MILLBURN, NJ - TAPinto Millburn and Short Hills asked each of the three candidates the same set of questions to help readers get to know the individuals running in the upcoming primary on June 5. The Q&A's will be published one per day, in alphabetical order. TAPinto Millburn and Short Hills is not a political organization and does not endorse any candidate.
Q&A with Candidate Tara Prupis
1.Please provide a brief description of your background including your profession, your family, how long you have lived in the township.
I grew up locally, not in Millburn but in the next town over, Livingston. I came to Millburn by choice to open my business five years ago. When the business was thriving, I moved to town with my daughter who attends Millburn High School.
Before that, I graduated from Columbia University and worked in the corporate world, which did not resonate with me. My first entrepreneurial experience was opening a Montessori pre-school, where I could work and spend time with my young daughter. My passion led me to teach yoga, to open Green Nectar Juicery, and to Millburn.
2.Please provide a description of any public offices you have held. How have you participated in Millburn civic life before now?
I have been attending Township Committee meetings for over a year. I have been speaking up and, with other concerned citizens, we have created change. We were successful in getting Committee members who were indifferent to the concerns of the community removed from office and we started to reverse some of the dysfunctional changes that occurred. Thanks to the work of a determined minority of Township Committee members, the “flexible parking” is being reevaluated. I hope to join them on the Township Committee so we will have the votes to achieve a comprehensive fix for a vibrant downtown.
The Downtown Millburn Development Association was created to represent the concerns of the merchants and enhance the downtown. Unfortunately, it had become inefficient and ineffective. At DMDA meetings, I learned that the Township Committee members who were charged with overseeing the DMDA did not attend meetings and the leadership was inattentive. I was instrumental in bringing these inadequacies to light and in the past few months, we have been able to change the leadership of this organization and the Township Committee members are now paying attention. This organization now has the potential to enhance the economic vitality of our downtown, as it was intended to.
3.What motivated you to run for township committee?
I am running for Township Committee because I am deeply invested in Millburn-Short Hills as a resident, merchant and mother of a daughter in Millburn High School. The old way of doing things hasn’t been working and it’s time for fresh ideas. We need new voices and new perspectives to be represented. The elected leaders and the administration of the town need to be more responsive to the people. I hope to become a Township Committee member so we can move Millburn-Short Hills forward.
4.Do you have the endorsement of your party and if not, why do you think you don’t?
The Millburn Democratic Committee met with several candidates and in the end voted to endorse me. My opponent did not seek their endorsement. In addition, I am endorsed by Tom Malinowski our candidate for Congress, Mila Jasey our Assemblywoman, John McKeon our Assemblyman and, Democratic Township Committee Members Jackie Benjamin Lieberberg and Dianne Eglow.
5.What issues are most important to you and why?
This is not a one-issue election and we need to be honest. “Complete Streets” has had a lasting negative impact on our town. I have felt it first-hand. When “Complete Streets” happened, the front door of my store was blocked and I watched as residents and people in the surrounding towns stopped coming to downtown Millburn. The streets were inaccessible, the traffic was brutal and the orange cones were off-putting. The most iconic business in our town, the Millburn Deli was down over 40%. A store that had regional pull, Gotham, got fed up and closed, as did Gito, Futters, the new crepe restaurant on the corner that had only been open less than a year and others. Many stores closed, sold or relocated. As a result of “Complete Streets,” residents and patrons from other towns stopped coming and many have not returned. The first step toward solving this problem is to recognize that it is a problem. Because of the decline in my business and those of my fellow merchants, I started attending Township Committee meetings to speak to the elected leaders of Millburn in order to bring this issue to light. Along with other merchants and concerned residents, we implored the Township Committee members to stop the construction, pause and reevaluate Phase One. The planning and execution of “Complete Streets” ruined our downtown and have caused strife and division among our residents. The response from the majority of our elected leaders was shockingly dismissive. “No,” there would be no accommodations to correct the plan that has made our town a place that is difficult to access, navigate and find parking. This is unacceptable. The people of Millburn-Short Hills deserve committed and responsive leaders.
Of course I am concerned with other issues including high taxes, the 7-Eleven, flood mitigation, affordable housing and others. Above all, I will work to establish better two-way communication where residents are listened to and valued and out town leadership communicates clearly and often.
6.How do your positions differ from those of your opponents?
The problems caused by Complete Streets have been harmful to the residents, the merchants and the image of Millburn and that absolutely needs to be addressed. I am unequivocally opposed to Phase 2.
I have been actively involved in the Township Committee and the DMDA for about two years. My opponent only started coming to meetings after he decided to run for a seat.
