West Windsor Council 2011



Vote Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Polls are open from 6 AM to 8 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for West Windsor Township Council 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 three (four-year term)

George Borek (incumbent) – West Windsor Moving Forward, 31-year veteran firefighter and vice-president of a state firefighter's union. www.wwmovingforward.com

Lindsay Diehl – West Windsor Moving Forward, Market Research Professional, 30 year career in consumer survey research. www.wwmovingforward.com

Greg Harris – An Independent Voice of Reason, CEO and Founder of multiple Internet and Mobile Technology businesses. http://WriteInGregHarris.com

Lauren Kohn – Strong Leaders for West Windsor, Managing Member, Software Advisors, LLC. www.StrongLeadersforWW.com

Bryan Maher – Strong Leaders for West Windsor, Equity Analyst, Real Estate, Lodging & Gaming Industries. www.StrongLeadersforWW.com

Kristina Samonte – West Windsor Moving Forward, Public Affairs and Communications Professional – Currently a stay-at-home parent. www.wwmovingforward.com

Gary Zohn – Strong Leaders for West Windsor, Institutional Option and Equity Floor Broker, Hamilton Executions LLC, Nyse Euronext. www.StrongLeadersforWW.com

As state and federal funding decrease, how would you prioritize spending? What allocations in the capital budget would you support, increase, defer, or eliminate? How will you work with Township administration to achieve savings in the municipal budget?

Mr. Borek: I have supported the Administration’s recent efforts to reduce spending by becoming more efficient through use of technology, shared services, and reduction of support staff through attrition. These strategies allowed us to reduce last year’s Capital Budget by $1 million. My budget priorities include funding the maintenance of our roads, dam, bridges, sewer lines and other infrastructure components. West Windsor’s investment in infrastructure has made West Windsor a safer, more efficient community. One just needs to examine how well our infrastructure held up during recent snow storms, Hurricane Irene, and other weather related stresses. Conversely, if we can reduce our spending in the area of vehicles, equipment, and other capital projects, it will help reduce our long term debt which is one of my objectives going forward.

Ms. Diehl: As state and federal funding decrease, it is critical for municipal governments to reduce costs both in the near term and the long term. As a council member I would support studying cost savings through shared services with other towns and regions. I also believe strongly that we need to prioritize spending on infrastructure, technology and alternative energy to keep the town running efficiently, to develop costs savings in the near and long term and to continue to attract new residents and new businesses to the area.

Mr. Harris: Priority one is to determine if the Post Office lease will renew in 2013. We own the building and generate $135k per year from it.

The Capital Budget has $2 mil allocated to expand buildings barely 100 feet away. We can’t spend $680k expanding the municipal building or $1m for Senior Center if the USPS is going to jump ship.

Also, I’d work with the administration applying the same principles I’ve used the last 15 years boot-strapping startup businesses that competed with major public corporations. As a long time entrepreneur, I learned that to survive, you need to leverage every dollar and put it where you get 10 times its worth in results. This fundamental philosophy is the difference between success and failure in my world. Unique experience that none of the candidates or this administration understands.

Ms. Kohn: My priorities as a Council member must align with residents’ needs and values, especially by controlling taxes while providing essential services. Like all West Windsor residents, Council must make smart decisions about how and where we invest what we have – instead of thinking of taxpayers as an unlimited line of credit, which has unfortunately been the trend in recent years. I will approach all decisions with fiscal responsibility by doing my homework, including residents in the discussion and especially in overseeing negotiated contracts that bring quality work to our town at reasonable costs. Both our Operating Budget and Capital Budget must align with our taxpayers' priorities.

Mr. Maher: I believe that better and smarter negotiating skills, combined with less legal expenses, more business tax ratables, and input from residents on their priorities, will go a long way toward reducing the excessive tax burden on residents. My goal is for residents to be able to afford to stay in West Windsor long after their children have grown and left for college.

Ms. Samonte: It is important that limited state and federal funds along with our tax revenue are budgeted wisely. A portion of the tax revenue must be used for state mandated programs. The council must also ensure that state grants are used within the associated time limitations. Of the remaining funds, my priorities for spending would be public health and safety initiatives, road improvement and safety projects, and community and recreational facilities.

