West Windsor Township Council Candidates 2013
West Windsor Township Council 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 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 two (four-year term)
Linda Geevers (incumbent) - Elected Member of West Windsor Township Council 2005 - present; elected WW-P School Board member 1999-2005. Website: www.TimeForChangeWW.com
Deborah Hepler - Former French/Spanish teacher. Website: www.yourvoiceinwestwindsor.com
Kamal Khanna (incumbent) - Engineer, formerly Efficiency Engineer and Business Analyst at DuPont, now owns business in New York with international dealings. Website: www.WWMovingForwardTogether.com
Peter Mendonez, Jr. - Director of Energy Storage for a Green Energy Startup. Website: www.TimeForChangeWW.com
Eric Payne - Former Airline Pilot, Check-Airmen and Office Manager. Currently Real Estate Agent and business owner. Website: www.WWMovingForwardTogether.com
Martin Whitfield - Marketing, Live Programming/Broadcasting, Advertising, Community Relations. Formerly with the NBA. Currently consultant/ retail management/volunteer. Website: www.yourvoiceinwestwindsor.com
What do you consider the three most important challenges facing West Windsor? What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for addressing these challenges?
One of the most critical challenges facing West Windsor is the growth that will undoubtedly continue to occur. Already, 800 residential units are permitted at the proposed Transit Village (Intercap property) and 400+ rental apartments are under construction at Princeton Terrace on Clarksville Road. Any requested zoning changes to allow residential units on the 658-acre Howard Hughes property could prove overwhelming in terms of overcrowding classrooms and creating more traffic jams. An independent Fiscal Impact Analysis Report should be required to prove a tax-positive outcome before consideration of any zoning changes.
Another challenge is to continue to provide all of the services that we now enjoy, given the 2% Property Tax Levy CAP. In addition to attracting more commercial/retail ratables, a more inclusive approach between the Mayor and Council for setting and accomplishing budget goals will produce better results for lessening the burden on taxpayers. The Council’s 2013 budget process produced only one $8,500 line item decrease to the Mayor’s proposed $37.3M budget.
A third challenge is to anticipate future critical infrastructure needs. One example being the implementation of future Action Plans for dealing with devastating flooding issues that occur in and around the Penns Neck area.
My personal and professional experience as a current Council member, former WW-P School Board member and Planning Board Member, and background in radio news will be of great value in key decision-making.
1) Public safety – Ever increasing traffic requires that we do a better job of making our residential streets safer for pedestrians and children, with tighter speed limit enforcement and the installation of more sidewalks.
2) Unbridled development – If the land across from Quakerbridge Mall (previous Cyanamid site) were to be rezoned for mixed use it could increase our population by 20,000. This would result in overcrowded schools and increased traffic.
3) Municipal mismanagement and poor allocation of tax revenues - Infrastructure improvements such as roads and sewers are a higher priority than spending millions renovating municipal offices. We must try to ease the tax burden on residents who have undergone tax increases of 70% over the last ten years.
Pertinent experience: WW resident for 20 years, raised my children here, attended most of the council meetings over the past two years, served on the Grover Restoration Committee, Girl Scouts volunteer for five years.
A. Control Property taxes.
B. Expedite Implementation of re-development plan.
C. Improve Quality of Life for all residents.
I have masters in Engineering and Management. I worked as an Efficiency Engineer and Business Analyst for a fortune 500 company. I have been a member of the Council for 4 years and Council President for two consecutive years. I am a member of the Planning Board. I have served as member of the Affordable Housing Board and liaison to the Zoning Board, Environmental Commission and the School Board . In addition I am founder and CEO of my business in New York with international dealings. I think my academic and practical experience has prepared me to tackle the challenges facing West Windsor.
The three most important challenges West Windsor faces are lack of vision, lack of communication, and leadership complacency. All three can be resolved by electing the Time for Change ticket.
Lack of vision is evident throughout town. While some of the mayor’s pet projects have been completed during his 12 years as mayor, there are many run-down areas of town that have been completely ignored. Examples include the abandoned buildings behind the Ellsworth Center, the abandoned buildings across from McCaffrey’s, and the long-ignored requests for sidewalks along Cranbury Road. A long-term vision that incorporates the needs of all residents must be developed and implemented. I look forward to applying the experience I’ve gained from creating master plans for the Federal Government, State of New Jersey, and many other entities.
Communication is critical to community development. The Mayor has not attended any Council meetings in the last two months. He has missed hearing directly from a large number of residents expressing safety concerns about their neighborhood. Moreover, he tried to shut them (and council) out of the planning process. Marathe, Geevers, and Mendonez are committed to open communication among the mayor, council, and residents, to ensure that all interested parties have input into any decisions that are made.
There is no greater area in which West Windsor desperately needs leadership than the budget process. It’s apparent that there are few advocates for residents’ pocketbooks among the administration and council. The mayor’s rubber-stampers on Council neglect to delve into detail or even ask questions about the budget. They simply stamp their approval and move on. It’s important for us to elect not only a new mayor to West Windsor, but also to vote for council members who are willing to do the hard work of bringing financial stability to our township.
