By John Burton |
RED BANK — What could be at stake for this year’s election for borough council is majority control of the governing body – and possibly the future decision on the controversial White Street redevelopment.
Two seats are available on the six-member council. Democrat Edward Zipprich is seeking his fourth term, running with borough school board member Michael Ballard.
On the other side of the political aisle are Republican Linda Schwabenbauer, who has served one term, and her running mate, Dana McArthur, a political newcomer.
The current council makeup is evenly split with three GOP members and three Democrats. But given the mayor’s seat is held by a Democrat, Pasquale Menna – who gets a vote in case of a tie —Democrats technically hold the slimmest of majorities.
For the better part of the year, a lot of time and oxygen has been used up in discussions over redeveloping the municipal-owned White Street parking lot, and whether or not the council should allow for a public/private partnership creating a mixed used development that would include some relief for the chronic downtown parking shortfall. The discussions, however, have become a political hot potato, breaking down mostly along party lines, as officials contend with different factions and a lawsuit that aims to prevent the plan from proceeding.
In an interview with The Two River Times, Schwabenbauer and McArthur said they support moving forward with the process, working with two of five selected developers and drafting a plan that works for the downtown business district.
Concern had been raised about the project’s proposed size, with developers offering eight-story or higher structures as possibilities. “Nobody ever wanted that,” said Schwabenbauer. “We wanted to give the developers as much as they wanted,” in putting forth proposals, she said. Schwabenbauer views the project as a way to support the business community, which will make commercial properties more valuable, thus helping alleviate the overall tax burden.
At first, McArthur admitted, she was apprehensive, but has since changed her opinion. “After doing some research,” she said, “I thought it was really workable.”
Zipprich, who has been critical of the White Street development process so far, said, “We all know we need a parking solution.” He and the other two council Democrats, as well as running-mate Ballard, are calling for a comprehensive parking study supported by data to determine current need before further steps are taken.
Said Ballard, who supports Zipprich’s call for the study, “It’s been done backwards.”
No specific timeframe has been established for the borough council’s Parking Committee to offer a recommendation, should they choose to, or a vote on a proposal by the entire council.
Zipprich, 57, is a retired office manager. He is seeking a fourth term, he said, because “I want to continue with my record of success.” Zipprich noted his work with the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission, especially in its efforts to preserve the national historic site the T. Thomas Fortune House, establishing the Washington Street Historic District, as well as work being undertaken to eventually convert the former trash dump and incinerator property on the borough’s West Side into a borough park.
Ballard, 54, is a financial analysist, who currently serves on the Board of Education and had run unsuccessfully for the council in 2015. “I’m doing this because enough residents have asked me to,” he said. He believes his financial background and board experience are helpful to the position. “I believe I have the experience and the passion.”
“Mike and I are both committed to this community,” Zipprich said.
Schwabenbauer, 52, is vice president of accounting and tax services for Prudential Financial. When asked why she is seeking another term, she answered, “Because I’m not finished.” There is still considerable work to be accomplished, she maintained, especially when it comes to the borough finances. “Before you get on council you don’t understand how things work,” she said, indicating the learning curve does continue.
McArthur, 34, is an adjunct psychology professor at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, and is a full-time graduate student at Monmouth University, West Long Branch. She is also eight months pregnant. She grew up in Red Bank and has just purchased a home in the borough. McArthur said, despite what’s going on in her life, she decided to run for office because, “It means more to me now.”
“I can’t believe I’m paying a thousand dollars a month in taxes,” McArthur noted, believing taxes are the predominate issue for voters. “I want people my age to be able to buy a house here,” she said.
Schwabenbauer believes the governing body must move past short term budget plans and formulate long-range strategies.
Zipprich bristles at the notion he and his fellow Democrats haven’t been effective or diligent with taxpayer money. “Red Bank has prospered under Democratic leadership,” said Zipprich, who is also the Democratic municipal chairman. Democrats have held the majority on the council for much of the last 27 years and have held the mayor’s office since 1990. During that time, Zipprich stressed, the borough has experienced a revitalization of its commercial district that became a template for downtown redevelopment. In addition, the local municipal budget has been held under the state-mandated 2 percent cap, he continued. “I’m proud of my record and the time I served on the finance committee and kept taxes flat.”
“The services the borough provides is pretty top notch,” he maintained. “As a resident I think I get good services for my tax dollars.”
As a financial professional, “People look to me to keep their budgets lean and efficient,” Ballard said. And that is something he looks to continue with borough finances, he added.
In the coming term the Democrats said they hope to address senior center upgrades, west side recreation opportunities – with Ballard saying he’s very “kid-focused” – and with the retirement of the current administrator and the hiring of a replacement. “We have to look at the entire operation,” Zipprich said.
Schwabenbauer said there should be a greater emphasis on shared services—even within the borough, such as between the municipality and the public school system, as a way to save some money.
“I feel everybody should be more involved,” in the government process, said McArthur, hoping to encourage greater participation, especially among younger people.
This article was first published in the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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