Thanks to all Sussex County mayors for their service during challenging times

24 Dec 2020 | 03:05

Editor’s note: Tammie Horsfield made the following statement earlier this month in presenting the Sussex County Economic Development Partnership’s Mayor of the Year award at the Municipal State of Affairs Event. She said the partnership “decided not to present the Mayor of the Year to just one mayor this year, but rather to present and thank all Sussex County mayors for their efforts through these challenging times. Each and every mayor has had to deal with the challenges of Covid, and they are to be commended for all they have done to help their residents, businesses, health care workers, schools and more.”

Good evening all and thank you for joining us tonight for our 2020 Mayor’s Reception & Municipal State of Affairs event.

As a community and a nation, we are going through unprecedented times. Who would have ever imagined that in 2020 our businesses, schools, government offices and more would have to shut their doors, reduce hours, furlough or lay off so many people in our community. We also never thought so many would fall ill and some tragically lose their lives.

The last nine months have been extremely challenging. But I’m proud to say that our community came together and we are doing all we can to assist our residents, businesses, health care workers and more. You, our mayors, have had to work hard to help our businesses survive, keep our residents safe, and provide the services necessary throughout this pandemic.

Many thanks to all our legislators, mayors, health care workers, business owners, schools, and the community who have pulled together, supported one another, and developed and implemented plans to assist in addressing the issues this pandemic is causing.

As mayors, you took office earlier this year never thinking you would have to take on the Herculean task of dealing with a pandemic, like none we have ever seen in our lifetime, and you stepped up, working hard to keep our communities safe and assisting residents and businesses as best you can. We want to recognize you, as you too are community heroes, providing guidance and support to so many in need. It is a difficult job under the best of circumstances. It’s even harder during COVID-19.

I had asked each of our towns to submit a short paragraph on their Municipal State of Affairs and how they have assisted their businesses and residents during Covid. I’d like to share with you a sampling of the information I received from some of you who are here tonight.

Andover Township

Let’s start with Andover Township, Mayor Mike Lensak, who’s town made national news and not in a good way. He had the very unpleasant duty of facing the media as the Andover Subacute was front and center on the news, as many of the deaths associated with Covid in Sussex County came from their facilities. He did interviews with Fox, MSNBC, Dateline, ABC and CBS news and various print and social media outlets. He organized a “drive by” in support of all the workers at the sub-acute as these individuals still came to work every day despite the loss of life and horrific working conditions.

He was also the vice president of Lakeland EMS and worked shifts when he could and secured funding from ThorLabs for two UV decontamination lights for their ambulances. He saw things no one else would ever want to see. His perseverance, support and assistance is evident.

Stanhope Township

The mMayor of Stanhope, Patricia Zdichocki, began the journey to paperless meetings, purchased I-Pads, began online taxes, water and sewer payments through Municipay, reconfigured borough hall with plexiglass for protection, provided PPE for all staff members, split the staff into two groups with one week in office and one week to work at home and continued to serve the public online, on the phone, and with a door slot. In addition, she reached out on multiple occasions to restaurants to provide zoning waivers to allow for greater outdoor dining and also waived all associated inspection fees and tent fees and shortened the approval timelines to enable the restaurant community to better plan for their eventual reopening. Her commitment to public safety is evident as she worked tirelessly to track down PPE, either by donation or by personally making and providing them herself.

Frankford Township

Chris Carney, mayor of Frankford Township, the community in which I live, increased communication with Frankford residents via regular robo-calls and personal visits which enabled him to reach area residents and businesses with current Covid reports and vital information regarding the township. He also sponsored several resolutions that were sent to our freeholders and legislators so his constituents could have a voice at a higher level of government with key decisionmakers. I can tell you personally that Chris really wanted to help. He and I spoke on a regular basis to gauge where our community was and how he might help. He visited area businesses and asked how he could assist and did everything he could to support them throughout the pandemic. He continues to reach out on a consistent basis to offer assistance and to better understand what the business needs are.

