This year in Fair Haven there area two three-year seats on the Borough Council up for grabs. Running in teams are Republican incumbent Susan Sorensen and newcomer Betsy Koch and Democrats Christopher Rodriguez and Jessica Patel.
Rodriguez is currently filling the unexpired term of Democrat Aimee Humphreys, who moved out of the borough. Patel is a newcomer to the political arena.
Koch is seeking her inaugural term on council. Her husband, the late Jerome Koch, served. Sorensen is seeking a third term on the six-member governing body with a weak mayor-strong council form of government. In this form of municipal government, the mayor presides over meetings, but only casts a vote in the case of a tie and has veto power.
The following is Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect’s Q&A with Sorensen and Koch. The questions are listed with each candidate’s response.
Name, address and age (sorry)
Susan Sorensen, 34 Clay Street, Fair Haven, 54 years old
Elizabeth Koch, 27 Sycamore Lane, Fair Haven, NJ, 66
Sales Executive in the Telecommunications Industry for over 30 years
Science/MathTeacher, Knollwood School, 23 years
Volunteer on various committees for close to 20 years in Fair Haven. These include but are not limited to: councilwoman, council chair for Parks & Recreation, council liaison for Fair Haven Historic Commission, Fair Haven Police Commissioner and liaison to OEM, Fire Department & First Aid, liaison to Board of Education, liaison to the FH Fields Natural Area, council chair for Personnel, on special Facilities Committee regarding The Foundation of Fair Haven, president and founding member Centennial Committee, 2012 event chair of an event each month including the large celebration that today is now Fair Haven Day, Fair Haven Day 2013 – 2017 and hopefully 2018 event chair, Oktoberfest 2012– 2017, and hopefully 2018 event chair, Teen Canteen Chair 2008-2015, PTA Luncheon 50/50 chair 4 years, Personnel Committee for the Borough of Fair Haven, Event Chair (3) of the Historic Preservation Committee’s Annual Garden Party, Team Mom on various sports – too many to name, event chair (3) for RFH Lacrosse Fundraiser
Parks and Recreation (27 years), Zoning Board (2 years)
What is your favorite charitable cause outside of the borough and why?
Monmouth Day Care Center – which is located in Red Bank, NJ, a non-profit organization that provides a safe and nurturing environment for many young children in the area who may not have support otherwise. They have been around since 1969, and my aunt was on their board many years ago, and I love that I am able to continue the tradition for this great and worthy local cause.
HABCORE, a very committed group of volunteers who fundraise to provide housing for the homeless
What is your premier campaign platform issue and how do you propose accomplishing your goal?
Throughout my tenure on council I have enhanced Fair Haven’s numerous avenues for communication and I hope to continue to do so. It is imperative that we remain fiscally prudent and responsible especially with our upcoming facilities challenges. I have been involved on the special committee working towards a sustainable solution for future generations in regards to the challenges we are facing, while being creative to find ways to offset some of the financial burden.
I have several goals. As a member of the Zoning Board I would like to see us clarify some of the ordinances which are unclear and at times cause our citizens undue financial hardship. I would like to see the DPW open more than once a month. Fair Haven is in the early planning stages for upgrades/changes to some of our municipal facilities and I would like to be a part of that process.
How long have you lived in Fair Haven? What brought you here and in what year?
I was born in the area, and once we began a family, we chose to move to Fair Haven in 1998 because of the warm community and charm of the town, especially in the historic district where we live.
42 years. My husband Jerome had a ROTC scholarship and when he graduated from college he had a four-year commitment to the Army. His second (and last) posting was Fort Monmouth (1975).
What was the first thing (situation, inanimate object, image … anything) you encountered in the borough that captured your heart and clarified your decision that there would be no place like this home for you? And don’t say the schools or the scenic suburban atmosphere. They are givens.
We were coming to the area every weekend and finally decided to move here – our first image of Fair Haven when we were looking for a home to raise our children was watching all the children ride their bikes to school. I grew up in a town that had a similar “to school” routine and it really hit home for us.
As young newlyweds we needed a place to live and the real estate agent suggested Fair Haven. We bought our first home on Fair Haven Road and joined Newcomers. We met wonderful neighbors, made great friends and loved the sense of community that was so evident in so many community events (parades, recreational activities, access to the river and so much more).
Being a local official can be a tiresome, thankless job involving a major investment of time and heart. Why do you want it? Cite the pay and benefits for a Fair Haven Borough Council member.
This has nothing to do with pay, Fair Haven is one of the few towns in NJ that doesn’t get paid anything let alone a stipend. I was raised to give back to my community, it is engrained in me – and have done so even as a child.
The pay and benefits for a Fair Haven Borough Council member cannot be measure in dollars and cents – it is measured in witnessing your hard volunteer hours, strategy sessions, community outreach, countless meetings paying off – such as municipal budgets remaining relatively flat for 7 out of 8 years, improvements to our infrastructure (roads, curbs, sidewalks), new tennis courts, huge improvements to Fair Haven Fields, increased river access, creative solutions to financial challenges, the list goes on and on.
