Kathryn Weller-Demming, CCM Spar Over Council Record

As candidates from the three political slates slug it out over taxes, spending, and education (among other things), independent candidates may struggle to get themselves heard. But Kathryn Weller-Demming, who is running for a councilor-at-large seat on a solo ticket, issued this statement yesterday defending the current council’s record. After Demming’s statement, read the official response from Concerned Citizens of Montclair.

Many of the candidates running for office this year insist that Montclair’s finances are a mess, our crippling debt is bankrupting us, and that municipal spending is out of control.

While that makes a rallying campaign cry, it simply is not true. In the last four years we have:

  • Trimmed the municipal staff by 10%, without laying-off any police or firefighters.
  • Increased trash collection to twice a week, year round, and saved money doing it.
  • Secured over $1.5 million in state grants with NJ’s first “Complete Streets” program.
  • Leveraged state grants and incentives like 0% interest loans to maintain and improve our infrastructure.
  • Increased shared services and reorganized township government, eliminating six-figure salaried positions.
  • Accelerated the debt schedule to take advantage of low interest rates for long-term savings on service of previously issued debt.
  • Cut new capital debt authorizations to 1/3 of previous levels.
  • Paid down millions more debt than authorized.
  • Standard & Poor’s assigned its AA- rating for Montclair in 2011, citing among other factors “Low-to-moderate overall net debt.”  They further stated, “Overall debt is, in our view, a moderate $4,806 per capita, or a low 2.5% of market value.”
  • Achieved first round certification in Sustainable Jersey.
  • Achieved designation as an EPA Climate Showcase community.

The estimated tax increase this year is approximately 1%.

We have already delivered on the campaign promises certain slates are making.

And we have restored funding to the library, continued township support for the Montclair Community Pre-K and expanded the services we provide for residents while achieving long-term financial benefits in the most challenging economic circumstances.

Last year the Concerned Citizens of Montclair demanded a 0% tax increase with no regard for the long-term financial health of Montclair, and no concrete ideas for achieving their goal.  They wanted us to foreclose on the Pre-K, to demand higher payments for shared services which would have forced our partner communities to other providers, to stop leveraging grant funding for our capital needs and to restrict investment in public trees.

The days of rapidly increasing unaffordability for housing in Montclair are behind us, and I am proud to have been a central figure in the successes of the last four years. The council unanimously voted to designate me as the Deputy Mayor, even those with whom I disagree on key policy issues, because they knew they could rely on me to crunch the numbers, read everything and attend countless meetings.

I ask for one of your four votes on May 8th, so that I may build on the financially sustainable future I have helped craft for Montclair, and we can all remain here as neighbors without fear of being priced out, and Montclair can remain the vibrant community of values we love.”

This came in this morning from CCM:

Ms Weller Demming published the following paragraph:

CCM thinks it is important to set the record straight and separate fact from fiction. So we will address each of these assertions independently.

Ms. Weller-Demming asserts: Last year the Concerned Citizens of Montclair demanded a 0% tax increase with no regard for the long-term financial health of Montclair and no concrete ideas for achieving their goal.

FACT: CCM recommended a 0% tax increase because it was deeply concerned about the long term financial health of Montclair. Large year over year increases and a large debt burden are not in the best interest of Montclair’s long-term financial health. We believe that the recent lower overall tax rate was due, in part, to the efforts of groups like CCM, OBAC and Capital Finance Committee.

Ms. Weller-Demming asserts: They wanted us to foreclose on the Pre-K.

FACT: CCM did not suggest that anyone foreclose on the Pre-K. Rather to address the very large unpaid loan which was owed to the township by the Pre-K. This loan had been on the books for years.

Ms. Weller-Demming asserts: Demand higher payments for shared services which would have forced our partner communities to other providers.

FACT: CCM stated that townships with shared services should pay at least the same amount as Montclair residents for the same service. We believe that Montclair citizens should not be subsidizing services for other towns through higher taxes.

Ms. Weller-Demming asserts: CCM asked the Township to stop leveraging grant funding for our capital needs.

FACT: CCM has no idea what Ms. Weller-Demming is referring to.

Ms. Weller-Demming asserts: CCM requested to restrict investment in public trees.

FACT: CCM did not suggest restricting investment in public trees. CCM wanted to make sure that amounts that were bonded for shade trees was actually used for shade trees.

