactor gifts and bond proceeds.   

Fifth, We are identifying properties and areas where the Borough can look to meet its future affordable housing obligations.  We are proactive to develop solutions for the affordable housing requirements so that they are beneficial to the community in meeting the mandates well before the deadlines. 

Sixth, Unfortunately 2020 called for the cancellation of almost all community events due to the pandemic.  For 2021 I plan to have  more community activities for our residents of all ages include  organizing a seniors committee  to develop group activities for our Watchung seniors; a family sports challenge competition with various events; an international foods night to bring residents together to sample foods from different cultures around the world;  a community band concert and music on the green;  arts and crafts fair on the green; community barbeque; a chili cook-off contest;  and development of a community garden.  

We have and will continue to embrace thoughtful dialogue and communication and input from our residents to share in the molding of critical agendas so that we provide the best solutions by utilizing the experience and talent from within our community. 

We thank our retired Council Member Stephen Black for his 25 years of service to the residents and businesses of Watchung,   The hard work of our Historical committee and 9-11 committee and army of volunteers brought about the completion of the 9-11 memorial, brick pavers, the sidewalk and plantings all who we thank and especially grateful for all of the time and talent of Seth Alexander the Artist and project facilitator. Special thanks to   Carolyn Solon our  Emergency Management Coordinator who has helped keep all of our residents safe during this State of Emergency addressing the safety measures and needs during the  pandemic.    I also thank our Borough Administrator James Damato,  Edith Gil, our Borough Clerk, Bill Hance our CFO, Charles Gunther our Public Works Manager and all of our dedicated employees and volunteers who have put in countless additional hours to best serve our residents during the pandemic.

On behalf of our entire community I thank our frontline medical workers and emergency services, police, fire and EMTs for dedicating their lives to preserve the lives of others.

I ask all of our residents to please be patient, forgiving, respectful, and provide encouragement as we move forward in 2021 so we can work together in peace and harmony for the good and well being of everyone in Watchung.

I thank my loving wife Karen for all of her love and support and my three children, Jonah, Noah and Hannah for being a tremendous help, support and blessing throughout the year. 

I thank everyone in  Watchung for your encouragement,  help and support  providing advice and  valuable time, talents and treasures to make Watchung a great community.  This past year has given  each of us time to  reflect on the blessings we have and the opportunities to brighten someone day with kind words, a smile,  helping hands and a giving heart as we unite to make Watchung the best.   

I welcome your help and assistance in making Watchung united for a brighter future for each of us.

God Bless You All, 
Keith S. Balla, Mayor