Susan Sorensen is the current Fair Haven Borough Council president. Having served since 2012, or three three-year terms, all full, elected terms, she is a Republican seeking re-election to her fourth term.
Name, age, street address
Susan A. Sorensen, 57, and I have lived at 34 Clay Street in Fair Haven since 1998.
How long have you served on Fair Haven Borough Council and what prompted you to run initially?
I have had the privilege to serve the residents of Fair Haven on Council since 2012, and this past year I was nominated by Chris Rodriguez to be the Council president.
What prompted me to run initially is twofold: I was raised to always give back, to my community, to my family, to my school, to charities, etc. My parents were very big volunteers, and as children we were “dragged” along, which even as a young person I realized was very fulfilling.
I was also raised to be informed, make sure before I have an opinion on something I have all the facts, not assumptions, and so, for years prior to running I attended Council meetings. I had already extensively volunteered in Fair Haven on so many committees — school, town, sports, etc., and when I was asked to run I decided it would be an honor to give back to this community that I love so much.
Incumbents: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in your tenure on council?
My greatest accomplishment hands down is the improved communications strategy.
The residents wanted better communication; and, after encouraging and convincing the council and the administration, we began to put into place improved and varied communication methods.
We now have a database of email addresses and cell phone numbers (that the residents can opt into so they can receive these communications. If you are not receiving them, please email either email@example.com or myself firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add your information) where we have the ability now to:
- Send out eblasts and texts for important updates
- Fair Haven now has a weekly “What’s Happening in Fair Haven” email that comes out every Monday – and informs the residents of upcoming meetings, events, etc.
- The mayor now has a weekly email, that comes out on Fridays and gives a brief summary of the week or Borough information for the residents
- Fair Haven has Facebook postings – almost daily of all items ranging from upcoming meetings, to road closings, to Recreation events, to police alerts, to voting information…etc.
- FAQs on certain topics and these are growing and evolving
- All of the above has tremendously helped us during COVID to provide information to the public. I also try to share as much as I possibly can on Facebook.
- While COVID did push the borough towards Zooming meetings, I have been actively working on ways for the borough to live stream meetings post COVID
I am always open to listen to the residents for ideas and how to continue to improve our communications. I feel it is very important for all the residents to be informed. If you have any ideas of items we are not addressing in regards to communications, or anything for that matter, please reach out to me, any time.
Tell us about your volunteer work in and out of the borough. Your favorite charity organization and why.
I have had the honor of being named Fair Haven’s Volunteer of the Year. I work tirelessly for Fair Haven, and truly love this great community. Here is a list of just some of my volunteer work within the borough:
Councilwoman since 2012
Fair Haven Centennial Celebrations – 1 a month throughout 2012
Fair Haven Days & Fair Haven’s Oktoberfests– Founder and Chair and I have the privilege of working with the most AMAZING committee around since 2011
I have volunteered at numerous FH fireman’s fairs
Recreation Committee and chair – 9 years
Liaison to FHPD, FHFD, FHFA and OEM – 6 years
Fair Haven Personnel Chair – 3 years
Communications Strategy Chair – 2 years
Liaison to the Historic Commission
Historic Preservation Events – helped raise money for Bicentennial Hall – 12 years
Dozens of Teen Canteens
Multiple team moms and fundraiser chairs for sports teams – too many to name or count
Several PTA Luncheons – 50/50 chair
Liaison to the Fair Haven Business Association
Liaison the Fair Haven BOE and the RFH BOE
Foundation of Fair Haven President since 2012
Outside of Fair Haven: I am on the board of the Monmouth Day Care Center in Red Bank NJ, which is a non-profit day care center that serves families in our area.
Many of the families that attend the MDCC come from very diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. There is tuition assistance for those that are in need. This is an amazing organization that meets such a demand in our area. I am very proud of the work they do at this facility and how they are a true treasure to so many.
This year is a presidential election year in a challenging time with the pandemic. Which president in U.S. history do you admire most for overcoming major hurdles/obstacles of his time? Your favorite motto/quote of that president?
Easy. JFK. While he was not perfect, by any means — he had not only health issues, but he had many adversities that he dealt with — for example the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I feel that he handled many of this with grace, although he did not have to deal with social media, which has created so much miscommunications.
I feel that he also provided one of the best presidential quotes in his speech — “Ask not what your country can do you, ask what you can do for your country.” This is such a wonderful cry for a public’s call to action — give back to your country, your state your town — for the greater good. This is what I have aspired to live by — always.