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47 COMMENTS

  1. This is also the administration that kinda sorta forgot to do a revaluation, setting the stage for millions in bonds to pay for property tax appeals/refunds.

    https://www.northjersey.com/news/96543159_Tarnishing_Montclair_s__Mood_.html?c=y&page=1

    “Ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service has slightly downgraded more than $100 million of Montclair’s long-term debt, a small but significant sign to investors that there is a higher degree of potential default.

    Moody’s downgraded the $104.7 million in debt to Aa3 – its fourth-highest rating – from Aa2, though it stressed that it expects Montclair’s debt burden to remain above average in the near future.

    The action came as Montclair permanently financed $9.6 million in school bonds related to the construction of the Charles H. Bullock School.”

    I’ve had enough of Weller-Demming and this entire council.

  2. This statement bears some translation:

    “Accelerated the debt schedule to take advantage of low interest rates for long-term savings on service of previously issued debt.”

    What it means is that the council chose to fund long term capital needs with short term financings in order to create an ephemeral situation that makes it appear that we are actually growing the debt at a low cost. Yes, currently short rates are marginally lower than longer rates; however, the overall term structure of interest rates is about as low as we can expect it to get. Short term borrowings must, by definition, be refinanced relatively soon. By undertaking this strategy the council has created an inherent funding mis-match, and subjected the town to tremendous interest rate risk, unless there is a secret plan to retire rather than refinance the debt. Interest rates will rise, and potentially by a substantial amount. When that happens the debt service will obviously increase substantially,our fiscal problems will be amplified, our credit rating will be downgraded, and this genius funding strategy will be exposed for what it is, like picking up nickels in front of a bulldozer.

  3. In all fairness, interest rates are probably not going anywhere for at least the next two years and maybe more.

  4. After speaking with all the candidates in this year’s race, there are only two running that I think shouldn’t even be running. Kathryn Weller-Demming is one of them.

    Here are my choices for the two At-large seats:

    Carlson and Zorich
    LeeAnn Carlson is thoughtful, open minded and caring. She’ll help solve Montclair’s problems by identifying the best practices other towns use with success. Her only agenda appears to be making Montclair a better place. The rest of the Council will come to trust her analysis.

    Peter Zorich is the kind of homegrown leadership we want on the Council. He knows the schools as a parent and as a former student. He can relate to Montclair life up on the hill, down off Grove, and in a multi-family where many in town rarely get a voice. He understands that taxes are an affordable housing issue. Expect him to be a creative problem solver and be careful with our tax dollars.

    All my choices:
    Mayor: Turner
    At Large (two picks): Carlson and Zorich
    1st Ward: Murnick
    2nd Ward: Avdicevic
    3rd Ward: Swenson
    4th Ward: Baskerville (no choice)

    Pamphleteer76@gmail.com
    (Any comments?)

  5. Why was there no mention of the bike lockers? How many bike lockers would be required in the assisted living facility? If I remember the ordinance, one class one storage unit is necessary per room. Is Pinnacle aware of this?

  6. Nah-nah, na, nah, Hey-hey Good Bye! Don’t let the door hit ya on the a$$ on the way out Kathryn

  7. Rich McMahon is a Montclair guy and has done a lot of work for the ambulance squad. I think he will do very well on election day.

  8. The balance of my choices in this election:

    For my First Ward, I feel strongly about the issue of Town & Gown. MSU’s recently announced growth plans accelerate the urgency in building a better relationship between us and also reconsidering a tri-town committee to focus on common issues. Neither candidate has satisfied me in addressing this. But, I think we need a new face and a new approach, so I will vote for Mr. Hurlock.

    I endorse LeeAnn Carlson for one At-Large position. I had a chance to talk at length with LeeAnn and she is as engaging in person as she is with her blog posts. This will serve her well in the At-Large role. She has good ideas and a laser focus.

    I endorse Peter Zorich for the other At-Large role because he is conversant on, and respectful to, a range issues and will represent the four wards well. I think he can be a strong and effective advocate for the arts – a constituency I think should be better represented on the Council.

    So my Council would be Karen Turner, Bill Hurlock, LeeAnn Carlson, Peter Zorich, Renee Baskerville, and whomever the 2nd & 3rd Wards elect.

  9. Frank, Tell me more about Bill Hurlock. I like Rich Murnick. I think he was held back by a bad council. And, I think he could help with the transition to a new council, other than Renee Baskerville.