Important challenges facing West Windsor-
a) The Howard Hughes property and other development projects
b) Traffic circulation and pedestrian safety including Route 1, CR 571 and the Downtown West Windsor redevelopment area
c) Necessitate the need for quality business ratables in West Windsor to reduce the tax burden of residents
My experience in land use planning will be an invaluable asset to the township council when faced with tough development decisions. This experience coupled with my traffic planning experience will ensure educated decisions are made throughout the process. As the leader of Smart Traffic Solutions, I have also been directly involved with the pending improvements to Route 1 and CR 571. I have established a relationship with all interested parties while representing the residents of West Windsor. If the township implements proper planning, improved traffic circulation and creates a business friendly environment we will attract quality ratables to further reduce the residents tax burden.
The first challenge is galvanizing and bringing a community together that has many residents who have resided here for over 15 years and a very large amount of residents who have resided in West Windsor for 10 or less years. There clearly is a disconnect and that disconnect must be addressed. The second challenge is engaging and empowering the residents of West Windsor to have full trust and approval of the Township’s Mayor, Council and Administration. The third important challenge is putting forth the effort to keep the residents of West Windsor here after their children are no longer in the school system. All three challenges can be met with supreme community involvement, effective legislation, fiscally conservative measures, speaking and hosting town hall forums with the residents of West Windsor and truly making decisions that benefits all residents.
A municipality has two budgets – the annual operating budget and a capital budget. What are your priorities for each of these budgets?
I support an Operating Budget that reflects the Township’s continued commitment to providing the full array of current services. The Capital Budget should reflect priorities for administration, public safety-emergency services, infrastructure and public improvements, such as technology upgrades, green building improvements, sidewalk and bicycle lane initiatives, flooding abatement measures, vehicular and non-vehicular replacements, park and open space improvements and a host of other categories as defined in the six year Capital Improvement Program.
I advocate for an ACTUAL budget, as the current $37 million budget is full of waste. Each new budget perpetuates the errors and should be zero-based this year. WW maintains an unnecessary $7 million fund balance, as well as $2 million in liquor license revenues which the mayor wishes to divert for municipal building renovations. These excess funds belong to the taxpayers and could be used for tax relief.
With respect to the capital budget, it’s imperative we make sure that it is only used to purchase capital items and not allow any surplus to purchase operating budget items. Stricter accounting of both budgets is sorely needed.
I will like to see the operating budget stay in control thru improved efficiency at all levels of our Government. I will like to see more mechanization of our systems. There have to be more ratables to share our tax burden. I will not sacrifice our AAA bond rating and I will always maintain a full service town.
Our capital budget should be continuously monitored for proper priority of various projects. West Windsor has grown more than 20% in last 10 years and is still growing. We need to keep improving the infrastructure to maintain an excellent quality of life.
My priorities for both budgets are the same: to reign in spending and reinstate financial accountability. Additionally, I intend to apply my experience in the field of energy to implement out-of-the-box but proven ideas to reduce energy use in operations and maintenance, and to better manage capital spending.
The annual operating budget must be maintained within reason through efficient township operations and effectively reducing costs where possible. Maintaining the AAA bond rating should be priority as this is an indication as to how the Township stands financially and ultimately reduces taxpayer burden.
Careful consideration must be given to the capital budget to assure capital improvements to the infrastructure of our town. In order to facilitate improvements to roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, equipment and other capital projects, proper planning must be implemented. Further, county, state and federal funding should be sought when possible.
My priority for the annual operating budget is simply to make sure that the monies being spent are designated, effective and fiscally conservative without making any major changes to the quality services offered to West Windsors’ residents. We want to be prepared to offer our residents optimal services without placing a major burden on them or the township. With the Capital budget, I believe we have to make sure that we are decisive and critical about the debt that can ensued by the township in the long term by attempting to reduce/maintain this debt, while at the same time focusing on future important endeavors and initiatives that could positively impact the residents of West Windsor.
What would you do to make the planning, approval, and development process more efficient?
In an effort to make West Windsor more business-friendly, a formal review with input from residents and companies that have gone through the planning, approval and development process would be a first step towards creating a more welcoming and efficient process. Also, purchasing new technology that allows inspectors to relay information from a site to the construction office would improve the efficiency of the permitting process.
Time is money. Prospective business owners should not have to wait more than 30 days for approval after submitting a conceptual plan. A couple of examples of this are the Rite-Aid and PJ’s Pancake House, businesses that muddled through years of red tape before being able to open their doors to the public.
We need to take more business like approach rather than get bogged down by various constraints. This will save money for both the applicant and our township.
This process desperately lacks transparency. The mayor and council serve at the will of the people and therefore they should include residents in any decision-making of this nature.
A streamlined approach is imperative to increase the efficiency of the planning, approval, and development process. Efficiency can be increased by incorporating a “one-stop shop” mentality whereby applicants can meet with all necessary officials to ensure applications are submitted correctly. The approval process should be transparent and seamless through education and effective communication. If applicants view the process as a positive experience it will ultimately encourage other business owners to consider West Windsor.
I would engage the residents to be more involved in the decision making. That is their right. For years, so many decisions have been made without the gained, warranted and overall approval of the residents of this township. A majority of residents have never been to a Council meeting. These decisions clearly affect the township. The Administration has to put forth a greater effort to be more involved in the very persons they represent - The People. This would make the planning, approval and development process more efficient and detailed while at the same time, making the residents of this town very happy to know that they were indeed involved in the process that improves this township.
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