What do you consider the most negative component of your personality? How do you feel it can be used to a positive end as a council member? Be very honest. For instance: a temper could be a positive viewed as or channeled into passion for a cause.
My most negative component to my personality, and what I get yelled at the most, is that I have a hard time saying NO! Sometimes I take on too many responsibilities at once, but somehow I do manage to tackle them all. But, if I commit to something, I will get it done.
Who in your family or extended family do you admire most and why? What was the best advice that person gave you that you have implemented most of your life?
This is a very easy one — my mom. Both of my parents actually, but especially my mom. My parents volunteered extensively throughout our lives, and taught their children to give back. My Mom never gives up; and if there is a cause or a situation that needs her attention, she will be there in a heartbeat to help that person or situation.
When my dad had a stroke, my mom became his sole caretaker, and we all credit her for giving us 12 additional years with him, even though it took a toll on her. There is not exact advice she ever gave me, other than to lead by example, or, in her case, lead by HER example, which I strive to do daily.
Where did you grow up? What about your hometown do you think ultimately shaped your desire to serve the town in which you live? Any specific incident or experience?
When I was born I lived in Sea Bright, and I still have many relatives in the area, but eventually my parents move to my father’s hometown of Nutley, NJ.
My parents always knew that I would end up in the Two River area someday. I was always more at home here. Nutley is a great town, with a really great school system and great people. I have several relatives who still live there and I visit often.
If I were to pinpoint something about Nutley, it would have to be when I was young my parents were on the Board of a Boys and Girls Club for the underprivileged, and all of us kids had to volunteer at the club. It really was fulfilling and rewarding, and a lesson that I learned at a very young age about diversity as well as giving back to a community.
What did you admire most about your hometown?
The people and the parks. Nutley has really great people and beautiful parks. As a matter of fact, the Dedication Bench Program that I developed in Fair Haven (and soon to include trees) was modeled after what Nutley has to offer.
How long have you been a Fair Haven resident? Other than the obvious (good schools, highly rated, PR spin, nice people … things we often hear) why did you choose to make it your home? What, specifically (incident or even moment) while visiting town cemented your decision?
I have lived and raised a family in Fair Haven since 1998. There are the obvious reasons — living near relatives, good schools, nice neighborhoods, but it was the community that drew us in to Fair Haven.
I grew up going to the Fireman’s Fair, and knew all the volunteerism that occurs throughout Fair Haven. We knew we wanted to live in the area, Sea Bright, Rumson, Little Silver or Fair Haven, and when driving around and seeing the kids playing in the streets and in the parks, seeing neighbors out talking with neighbors we then started concentrating on Fair Haven, specifically the Historic District.
Even though they are a lot of work, there is nothing like the charm of an old historic home. We have been in our home, as stated, for over 20 years, and we are still working on “projects.” I love that the historic area for the most part has remained unchanged and is a lovely slice of history. Living near the dock and the new Robards park makes it even better.
What is your professional career? What do you think is the most misunderstood perception about your line of work? How do you think dealing with this misperception makes you better equipped to serve the public?
I work in telecommunications, which is ever evolving. I started out selling phone systems, then data, then VoIP to cable companies (which enables them to offer voice) and now I work in wireless. I work on the wholesale side of the business.
I would have to say I am not sure what the most misunderstood perception of my line of work may be, but I do know that folks think because I work in wireless I can fix their phones. That is NOT my strong suit by any means. LOL.
Aside from any misunderstanding, I deal with negotiations all day long, and that is an element of my work life that aids me in my public service, whether it is negotiating or giving advice on negotiating this is a skill that has come in very handy during my term. Sometimes even negotiating amongst the council.
Incumbents: What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of local municipal officials’ work and/or character? What measures do you think you have taken to change that or make it better understood?
Interesting question. What I get asked most about is “Where does the extra money go for the big McMansions that get built? And that the borough allows this because of greed.”
I have actually met with some folks in town to review this with them. There is NO extra money and council does not make decisions on homes that are built. For starters, many of the larger homes that are built do not have to come before for the Zoning Board because they are built within the codes that have been in Fair Haven’s ordinances for decades.
Next – there is not extra money. The budget is the budget is the budget. The borough has a budget. Let’s say that the budget is a pie. Everyone in town pays their portion or their slice of the pie. The newer larger homes get a larger piece of the pie (or pay a larger portion of the budget), while the older smaller homes (that have not been renovated) get a smaller piece of the pie (or pay less).
To help with this misconception we have included over the last several years with the tax assessment/bill a letter that helps to explain how a homeowners taxes are dispersed. This year the letter depicted a fictitious town to help clarify how a home is taxed and how the taxes are then dispersed. In 2020, 64% of a homeowners taxes are for the schools, 21% for Fair Haven to run the municipality and 15% for the county.
Fair Haven Borough Council members are volunteer public servants. There is no pay or health benefits involved. It is also a very time-consuming job that requires transparency and constant accessibility to the public. It’s often a thankless job. What benefit is there for you, specifically, besides the obvious serving the town in which you live?
There are many folks that believe we get paid or that we get benefits. We do not.
I personally, have no agenda but to give back to my community. It is really amazing being part of protecting this community and helping to not only maintain its charm but to be stewards in guiding it forward for future generations. I believe the communications strategy is the biggest measure that has taken place to help residents understand much of the work we are doing for the borough.
Critical, complicated issues in the borough presently are: facilities, gentrification, affordable housing, seniors. I know the incumbents have mulled these issues repeatedly, but the average resident has not conveyed a distinct understanding of the facts and circumstances. So, that in mind compounded with a retrospective look at the issues, please read the statements and provide thoughtful, insightful answers that may offer a perspective not previously shared.
Question Background: Council has been grappling with with settling the facilities issue for years. In recent meetings, it has been agreed among council members that a new police station is a priority. Police have told council members that they are happy with their current location. So, a new plan was hatched in the same spot that involves demolishing what many feel is a historic structure, what used to be referred to as the Youth Center and formerly housed the borough’s segregated school and kindergarten after segregation ended.
Former police chief Darryl Breckenridge went to kindergarten in the building. It hasn’t been brought up in meetings, but word on the street from old Fair Havenites is that preservation of the building is preservation of a big piece of Fair Haven history. Of course, the building is not on the official National Register of Historic Places, but it holds a lot of history.
It has been well established that the building is a bit rickety and old and in dire need of renovation and mold remediation, though police have been in it for years and remain in it. When the subject has been broached of saving the building and renovating, it has been stated that it’s not worth saving and would be too costly to renovate. It will still cost a purported tens of millions (a rough estimate of about $11 million for police station and DPW a street over) to demolish and/or rebuild.
Drafting plans also costs a substantial amount of money. Council members have said in meetings, as has the mayor, that new facilities must be agreed upon now.
Question: In light of a new era in office work due to the pandemic and enhanced technology, can you tell residents, in simple terms, why you think think it is necessary to do such a major overhaul? Besides the mold issue, which has been managed, as police are still in the building, even though you may feel you’ve explained it repeatedly, explain again why you feel the facilities project is so critically important right now. Also explain to the average resident how, exactly, it won’t significantly impact taxes.
The Police Station and DPW need – yes, need to be replaced. These are not wants or wish list items – these are the cold hard facts – that have been provided by professionals. The borough did not do its best job with the first presentation of the facilities, and a huge misunderstanding began.
The first presentation in January of 2019 was a presentation to the public to make them aware of the situation and to present options, but it was mostly to hear from the residents.
We have continued to learn from this, but the continued misinformation that is out there is very hard to continually counter.
A new police station will not cost tens of millions. The borough has explored several options, and continues to hone a solution that meets the borough’s needs as well as the residents. The goal is to provide new facilities with the least amount of impact to the homeowners taxes by bonding and possibly eventually selling off some property. Our residents and our borough employees deserve to a safe environment to come to or to work in. Renovating was cost prohibitive and not recommended.
Question Background: Affordable housing and gentrification is a critical issue in Fair Haven, but with a median income level at more than $200,000 per year, and demographics and average income level that have shifted drastically since those who are now seniors moved into the borough, residents don’t tend to see it as important since the majority don’t need it. Fair Haven was once affordable for most income brackets. That is no longer the case. Change is inevitable and with the demolition of many small homes and replacement with very large, the answer has been “it’s what the market demands.”
Yes, but that leaves out a significant segment of the former population of the borough that was priced out of their homes over the years more and more. Very few who raised families and were raised in Fair Haven have been able to stay. The borough has yet to meet its affordable housing obligation, as mandated federally, but officials have taken steps to satisfy the obligation with plans for potential future affordable units. Still, those plans are far off and not ironclad, they are tentative promises to the courts.
