Yesterday, from 4 to 5 p.m., Baristaa Debbie Galant and Liz George conducted a digital debate of Montclair’s three mayoral candidates. We learned that all three support the library (including a second branch), that Robert Jackson, as part of an effort to increase town ratables, favors hiring a “business ombudsman” to help news businesses get through red tape, that Susswein thinks “cynicism” is the enemy of good government, and that none of the candidates favors selling the town’s Wildwood properties below market price. You can read the full transcript by clicking on the Cover-It-Live panel, and we’ve highlighted some of the most interesting quotes from the debate below.
What’s the biggest problem faced by the town?
Jackson: Precarious financial condition of the town.
Susswein: Taxes and debt are huge problems. But let me also note the challenge of overcoming the cynicism out there that the government at any level can work for the people. Rather than “dis” citizen groups, disbanding or denying them access to needed information, we will encourage Montclair’s talented residents to volunteer their time–and we will listen to them!
Turner: Rising taxes are making Montclair unaffordable to people throughout Montclair. Continued increases like we suffered not sustainable. The $250M debt is a ticking time bomb.
What are the solutions to these financial problems?
Susswein: We can’t cut our way to a better Montclair. We nee to be smart, not just cheap. Being smart means saving money on commodity services through selective outsourcing and other restructuring and investing some of the savings in sustaining Montclair’s quality of life.
Jackson: 15-20 year debt reduction plan in conjunction with the CFC recommendations. Aggressive economic development plan to enhance ratables and drive new revenues… expansion of shared services initiatives.
Turner: Real Progress Montclair has issued a moratorium on debt issuances for non-essential items. We’ve also stated we will issue a 5 year budget plan.
On having a second library branch:
Susswein: ...we will work with the Library Board to increase the Bellevue branch to three days a week. We believe this is possible within the existing library budget
Jackson: I do not consider two a redundancy. Many seniors and parents with young children use the Branch extensively and its their only accessible resource
Turner: Real Progress Montclair absolutely supports the Montclair Public Library. The town should stop trying to balance its budget on the backs of the library. We will with with the library Board of Directors to see out innovative ways to effectively keep out library(ies) open.
On selling town assets:
Susswein: We are opposed to selling any town assets for less than full market value, given the town’s financial pressures. This includes the Wildwood properties.
Jackson: The sale of assets must be in play. I believe the Wildwood decision bears reconsideration with the goal of keeping it open space as the number one priority. I interested to see where the “bids” for the lots will come in.
Turner: We first need to set a 5 year and long term plan. Next we should set up working groups like Shelley Lombard did with the BOE did to explore various issues including selling town assets or bringing the Parking Authority function in-house or out-source.
Wildwood: We support affordable housing throughout the town. However we should not be selling land below market rates with our town’s current financial position.
On growing ratables:
Jackson: We have to put the proper zoning in place to create attractive development projects. Secondly, we have to be available to provide information and cut out the red tape for businesses looking to come to Montclair. A business ombudsman is critical… I hope the ombudsman can be funded through an economic development grant which we are investigating.
On the possibility of privatizing trash collection:
Susswein: We need to benchmark a wie range of township fucntions against what outside providers can offer. Sanitation is certainly high on that list given that many NJ communities are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. We need to ask the question.
Turner: If privatization will provide excellent service at lower cost to all its citizens, we will consider it. All of these things are on the table in order to ensure Montclair’s fiscal health and long term sustainability.
On the fire deal with Glen Ridge:
Susswein: Montclair did not have to choose between a bad deal with Glen Ridge and no deal. Montclair and Bloomfield competed in a bidding race to the bottom — our “win” was a loss from Montclair taxpayers. We will open discussions with all our neighbors about working together efficiently, and will pursue newly available state monies to help with this regionalization.
Jackson: I’m not interested in reliving the past. The deal is done. If we pull out Bloomfield will do the deal. The fact of the matter is the MFD dedicates minimal resources to serve GR. I for one will not jeopardize those funds.
On the parking authority:
Turner: Real Progress Montclair thinks the Parking Authority is a priority. We will investigate bringing in the PA in-house which will result in savings for Montclair.
Jackson: The parking/parking authority issue must be incorporated into an overall plan for economic development in our CBD’s. the development projects needed for the CBS will incorporate the additional parking.
Susswein: Parking is indeed a sore point. I’ve read the consultant’s report and am mystified as to why the council did not conduct hearings to validate or rebut the findings.
On the assisted living development on Montclair Council’s agenda Tuesday night:
Susswein: The assisted living proposal has received little or no public discussion. This is not the way to make important land use decisions.
Jackson: I’d like to learn more about the success of Assisted Living facilities in downtown areas but the reality is that Assisted Living has been judged to be an inherently beneficial use in NJ Land Use Law and will eventually be approved if developers push the issue.
On Turner sending her children to private schools:
Turner: I know tha the public school system is the backbone of this town. I’m a product of the public schools. I support the BOE on all the work they’ve done over the past few years. I have the support and backing of PTA Presidents, MFEE Board Members, Class Moms and some of the most active volunteers in the public school system. They know that I am committed and dedicated to the Montclair Public Schools.