By Jay Cook |
HOLMDEL – A choice awaits Holmdel voters at the polls on Nov. 7: should residents push onward with the status quo of an entirely Republican governing body, or should voters side with Democrats looking to make changes within town lines?
This year’s election for two open seats on the five-member Holmdel Township Committee features Greg Buontempo and Rocco Pascucci, a pair of Republicans both with two terms of elected experience, and Larry Luttrell and Barbara Singer, two Democrats who continue to keep the pressure on their opposition.
Running for his third term in 2017 is Buontempo, 52, the incumbent Republican mayor who works as an area sales director for Sprint.
Buontempo, a member of the township’s planning board, as well as a member of the Monmouth County Improvement Authority, said one of the highlights of his political career has been the creation of a new township library. Instead of staying in the basement of Town Hall, the library will soon have its own dedicated space inside the 2 million-square-foot Bell Works facility, located at 101 Crawfords Corner Road. A ribbon-cutting to officially open the library is set for Nov. 1, and Buontempo said the project has been important to residents in more than one way.
“We’re really trying to fund everything so the residents have no financial impact on them,” he said. “But we want to make this more than a regular library because it’s in a very unique building.”
After some changes earlier this month, the updated cost of the library construction is just shy of $1.8 million, with $1 million covered by Somerset Development, Bell Works’ property owner. Fundraising to cover the remaining costs will continue into the new year, Buontempo said.
Buontempo added if he’s re-elected, he’ll continue to work with Monmouth County officials on shared service agreements for roadway improvement projects. Streets like Wildhedge Lane, Tanglewood Lane and Sweet Briar Lane were among the streets resurfaced with new curbing in 2017. Buontempo said the bill came in $1.1 million under budget, thanks to shared services with the county.
“To be able to do all that and not impact our residents with a municipal tax increase is an accomplishment,” he said.
Buontempo has run for office previously with Deputy Mayor Patrick Impreveduto, who is currently running on the Republican ticket for a seat on the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders. But this year, joining Buontempo on the municipal ballot is Pascucci, 67, a pediatrician at Bethany Pediatrics, Hazlet.
Pascucci served on the Holmdel Township Committee for two terms from 2006 to 2011. He did not seek reelection in that final year due to changes in the healthcare industry that affected his practice.
“With Obamacare coming, it put a big strain on the office, lots of changes, and I just didn’t have the time,” he said. “But now I do.”
Pascucci said the biggest threat to Holmdel today is the Monmouth County Reliability Project, a 10-mile long, 230 kV transmission line along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line. It’s designed to run from Aberdeen to Red Bank, through Hazlet, Holmdel and Middletown, but is still being litigated in the courts.
In talking with seniors at Village Grande and Cedar Village, two communities which abut the rail line, Pascucci said it certainly would be a detriment to Holmdel residents.
“I’m not going to let it happen and I don’t believe that it’s going to happen,” he said.
Also, as a board-certified pediatrician, Pascucci said he is aware of health defects from high voltage powerlines. While studies vary from country to country, he said, one thing is still certain. “Look at everywhere in the state,” he said. “(Powerlines) are put way far from people, and not by their houses. And here, people will be riding under them all day.”
Pascucci also serves as the deputy director of Holmdel’s Emergency Management office. He believes there needs to be more funding for township first responders, and pointed to drone usage as a next generation method of inspection and recovery. Holmdel Fire Department is already using drones, he said.
While Republicans push to continue their plan for Holmdel, the two Democratic challengers are looking to flip the script on exactly how that government would work.
Luttrell, 46, an attorney with Law Offices of Lawrence Luttrell, Holmdel, said it’s time for Holmdel to abandon its system of selecting a mayor. Currently, the mayoral position is chosen at the annual reorganization meeting by Township Committee members in January. But he has issue with that.
“Having five people get in a back room on Jan. 1 to pick who the mayor is going to be is not democratic in my opinion,” Luttrell said. “We think the people should directly elect the mayor, and not the politicians.”
He’s proposing Holmdel convert its government to a Faulkner Act-type town, where the mayor is directly elected by residents. Red Bank and Highlands are two towns operating under similar guidelines.
Luttrell said residents he has spoken with favor his plan. He hopes it can ultimately loosen the Republican grip in Holmdel.
“The problem with 5-0 majorities is they’re all ‘walk in lock-step’ and someone could be slammed if they don’t toe the line,” he said. “That’s not good for any form of government, in my opinion.”
In addition to the government change, Luttrell said he wants to improve Holmdel’s credit rating, which was downgraded in 2010 to Aa2 from A1 by Moody’s. He said that hurts the finances in town and puts too much reliability on the County to cover the shortfall.
Accompanying Luttrell this election season is Singer, 49, an attorney with Drazin & Warshaw. In 2016, she ran for Township Committee with fellow Democrat Karen Strickland.
One of Singer’s chief issues in Holmdel is how the township is moving forward with its affordable housing obligations. The Two River Times reported in June that Holmdel is obligated to provide 393 new affordable housing credits, as per a Fair Share Housing Center report.
Singer said plans by Holmdel elected officials to build approximately 450 housing units across town is “due to a lack of planning.”
As Democrats, Singer and Luttrell said they are certainly not opposed to affordable housing, yet they want to see it completed responsibly. Singer added housing agreements with 12 to 16 units per acre “is not like anything Holmdel has right now.”
Her plan would be to utilize two-for-one affordable housing credit plans and check on the feasibility of a housing complex across from Bayshore Medical Center on North Beers Street.
Singer also acknowledged that Holmdel would benefit from having two acting attorneys on the township committee. With pending litigation for affordable housing, the Monmouth County Reliability Project, and the New Jersey Natural Gas regulator station proposal, she said communication to concerned residents could be improved.
“When you bring lawyers in on things and they analyze everything, they don’t just accept what’s going on,” Singer said.
This article was first published in the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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