By Jillian Risberg
As one of the best places to live in New Jersey, Mount Olive’s mayor and council are happy to have had a hand in the township’s low taxes, great place to raise a family, parks and recreation lover’s dream and top school districts.
“I am most proud of not raising municipal taxes in eight years, the sense of community we have fostered, responsiveness of the municipal government under my leadership as well as the communication effort we have undertaken,” says Mayor Rob Greenbaum.
Since Joe Nicastro took over as council president four years ago, he echoed many of the mayor’s sentiments as major accomplishments for the township as well as others, including adding mailboxes to drop flags to updating the parks and lowering the debt.
“I am also proud of what we do to keep the people of Mount Olive informed,” Nicastro says. “From our alert systems that contact residents in emergencies to our meetings that are available on our YouTube Channel. Granted, most people don’t wait with popcorn and gather around the computer to watch a meeting but if they are inclined to do so, now they can.”
According to the mayor, he is always working to improve the infrastructure, roads, parks and buildings of the town’s 32 square miles. He hopes to do more paving in 2020, conquer long overdue drainage projects and improve the all-purpose field at Flanders Park.
“Later this year, I hope to see a large tent installed at Turkey Brook Park for use by recreation or to rent for our residents,” Greenbaum says. “I also attempt to attract new commercial rateables, enforce our property maintenance code and remove old abandoned structures which are deemed unsafe.”
It makes perfect sense to Council Vice President Alex Roman, whose proudest accomplishment is Turkey Brook Park.
“We have made it a premier recreational facility enjoyed by our residents and the envy of Morris County,” Roman says. “As liaison to the Recreation Committee, we have taken input from the public and provided valuable guidance to the Recreation Department.”
According to Nicastro, with the great upgrades made to Turkey Brook Park, he now considers it Mount Olive’s ‘downtown.’
“This is a place for sporting events, tournaments, the Santa House, Veterans Memorial, 9/11 Memorial, Splash Pad, Pirates Cove playground, a memorial garden and dog park,” the council president says. “People tell me how they love this park.”
Flanders Park just got an upgrade as well and Nicastro says they are always making improvements to their other facilities.
“It brings people in who visit the local shops and restaurants, and helps our local economy,” he says.
Despite all Roman’s efforts, the Budd Lake revitalization was his greatest disappointment.
“Mainly due to obstacles imposed to us by the state,” says the Council VP. “Proposals that we submitted to the state to create a boardwalk around Budd Lake were denied by the NJ DEP.”
Nicastro understands the frustration people have when it comes to the lake and all the years of trying to make redevelopment a reality.
“The first step is to find a developer who is interested in developing that area,” the council president says. “It will be a long process even with the right partner. But I know the mayor, administration and council is working to find the right partner to make it happen.”
The mayor hopes to keep encouraging growth and conservative spending for the next four years.
“What means most to me is that people feel that Mount Olive is a place they want to live,” Greenbaum says. “When I hear that I know I’ve done a good job.”
Overall, he says the town is a desirable place to reside, raise children and operate a business. People like living in Mount Olive and others seek to move there, in part because of what they have accomplished.
One of Roman’s top priorities was always opening up government and that is finally coming to fruition with the township’s new website and live streaming of council meetings.
“It was always important to me that residents and taxpayers know where their township spent their money,” the Council VP says, adding that in his first term — he spearheaded the move to have their Bill List publicly and easily available online.
“I am also proud of pushing our meetings to be videotaped and placed on YouTube. Going live is another example of our commitment to be transparent,” he says.
Even though their slate is all Republican, Roman says their circumstances are diverse.
“We have local small business owners, parents with small children in our school system and retirees,” says the Council VP. “Our backgrounds provide invaluable input on all matters before the township.”
And the schools in Mount Olive are second to none, according to Nicastro.
“Especially the high school and middle school,” the council president says. “The things they offer our children are amazing — the facilities with a football stadium and performing arts center.”
As the publisher of a media group comprising a variety of newspapers and magazines, Nicastro is always doing his part to help in any way he can.
