South Brunswick Township Council Candidates 2012
South Brunswick 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 South Brunswick Township Council to questions presented and compiled by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with The South Brunswick Post. 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 three (four-year term)
Joe Camarota (incumbent) – Democrat, Business Executive/Consultant in the amusement entertainment industry. Website: SouthBrunswickDemocrats.com
Charlie Carley (incumbent) – Democrat, Civil Engineer. Website: SouthBrunswickDemocrats.com
Josephine (Jo) Hochman – Democrat, Consultant and Trainer Prevent Child Abuse-NJ
Michael Kushwarra – Republican, Retired South Brunswick police sergeant
John O'Sullivan – Republican, Retired. Formerly Security Management. Website: sbgop2012.com
Paul Saltin - Republican, 35+ years as a broadcast executive and owner of a real estate appraisal company.
1. What do you consider the three most important challenges facing South Brunswick and how would you address them as a council member?
Budget: In these tough economic times, we need to continue to ensure that South Brunswick remains affordable for working families and retirees. We have serious budgetary issues today that have never been affected more by County, State, and Federal influences. Understanding how these entities interact with each other has never been more crucial and necessary when establishing our Township's budget. My extensive work in all of these areas has provided me with the necessary knowledge and perspective that one needs to create stable and effective budgets. In working with all of these resources, our Democratic team was able to approve a budget these past two years with a zero municipal purpose tax while maintaining the same level of services. We need to continue to keep our municipal purpose tax flat and even explore ways into reducing it. This can only be done by reducing our spending, and increasing our income. Since 2009, we have also reduced municipal spending by 2 million dollars.
Businesses & Jobs: My business background, and my position over the last 8 years on the Industry & Commerce Commission, has provided me with the insight and understanding to attract new businesses to South Brunswick. Equally as important, it has also enabled me to work with current companies in keeping them in our town. With companies like Coca Cola, Bloomberg, L’Oreal, Infragistics, and Aurobindo either moving into South Brunswick or expanding its current operation, it is no wonder we continue to create more jobs while the rest of the State is going in the opposite direction. New businesses also mean new jobs which will assist in stimulating our local economy.
Safety, Health, and Welfare: The safety, health and welfare of every resident in South Brunswick is our most important concern. We must continue to be vigilant in these efforts. Last year, South Brunswick was named the 22nd best small town in the US to live in. Our goal is to not only maintain that distinction, but to improve upon it. That is why we must remain accessible and responsive to the concerns and issues we face.
Maintaining a stable municipal-purposes property tax. Particularly in a difficult economic environment, municipal government should provide necessary services without overburdening taxpayers. We’ve accomplished this in South Brunswick. We’ve maintained a stable municipal-purposes tax rate by “right-sizing” our workforce and by fine-tuning our procedures. This is not a one-shot approach. Rather, by continual refinement of our operations – now and into the future – I believe that we can do our job while maintaining one of the lowest municipal-purposes equalized property tax rates in the region.
Encouraging economic development that respects local concerns. With a good measure of success to show for it, we have worked hard to attract corporate investment and good paying jobs into South Brunswick. By liberalizing our zoning ordinance in appropriate areas and aggressively courting employers, we have attracted pharmaceutical research, software development, manufacturing, and industrial service companies to many older and underutilized warehouses. This accelerating transformation of the Exit 8A distribution area has increased employment in town while respecting quality-of-life issues that impact our residents.
Property taxes are always a primary issue. The Democrats have kept the municipal purpose tax rate level over the past 2 years. However, we must always continue our work to find more ways to reduce spending and also must keep attracting new investment to town so that this portion (about 16%) of our property tax dollar remains stable.
Health and Welfare: I'm very excited about the addition of a Wellness Facility at the Senior Center. The new facility will provide much needed exercise areas and medical care space for the senior community. As a long-time resident of South Brunswick, I'm very interested in assuring that the progress that we've made in advancing the interests of seniors in our community continues.
