Candidates Answer Questions On Taxes, Controversial Issues
Candidates talked about their backgrounds and viewpoints
With just over 30 days until Election Day 2012, six local candidates talked about their positions to a crowd of over 50 people at Tuesday evening’s Candidates Night, hosted by the Mahwah Tea Party. According to Tea Party organizers, all candidates for Mahwah mayor, Mahwah town council and Bergen County freeholder were invited to attend the event.
Each was given five minutes to share his or her background and viewpoints, and five minutes to answer audience questions.
Current Mayor Bill Laforet, who is running for the spot against township DPW Superintendent Ed Sinclair, spoke about “trying to get the same or better services for lower costs,” during his first one-year term. He touted a 1.75 percent tax increase this year and AAA bond rating in the township, saying his policies focus on low taxes.
Laforet also addressed some controversial decisions made during his year in office, namely a proposal to privatize the township’s recycling department, which was voted down by the town council, and what he called an effort to “improve the response times” of the Mahwah Ambulance Corps. He called his unsuccessful DPW plan an attempt to “work harder for taxpayers’ dollars.” Laforet spoke positively of the ambulance corps issue, saying it led to more efficient procedures in the department and better response times, which he said was “entirely thanks to the ambulance volunteers.”
Sinclair did not attend the event due to a scheduling conflict.
Four of the five candidates running for three spots on the township council attended the event. Candidate Todd VanDuren was not able to attend, Tea Party members said.
Current Councilman John Roth spoke about what he’s done in the past eight years as a councilman, and previously on the Board of Education and on the Mahwah Planning Board. Roth spoke of his negotiations with Cablevision on behalf of the township, proposal to change banking services and budget negotiations “through three different mayors.” All of that, he said, has allowed him to “save the township in excess of $1 million” during his time in office.
Roth explained why he was against the recycling privatization proposal, saying he “couldn’t be sold on the [proposed] savings" when analyzing the proposal to cut several township employees and pay for a private recycling firm.
Roth also brought one of his campaign signs to demonstrate his opposition to a recent proposal to limit the posting of temporary signs in the public right-of-way. “This represents my right and yours to free speech,” he said of the sign. “It is part of Americana, it’s part of our town.”
Steve Sbarra, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the council last year, spoke of his experience as a volunteer in the township’s sports programs, 20 years experiences working “in the corporate world,” and experience as a local small business owner – Sbarra opened a Sports Clips franchise in Wyckoff last year.
Sbarra spoke of mending the “divide” in current local government. “We’ve had a divided council on the DPW issue, and a divided council on the sign ordinance,” he said. Over the past two years, Sbarra said he has felt council members have been politically motivated in certain votes. “We need to address every issue fairly, not politically,” he said.
Sbarra also explained his campaign position that he will try to reduce taxes, but not at the expense of any services offered by the township.
Current Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio spoke of her 24 years on the township council, and time served as a volunteer with many other organizations in Mahwah, including the ambulance corps. She opposes, she said, the Crossroads mall development, privatizing the ambulance corps and privatizing the recycling department. “Laying people off is a band-aid, and I’m not a band-aid person,” she said.
DiGiulio said she believed the biggest issue for elected officials this year will be taxes. She called the current contract negotiations with township worker unions and the upcoming budget process a “great opportunity” to look at restructuring departments and eliminating scaled “bonuses” in DPW and police department contracts.
Election newcomer Jonathan Marcus spoke of his history in the township, much of which is connected to volunteer work at Ramapo College. Marcus serves on the college’s ‘Strategic Planning Task Force,’ which is planning for the school’s next five years, and on the Board of Governors, which he said “raises millions of dollars every year,” for the college. “I’d like to see the [town’s] partnership with the college grow,” he said. Marcus also spoke of his professional experiences as a lawyer for both large law firms and a ‘Big 4’ tax company.
“I believe in small government,” he said, and in the taxpayer “getting the best band for their buck. The government serves us, we do not serve the government.”
Marcus also focused on the “young family perspective” he said he would bring to the council. “I believe in planning,” he said. “I want to make this town a place my daughters [will be proud] to live in and be able to live in when they grow up.”
Former Mahwah Councilman and current Bergen County Freeholder Rob Hermansen was the only freeholder candidate to attend the meeting. He spoke of actions taken during his time in that office, namely helping reduce county tax increases from 8% to 0% and 1.8% in the past two years, and putting the county budget online to make it more accessible.
Hermansen also explained his opposition to the proposed merger of the county police and sheriff departments. “There is no plan, and I don’t ever do anything without a plan,” he said. “I’m not going to promise taxpayers we can save them money and then find out afterward we couldn’t.”