    I met Bill a couple times but didn’t get much from him. His graffiti issue at Northeast School seemed silly in these times. But I know his resume is quite good and he seems very serious. Does anyone have anymore on Hurlock? I picked Murnick but I’m open until I vote.

    pamphleteer76@gmail.com

    Who I trust for the next council:

    Mayor: Turner
    At Large (two picks): Carlson and Zorich
    1st Ward: Murnick
    2nd Ward: Avdicevic
    3rd Ward: Swenson
    4th Ward: Baskerville (no choice)

  10. Yes, let’s all get behind Tea Party Montclair, which more or less advocates out-sourcing the town’s entire workforce, putting more residents on unemployment and cutting important services for the neediest folks it claims to want to keep in the community for the sake of diversity. Because why should people have jobs and benefits when Affluent White Montclair needs a tax cut?

  11. Keep ignoring the tax increases and the debt and Affluent Whites will be the only people who will inhabit Montclair.

  12. Right on Deadeye, although not sure if term structure of interest rates means anything to our council.

    Hard to disagree with johnqp though, Obama has a gun to helicopter Ben’s head. The Bernank has no choice but to keep rates low through at least YE 2013.

    “Because why should people have jobs and benefits when Affluent White Montclair needs a tax cut?”

    No, montclairpublic, while tax cuts would be nice lets just focus on paying off the massive debt we have accumulated.

  13. Keep cutting reading/writing and other school programs that target the neediest students, Pre-K scholarship funding, teenage summer jobs and the like and we will see how unified the community is, and how successful, OVERALL, our public schools will be. Weller-Demming makes some strong points that shed light on the buckshot attacks by the Turner slate, but the intractability of your positions are evidenced by the dismissive tone of your responses to those who disagree. you may win next week given the 3-way race but do not think for a second the harsh policies you all espouse will not be met with fierce resistance.

  14. i am not against paying down the debt. i am not against curbing taxes. i am not for giving the unions a blank check and believe teachers and other public workers should pay more for pension and health care and should not be allowed to retire early. in other words, i consider myself a fiscal moderate but if you want to do all this on the backs of the most vulnerable and the neediest — as was done with the teacher aides — and then tell me it’s being done to preserve diversity in Montclair, that is laughable. and that should and will be fought.

  15. I like the way anyone who wants to be fiscally responsible is labeled “tea party”. Stu has it mostly right – it will be only affluent (white, black, hispanic, asian – doesn’t matter) people and the poor people in Montclair the way we are headed. I can’t see working class, middle class and upper middle class people with the means or desire to pay an average of $20,000 or more for annual property taxes just to be here.

  16. We’ll see how harsh those policies are. Chances are that Turner will not have the other three members of her slate on the dais. Even though I don’t see her making any draconian cuts, the 7-person council should provide some balance if she does end up anything like her opposition fears she will be. The last two councils opted not even to get an RFP (or bids) from outside refuse collectors to see if Montclair community services was efficient. No one serving in the last three councils even considered looking at the debt and what kind of an impact it would have on town services. This will all change under Turner. This will not change under Harvey (the appointed board liar) and Jackson (the race card player). I watch all of the council meetings and would watch the BOE meetings too if they chose to televise them. I look forward to seeing your public comment.

  17. And for the record mp, I agree that the move to cut the aides healthcare was wrong. Though some compromise from all was needed and none was coming. It will be interesting to see what the new contract looks like.

  18. “but if you want to do all this on the backs of the most vulnerable and the neediest”

    On its face any cut in public spending will appear to be and in some sense occurs on the backs of the neediest. By definition affluent people are affluent and the same nominal cuts have a lesser affect on them. I don’t think this changes the fact that the cuts are still necessary. Ask Greece.

    cspn55s point is real. You can raise taxes on the super wealthy, but there is a more tangible limit with respect to doing so on the middle and upper middle class (the largest income groups in Montclair).

  19. I agree about short rates staying predictably low through,umm 2013 if I had a crystal ball. The conventional wisdom is that we will have somewhat of an inflation issue to deal with as things start to improve, the magnitude of which is the topic of some debate. Then there are the credit spreads that investors will demand for financing our local banana republic, which are entirely market driven. So either the stars align, or it’s time to start bayonetting the wounded…

  20. “whomever the 2nd & 3rd Wards elect.”

    I wish I could vote for Chris Swenson, but one of us is in the wrong ward. I liked the skill and understanding he brought to the exercise of spelunking through the school budget.