Roads: We would all love for Route 1 to be expanded through South Brunswick; however, this isn't a decision that can be made on a local level. This is a State Highway. I will join my colleagues in working with our State representatives to move this up their priority list. Nevertheless, the local roads are always being assessed and paved when necessary and I will continue to support that program.
The most important challenges facing South Brunswick are Taxes, Municipal Services, and Transportation Infrastructure, all are intermingled with one another and must be balanced to maximize Quality of Life for our residents. We must form realtionships with other segments of Government both internal and external as well as the Private Sector, We need to explore unique ways of
accomplishing our goals of providing the most benefit to our community while stretching our tax dollar to the maximum. I have experence in networking with other agencies and entities maximizing benefit and minimizing cost.
The biggest issue facing South Brunswick is controlling the tax rate. Controlling the tax rate is composed of 2 challenges – keeping expenses down and increasing revenue. My goal is to keep the municipal tax rate stable or reduce it, while still providing adequate services to this township.
To keep expenses down, I would like South Brunswick Township to engage in more shared services with both other communities and with the South Brunswick Board of Education.
To increase revenue, South Brunswick needs to become even more business friendly. I would like a blue ribbon committee, including representatives from small and large businesses, convened to review our ordinances to determine which are unreasonably onerous or out of date, and to provide recommendations for revising those ordinances without jeopardizing the quality of life in South Brunswick.
A third challenge to South Brunswick is Route 1. Traffic on Route 1 is congested at the township borders and at the cross streets. And these traffic jams will only get worse, especially with the opening of the 2 new big box stores on the North Brunswick side of South Brunswick – North Brunswick border. I am already working with Assemblywoman Donna Simon to get some improvements made to some of the Route 1 intersections.
The three most important challenges are business development (bringing new businesses to South Brunswick that will generate tax revenue for the township), prioritizing expenses into categories based upon their importance to the township and curbing the use of bonding to fund projects when the funds are not in our treasury.
2. From 2009 to 2012, the number of people employed by South Brunswick fell from approximately 300 to 250—a drop of nearly 20%. These personnel cuts were made through attrition—positions held by departing or retiring employees that were not filled—and in some cases by layoffs.
Has South Brunswick cut too many positions to provide adequate services? Has SB cut too few positions and needs to cut more to keep taxes down? Or are the staffing cuts “just right”?
If you believe we’ve cut too much, what specific services are, in your view, not being adequately provided and where is the first place you’d restore when the economy rebounds? If you believe we need to keep cutting, which departments do you believe need further downsizing? And if you believe that nearly 20% reduction is “just right”, why do you think the municipal staff levels were allowed to become nearly 20% over, and how, specifically, will you work to see that the township maintains the proper balance between needs and expenditures?
As in most businesses today in the private sector, we see companies doing more with less. Through education and training, private sector businesses have become more robust with fewer employees. That philosophy has carried over to the public sector. Though this is not a static concept, I do believe that our current staff levels do meet the current needs of our town.
Decisions impacting local government don’t happen in a vacuum. The reduction in the municipal workforce was an imperative caused by a poor economic environment – we had a choice: maintain the status quo and raise our part of the property tax or right-size our operations and maintain a stable municipal-purposes property tax rate. We chose to keep a lid on taxes. And -- as much of the work of municipal government is directly related to economic activity -- it is entirely appropriate for the size of our workforce to expand or contract in sync with the economy.
Can a local government justify maintaining a large planning office when no development applications are being filed? How many plumbing inspectors are needed when very few plumbing permits are being sought? If the number of food establishments in a town reduces by half, is the town obliged to carry twice as many health inspectors than needed? In the years before 2008, there were many applications for development, very many plumbing permits, and more food establishments to be inspected. Our staffing then was sized to meet the demands of the time and our staffing now is sized to meet current needs.
The municipal workforce should always be sized to meet current needs. As stewards of public money, the Township Council continually looks to refine operations so that we provide necessary services in an efficient manner. We take that job very seriously.
