BECK CHATS IT UP WITH WESTSIDE GROUP

jen-beckState Senator Jen Beck talked with residents at the West Side Community Group Wednesday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

For months, Patrick Hussey has looked out from his Catherine Street home and wished for pavement. The asphalt was torn up as part of the Cedar Crossing construction project, he said, and he’s been told by contractors that there’s no plan to repave the section of road until later this year.

“I’m ready to plant a garden right there in the street in front of my house,” Hussey said.

He hasn’t been able to get a straight answer from local officials about when his street will be repaved, he said, so he took his grievance a couple steps higher up the chain Wednesday night, when State Senator Jen Beck visited the Westside Community Group for her first time since serving on the borough council.

There to remind residents that she’s an advocate for them, Beck glossed over some of the work she’s done at the state level and listened to the concerns, both local and statewide, from a group of about a dozen.

One resident, Richard Ashley, challenged Beck on environmental issues, specifically on having more access to the Navesink River. Beck sits on the senate’s environment and energy committee.

Ashley said that Beck should advocate for more access to the river. He’s got a problem that fishing at Marine Park is difficult when you have to check the parking meters to make sure there’s not a ticket on the windshield.

“Have you ever tried to fish with a parking meter?” He asked. “That’s not access to the river. I’m sorry.”

Beck said she’d bring that up to the mayor and council.

“I think most of us don’t like them,” she said. “It does make it difficult to fish.”

While Hussey’s and Ashley’s gripes were at the most local level, most of the issues raised Wednesday night were much broader.

When Beck brought up the specter of shared services and privatization as a potential solution to budget shortfalls, the idea received a tepid response. But she said fears that services will be compromised and towns will lose their identity are premature.

“There are appropriate groups that should be privatized and there are some that don’t work,” Beck said. “But at least we should think outside the box and be trying to save some jobs.”

Speaking of jobs, Oakland Street resident Carl Colmorgen asked Beck how the state feels about the pending closure of Fort Monmouth, and if there is any plan to utilize the property and possibly save, or recreate any of the thousands of jobs that will be lost when the fort moves its operations to Aberdeen, Maryland, in September.

Beck said she’s not optimistic for the near future. A recent plan to reuse a communications center at the fort was voted down because of “some partisan nonsense,” she said. That leaves her and her constituents going back to the drawing board to find ways to best use the property.

“For this year and obviously the coming years, we’ve got a struggle,” Beck said.

Residents were also concerned about the potential lease of Monmouth Park to a private developer.

With four serious candidates interested in the money-losing racetrack, Beck said she’s more hopeful the Oceanport site, a property that runs a $4 million deficit annually, will rebound.

Beck said while the state is tangled in a dismal financial problem, there is hope.

For the first time in three years, she said the state created more jobs than it lost. When the state’s finances are balanced, she said it’s likely residents will see the return of some of the items cut from the state budget, such as school funding and property tax freezes for senior citizens.

“The good news is that we are seeing growth in the economy for the first time,” she said. “That’s good. Really. We’ve been through a tough time.”

Beck’s office is on 32 Monmouth Street. She can be reached via email here, or phoned at 732.933.1591

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The Westside Community Group, for the first time in 14 years, is changing its meeting dates. It will now meet on the third Wednesday of every month, instead of the second Wednesday.

The time and location — 7p at River Street Commons — are the same. The change takes effect in April.