Little Silver voters will be asked to fill two three-year terms on the borough council in the November 3 election.
On the ballot are four candidates: Democrats Joan Gotti and Stephanie Keenan, and Republicans Kevin Brennan and Michael Holzapfel.
Here are Holzapfel’s written responses to questions posed to all four candidates recently by redbankgreen.
Name: Michael Holzapfel
Address: 339 Branch Avenue, Little Silver
How long have you been a resident of Little Silver?
Fourteen years. We moved to Branch Avenue from our apartment in Matawan in 2006 and we’ve been here ever since.
Where did you grow up? North Andover, Massachusetts, which is a suburb just north of Boston.
Where did you go to high school? St. John’s in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Did you graduate from college? If so, which school, with what degree?
I attended Holy Cross (where I met my wife) and I graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor’s degree in history.
Have you served in the military? If so, which branch and when? No.
What do you do for a living? I’m an attorney with Becker LLC (formerly Becker Meisel LLC) specializing in complex commercial litigation, primarily healthcare litigation.
Please tell us a little bit about your community involvement efforts, if any.
My wife and I have been dedicated to community service from the get-go. Before being elected to Council in 2017 I was a Rec volunteer and assistant coach. I was appointed to the Planning Board in 2013, on which I continue to sit as the Council designee. As liaison to the Environmental Commission, I regularly participate in things like Environmental Day and organized efforts to clean garbage out of our trails and parks. Our family is a regular sponsor of and volunteer for events and organizations like the Little Silver 5K and the PTO, on which my wife served as a board member for several years.
Party affiliation: Republican.
How important is party affiliation to you? What does it mean to you to be a member of your party?
As I’ve said many times before, political lines tend to blur at the local level, and rightfully so. Like anyone else, I have my thoughts and opinions on things like national security, federal and state tax rates for individuals and corporations, and so on. My focus as a Little Silver Councilman, however, is on our Borough and the needs we have at the municipal level. That was my directive from those who voted for me in 2017. And when it comes to the issues that impact Little Silver on a daily basis, the labels “Republican” and “Democrat” don’t take on a lot of meaning. Residents expect decent roads, safe sidewalks, a responsive police department, a well-equipped DPW. These are not “liberal” or “conservative” agenda items – they are community needs.
Do you have a role model in public life? Who and why?
There are several people I could mention here, some whose names are well-known and some whose names might not ring a bell. These people come from both sides of the political aisle, but they all have one thing in common: Even if I disagreed with them on certain issues, I never once questioned their dedication to the job they were called upon to do or their good faith in making the decisions they made. The public figures who I believe are truly “in it for the service,” and not for themselves, are the public figures from whom I try to “take notes.”
Why are you running for Little Silver council?
I am running for Council in 2020 for the same reason I ran three years ago, and that is to continue to serve and give back to the town that has given so much to my family. Serving on a municipal council in a town like Little Silver is a labor of love. I am running solely out of dedication to our town, and to continue to lend what I believe has been a helpful hand over the last three years in making sure our town is run efficiently.
What are the most pressing issues facing the town, and how do you plan to address them?
Fiscal challenges are always at or near the top of everyone’s lists. Little Silver is a small town whose tax base is mostly residential. Yet, even as a small town, we have the same needs as our larger neighbors. We need an efficient, well-staffed police department to ensure public safety. We need a well-equipped DPW to ensure that, among other things, borough infrastructure is maintained in working order. We need reliable outside vendors to collect garbage and recyclables. The list goes on, and none of these things are inexpensive. As a member of the Finance Committee, I have been able to work first-hand with all department heads (police, fire, EMS, municipal courts, DPW, the public library, etc.) on strategic plans for capital expenditures to ensure that we can meet our needs as a town while maintaining a flat tax rate. I want to continue to play a roll in making sure that these departments have the resources they need to effectively serve our residents with as little impact as possible on our taxpayers.
What if any specific initiatives can voters expect from you if you are elected?
Land use and zoning will be a focal point over the next three years. People are leaving New York and some of North Jersey’s larger cities in droves. This has increased demand for housing in Little Silver (where demand has always been strong) even further. On the one hand, strong demand is great because keeps property values high. On the other hand, from a land use perspective, higher demand necessarily means a spike in requests for variances from our Land Use Ordinance, particularly when it comes to expanding or razing/rebuilding some of the older, smaller homes in town.