Everyone realizes that in the tough economic times we have experienced over the past few years, we are all in this together. So by natural attrition and no loss of services, the Democrats have been able to keep the taxes from increasing and overburdening the residents. As Chairperson of the Planning Board, we have approved new companies relocating to South Brunswick like Coca-Cola, Campbell Freightliner, Bloomberg, L’Oreal, Infragistics, and Aurobindo, and many others. This increases our property tax income which has assisted us in providing the proper balance between needs and expenditures.
South Brunswick's employees have always exhibited a dedication to our community. I applaud their efforts for doing more with less, they struggle daily to maintain the level of service our residents have come to expect. However it is inevitable as a result of reductions, services will continue to erode. Staffing needs to stabilize and grow with the Township. I believe we need to continue to examine all offices of local government in regards to services and be cognizant that some levels of staffing have dropped to where they were 10+ years ago. I believe the Police Department and Public Works Departments are two of our most visible offices who have daily interactions with our community, but I don't want to diminish the importance of all the other offices that provide essential services to our residents. We must work with our staff to find ways ways in minimizing expenditures and providing the high level of service expected.
From information I’ve received there is currently a shortage of clerical staff in the clerk’s office and the health department. The Public Works Department also needs additional staff. I will recommend to the township manager that we restore these positions first when economic conditions improve.
However, I do believe that prior to 2010 when South Brunswick began to reduce staff, the township was over staffed. In my opinion this over staffing was caused by lax oversight and the tendency to over staff to ensure being able to provide services. After my election to council in late 2009, I began questioning proposals made to council. These challenges exposed areas for improvement.
Not currently serving on the council and not being privy to the classified information pertaining to salaries, job responsibilities, performance reviews etc. it is not possible for me to know if the reductions were wisely implemented. The one department that I do have some experience with is the Tax Assessor’s office. I believe it is under staffed and as a result cannot, in my opinion as a former appraiser, properly devote the time or effort to properly assess the thousands of homes and businesses in the township. No other department within the township generates revenue. Cutting personnel from the Assessor’s office does not seem to be prudent.
3. Does South Brunswick need a charter school?
No, I do not see a need for a charter school in South Brunswick. I also believe that the inclusion of any charter school should be subject to a local vote in a general election.
Decisions on charter schools should be made locally. In that spirit, I (along with Councilman Joe Camarota) sponsored local legislation in support of referenda on charter schools on a town-by-town basis.
I was involved for many years with the South Brunswick School System, both as PTA President and the H.S. Cite Council. I also coordinated a National Parenting Program known as EPIC. Personally, I don’t think a charter school is necessary for our district. All of our schools have achieved “Blue Ribbon” status and provide an outstanding education. Many residents move to South Brunswick because of the schools in our district.
While I believe South Brunswick Twp has one of the best educational systems in New Jersey of which my children have reaped the benefit and many of our residents have factored this into their decision to reside within our community in a general sense I have no objections to any Private or Charter Schools.
I do not believe South Brunswick needs a charter school. Charter schools are best used in places where the public schools are failing to provide a sufficient education in a safe environment. South Brunswick public schools are both safe and effective.
That said, as a member of council my influence over whether a charter school is located in the township is limited to whether the school complies with current land use ordinances. Should a land use issue regarding a charter school be referred to the council, I would consider the issue based on the land use ordinances, as is the responsibility of a council member.
The sum of the tax burden on our residence in South Brunswick is dominated by the school tax. Of the total tax bill the school tax amounts to approximately 63%. Our schools rank well within the state and provide a quality education. The funds to pay for a charter school are taken from the public school budget resulting in either a severe reduction in the quality of our public schools, and we all know that would not be allowed or as would most likely happen the school board would increase the taxes to an even more outrageous level. Because they will always say “It’s for the children”. Personally I think the school taxes go more to increase the school staffs with unnecessary personnel rather than provide a better education. I’m sure I will be criticized for these comments however I don’t see any improvement in the educational level of our students over that past decade in relationship to the increases in the school tax. Where is the money going? From my point of view “It’s not going for the children”.
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