KENILWORTH, NJ — The new council president envisions a revitalized Boulevard replete with flowers, benches and tables lining its spacious sidewalks, accentuating its small-town charm.
Linda Karlovitch, who was selected as council president by a 6-0 vote in at the reorganization meeting on Jan. 1, doesn’t have to look far for a blueprint.
Karlovitch said the borough’s neighbor to the south, Cranford, has done a great job capturing the Rockwellian feeling she wants to continue to foster in Kenilworth.
“It’s so amazing because I’m there every single day,” said Karlovitch, who owns and operates The Porch Salon on North Avenue in Cranford. “I’ve been working there for 30 years. I still walk to the post office, and I’ll stop and take a picture of the plants. I’m like, ‘Those flowers are so pretty.’ I still find myself really grateful for how pretty it looks, and I would absolutely like to bring some of that to Kenilworth.
“Cranford was just named one of the 10 best towns in New Jersey. We’re rubbing shoulders with Cranford and you know what? We’re a great town, too. In some ways, even better. We have one of the lowest tax rates in the county. We’re a very small community. I feel there is so much potential here to really shine.”
County records show Kenilworth’s municipal property tax rate is 4.909 percent.
Making the this roughly 2-square-mile town of some 8,000 residents shine has been Karlovitch’s goal since she was elected in 2017. One of her first goals was to re-establish the Beautification Committee, which had disbanded, and she set out to fill the empty planters along Boulevard to help transform the borough into a destination for the Union County foodies who flock to its various restaurants.
And she wants to take her vision for a streetscape a step further.
“We’re just bringing these ideas to the table now, applying for grants, but doing a streetscape is not cheap,” she said. “Certainly, we could add some cute, little bistro tables, which I would like to do. The bigger picture is many of our sidewalks are in disrepair and they need repair or sprucing up. They’re old. Just like in many towns in New Jersey, many of our buildings are old and needing attention.
Those things, of course, are expensive. Maybe, little by little, if we have a plan then we can start somewhere. Maybe we’ll do this block and then do the next block next year. I want to get a solid plan to make the Boulevard beautiful.”
Finding the money in the municipal budget to do that could be difficult since the borough is bracing for another hefty bill from the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority.
LocalSource reported last year that Kenilworth was hit with a 28.5 percent increase in its sewer assessment. The bill was $908,922, which came to $201,373 more than in 2017. By comparison, three towns in the 11-member cooperative saw decreases; four towns saw increases of 2 to 3 percent; and Mountainside, Westfield and Garwood were up 6 to 10 percent. Roselle Park saw an 11.98 percent decrease in assessment.
Karlovitch said Kenilworth could be looking at a bill of more than $1 million from the RVSA in 2019.
“We’re talking about the possibility of bringing in our own meters just to run them for 30 days, just to compare the numbers, just to make sure that we’re paying what we’re supposed to be paying or that there isn’t an issue possibly with one of their meters,” Karlovitch said. “It’s a pretty big bill. We’re just a little town. It’s like what the mayor (Anthony DeLuca) says all the time, ‘I just don’t think we’re flushing our toilet that much.’ I have to agree.”
Remaining committed to stabilizing taxes while making improvements to her hometown of the past 50 years will be a difficult balancing act.
Karlovitch, however, wears her pride in Kenilworth on her sleeve. She still remembers when her parents pulled up in front of a house on North 22nd Street and telling her, “This is our new house.”
When she grew up and moved out, she got an apartment on Washington Avenue. She now lives one block over from her childhood home, on South 23rd, with her husband, Joe, and their daughter, Angelina.
Karlovitch said her years of running a salon has helped her learn to work with people with disparate personalities. It helped her organize events, such as Restaurant Week during her first year on the council, and she thinks that will serve her well as council president.
“I’m good at gathering people, and I know that sounds weird, but I’m good at that,” she said. “If I can run these events and parties, I’m good at that. I enjoy people, genuinely. I think that’s a tribute to a lot of my success in business, that I listen to people and I care about people and I want people to all feel important because they are.”