The original need of 371 units deemed by the Fair Share Housing Committee has been debunked by a consultant hired by the borough to come up with an acceptable plan to satisfy affordable housing mandates. Such consultants are usually quite costly as well.
That number was diminished significantly in the consultant’s report with the most concrete plan in the works for a new mixed use development (where the former Sunoco gas station sat) calling for only a few units: one very low income, one low and another moderately low. In a workshop meeting, for example, it was discussed at length that the units should not have balconies because they can get too unsightly with residents leaving things outside and that parking should only fit normal sized vehicles, not work trucks. Yet, many of the large homes in the borough have front porches with a full view.
There has long been a notion that low income housing, or even affordable, is equated with unsightly and undesirables in town. Fair Haven was founded by a low and moderate income population.
Question: Why do you think affluent commuities, such as the present Fair Haven, have this perception and have either avoided or tried valiantly to lower, sell off to other towns or not honor the obligation to provide a fair share of affordable housing? Please don’t use the schools burden argument, because it is flawed.
IF you had your way, what sort of truly affordable housing for young people starting out and seniors on a low fixed income, would you provide without question — all 371 units?
Fair Haven’s Fair Share Housing Committee worked very hard to not only meet the state mandated requirements but to also preserve the goals of Fair Haven’s Master Plan.
The Borough has more than met — through overlay zones (that include Senior housing), above garage/secondary structures, an agreement with the property owner of the old Sunoco Station and donating land to Habitat to Humanity — its obligation to allow for affordable housing.
The 371 number is from a state equation, which means that the amount of units that a builder can build is 5 times the amount, and the 371 is the total of 20% of the units that can be built. Fair Share Housing then takes into account several factors one of which is available space to build, which Fair Haven is lacking. The number is then dramatically reduced based on the specific town’s restrictions.
What is very misunderstood, is that this does not provide affordable housing for Fair Haven residents that want to stay in town, these units go into a lottery system that includes Mercer, Ocean and Monmouth counties. The council’s desire while going through the Fair Share Housing process was to make sure that at least one of the overlay areas included senior housing, which it does.
As for the larger homes that have been built, if a resident, and in many cases a long-term resident wants to sell their home to a builder, they should have the ability to sell their home for the maximum amount of money.
The Borough is not in the business of stopping a resident from selling their home or from making a profit. If a builder purchases the home and chooses to replace the home with a new larger modern home that is their right as long as they build within code. I personally like my modest home in the Historic District, but that is not what the market demands. We should not penalize a resident that wants to make a profit on their home when they are selling.
Question Background: Candidates have continually expressed a desire to keep seniors in Fair Haven to live out their lives. With each year and larger homes, high municipal and school taxes and the demolition of smaller, more affordable homes, it has been increasingly more difficult and unaffordable for seniors on a fixed income, who moved to Fair Haven as low- to middle-income residents when it was much more affordable, to do that. In fact, the senior population has dwindled significantly. Not only are the taxes unaffordable to seniors on a fixed or even average income, but they also have great difficulty with the upkeep of their homes.
Question: If you had your way, besides tax discounts that are helpful, but don’t make much of a difference for a person on a fixed income, how would you keep them here? How, besides things like the Snow Angels snow removal program and activities and larger-scale programs like Habitat for Humanity, would you propose helping them with maintenance sourced from borough residents? Decades ago, neighbors were known to rally and help neighbors in need with larger, necessary home projects. Again, IF you had your way, what would you do?
Fair Haven has a strong “Helping Neighbor” program that helps seniors with shoveling snow and in many cases raking leaves. If you are senior or if you know a senior that has not signed up for any of these programs, please send an email to Bberube@fhboro.net and she will add the person to the list.
Our Fair Haven Police Department is very active in checking in our seniors, especially during these strange COVID times. Years ago, my neighborhood rallied around an elderly person and we all scraped and painted her home. That is what I love about Fair Haven, we are a community of volunteers.
About a month ago, the AME Church in town posted on Facebook an SOS regarding volunteers to come and help scrape and paint their Church — it was really great to be able to help and to see dozens of residents participating. This is where social media can truly help a community. If there is someone in need, typically there are several folks that respond and help.
Any other issues you see as critical? How do you propose addressing them?