    Some have opined that we need leaders as opposed to “auditors” on the council. In Chris, we’ve both.

    But perhaps more importantly, I strongly disagree with the implication that we don’t need strong financial understanding on the council. I’m on the board of an organization. When I first joined the board a number of years ago, we’d many on the board w/o financial savvy. And we were not in great shape. The board now has more strong financial types, and we’re in far better shape than ever before. It makes a difference having leaders that really grasp the issues before them.

    Our current council has also served as a demonstration of this, with its eagerness – for example – to overspend (based on the building’s ultimate sale price) on a building for which no serious need had been demonstrated.

    What little I’ve heard or read from and about the others on the Turner slate, including involvement with the CCM, leads me to believe that they share with Chris his understanding and acumen.

    …Andrew

  21. Paine,
    I think Mr Hurlock has an impressive bio, both professionally and locally. The current council thought highly enough of him to appoint him to the CFC. I watched him in the LVM 1st Ward breakout session and he more than held his own and I had no problem seeing him as my Councilor. Both candidates here have similar planks. Lastly, I think he would be a complementary asset to the Council I envision. Hope this helps you decide.

  22. I think the last time the American public (nationally or at the municipal level) had the stomach to “bayonette the wound” so to speak with respect to public finance was around the same time when the bayonette itself was a prevalent weapon.

    Coming back to Montclair, lets create a simple two way prediction market.

    What happens first?
    a) Montclair pays off debt
    b) Montclair defaults (monetary or technical via restructuring bc it can no longer finance itself at reasonable clearing levels)

    I’ll take b all day long.

  23. “Though some compromise from all was needed and none was coming.”

    One of the proposals from the MEA as an alternative to outsourcing the aides was to charge Montclair families $300 per student per activity. Is that going to harm the affluent, or is it going to harm the families just getting by?

    As I’ve written before: I simply do not grasp the disconnect that permits people to claim that they’re promoting the interests of “the most vulnerable” while at the same time promoting policies that would price those families out of town.

    …Andrew

  24. yes, the tea party label is probably not helpful but it’s difficult to resist when the hannity-esque “we’ll be greece” hysterics erupt. i agree that our taxes are high — though as something of a real estate watchdog, not far out of line with other desirable towns in this region — but you all and I know where the bulk of it goes and that’s not going to dramatically change. and stu, you can’t be against the aides cuts and for compromise at the same time because the cuts were made arbitrarily and not within collective bargaining. i’ve said all along that the right thing to have done would have been to restore them for this school year and then inform the union that d-day was coming in the new round of contract talks, and everyone would have to pay more. THAT would have forced the union to compromise — as most private unions have in recent years — and put the onus on the teachers to protect their own.

  25. as usual, the Gid meister mixes and matches to suit his agenda. Last summer when state aid was restored by Trenton, the money was there to fund the aides’ benefits — and that was before the extra millions in surplus was discovered. the Lombard-led BOE turned a deaf ear. remember something when you are all agitating for out-sourcing: many of these people are town residents who have given years in sweat and toil for the community. they are not statistics.

  26. “Chances are that Turner will not have the other three members of her slate on the dais.”

    well, there is something to hope for, especially in the case of Zorich. oh, and Frank R., spare me the “he’s for the arts” advocacy. i’d rather have someone who would rather cheer lead for making sure every Montclair child had a seat in a Pre-K class

  27. Less than one in four of the trash collectors in Montclair are locals. It can be written in to the rfp (bid) that some of those losing their jobs in Montclair must be hired by the private company. Nah, better to force charity upon the taxpayers and pay more for the services. And you wonder why Montclair is in its current position.

  28. “making sure every Montclair child had a seat in a Pre-K class”

    And if that means that every Montclair child comes from an affluent family? Well, I suppose I can understand why this might seem attractive; there are gains when a town is gentrified. We’d likely see benefits like increased NJMonthly school ranking, for example. Homeowners would probably see values go up.

    It just doesn’t fit the image I have for the town I’ve made my home. I like to believe that many others in town feel similarly.

    …Andrew

  29. “One of the proposals from the MEA as an alternative to outsourcing the aides was to charge Montclair families $300 per student per activity. Is that going to harm the affluent, or is it going to harm the families just getting by?”

    Life is tough. Does $4 gas “harm the affluent” or “harm those just getting by”? Of course the latter. Should gas be sold on a sliding scale? Free for the poor? Subsidized?

