Montgomery Township Candidates Answer League Questions
Vote Tuesday, November 6, 2012, 6 AM to 8 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for Montgomery 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 the total.
Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)
Andrea Bradley – Democrat, Elected member, Board of Education since 2004. Active Montgomery volunteer since 1997. Former corporate finance lawyer.
Christine Madrid (incumbent) – Republican, Director,Temporary Disability and Family Leave Insurance for the State of NJ. Website: www.gopmontgomery.org
Mark Petraske – Democrat, Attorney, Buckley, Theroux, Kline & Petraske, LLC. Member, Montgomery Township Zoning Board of Adjustment. Former member, Transportation Advisory Committee.
Christopher Sugden – Republican, Venture Capitalist, Managing Partner Edison Ventures.
1. What is your vision of what Montgomery Township will look like in 20 years? Specifically, what steps would you take to insure that Montgomery's special character is preserved or what would you work to change?
Montgomery has always embraced its rural character, and my vision of Montgomery includes the fields and streams that we treasure protected by strong open space management. At the same time, we must foster commercial health to return Montgomery to the vibrant community it once was. I hope that, in 20 years, we will see the effect of business-friendly ordinances that promote a thriving “shop local” economy and rational solutions to the Route 206 traffic nightmare. This vision can only become reality with regular dialogue between the municipality and Montgomery’s residents. In my nine years on the BOE, I have forged relationships built on honest conversation with Montgomery’s diverse communities – relationships that will build the foundation of a re-energized Township Committee.
My husband, Dan, and I were attracted Montgomery’s open spaces and the great schools. As our family grows in this great community, I know that preserving Montgomery’s quality of life, while keeping it affordable for families, is so important. I hope that in 20 years Montgomery will have retained its rural character, and I will work to preserve our open spaces. I also hope that we take steps to create a destination with a look and feel that reflects the high quality of life we enjoy in Montgomery. Route 206 is Main Street Montgomery. It’s time to get serious about attracting new businesses to Montgomery that enhance our quality of life, expand our tax base, and provide job opportunities for residents.
In 20 years the town will have the same look and feel it does today with proper planning and foresight. We must continue acquisition of the remaining open space for preservation purposes, which limits more development. We will see a change in how we move traffic around. We have a Master Plan and its implementation needs to be a priority. Route 206 will remain a rural appearing road, as we continue to prevent efforts to turn that corridor into a four-lane road.
Montgomery has experienced tremendous growth during the past 13 years since my wife Debbie and I moved here from New York City. We have been blessed to have 3 children born in Montgomery. All three of our children are under age 10; therefore, the next 20 years are incredibly important to me. I would like to see the rural character of Montgomery maintained while also focusing on smart growth initiatives. One of the most important of these initiatives is attracting more business to Montgomery’s “downtown”. Route 206 is home to many excellent businesses today, but we can do much more to make the corridor more attractive in the variety of services offered. I believe it is the Township Committees’ job to work with local business organizations to provide the most welcoming community possible to small business owners.
2. What are the top three challenges for the town during the next three years, and why do you believe you are the person to optimize the outcome?
Financial sustainability – Our Township Committee’s decision to use proceeds from the sale of Skillman Village for operating expenses calls into serious question their business judgment. On October 9th, we learned that in June bond counsel advised the Township Committee this was impermissable, leaving a $1.1 million hole in this year’s budget. And, still, the TC has not spoken publicly of this crisis. The TC lacks a comprehensive financial plan. Montgomery BOE’s long-range financial forecast, which I helped to develop, imposes discipline on our decision-making, a regimen critically needed at the TC. Township Committee’s failure to understand its actions – The Skillman Village revenue debacle highlights the ongoing failure of TC members to fully examine and debate complex financial matters. The people of Montgomery deserve leaders who understand the consequences of the decisions they make. The Montgomery BOE, after years of reform, now embraces robust deliberations and public engagement. I will bring my nine years of experience to accomplish similar reforms for our municipality. Lack of community outreach - Local government works best with lively public debate and a philosophy of public service that promotes diverse opinions. TC members do not seek out the views of Montgomery’s residents. Listening to the people and businesses of Montgomery has been a fundamental tenet of my volunteerism, and if elected I will bring this much-needed quality to the TC.
