Montgomery Township Committee Candidates 2013
Montgomery Township Committee Candidates Answer League Questions
November 5, 2013 General Election Day
Polls will be open from 6am until 8pm
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)
Patricia Graham (incumbent) – Republican, Princeton-based commercial litigation attorney with over 25 years’ experience. Website: www.gopmontgomery.org
Sarah Roberts – Democrat, Before I retired I was an engineer. I was also a full-time mother. Website: MontgomeryDemsNJ.org
Ed Trzaska (incumbent) – Republican, Director, Commercial Operations, Daiichi Sankyo (pharmaceutical company). Website: www.gopmontgomery.org
Ernie Willson – Democrat, Professional Engineer.
What do you consider the three most important challenges facing Montgomery Township? What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for addressing these challenges?
First, we must keep taxes down while responsibly guiding Montgomery through difficult financial times. Five years after the 2008 fiscal crisis our residents and township continue to face financial struggles. I have worked with the Township Committee to right some of the financial wrongs of the past – since 2010, we have reduced the township’s debt by nearly $20 million, restructured that debt to avoid balloon payments saving taxpayers $600,000, kept spending below 2005 levels and, despite decreasing tax revenues, adopted more fiscally sound budgets less dependent on non-recurring “surplus.” We must continue to keep spending and taxes down while managing the Township’s finances responsibly.
Second, we must continue to maintain excellent public health and safety services. A crisis like Hurricane Sandy reminds how important – and how good -- our police, emergency and health services are. We are currently implementing a succession plan in the Police Department, to ensure that, as senior officers retire, our high standards for leadership and quality in our police force will continue.
Third, we should continue our efforts to preserve Montgomery’s rural character. I fought hard for Skillman Park, which gave us 250 acres of open space and $14 million. Serving as liason to Montgomery’s Open Space Committee, I worked to prioritize the township’s open space goals and to preserve another hundred acres of land. Planning for future development of the town should prioritize open space in balance with other needs, such as reasonable commercial development (i.e., along Route 206) that would increase ratables and lessen the residential tax burden.
I believe the three major challenges are (1) an all-Republican Township Committee that has made some bad decisions based on political interests. For example, they hired corrupt (now indicted) and incompetent consultants who gave lots of money to their party, and then they paid them with our tax dollars; (2) revitalizing our downtown area to ease traffic and attract vibrant new businesses, which are essential to the long-term health and prosperity of Montgomery, and (3) re-energizing our open space program even as state funding for preservation evaporates.
My experience includes serving on Montgomery’s Planning Board for 10 years and Zoning Board for 6 years. I have also been a member, advisor, or alternate on Montgomery's Landmarks Commission, Environmental Commission, Transportation Advisory Committee, Site Plan/Subdivision Committee, and Shade Tree Committee, among others. My husband and I have lived in Montgomery for 27 years and raised our two children here. We have wonderful friends who are “old-timers” and also many wonderful friends who are “newcomers.” I know this town well, and while its rapid growth has caused some pains, I love the greater diversity in our community now. Coming out of a deep recession, we must build a more cohesive community, positioned to thrive in the future. I have the skills and experience to help guide that effort.
Montgomery’s three most important challenges are reflected in our core governing principals – financially do more with less, protect public health and safety services, and preserve Montgomery’s rural character. The cost of living in town is too high. We need to do all that is possible to streamline local government and be more fiscally responsible. As such, we have cut spending to 2005 appropriation levels, approved budgets well below Governor Christie’s property tax cap, saved taxpayers over $600,000 with our debt refinancing plan, and lowered our residents’ electricity costs by $1.4 million. And we have done all of this while aggressively investing in our roads and police department. As Mayor, I know that spending our limited resources wisely is critical to Montgomery’s quality of life. We have approved many significant road projects and partnered with state and county officials to get even more done – for example, the Route 206 repaving project. We have also hired three new police cadets and finalized our police succession plans to ensure that our community remains safe as senior officers retire. Regarding Montgomery’s rural character, we have recently preserved over 350 acres of new open space. In addition to Skillman Park, which is going to be a true gem for the community, we have expanded the Cherry Brook Preserve and preserved the Potter Tract, Pariso Farm and Howard Farm. And, we are working with local landowners on additional acquisitions.