    Gasoline, like sports and clubs is not necessary to “get by”. It’s nice to have but not a core necessity. Times are tough, all extra activities should be self-supported by a fee they are not the core purpose of the schools. We (those that are able) also should make contributions to a scholarship fund for the disadvantaged.

    “As I’ve written before: I simply do not grasp the disconnect that permits people to claim that they’re promoting the interests of “the most vulnerable” while at the same time promoting policies that would price those families out of town.”

    Do you really have trouble grasping the concept? “the most vulnerable” (ie. the poor) would get a public subsidy precisely so that they are not “priced out of town” and the middle class would be on their own. You and I may not agree with that goal or how it’s effectuated, but really, it’s not hard to grasp at all.

  30. I know we will disagree on this, but the MEA always had an opportunity to step in and negotiate for the aides. They chose not to. However, they should know that D-day is coming in these contract talks and if they want aides to regain their benefits they can offer a package that would offset the additional costs.

  31. “If they want aides to regain their benefits they can offer a package that would offset the additional costs.”

    This will never ever happen. We’ll only here about the great sacrifices the union has made so they will not make any other compromises. Such as the giving up of salary increases by only the most highly compensated union members in exchange for not having to pay a 1% increase in their health care costs (bringing their total contribution to a whopping 1.5%). The MEA is really to blame for the cuts to the aides, but this is not say that the BOE doesn’t waste money endlessly as well. Enjoy the planetarium!

  32. “would get a public subsidy precisely so that they are not “priced out of town” ”

    I may not have great familiarity with such public subsidies, but I would be fairly amazed if these covered the high-priced properties with which Montclair would largely be left should these “protect the most vulnerable” programs be followed.

    …Andrew

  33. “I may not have great familiarity with such public subsidies, but I would be fairly amazed if these covered the high-priced properties with which Montclair would largely be left should these “protect the most vulnerable” programs be followed.”

    you aren’t making much sense as far as I can tell. What do you mean? You think subsidizing moderate income housing, to the degree its been proposed, will somehow endanger the 99% of the other homes in Montclair?

  34. “You think subsidizing moderate income housing, to the degree its been proposed, will somehow endanger the 99% of the other homes in Montclair?”

    I think that the various proposals which all involve “raise taxes as much as possible” will endanger what’s left of affordability in property taxes of this town. We could fully fund a free Pre-K for all Montclair children, for example. We could have school and town raise taxes by cap each year, paying for all sorts of nice things. But at what cost to the town’s character?

    …Andrew

  35. dead,

    Your statement regarding the debt is right on target. Of 70 municipalities utilizing short term debt, Montclair leads the pack.

    Short term debt is low interest — 1% or so. By statute the short term debt can’t be used indefinitely as Montclair has, i.e. rolling it over each year and making only interest payments.

    Under pressure from first the Capital Finance Committee, and then CCM, the town started converting the so called “temporary,” short term, debt into “permanent,” or long term debt. Interest rates sky rocketed, of course, as did debt service.

    It’s a scam.

    Cary Africk

  36. ROC, being the beneficiaries of subsidized middle income housing, I’m sure my elderly parents can assure you that it’s an important government program.

    Of course, on the other hand, my tea party cousins grew up in federally built 100% US taxpayer subsidized public housing, but they’d rather not be reminded of that nasty fact. Too inconvenient. Pisses them off, too.

  37. After the one-two punch of Nellie’s opener and normal’s uppercut, the rest of the posts on this thread are redundant. You guys are funny!

  38. All right, I’ve teased you all long enough. Here, at last, are Walleroo’s Picks for Office:

    Mayor: A chimera with the head of Harvey Susswein and the heart of Karen Turner.
    At large: Leanne Carlson and a clone of Leanne Carlson
    1st ward: Whoever wins the arm wrestling contest
    2nd ward: A singularity humanoid with Selma Adecevic’s engrams
    3d ward: Chris Swenson with a Donald Trump toupee
    4th ward: yada yada

  39. Is there any party being planned for the night of the election (MAy 8, right?). If not, I’ll have to pick a place and declare the party a fait accompli. Even though it might just be me and the bartender. So who’s in?

  40. Walleroo,

    As is the norm, I suspect taht it’ll probably be just you and me here (maybe PAZ) late Tuesday night…

  41. ‘roo, i think a party is a marvelous idea. Yoo too – Deb, Liz, Hols…anyone? Where’s the election night drinkfest?

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