“I run many things for the organizations in town at no charge because I know they might not have the funds to spend on advertising,” he says. “Mount Olive Life is one of 18 publications I own with my wife Mary that is all about family friendly content. Being able to showcase the people, places and things that make a town like Mount Olive great is a wonderful thing.”
Councilman Greg Stewart says that despite seven different Council personalities, everyone’s opinion is heard and the resulting decisions are made for the community –- not a political agenda.
“I am proud of all of us on Council,” Stewart says. “We work together, that is how we have achieved not raising municipal taxes and not cutting any services for our community.”
Adds Nicastro, “We have a Council that can work together for the people of Mount Olive no matter what party they belong to, where they are from, new to town or born here, backgrounds or beliefs. The one thing we agree on is what’s good for the residents and that shows in what we have done.”
Mount Olive got to be the best of the best because the people managing it truly care.
“I hope the voters of Mount Olive re-elect myself and my running mates because we have demonstrated fiscal responsibility and creative leadership,” Roman says. “We have not raised municipal taxes while increasing services and reducing waste. I am proud to represent her and ALL the residents of Mount Olive.”
Stewart also wants to continue representing the township at the crossroads of Route 80 and Route 206.
“Mount Olive provides easy access to major locations throughout the state, as well as New York City and Pennsylvania, but it’s rural enough that all can enjoy the privacy of ‘non-city’ life and participate in as many local activities as they desire.”
As chair of the Mount Olive Board of Health, Councilwoman Colleen Labow oversees anything related to wellness for the Council.
That includes Animal Control (with free rabies vaccinations twice a year), the Senior Center/township nurse, septic installation projects and well water testing.
“I try to stay as informed as I can possibly be so when a resident comes to me with a question or concern, I can help direct them to the proper department or person,” Labow says.
The councilwoman’s years as a real estate agent have helped her with surprisingly numerous issues related to septic systems and wells.
“The cost for an ambulance is extremely high and many times, a patient’s medical will not cover it. That just adds a huge amount of stress to an already stressful situation,” Labow says, adding that they only turn to paid service during the weekdays but remain volunteer on nights and weekends.”
With election season around the corner, the councilwoman can’t think of a better government entity to continue working with.
“It’s been an honor to be a member of the Mount Olive Township Council working with Mayor Rob Greenbaum and the whole Council,” Labow says. “We have a rare mindset. We all keep what we believe is in the best interest of our community the priority.”
When Nicastro looks at an issue he also says it’s not a Democrat or Republican issue but a Mount Olive issue and what is the right thing for the residents.
“I am really blessed to serve the people of Mount Olive and truly enjoy what I do and can do for the residents,” the council president says.
They take safety very seriously and that means meeting with the police, fire and EMS on a regular basis.
“We plan out when new equipment is needed and budget it accordingly,” the council president says. “They put their lives on the line for every one of us; it’s important that we listen to their needs.”
According to Labow, they have worked very hard to improve roads, programs and services, while reducing their debt, increasing their financial rating and looking for more ways to make improvements and keep their municipal taxes stable.
Being an active member of the Mount Olive community and connecting with your officials has never been easier.
“Our new website will give residents a powerful online tool to access information and township resources in an effective and efficient manner,” says Business Administrator Andrew Tatarenko. “It will be easy to navigate, have updated and relevant content and be fully responsive on multiple devices including smart phones, tables and wide screen monitors. The custom design will also showcase all the great things Mount Olive has to offer.”
Everyone will also have the benefit of being able to watch council meetings live streamed right through the website.
“And have the agenda displayed adjacent to the video so viewers can follow along,” Tatarenko says. “This will allow our residents to stay informed as decisions are being made.”
Knowing the council has contributed their time and efforts to make Mount Olive one of the premiere townships in Morris County and a relocation destination means a lot to Nicastro going forward.
“They love the open space we have, the farms and green everywhere,” the council president says. “I will continue to represent all residents and always be available for them. They tell me what a great town we have and love the work we are doing to keep it that way.”