Montgomery Township Committee Candidates 2014
Montgomery Township Committee Candidates Answer League Questions
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 one (three-year term)
Wilbert Donnay – Democrat, Certified Public Accountant; Owner of Donnay Accounting Group LLC; Professor of Accounting at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Website: www.montgomerydemsnj.org
Rich Smith (incumbent) – Republican, Eastcoast Division Director, Currie & Brown, Princeton, NJ – a global construction consultancy firm. Website: www.gopmontgomery.org
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, large housing developments approved in the past three years – a total of 792 new units – will greatly worsen Montgomery’s biggest problems: high property taxes and traffic. “Houses don’t pay for themselves”. Nearly 800 new houses and assisted living facilities will require more police, more EMS and Fire Company volunteers and equipment, plus expenses for roads, fire hydrants, and of course school children. This unchecked housing growth must stop.
Second, and making matters worse, important businesses and employers including Conva Tec and Bristol Meyers Squibb have left Montgomery, compounding the town’s over-reliance on residential property taxes.
And finally, the Township Committee’s priorities are misplaced – as is painfully evident in the budget; hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lawyers fighting unnecessary lawsuits, even as basic necessities like road repair are ignored. State and County roads get fixed, but municipal roads are falling apart.
I am an immigrant who came to America as a teenager with virtually nothing. I believe even the most difficult problems have solutions. The way to tackle big challenges is through hard work, determination and an approach that is equal parts intelligence and common sense. I bring all of those things, as well as an aptitude for working with numbers and finance.
Three priorities guide my work: financial stability and efficiency, protect public health and safety, and preserve Montgomery’s rural character while attracting good businesses and residents. I’ve worked hard to streamline local government, improve revenue streams and be fiscally responsible. Town government is spending roughly what we did 2005 – no other town can say that. We’ve held municipal taxes below Governor Christie’s property tax cap, reduced township debt by $25 million (or 45%), and lowered residential electricity costs by $1.4 million.
We continue to aggressively invest in our roads and police department. My budgets are about what we can afford. We’ve invested in significant road improvements and partnered with the State, County and neighboring towns to get even more done. We hired 4 new police cadets and finalized our police succession plans to ensure that our community remains safe as senior officers retire.
We preserved over 350 acres of new open space with more to come. Skillman Park has transformed into an incredible asset, we expanded Cherry Brook Preserve and preserved the Potter Tract, Pariso and Howard Farms.
Three years on the Township Committee, including this year as Mayor, years volunteering on various town boards, and 18 years as an active resident has helped me understand our challenges beyond sound bites, know what residents want, and execute solutions that strike the right balance.
If you had the chance to undertake one new initiative to serve the town, what would it be?
I would improve the northwest corner of Rt. 206 and Rt. 518, which has been an eyesore and a wasted opportunity for years. My opponent’s vision for this corner is Dunkin Donuts. I would aim higher, and work with property owners to create a thriving, high-value redeveloped area including outdoor seating for Tigers Tale, sidewalk connections, and attractive new storefronts from the abandoned gas station west to the vacant auto parts building.
This initiative should be step one in changing Montgomery’s grow pattern, to stop allowing commercial zones to be changed to housing. We should actively recruit businesses that offer good jobs and high value. The incumbent, with his “hands off” style, has stood by, while good businesses, large and small, closed their doors and left, even as the economy has improved. We can do better.
The intersection of Routes 206 and 518 is as close as we’ve got to a town center in Montgomery. As Mayor, I’ve initiated a process to upgrade and improve that gateway so that it reflects our heritage, our community, and our future. We succeeded in getting several old buildings removed with more to come. We’re meeting with property owners to create a master redevelopment plan that employs smart, forward thinking and balances the need to control traffic with the desire for high quality retail. This is a long term project, but the wheels are in motion for a successful outcome.
A municipality has two budgets - the annual operating budget and a capital budget. What are your priorities for each of these budgets?
My operating budget priority is public safety and emergency services, including EMS. Since open space has a dedicated funding source, which I strongly support, my capital budget priority is road repair. I would call for a comprehensive audit to evaluate how best to allocate resources to these purposes.
Our operating budget covers the day-to-day costs while capital is used only for long-term purchases like open-space, roads, and equipment. My operational priorities are to reject big tax hikes and do more with less. On the capital side, I’ve pushed our town to repair rather than replace equipment so we can dedicate the bulk of the capital budget to invest in our roads and protecting open space. As a result, we’ve reduced Montgomery’s debt load by $25 million.
MISSION STATEMENT: The League of Women Voters®, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
To read the responses of candidates for other offices and to find links to debates, go to the LWV-Princeton Area website.
The Princeton Area League seeks new members (men and women) from Kendall Park, Kingston, Montgomery, Plainsboro, Princeton, Rocky Hill, South Brunswick and West Windsor. Click here to become a member.