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Montgomery Township Committee 2010

NOVEMBER 2010 MONTGOMERY TOWNSHIP
COMMITTEE CANDIDATES QUESTIONNAIRE RESPONSES

NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION

Vote Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Polls are open in Montgomery from 6 AM to 8 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for Plainsboro Township Committee to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area, in cooperation with The Princeton Packet. The candidates were allowed to vary the length of their answers to the three questions but were given a word limit for their answers.

Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)

Patricia Graham - Republican, Princeton-based commercial litigation attorney. Website:www.gopmontgomery.org

Neena Singh - Democrat, Senior Partner, Keller Williams Realty; PR Vice-President, Non-Profit. Website: www.ForMontgomery.org

Ed Trzaska - Republican, Commercial Operations, Pharmaceutical Industry. Website: www.gopmontgomery.org

Louise Wilson (incumbent) - Democrat, fundraising and public service. Website: www.ForMontgomery.org

The new municipal tax cap of 2% increases the constraints on next year's budget. How would you address these constraints?

Ms. Graham:
In this economy, our residents face unemployment, underemployment, loss of income and the challenge of making ends meet. We have houses in foreclosure and many struggling families. The voters have said loud and clear -- most recently with the failed school budget vote -- that they cannot pay more taxes. The Township Committee simply must be responsive to these voters. I certainly agree that the imposition of a 2% cap is a step in the right direction, but for Montgomery it is not enough. The Township Committee should strive to keep taxes flat if it cannot reduce them. It may not be easy, but we simply must reduce spending and taxes by shrinking municipal government, consolidating services, and using our township resources wisely.

Under the leadership of Louise Wilson's team, the Democrats increased municipal taxes by 30%, spent $15 million of the township's surplus and borrowed so much that Montgomery's debt increased to over $60 million. By contrast, under the leadership of Republican Mayor Mark Caliguire, the Township Committee this year passed a municipal budget with NO tax increase, even in the face of substantial cuts in State aid. Who do you believe will be better able to shrink government and hold the line on taxes? If elected, I will work hard to do just that.

Ms. Singh:
I would pursue our goal of shared services aggressively. I would look into cost savings that can come from developing and implementing energy reduction strategies, and pursue grants for implementation through programs like Sustainable Jersey. I would aggressively work to attract clean high-quality commercial ratables for the several abandoned-looking, unsightly properties along Rt. 206, so we can still thrive as a community despite today's economic realities. The 2-percent cap may help taxpayers in the short term but it is not true tax reform, and it could harm communities and school districts that are highly efficient, like Montgomery. People are being forced out of their homes by these taxes. As citizens we should demand that property taxes go DOWN, as they would if Montgomery received its fair share of school funding. As a member of the Township Committee, I would partner with our board of education to lobby aggressively for our share of the income taxes our residents send to Trenton.

Mr. Trzaska:
Without question, the most important issue facing Montgomery is our past irresponsible taxing and spending. Montgomery is becoming unaffordable and many of our residents are being pushed to the breaking point. This has to change. During the last few years of Democratic control, taxes were increased by 30%, debt skyrocketed to $60 million, and our once healthy surplus was depleted by almost 75% (from $19 million to $5 million). This is unacceptable and will not happen under my watch.

The new municipal tax cap of 2% is a significant step forward for Montgomery and our elected officials in Trenton should be commended. However, I support keeping taxes flat for the foreseeable future. Addressing this goal starts with an honest discussion about the role our government should play in town. It can't be everything to everyone. Our taxpayers can't afford it. We need to share services with neighboring towns and the county, improve day-to-day operations, and negotiate more reasonable personnel contracts.

Ms. Wilson:
Consolidate more municipal functions at the county level and aggressively pursue grants for non-essential services. The 2-percent cap will, over time, utterly transform local government and local services. Many services that people take for granted will simply disappear. I am dismayed that leaders in Trenton continue to sell various caps as “tax reform.” Though they do slow the increase in taxes, caps are not reform because they don't address the root of the problem: over-reliance on the property tax to pay for schools. Real reform would dramatically reduce property taxes without starving efficient, high-performing school district like Montgomery.

Do you support the proposed changes to Montgomery Township's affordable housing plan? Why or why not?

Ms. Graham:
Montgomery's affordable housing or “COAH” Plan must be revised. That Plan includes 55 COAH units on the Skillman Village site. Somerset County has made clear that it is not interested in buying the land with COAH units on it and will not buy a portion of the land so COAH units can be built on the rest. So, unless the Plan is revised to move those 55 units elsewhere, Montgomery will lose the deal to sell Skillman Village and will lose the over $14 million purchase price.