Our biggest challenge is to improve the downtown area with traffic relief, public spaces, a wider variety of stores (not “big box” stores) and businesses, the ability to park and walk throughout the commercial district. A vibrant, well-planned downtown will help reduce taxes for individuals and small businesses while increasing revenues from the enlarged business sector. All these things are do-able, but they take determination and close attention from the Township Committee.
Today’s all-Republican Township Committee is not focused on making our downtown more prosperous and attractive. Their record is poor on preserving open space. They claim to have fixed roads, but this, too, is questionable. The only significant road project in Montgomery is the repaving of RT. 206, and that’s a State DOT project. Republicans are concentrating more on public image than capital investments. This mindset extends to all kinds of decision-making, and that’s a big problem. They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. The Township Committee is more concerned with politics than with people. They hired the corrupt firm Birdsall Engineering, a firm with cozy political ties and big donations. Birdsall was fined over $3,500,000 for pay-to-play violations. I challenge Montgomery voters to reject the short-sighted, back-room, politically-motivated decision-making of today’s Township Committee, and return to a bipartisan government that is transparent and fully accountable. IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE. Experience: Planning Board, 8 years; Economic Development Commission, 6 years; Site plan subdivision committee 2 years. Member of Police Consolidation Task Force. Financial Secretary Montgomery United Methodist Church, 5 years. Strong background in environmental issues and multicultural projects.
If you had the chance to undertake one new initiative to serve the town, what would it be?
I would expand Montgomery’s shared services program. We already share court services with Hillsborough and generate revenue by providing health and animal control services to Pennington and Hopewell. We should explore other savings by working across township borders in bipartisan and joint efforts to share other municipal services, such as inspections and public works.
It would be to create an exciting, walkable small-town “downtown” out of the confusing, disconnected commercial district that currently surrounds the intersection of Rt. 206 and 518. Montgomery is at a crossroads in the redevelopment, re-engineering and retrofitting of this area. If we do it right, which will take a lot more work and commitment from the Township Committee, we can ease traffic congestion and bring greater prosperity to the entire community for generations.
One of the new initiatives that we are working on is a complete redesign of the staffing structure in town hall to improve efficiency and further reduce costs. This restructuring will improve the service at town hall by creating more accountability and collaboration among employees.
I would consider methods to control taxes on our Senior Citizens so that they don’t have to leave town when they retire. We should attempt to maintain a balance between seniors and families with children, which draw more heavily on town services.
A municipality has two budgets – the annual operating budget and a capital budget. What are your priorities for each of these budgets?
The operating budget governs the town’s day-to-day operations and is key to Montgomery’s health. We must keep debt, spending and taxes down and budget responsibly while preserving essential services. Our capital budget relates to capital investments and such as road improvements (e.g., Cherry Valley Road). We have and should continue to invest in our roads as needed.
The operating budget priority is to sustain high quality public health and safety. The capital budget priority should be local roads, which have been sadly neglected in recent years, as distinct from the repaving of Rt. 206 which is a state project, not local.
The operating budget covers the day-to-day costs of local government. Our priority is to streamline and make it as cost effective as possible to lessen the burden on our taxpayers. We also use it to ensure that our police and health departments have the necessary resources to perform at a high level. The capital budget covers equipment and infrastructure. Our priority is to use this budget to invest in our roads. Last year, about 75% of our capital spending was devoted to road overlay and reconstruction projects throughout town.
Capital budget priority should be road maintenance and traffic relief improvements, including a road connecting 206 with Rt. 518 behind Village Shopper. The municipal building also needs upgrades. Neighboring towns have far superior municipal facilities.
Operating budget priorities are public safety, public health, and planning for the revitalization of our downtown.
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