New councilman appointed after resignation

After the resignation of Councilman Dan MacDonnell, Andy Simone was sworn in at a Berlin Council workshop meeting

Andy Simone is sworn in as councilman for the Borough of Berlin at the council’s workshop meeting Tuesday, May 7 while his wife, Kristen, holds the bible and solicitor John Moustakas reads the Oath of Office.

Berlin Borough Council swore in a new councilman at its workshop meeting on Tuesday, May 7, at borough hall.

According to a letter sent to Mayor Jim Bilella and council President Jim Pearce on Tuesday, April 30, now-former Councilman Dan MacDonnell notified council he was resigning from borough council “effective immediately.”

“Personal reasons necessitate that I vacate my position as councilman and focus my complete attention on my family and other matters I need to address privately,” said MacDonnell in the letter to council.

MacDonnell could not be reached for comment, however police records from the Berlin Police Department show that a week before his resignation he was arrested on Wednesday, April 24 before midnight, charged with driving under the influence, attempting to elude police and obstruction.

At the workshop meeting, Andrew Simone was unanimously approved by council and sworn in by solicitor John Moustakas.

Simone has served on the Berlin Borough Planning Board since 2016, having been chairman the past two years. Simone is a licensed engineer and holds degrees in architectural engineering and construction.

Simone says he is looking forward to serving on borough council and hopes to continue to improve the local community.

“I’m really excited, I’m a life-long Berliner,” said Simone. “I’d just like to move forward with the progress that [council] has made so far.”

In preparation of council’s next official meeting, councilmen discussed progress on numerous projects for their respective areas.

Councilman Len Badolato said the borough is moving forward after having met with the state Department of Transportation regarding improvements made to the four crossing paths along the White Horse Pike in the center of town, and at the time of the meeting a letter is waiting to be sent to authorize a state study.

Badolato also brought up discussion for the Downtown Berlin Revitalization Corp. to start planning and having events that can make the volunteer group money while promoting the town, after having made various improvements around town over the past three years.

“It’s time for them to step up and start doing some things where they can make some money and promote the town,” said Badolato. “That’s what it’s all about, things that council can’t do.”

According to Badolato the DBRC is preparing to host an event around early September, however it is in the very early stages of the process.

After multiple councilmen met with the state Department of Transportation regarding the intersection of Franklin and the White Horse Pike approximately a month ago, Councilman Jim Pearce said at the meeting that council is in favor of a left-turn lane and left-turn signal in both directions.

“They did explain that it was going to take a long process but the sooner that we pass the resolution, the better,” said Pearce.

During the meeting, council passed a resolution in support of the option.

In other news, Pearce said at the meeting that the Berlin Police Department is preparing to hire a new officer at the council meeting Thursday, May 16. After recent changes in the past months throughout the department, it needs to hire two additional officers to continue to apply for the Safe and Secure Grant as a department.

Lastly for Pearce, he stated the department has explored multiple avenues in recent months to save money.

“We’re trying to find as many ways to save the taxpayer money,” said Pearce. “We really are coming up with a lot of creative ways to try to fund a lot of the programs we’re doing, and doing a lot with, I think, a little.”

Administrator Bill Behnke asked council for support via a resolution in which Gov. Murphy had planned to divert $33 million in revenue from the state Fireman’s Association for the upcoming Fiscal Year.

“That money is part of the New Jersey State Fireman Relief Association funds, and it’s actually been in existence since 1885,” Behnke said. “The concern is that, by taking the money out of there, it will destabilize that fund. It’s used to treat firefighters with cancer, post-traumatic stress syndromes and all other kinds of things.”

Council agreed to place the resolution on the agenda for its upcoming meeting, however after the meeting, a release by the Office of the Governor stated that the administration is eliminating its proposed redirection of the $33 million from its plans.

Lastly at the meeting, Behnke said the Board of Public Utilities performed an energy audit on borough facilities to find a plan that would retrofit and replace equipment to make the energy needs for borough building less, while also being more efficient.

The plan includes four modes of financing for the borough. According to Behnke, the program could start to save the borough money after the first year, depending on the mode of financing that council chooses.

Mayor Jim Bilella said the borough is also exploring the potential of solar panels being installed on borough hall and at the Berlin Community Center to reduce electricity costs.