To ensure we are taking a holistic approach to zoning, we need renewed emphasis on the legal criteria that need to be met for variance applications. Of course, we recognize the need to modernize outdated homes to make them functional in today’s environment, and certainly we need to account for the fact that a great many lots in Little Silver are “undersized,” and are therefore entitled to a degree of flexibility when it comes to compliance with applicable setbacks, etc. Variances, however, are supposed to be the exception to the rule – not the rule itself. The Planning Board of course recognizes this and has consistently done a fantastic job in the application review process. With so much of our residential development now in a state of transition, however, I just think we need renewed emphasis on the legal criteria that dictate when a variance is appropriate, and to what degree. If re-elected, I will be a voice for this perspective.
A Master Plan review may be on the agenda in 2021. What if any changes do you think should be made to the plan, and why?
Municipalities are required to review their master plans every ten years. A lot has happened in our part of the country and in the state in the last decade. We’d barely cleaned up all of the flood-related damage caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011 when Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. We just had Hurricane Isaias. Our water tables are higher than ever in a town which is low-lying as it is. We need to be cognizant of these realities when we approach our new Master Plan. Building standards that were acceptable 30 years ago may not be acceptable today. We need to, for example, carefully review base flood elevations for new construction in our most vulnerable areas. We need to ensure that our stormwater control ordinance maximizes the use of Green Infrastructure to handle stormwater runoff – a process which is already underway.
How would you rate the borough council’s fiscal management, and what if any changes do you think are needed?
Planning a municipal budget, which must be approved by the State, is challenging because it is impacted by so many variables. As a member of the Finance Committee, I have gained a great deal of insight from our extraordinarily talented and experienced CFO. My fellow committee members, Councilman Galante and Councilmen McNally, both of whom have financial backgrounds, have also provided tremendous insight. Collectively we have been very hands-on when it comes to reviewing municipal expenses incurred across our various departments.
I wouldn’t say that any systemic “change” is necessary when it comes to fiscal management, but I would say that we need to adapt and be forward-thinking in light of challenges posed by the pandemic. For example, the federal government has cut interest rates almost to zero. As a result, the interest Little Silver has been able to earn on its deposits (derived primarily from taxpayer dollars) has been reduced. We have also seen a reduction in revenues derived from things like municipal court fees. At the same time, revenue derived from things like construction fees has increased. Fortunately, we have had sufficient surplus in our budget to deal with the challenges posed by COVID-related revenue shortfalls, but it is more important now than ever to review and plan with a keen eye to keep taxes flat while still providing essential services.
Controversy over a cell tower three years ago prompted calls for better borough government communications with residents. Have communications improved? What more if anything needs to be done in this area?
Absolutely. The Borough has updated its website, made better use of its Facebook page, and enhanced the public meeting process with things like Facebook Live. The Borough has also leveraged tools such as Code Red and Constant Contact. On some of the more significant matters that have come before the Council (for example, the single use plastics ordinance and the sidewalk program), individual notices have also been sent to residents and businesses. Of course, more traditional means of communication, such as the Mayor’s written newsletter, remain basic staples.
It’s important to note, however, that participatory government is a two-way street. The Borough can always examine its methods of communication and come up with new and creative ideas to keep as many people as informed as possible, but residents also need to keep themselves informed and bring questions and concerns to the Council.
Since the start of the pandemic, public meetings have been held remotely via Zoom and phone. What if any lessons from this change should be carried forward when in-person meetings can again be held?
As with many things, when it comes to public meetings I don’t think there’s any true substitute for in-person gatherings. Still, I have seen first-hand how Zoom has increased access to and interest in town affairs. We will need to work with our attorneys to ensure that our use of any virtual component complies with the Open Public Meetings Act, but as along as we maintain compliance I don’t see why we can’t integrate such a component into our meeting protocol once we get back to conducting in-person business.
If there’s anything you’d like to add, please do so here:
I believe that my experience and track record qualify me to serve a second term as Councilman. During my first term I took the lead in drafting some of the more significant ordinances the Borough has passed in the last three years, including the telecommunications ordinance and the ordinance regulating the use of single use plastic bags and straws. These were difficult, “hot-button” ordinances. And yet, we managed to pass them unanimously, and with support and input from residents of all political stripes. I am very proud of these accomplishments, which I believe demonstrate my ability and willingness to work with, and seek input from, all residents.
Again, at the municipal level, people really need to leave “Republican” and “Democrat” aside and focus on the town. We all send our kids to the same schools. We drive the same roads. We use the same community services. At the end of the day, we’re all members of the same Little Silver team, and I if elected I will continue to serve with that mindset.
The Little Silver ballot can be found here.
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