Byram Township

Byram Mayor Alex Rubenstein made several significant strides despite operating under challenging conditions. When the pandemic hit, Alex jumped into action. He personally opened a Zoom account and began hosting all of the township’s meetings: council, planning board, and sub-committees. He has been working hand-in-hand with their township manager, staff, and IT consultants to move Byram into a fully digital environment. All council members now use Chrome Books, and the planning board will soon be provided with them as well. Additional hardware servers and software platforms have been purchased to re-make Byram into an all-electronic digital infrastructure in the cloud with automated services available to its citizens via mobile phone or computer. In addition, Alex personally worked with Verizon Wireless to resolve several dead-spots in town which hampered both citizens and emergency responders, with Verizon agreeing to install micro-stations within Byram to improve service.

Vernon Township

And Vernon Township Mayor Howard Burrell has done and continues to do everything he can to help Vernon businesses survive, and to facilitate the success of those businesses that want to open in their town, in the face of the very difficult economic environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the governor’s declared Public Health Emergency, Vernon’s Municipal Senior Center was closed. Mayor Burrell worked close with the Sussex County Division of Senior Services to ensure that their town’s large senior population would be able to get the meals that some of them depend on as their source of food, and that they would be able gain access to those meals in a safe way. They also worked in partnership with a Junior Girl Scout Troop to facilitate the creation a sustainable community project to assist those in their town who need it. These Junior Girl Scouts built and installed the Little Free Food Pantry just outside of the Tracks Deli on Vernon Crossing Road. An important fact is that this is a stigma-free pantry which allows those who need food to take food items as their need arises, and allows those who want to donate food items to do so as they desire.

Hamburg Borough

Hamburg, although a very small town, has done everything in their power to help their small businesses follow the guidelines established and encouraged residents to support their small business by reaching out through their newsletter and website, having their Zoning Officer assist business with outdoor dining (utilizing parking lot and parking spaces when necessary), and answering the myriad of questions that occur with each new development. And they do that with patience and calm.

Town of Newton

And last but not least, the Town of Newton has taken many steps to ensure, to the best of their ability, the continuous operation of local businesses during the COVID-19-pandemic. They offered free promotion of business hours and operations on our various GONEWTONNJ social media channels and gave weekly updates on social media for the Newton restaurants so people knew who was open, their hours of operation, and whether they allowed dine-in/takeout/or delivery services. Resolutions by the town council permitted and extended outdoor dining operations, initially through November and now through the end of March 2021 and there was a greater emphasis by the town to support local businesses financially by purchasing goods and services from local vendors as much as possible. They also maintained municipal operations so businesses and residents could obtain necessary permits, or answers to their questions, or make payments, online and in-person and ensured their first responders that they would be available to assist businesses with any necessary public safety measures by providing proper PPE and training. In addition, they maintained public events such as the tree lighting, fall festival, movie nights, concerts in the park, and promoting businesses as much as possible at these events.

So as you can see from this small sampling, our towns have been proactive, supportive and continue to do what they can to assist businesses and residents in these challenging times. And all of our towns, across this great county, have had to do the same.

It is for these reasons that the Sussex County Economic Development Partnership has decided this year not to present the Mayor of the Year award to one Sussex County mayor, but rather to present this award to all Sussex County mayors. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed, and you have made a tremendous difference in your communities. Thank you to all of you for your hard work, dedication and compassion in the toughest of times. I know you got more than you bargained for.

Thank you again for helping to keep your communities safe while encouraging your businesses to keep doing what they do best...serving our community.

It is indeed my honor to present this year’s Mayor of the Year award to all Sussex County mayors. As a token of our appreciation, each town will receive a Mayor of the Year framed certificate. Mayors attending this evening may pick theirs up on the way out on the bar near the door. Thank you again for your service to our communities.

“Your efforts have not gone unnoticed, and you have made a tremendous difference in your communities. Thank you to all of you for your hard work, dedication and compassion in the toughest of times. I know you got more than you bargained for.”