I would work with the Administration to achieve savings by:

· Securing the maximum amount of federal, state and county grants available

· Seeking opportunities for shared services with other government entities

· Evaluate municipal operational efficiency and productivity

· Encourage public-private partnership to reduce the municipality’s spending on applicable projects

Mr. Zohn: The state withdrew funding for the Vaughn Drive Connector and has not reinstated it. Consequently, we should avoid committing any township funds to the InterCap project. They have gotten more than enough concessions from us already and now must stand on their own. Their fiscal analysis included none of our own capital, which was a major reason they were able to make it appear tax-positive. We must not be drawn into this potential trap.

In early 2011, Town Council sponsored a study of the efficiency of our municipal operations by Summit Collaborative Advisers. We have an independent analysis of their study, which may help us better, define workable goals. As Summit did not look at neighboring towns, data from East Windsor and Plainsboro are being analyzed to give us a better insight into local budgetary practices.

InterCap will submit to the Planning Board specific plans for its 24 acres near the train station. What is your vision for the entire 350-acre redevelopment zone? What are your concerns? How will you, as as a member of Council, address each?

Mr. Borek: I foresee the transit oriented development at the train station and adjacent area as the most exciting thing for the future of West Windsor since we began building our Community Park almost 20 years ago. With relocation of the highly successful farmer’s market, the infusion of restaurants & shops, and a public gathering place, we will finally put one of our most valuable assets, our train station, to the best use to stimulate our economy and stabilize our tax base. As we move forward with the entire redevelopment, it must incorporate plans for smooth traffic flow, increased parking for commuters and our residents, and create an environment to attract businesses to our Township.

Ms. Diehl: My vision of the 350 acre redevelopment zone is a vibrant transit village, which will enhance our most valuable asset, our train station. By having shops, restaurants, a town center, increased parking, and roadway improvements, the train station will be easier to use and more attractive to residents and to local businesses. Approximately half of the 350 acres is environmentally sensitive land but could possibly be used as passive recreational space such as parkland and bicycle paths or as part of a storm water retention system to improve water management in that area.

Mr. Harris: First, some perspective: This process began in 2004. The Empire State Building was completely designed and built between 1929 and 1931.

Over 90% of the residents I surveyed agreed. West Windsor already has a downtown on Route 571 between Clarksville Rd and Wallace Rd. Why are our leaders not listening?

Simply ask the people what they want. Work with the County to make 571 a place that the residents can spend time in safely. Slow down and minimize traffic, bring in more business, possibly add the proposed park, and then connect it with Intercap’s development in a pleasing, convenient way.

Throw in enough convenient parking for the resident commuters, and provide out of the way parking for others. Done.

Ms. Kohn: I will adhere to the approved goals set forth for the redevelopment zone - all projects must be tax-positive or tax-neutral. Many residents have expressed an interest in attracting new businesses to empty office spaces and store fronts, particularly ones that help to create a more community-oriented gathering place. Increasing the visual appeal and safety of Rt. 571 for bike and pedestrian traffic are also crucial elements to consider.

As we identify desirable changes to the area and solicit business partners to join us in the rejuvenation of our downtown, I will work to ensure that infrastructure improvements accompany any changes and prevent any negative impact on residents. Issues such as traffic, parking, environmental impact – particularly in the area of stormwater management, and bike and pedestrian access should be carefully considered and addressed early on. As a Council member, I will look for creative ways to make West Windsor a great home for residents and the businesses that we rely on.

Mr. Maher: My vision of the redevelopment zone is an attractive collection of shops and restaurants that add a vibrant sense of community to West Windsor. Importantly, a sharp focus on Rt. 571 redevelopment could yield meaningful results in 3-5 years, much faster than the 8-10 years projected at the InterCap site.

The InterCap project calls for 800 residential units to be built (98 for low/moderate incomes) plus 70,000 sq.ft. of retail space. Since residential development inevitably corresponds with increases in educational costs, I will strive for a balanced mix of business ratables to offset the additional educational expenses, thereby seeking to minimize the tax impact on West Windsor residents.

I am very concerned that the InterCap-funded TischlerBise fiscal analysis used only $2,808 per child as the expense to educate students generated by this development. Assumptions such as this grossly understate the real expense, which is approximately $15,000/student/year. Unrealistic assumptions inevitably lead to large “unexpected” tax increases on residents in the future. I will use my financial analyst experience to expose these inaccuracies and will insist that realistic estimates are used to determine whether developer-promoted projects really stand a chance of being tax-positive. If realistic long-term projections are used, we can avoid the Municipal Tax Levy increasing another 124% over the next ten years – as it did from 2001-2011.

Ms. Samonte: Of the 350-acres redevelopment zone, a high percentage has been identified as environmentally sensitive and has the potential to become a ‘passive recreation’ area. In the remaining acres, I would like to see a vibrant center for the community. This would include:

· Shopping and restaurants, that are easily accessible from the train station area

· Commuter parking areas

· A safe, commuter and resident-friendly traffic flow which includes pedestrian and bike access

· Mitigation for storm water and flood management in the redevelopment zone

I will meet with local organizations and neighborhood groups to listen to their concerns regarding the redevelopment zone and facilitate active communication among the multiple stakeholders to achieve results.

Mr. Zohn: This area is highly diverse, consisting of a complex mix of businesses, wetlands, forested areas, and some residences. Each individual district will have its own specific issues and must be addressed individually. There will be no “one size fits all” solution. As general policy, however, we should avoid condemnations. Rather, we should work with individual owners and groups of owners to resolve site-specific issues within each district to the joint benefit of all parties. We cannot compel them to redevelop, but we can certainly encourage them to do so.

What public project or policy initiative have you brought to fruition or would you like to bring to fruition, and how would being on Council help in that process?

Mr. Borek: I have supported and will continue to support compromise between all interested parties in the Township in order to reduce litigation costs and bickering. I have found litigation and bickering to be non-productive in the past. Collaboration always leads to the best results and I will continue to work hard to achieve that goal.

Ms. Diehl: With so many of our residents using the train station and the demand for parking at the station, expansion of mass transit systems may alleviate some of the traffic congestion on our roads and would also alleviate parking at the train station. I would support the current administration’s efforts to encourage the expansion of neighboring mass transit systems so that commuters who are already coming to our station from such places as New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Princeton, Hightstown, and even some communities in Pennsylvania don’t bring additional traffic and parking issues with them.

Mr. Harris: We have a huge communication gap between the residents and the government. Campaigning has made it clear that the residents are uninformed and the township is just fine with that.

Elected or not, I’ll lead an effort to see that residents are informed. Never again should a 450 unit apartment complex or distracting lighted sign appear that over 85% of the people knew nothing about.

I’ll make meeting videos available online and use cell phones, internet, social media and other means to engage the residents. With or without the township, I’ll get this done.

Ms. Kohn: My goal will be to ensure that residents are heard and their concerns addressed. Whether it is protecting the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists through smart traffic management or addressing flooding and stormwater management issues on Washington and Alexander Roads, I am committed to looking for solutions that improve our quality of life.

Mr. Maher: My primary public project would be the beautification of Route 571 between the train station and High School South. It is imperative that we work with the County and the various land owners, using creative incentives for redevelopment, while fast-tracking minor upgrades to make this “natural” downtown a vibrant and safe corridor for the community. I would also aggressively lobby county officials to deliver on road and pedestrian upgrades.

Ms. Samonte: I would actively support the Administration’s economic development initiatives to recruit and retain corporations to West Windsor. Increasing marketing activity of our community to corporations will assist the township’s effort to increase its local tax base and generate additional revenue for the municipality and the local schools. I would also support the creation of a township Economic Development Commission in which residents, local businesses, and the township work together to achieve these goals.

Mr. Zohn: The old Cyanamid property at the northwest corner of the township is a square mile of underutilized land at present. Fronting on Route 1, Quaker Bridge Road, and Clarksville Road, it could be a fine site for a variety of business and recreational purposes. Additional housing within West Windsor is not needed and this use should be discouraged.

All of our "Strong Leaders for West Windsor" candidates, including myself, have excellent business and financial expertise. We have several specific tax-positive ideas and mixes of proposals for making the best use of this vacant land.

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