I have lived in Berkeley Heights for over 40 years, and my wife and I raised our son here. We like this town – its small town character, its abundance of open land, and its many friendly people. But I am increasingly dissatisfied with the direction our local government is moving our town and that is why I am running for Town Council. Our taxes are too high and continue to grow at an alarming rate. Municipal taxes alone have increased nearly 20% in the last six years. High taxes discourage people from moving here, can force our senior long-term residents to move away, and make it more difficult for local businesses. Many of the actions the Council has taken in the last few years will make the tax situation worse, not better. They have proposed more than doubling our debt to pay for a $28M Municipal Complex and have not revisited the plans for the complex to see if its cost can be lessened. What is worse, they did this in a high-handed way that denied voters any chance to have a say in the form of a referendum. Even the Mayor acknowledged that the Council did not know if the voters would approve more than doubling the town’s debt. I regard the way they handled the whole swap and municipal complex as a betrayal of public trust. I have long been an advocate of referendums on large public expenditures and would never support such a denial of voter rights. The Council is negotiating Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements, essentially 30 year tax abatements, for many of the developments in our Affordable Housing settlement. The NJ Comptrollers Report of 2010 discourages the use of PILOTs and requires cost/benefit analysis before approval. I have seen no evidence at Council meetings or in records of correspondence that any such analyses have been done. Mr. Faecher recently claimed that we would not finalize any agreements without studies, but the agreement for 100 Locust was executed on February 15, 2017, without any indication of a study. Tax abatements represent lost revenue for the Township (and because of the structure of the agreements, even bigger losses for the schools), but without seeing studies we have no way of knowing if these losses are outweighed by any benefits. I would seriously question the need for similar agreements in the future and insist on careful studies before they are approved. The Council has regularly adopted a 3.5% boost in capped expenditures. This is a back-handed way to allow for a bigger budget. The Council said they had never used the money from this boost, but in fact they have in 7 of the last 13 years. I would vote against these 3.5% budget cap increases I have proposed that we cap expenditures so that municipal taxes will not go up. I have carefully studied previous budgets and believe I can identify sources of waste and ways to control expenditures without sacrificing services. I will advocate that any additional revenues from new construction and from the Embassy Suites’ hotel room tax be used to pay down debt rather than be used as an excuse for additional expenditures. Another major complaint I have with the current Council is its apparent unwillingness to be open about the impact of its decisions. While it is true they held many meetings to get citizen input on the Municipal Complex, the basic decisions to do the land swap, build on the site of the current Town Hall, and issue $28M in bonds were never up for discussion. In its push to meet our Affordable Housing obligations, the Council was quick to point out the number of affordable units in each of the planned developments, yet it was only recently that the voters became aware that these agreements will lead to over 850 new housing units in the next few years, most of them rentals. These developments do not fit into the 2007 Master Plan which calls for continued emphasis on single family residences. This more than 10% rapid population growth will have major impacts on infrastructure, traffic, schools, and most importantly the small-town character that drew so many of us to Berkeley Heights. Yet this has been given almost no publicity. (Most townspeople became aware of the issue only after Watchung sent a representative to our Council meeting to complain about the impact of 328 rental units at Connell.) Surely this type of major change to our community deserved an opportunity for voter discussion and input. The Council talks of openness and transparency, yet it has closed committee meetings to the public. Very often all the Council members are in agreement, so we never get to hear a real debate on the merits of proposals. Its members have been impatient and rude to residents speaking at meetings. If elected I will welcome citizen input and treat residents with respect. I have a history of standing up for open communication by the Council and for advocating referendums on substantial issues so that voters’ opinions are taken into account. Together, my running mate John Leo and I can move and second motions for discussion and open up a real debate on issues. Finally, I propose an acceleration of the road repaving program. Waiting until 2027 to fix a road that was deemed in Poor condition in 2014 is unacceptable. Five years should be sufficient to bring all roads up to at least Good condition. It’s time to control taxes, repair our roads, and revitalize our downtown. It’s time to change the mindset of the Council, bring light to the actions they are taking, and welcome and respect resident input. If this is the direction you’d like to see for Berkeley Heights, I urge you to vote Column F, Foregger and Leo, next Tuesday.
Editor's Note: Dr. Foregger states the council has "regularly adopted a 3.5% boost in capped expenditures. This is a back-handed way to allow for a bigger budget. The Council said they had never used the money from this boost, but in fact they have in 7 of the last 13 years." The documentation Foregger provided to TAPinto Berkeley Heights was based on informational worksheets provided by the State prior to the introduction and adoption of the budget. Township CFO Mike Marceau advised TAPinto the Cap bank has been used twice since 2006. "He (Foregger) is using an information document before the budget is adopted. Actual information is available in the budget and is available on the township website. The rest is available through the clerk," said Marceau.
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