Img_0730Councilman R.J Bifani

The best part, hands down, he says, is what was accomplished in the realm of housing on the West Side.

At his last meeting as a member of the Red Bank Borough Council last night, R.J. Bifani was lauded for his efforts in shaping up a number of departments and programs, including public works and roads.

But “the best thing I was involved in,” he told his fellow council members and a modest-sized audience, was housing rehabilitation — using grant money and funds from a 2004 Regional Contribution Agreement with Manalapan and other sources to fund repairs on dozens of homes owned by low-income taxpayers.

After providing the “nuts and bolts” basic services of local government operations, Bifani said, “that’s what I think we should be doing here as a council.” The programs, he said, enable seniors and the working poor to hold onto their homes.

Bifani cited a handful of programs that cumulatively steered some $4.6 million over about five years into the upkeep of the borough’s housing stock, as well as two homes built by Habitat for Humanity for qualified buyers.

Under the Manalapan RCA, some 98 homes are slated to be refurbished; so far, work on 34 has been completed, he said; another 25 or so are on the waiting list for approval.

Before the money runs out, he said, the council has to “aggresively reach out and find grant money” to keep the momentum going. And he urged residents, as he has in the past, to take advantage of the home fix-up programs that they may qualify for.

Members of the council, and a few from the audience, took turns praising Bifani for his devotion to the borough and its residents. Most noted that he’s a rugby player — he’s a member of the Monmouth Rugby Football Club, based on Shrewsbury Avenue — and saw parallels between his sport of choice and his approach to council duties.

“He’s always had a zest and energy that the rest of us found difficult to duplicate,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna, the only member of the governing body who’s served longer than Bifani. The bruises and bandages he sometimes bore when he showed up for council meetings were indicators of his “passion” for life, Menna said.

“He really did lead by example,” said Councilman Mike DuPont, who wrapped up his freshman year on the dais last night. Because so much of Bifani’s efforts were outside the spotlight, “you didn’t always know what RJ did, but the job got done.”

Even Republican John Curley, with whom Bifani has had a prickly public relationship, joined in. “We’ve locked horns many times,” Curley said, but in encounters away from the council chambers, “he’s always been very gracious to me.”

In one of his final acts, Bifani handed his fellow council members a proposed ordinance that would curb the proliferation of signs posted on public property by homesellers, candidates for public office, and hawkers of everything from diet plans to jobs.

“This is a good first step,” he told them, “but it has to come with a big penalty” for violators.

The council’s next scheduled meeting is at 3p on January 1, when Kathleen Horgan is scheduled to be sworn in to take Bifani’s seat; she was voted into office after Bifani decided not to seek re-election.

Also to be sworn in is Councilwoman Grace Cangemi, who was elected in November to serve out the balance of former councilmember Kaye Ernst’s term. Ernst resigned last January to move out of state.

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