Gotto takes reins as mayor in Howell
Republican Bill Gotto was sworn in as Howell’s mayor when the Township Council held its annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 1 at town hall.
Gotto was elected to a four-year term as mayor on Nov. 6. He gave up the seat he held on the council to accept the mayor’s position. Under Howell’s form of government, the mayor is a member of the council and votes on all municipal legislation and business.
Drawing on his three-year political history with the township, during which the council dealt with a faltering national economy, significant shortfalls in revenue, the bottoming out of the housing market, higher expenses and several hurricanes, Gotto said the tough times taught him some important lessons.
“The bad economy taught us we can no longer ignore the need for improved economic development to stabilize our property taxes,” he said, adding that this lesson was followed by a “long-overdue discussion of zoning changes” and a re-examination of Howell master plan.
Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, along with very bad weather over the course of several winters, led the township to a reorganization of its staff and resources in order to keep residents safe during emergencies, he said.
“We changed the way we responded to those emergencies, improved ways we communicate to our residents, established an emergency operating center during major weather events, and worked with township agencies … and even hundreds of citizen volunteers during superstorm Sandy to take care of our own,” Gotto said.
While Gotto said officials and residents have gotten better at solving problems and focusing on key issues since he joined the council, it still was not enough, he said.
“Many of our residents are struggling. I cannot say that I have met my goal from three years ago to make Howell affordable for our children. We have done a lot of good work, but there is a lot more to do,” the mayor said.
Several initiatives were outlined in Gotto’s mayoral agenda, including improvements to infrastructure such as sewers, “not just on Route 9 and Route 33, but in areas where sewers should have been installed decades ago, like Freewood Acres,” which he called “the economic hub of the township.”
Gotto suggested that “an expanded economic partnership” be initiated between the council, various stakeholders, the Howell Chamber of Commerce, business owners, professionals and citizens in order to promote economic growth in Howell.
In order to facilitate that economic partnership and appeal to entrepreneurs, Gotto expressed his desire to expand “online assistance services for prospective businesses to identify required permits and licenses.”
Gotto said he would ask the council to create an “official community plan … an extension of our strategic planning initiative, to produce a set of goals designed to provide direction for future development and growth, including suburban and rural development,” and other necessary services for the township’s residents such as parks and recreation.
The council will also be charged with forming the Howell Healthier Community Project, which will develop a plan that addresses issues such affordable housing plans for senior citizens and “providing assistance for the challenges that people face as they age in their homes and neighborhoods, and stabilizing and replenishing senior housing stock within existing neighborhoods.”
In the wake of an ongoing difficult economy, Gotto urged the council to keep municipal spending low, stabilize the municipal tax rate by “increasing revenue streams, exploring new programs such as energy aggregation and green technologies, and expanding efficiencies through the continued restructuring of all municipal operations.”
These initiatives fall under what Gotto called the “rebranding of Howell,” a new way of looking at things by which the township and the council will “never settle for doing things the same way just ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done in Howell.’ ”
In closing, Gotto called on residents to be proud of who they are and where they live.
“We are all in this together, and together Howell will continue to be the best it can be; a place we can all be proud of, a great place to raise our families and future generations of Howell residents,” he said.
In other business at the reorganization meeting, Republican Edward Guz was sworn in to begin serving a three-year council term to which he was elected in November.
Republican Councilman Robert Nicastro was chosen by his fellow members of the governing body to serve as Howell’s deputy mayor for 2013.
Finally, Robert Walsh, who completed a four-year term as Howell’s mayor on Dec. 31, was appointed to fill the council seat Gotto vacated to accept the position of mayor.
Walsh did not run for mayor or for a council seat in the Nov. 6 election.
Walsh was elected as Howell’s mayor as an independent candidate; however, at one point during his term he sought a Monmouth County freeholder nomination as a Republican.
Howell Republicans submitted the names of Walsh, Michelle Flaherty and Matthew Rasmussen to the council for consideration for appointment to the open seat. Walsh was selected to join the governing body.
On Jan. 3, Walsh told Greater Media Newspapers that while family commitments did not permit him to serve the community in the more time-consuming role of mayor, he wanted to continue his service to Howell and that is why he sought the position of councilman.
Walsh said he would not rule out a run for mayor in the future.
Gotto, Nicastro, Guz and Walsh are joined on the council by Republican Councilwoman Pauline Smith.