I have always been involved in community affairs. As the oldest child in a family of 10, our parents always encouraged us to be involved. Whether serving meals in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, raising funds for families less fortunate than ours during the holidays or something simple like visiting an older neighbor of my parents, volunteerism has always been a part of my DNA and encouraged by my parents. I have reached a point in my life where I have the time, the energy and the passion to become involved in government at the local level.
Fair Haven is one of the few communities that not only do not provide pay or benefits for their council members, but do not provide stipends for council members’ expenses associated with their positions.
How do you feel about the gentrification — boom in retail and residential development in the past several years — in Fair Haven and the growing lack of affordability for the middle class?
It has been said that large, expensive homes are what the market is demanding. The predominant demographic for the borough, according to the 2010 census, is white families (73.6 percent headed by married couples and 51.4 percent of all households with children under 18 living with them). The median family income was $113,546. The median for Monmouth County is $82,265. For New Jersey, it’s $71,637.
Families are drawn to Fair Haven because we are an extremely well run town. Fair Haven encourages small businesses to move to Fair Haven, which in turn helps to offset the tax burden on our families. Currently there is a strategic committee in place to review all zoning ordinances to update and clarify.
Response unified with running mate, Susan Sorensen.
Do you think there is a need to rethink residential zoning that allows for and make room for more affordable, smaller homes, maybe even apartments, and diversity?
According to the 2010 census, 7.3 percent of the households in Fair Haven were comprised of someone living alone age 65 or older.
Yes we do. But the reality is that there is very little property available for these types of residences. As our population ages, we need to be more creative and look for ways to provide more affordable housing and encourage our seniors to stay in Fair Haven. Committees are currently exploring such options with Fair Haven’s upcoming municipal facility challenges.
Unified response with running mate, Susan Sorensen.
How do you propose to keep the area affordable for seniors who have lived here most of their lives and would like to stay?
It’s no secret that the average assessed property value in Fair Haven is one of the highest in the county and state at more than $700,000. The municipal taxes have stayed level for several years, but the rate itself is high, comparatively. Many people are not only fleeing the state, but leaving Fair Haven.
This is a similar question and answer above in regards to creating affordable housing. With that said, the more important issue is taxes and the Borough Council has worked extremely hard to maintain a relatively flat budget over the last decade while continuing to improve the quality of life in Fair Haven.
Only approximately 20% of your overall tax bill is the municipal portion, with the balance not directly being within the borough’s purview. Fair Haven has worked strategically with the other entities in regards to shared services as well as other options to help reduce overall spend. As members of Parks & Recreation we have worked hard to address the recreational needs of our seniors and provide them with the funds and opportunities to pursue their mutual interests. Some examples: bus trips, health and yoga classes, lining our new tennis courts with lines for pickleball.
Unified response with running mate Susan Sorensen. The more important issue is taxes and the Borough Council has worked extremely hard to maintain a relatively flat budget over the last decade while continuing to improve the quality of life in Fair Haven. As a member of Parks and Recreation we have worked very hard to address the recreational needs of our seniors and provide them with the funds and opportunities to pursue their mutual interests. Examples include: bus trips (Cape May), health and yoga classes and lining our new tennis courts for pickle ball.
Who is your local political role model, past or present? It can be someone from another municipality anywhere. Why this person?
Hands down – Jon Peters. When he joined Council the philosophy changed from reactionary to long range, strategic thinking. He is a brilliant strategist and economist – with some urban/suburban planning thrown in for good measure. You will not find a better financial expert in the region. I have learned more from Jon and I truly hope I have the opportunity to continue to learn from him.
Betsy Koch (taken beyond the local level)
Eleanor Roosevelt. I grew up in New York State near Hyde Park and she was an icon in our family. She was the first First Lady to become involved in politics in her own way. She was a champion for human rights, children’s causes and women’s rights.
Local politics/governing bodies have a significant effect on residents. So do residents on one another. Whether or not you are elected, what, as a small town suburban resident, would you like to be your legacy?
I would like the residents of Fair Haven to continue to enjoy all of the hard efforts that have gone into the many improvements throughout the borough, specifically the facilities within our Parks and Recreation.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention being one of the founders and the president of the Foundation of Fair Haven, which has brought the borough many community events beginning with our Centennial Year all the way through the many Fair Haven Days and Oktoberfests. I truly hope my legacy is one of volunteerism and enhancing Fair Haven’s sense of community one event at a time.
I would like the residents of Fair Haven to remember my work as a founding member on the Foundation of Fair Haven and the many community events our Foundation sponsored. It has been my privilege to be a member of the staff at Knollwood School for 23 years and work with the children in our community. I am honored to have worked with Joe Perrotto on a very special project. We created a Wall of Honor at Knollwood School to honor our Knollwood graduates who are currently serving on active duty in the Armed Forces.
I would like my legacy to be one of volunteerism and enhancing the Fair Haven community spirit – one event at a time.