By John Burton |
RED BANK — Red Bank voters wanted answers, and the candidates provided them this week.
All four candidates for the two, three-year Borough Council terms available in November’s election participated in the 21st annual West Side Community Group’s Candidates Night, fielding questions and offering many of the voters their first and possibly only opportunity to address their issues directly with the candidates prior to the Nov. 7 election.
Democratic incumbent Edward Zipprich and running mate Michael Ballard squared off against incumbent Republican Linda Schwabenbauer and fellow GOP candidate Dana McArthur at River Street Commons senior housing facility, 49 Catherine St. During an approximately two-hour session – a largely civil and respectful exchange – the candidates fielded questions that, while on a variety of topics in general, did seem to continually come back to taxes and the ongoing debate over the redevelopment of the White Street municipal parking lot.
Bob Johnson, who has lived on Highland Avenue with his family since January, said, “I’d like to hear from both parties how to lessen the burden, tax-wise.”
Johnson was joined later in the evening by resident Joyce Kalorin who wanted to know: “How about us? How are you going to help the regular residents?”
Both Republicans and Democrats were on largely the same page, maintaining the municipal budget is “as lean as we want to be,” without impacting needed and expected services, said Schwabenbauer, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee, and who is, in her professional life, a vice president for Prudential Financial. She and Zipprich stressed that much of the property owners’ tax bills are comprised of county taxes, local and regional school taxes, library levies and the like. “All that stuff is outside the borough’s control,” Zipprich said.
Both Zipprich and Schwabenbauer noted that about 26 to 27 cents of each local tax dollar is earmarked for the municipal budget with the remainder going elsewhere.
Ballard, who currently serves on the borough Board of Education, and who also stressed his career in financial services as an analyst, said its budget has been efficient in providing what is the most important service a community can —educating its children.
Schwabenbauer offered a nuanced means of helping tax-payers. She advocated for improving the value of commercial properties by way of a parking remedy. If the downtown becomes more attractive to visitors and business tenants it would improve the property values and thus the taxes the owners pay, shifting some of the burden off residential property owners.
Both Republican candidates expressed support of the White Street municipal parking lot public/private redevelopment process, that would include a parking facility as a means of improving the viability of the downtown commercial Special Improvement District.
Democrats have been arguing for a start-over in discussions with the prospective real estate developers, insisting the process needs to begin with a comprehensive study of the district’s actual parking need. Ballard has called the Republican-driven process on this issue “a financial snafu,” that had the borough facing a lawsuit looking to prevent the redevelopment.
“I think if you see steam coming off the water you don’t need a thermometer to tell you it’s hot,” Schwabenbauer countered, dismissing the Democrats’ assertions, and arguing the need for a parking remedy has been apparent.
Kate Okeson, who lives on Chapin Avenue on the borough’s West Side, asked, “What about my part of town?”
McArthur, who is making a first-run for elected office, responded by telling Okeson, “The West Side has been neglected,” and she would look to address the neighborhood’s concerns.
In addition to this West Side Community Group event, the candidates are expected to participate in another pre-election voter outreach program scheduled for Monday, Oct. 23, at Pilgrim Baptist Church, 172 Shrewsbury Ave., the only other public event for all four candidates.
The West Side Community Group is an organization that advocates for residents and businesses located west of Maple Avenue, the borough’s demarcation line between its east and west areas.
This article was first published in the Oct. 19-26, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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