Even if the sale of the property was not at stake, building COAH housing on the property is not tenable. It would require either that (i) the land be sold to a developer who would build COAH and hundreds of market rate units, as was contemplated for the failed “Skillman Village” development or (ii) Montgomery spend millions to renovate and make habitable the dilapidated buildings scattered throughout the property, if that were even possible. The Township Committee can do better.

The fate of COAH and Montgomery's COAH obligations are uncertain. Pending legislation could drastically reduce our obligations to as little as three additional units. We will act responsibly to fulfill whatever Montgomery's COAH obligations are determined to be.

Ms. Singh:
I don't support the proposed changes to the Montgomery Township affordable housing plan. The ramifications of these changes have been kept hidden from the residents. I believe a local Government owes transparency and is answerable to its constituency--We the people. It is especially disturbing, as these very changes will result in Montgomery residents paying higher taxes, put strain on our schools and result in us being stuck in even worse bottleneck traffic on route 206. The plan to add 341 family homes in a highly congested area with no traffic study or resident input is highly arrogant of the present township majority. This new plan is a losing proposition for Montgomery and a boon for the developers. Montgomery needs a transparent, efficient and responsive local government, which manages our residents' hard earned money in a financially prudent manner.

Mr. Trzaska:
Yes, I support the revised housing plan. If it isn't passed, Skillman Village can't be sold to the county as a park. Not only would we lose the opportunity to preserve 256 acres in the heart of town, we also would lose $14 million in revenue that can be used for debt reduction.

I am very disappointed with the Democrats for playing politics with this issue. Their claim that the revised plan will cause hundreds of additional houses to be built is pure conjecture. As we speak, Trenton is working on a bill to radically change the way housing mandates are calculated. The bill has already passed the State Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and is now being reviewed by the General Assembly. At the end of the day, the revised plan will likely increase our housing mandate by only 3 units. That's right, 3 units.

The Democrats are also inaccurately claiming that the revised plan will cause the conversion of Tapestry Phase II from age-restricted to regular market rate units. As per our township professionals, this conversion is due to a change in state law and must be adhered to even if we stuck with the Democrats' housing plan. Montgomery campaigns should be above this political silliness.

Ms. Wilson:
No; I oppose them. The changes have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars already and will increase the property tax burden by millions every year if the new plan is carried out. The changes allow 341 more family homes than the previous plan, and convert revenue-positive commercially zoned land to revenue-negative high-density (10 units per acre) family housing.

Mayor Caliguire and his team are set to adopt the new plan with no tax analysis, no study of traffic impact or environmental impact, no consultation with the schools, no consultation with the community, and no notice given to homeowners who would look out their back windows at 250 townhouses packed like sardines on 26 acres of clear-cut woods.

These changes are foolish, very expensive, and unnecessary. They reverse important steps forward that took Montgomery years to achieve. Is it better to have a terrible plan than no plan at all? Yes. Is this plan the best Montgomery can do? Absolutely not.

Do you support selling the 256-acre Skillman Village property to Somerset County for a park? Why or why not?

Ms. Graham:
Yes, we should finalize the sale of Skillman Village, realize the $14 million purchase price and be relieved of the expenses, liability and obligations attendant to owning the land. The Township purchased the land in 2005 to prevent it from being developed. Selling the land to the County will do just that -- we will have 256 acres forever preserved as a passive use park.

Ms. Singh:
Yes I do support selling the 256-acre Skillman Village Property to Somerset County for a park. Although, I would still want Montgomery to have some control over what kind of park uses are permitted. I believe a park with a variety of uses, from pathways and gardens to arts and concert venues will be one more thing that makes Montgomery a desirable place to live for people of all ages. The sale will also bring in about 16 million dollars in much needed revenue from Somerset County. Preservation of open space and our natural resources is particularly important to me. The park will be a great place for families to gather and a great community-building resource.

Mr. Trzaska:
Yes I do. We need to protect the rural character of Montgomery. The beauty and openness of this area must endure for future generations, so we must continue to preserve open space and create parkland.

The debate over Skillman Village has been long, but well worth it. For years, the Democrats fought to develop the land both commercially and residentially. If they had their way, hundreds of new homes would have been built and tons of new students would be pouring into our school system. Just think about how this would impact our taxes and traffic in the area. Thankfully, with your support, we were able to block the Democrats' development plans and now Montgomery will be able to enjoy a beautiful 256-acre park for years to come.

Ms. Wilson:
Yes, I support the sale. I am proud of the role I played as part of a leadership team that acquired and cleaned up the property, and prevented the state from carrying out its plan to build 1,000 or more houses on the site. It's a great location for a large park, a use that has long been envisioned for the majority of the property. While I believe it would be truly advantageous for the Township to retain a small portion of the property - maybe 20 of the 256 acres - for community uses, I subscribe to the principle that one should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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