Our most important challenge is keeping property taxes down while protecting the critical health and safety services provided by municipal government. Montgomery faces a $5 million structural budget gap from years of over-spending, over-borrowing, and over-reliance on surplus funds. When Republicans took control in 2010, we reversed that trend, cut spending back to 2004 levels, paid off over $10 million in debt, and held average annual municipal tax growth to less than 1% over the past 3 years. Equally as important, though, is attracting new businesses to Montgomery. We must develop Route 206 to bring in new sources of revenue and so that the Montgomery residents enjoy quality services within their own community. We also need to make smart investments in roadway maintenance and reconstruction like those underway now to improve Cherry Valley, East Mountain, Fairview and Hollow Roads. We’ve made great progress in the effort to find creative ways to do more with less. Now is not the time to turn back the clock to the days of higher taxes and bigger budgets. Now is the time to push forward aggressively to achieve even greater efficiencies.
We need a long-term financial plan for our town. This year the Township adopted a budget that proposed the use of borrowed funds for routine operating expenses. This is not a healthy way to manage money and it was proposed that more borrowed funds would be used for the next two years to balance the budget. The Township Committee appears to have abandoned that plan, with no alternative in place. I was a project engineer and manager, and the focus was always on planning, and the ever-present bottom-line. It is this practical approach that I am bringing to the table. Traffic Circulation is a core problem that must be addressed. We have a plan and we must get it done. The implementation of the plan must be a primary objective in our decision-making. I was on the committee that proposed the plan when it was adopted. I have been involved in the development of the plan, and as Zoning Board member for the last 9 years I have seen how we can begin to change our focus to deal with the problem. There is a fundamental lack of accountability. Government transparency is not just broadcasting a meeting. Those must actually contain some substance. When you listen to the meetings there is a lack of discussion as to why they are taking the action they are taking. A representative government requires you to speak for the people. Listen to the Zoning Board meetings on the Green Ave. cell tower application, and you will hear how I approach a discussion on an important issue in town.
There is not question that property taxes in Montgomery could be considered number 1, 2 and 3 priorities. Property taxes are simply too high. As such, the second priority for the Township Committee is finding ways to do more with less by creatively consolidating and sharing services with other communities. Finally, the third priority must be attracting more businesses to town which will increase tax ratable. The latter two issues will help with the primary issue facing the community. First, I pledge to not support a budget which increases property taxes above Governor Christie’s 2% cap. Second, I believe there many opportunities to consolidate services. However, we can not sacrifice public safety in any way when we do this. My running mate, Christine Madrid, and I have several more that we believe can be made.
3. In light of the recent decision not to proceed with a study of consolidating the police forces in the county, what other opportunities for sharing services or other ways of reducing the cost of municipal government do you see?
Municipal government must identify innovative revenue streams, other than raising taxes. Montgomery should become the “vendor of choice” to other municipalities for services like code enforcement and public works. Our corporate neighbors should be encouraged to invest in Montgomery – adopting parks and roadways to underwrite Township expenses. Under the current TC, grant revenues have withered to a measly $7,500. Identifying grants to pay for needed programing for Montgomery’s adults, seniors and teens must become the norm, not the exception. The BOE has received over $14 million of solar projects (yielding annual savings of $500,000) outside the school budget, through creative and aggressive efforts.
We must continue to find ways to share costs with neighboring towns and drive efficiencies through a more business-like approach to running government. Our efforts have already resulted in recurring savings that exceed $1 million annually and gained us recognition as one of 22 towns statewide to have received a perfect score from New Jersey’s “Best Practices for Local Governments.” Currently we share emergency dispatch with the county, municipal court with Hillsborough, purchasing agents with Franklin Township, and health services and animal control services with Pennington and Hopewell Boroughs. Public works, construction code enforcement, and sanitation should also be explored for consolidation opportunities. As chairperson of the Township Committee’s Internal Operations and Efficiencies Budget Working Group, I am focused on streamlining government, while preserving critical functions such as public safety and infrastructure.
Our Health Department is recognized as one of the best-run health departments in the region. They have contracted to provide their services to more than one area town, and they could bring that expertise to other towns. Our Highway Department makes a brine solution used on our roads to reduce the cost of plowing. We also used to be very active in applying for grant funds yet this year we only have $7500.00 in grants. The schools have embarked on an energy saving program saving the schools over $500,000 per year. That is real innovative thinking, with real savings.
As stated above I believe this issue is one of the most important facing the communities of New Jersey, especially rural communities like Montgomery. The idea of “doing more with less”, can not just be a motto, we must take action. In my opinion everything is on the table as long as public safety is not at risk.
The Township Committee should examine services such as snow removal, trash collection and other public works areas. The moves to consolidate dispatch and municipal court services are examples of consolidation that show the current Township Committee is committed to doing more with less and citizens are not harmed.
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