I am here in town everyday with an “office” on Millburn Ave that is open for all residents to come in for conversation. I am a small business owner who has made a substantial investment in my downtown business and I understand how to work on a budget.
My opponent’s tax plan is little more than a coupon card where the merchants will be the ones who pay. Then they will have to make up the loss in higher prices. So it’s basically a wash. Even if it worked, the “savings” would not make a dent in the property taxes in town which average $24,000. What we really have to do to address high taxes is simple: bring in more revenues and control spending. I know how to do this as a business owner.
Another difference is that I’ve been endorsed by the Millburn-Short Hills Democratic Committee, by Tom Malinowski our candidate for Congress, Mila Jasey our Assemblywoman, John McKeon our Assemblyman, and Township Committee Members Jackie Benjamin Lieberberg and Dianne Eglow.
7.What challenges does Millburn face?
We need to promote a vibrant downtown by fixing the problems caused by Complete Streets including traffic and parking and we need to do it in a way that minimizes cost and disruption.
Millburn has an affordable housing obligation that we have to meet, but we have to do it appropriately, in a way that embraces the concerns of the residents. We got here because previous Township Committee administrations “kicked the can down the road,” which is the way the town was run in the past. That has to change.
We need to get a handle on our spending. For example, the new roof on the firehouse cost $400,000 and, as you know, Complete Streets cost $6-8 million dollars. The Township Committee must be better stewards of residents’ tax dollars. With the new tax law that limits our ability to deduct our state and local taxes, keeping taxes down is critical.
Millburn has challenges but Millburn also has such great assets. The schools are outstanding. We are close to New York and on the train line. The Paper Mill Playhouse, South Mountain Reservation and Taylor Park bring joy to so many. All towns have challenges but not all have so many gifts.
8.Do you believe Millburn has a cohesive community and, if not, what steps could be taken to improve this?
We are a community of homeowners and renters, young parents and retirees, families who’ve lived here for generations and newcomers, commuters, people who work locally and homemakers. We all have concerns and we all have a stake in this town. I will be a representative who listens to all constituencies. I am in Millburn every day, on the ground. I invite residents to come by my store, Green Nectar Juicery, and share their thoughts, hopes and ideas with me.
9.What is your opinion of the Complete Streets plan and what would you propose to address the problems it has created?
As a merchant in Downtown Millburn, this project has hurt my business and the other businesses in the town. It is because of the flawed communication and implementation of the project that I became engaged in our town politics. Let me be very clear, I am all for pedestrian safety. I walk to work and my daughter walks to school. I chose to open my business and move to Millburn because of its walking downtown.
However, Complete Streets has had a lasting negative impact on the town and must be fixed: streets widened, bumpouts reduced, flex parking removed, traffic patterns restored, no Phase 2 and no further use of Arterial Design Studio.
We need a comprehensive plan to address the many failings of Complete Streets in a way that is most cost effective and minimizes disruption. This plan should be developed by a committee of stakeholders to include residents, merchants, property owners, taxpayers, emergency services and the town planner.
10.What is your proposal to lower property taxes?
There is no silver bullet to keep taxes down. We must increase the money coming in by increasing rate-ables and keep tighter control on the money we spend. I would also look at ways to work with Governor Murphy on statewide initiatives as well as our Congressional delegation to try to undo some of the onerous sections of the new tax code.
11.What do you think of the fact that town’s teachers are working without a contract and do you have suggestions to resolve the obstacles to coming to agreement?
My daughter loves the High School and she loves her teachers. Working without a contract is clearly not ideal. However, the Board of Education is elected to oversee these matters and I know they are working hard to do so. That said, if I could be helpful in some way, I certainly would be. I encourage all parties to negotiate in good faith and keep the best interests of the students in mind, which I know they are doing.
12.Do you believe that the town’s residents are sufficiently involved in the management of the town and, if not, how this could be improved?
If elected to the Millburn Township Committee, I will make the leadership of our town more accessible and responsive to the needs and concerns of the community. The divisive and indifferent attitudes of the Township Committee and administration are not productive. When residents and businesses reach out, Township Committee members and Township personnel should respond within 24 hours. Township Committee meetings should be places where residents are happy to come, not places where they are stared down, their comments limited and their concerns dismissed.
Elected officials are here to serve their constituents, not their own self interests. I have been working to change this and as a member of the Township Committee, I will create an open, responsive and inclusive governing body.
Editor's Note: In the interest of full transparency, Jonathan Sym, owner of TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills, is a Republican Committeeman in Millburn Township. Mr. Sym has no involvement with any election coverage on TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills.