MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Tea Party held a candidates’ night on September 24 at the Senior House. Republican candidate Frank Cooney and Democrat candidate Dan Grant made opening statements and answered questions from the audience.
Cooney spoke first and stated he felt it was time to give back to the community that has given him so much. He stated he will bring a different skill set to the Township Committee as a local business owner, and that he will add “business acumen and practicality to the mix.” He stated he will make public health and safety a top priority, and that after 20 years on the Montville Township First Aid Squad and the Police Department, he will bring fresh thinking and knowledge to the team. He stated that Montville Township has a growing drug problem that the community needs to work together to stop. He stated he will protect the interests of the senior population, and that he has a vision of a vibrant, thriving Montville.
Grant spoke second and said Cooney is a good friend of his and he will not say anything bad about him, but his page is blank for service to the Township Committee. He feels that Cooney’s allegiance, if elected, would be to the “committee of five,” whereas Grant has a different perspective. He stated he objects to funds removed from the budget of the MUA and from the library to make it look as though taxes are not increasing. He stated the Township has made land purchases that “benefitted friends and political allies that should never have happened, and there was no voice of opposition on the Committee.” He stated Cooney had always voted with the majority when Cooney was on the Board of Education, “which is not a bad thing, but the Township Committee serves a different function.”
Cooney rebutted Grant’s claim about his time on the BOE and stated he voted for what was best for the children.
Both candidates were then asked about the Towaco construction project proposal. (Read about it HERE)
Grant stated he is opposed to it and stated this is the problem with “not having an opposition voice.” He stated the proposed construction is on an “environmentally sensitive area and there really was no objection to that. In fact, the Master Plan was changed to increase development in the Township, which is generally something I’m opposed to.” He stated the property should be purchased by the Township because of its environmental sensitivity, and that the Board of Adjustments “is asking the right questions.”
Cooney stated he believes property owners have rights and that the property has been for sale for 20 years, when Grant was on the Township Committee.
“If my opponent thought the land was that sensitive of a property, and it is, why wasn’t it purchased then? I know it’s out of the Township Committee’s hands, but I would like to see that project downsized tremendously. Get rid of the housing, let them put a strip mall there in the front, where it’s not so sensitive a property, but I believe the citizens of Montville have a right to good, clean water.”
Grant rebutted Cooney’s question by saying that when he was on the Township Committee, the Committee purchased hundreds of acres using a priority system, and the property by the train station was “not under development pressure. We bought all of the property from Abbott Lane to Waughaw, and other properties behind it in the area that are all environmentally sensitive,” said Grant.
“The Master Plan was changed, I believe three years ago, to increase development in the Township through that whole corridor, and up through this corridor [near the Senior House] as well. I’m a little confused because we did have a plan for this intersection [Changebridge at 202], that did not make it four lanes in front of the Senior House and the businesses that are in front of the police station, which the Township had OK’ed when the County came in. I think it represents a real hardship, especially when senior citizens come in and out of here, to have to cross four lanes of traffic to make the left turn. Our plan just required an additional right turn lane at the traffic light. Now they’re building four lanes going in to a one-lane bridge so it doesn’t make a lot of sense. These are issues that have gone on, without objection anywhere. If I had been on the Township Committee I would have asked questions and objected,” said Grant.
Moderator Scott Russell posed a written question regarding the County’s solar project and if it should be completed. Russell stated he believed the Montville Township Public Library is part of that project, which has ongoing litigation.
Grant stated he is not very familiar with all the details of the problems with the project, but he does know that he objects to the current state of the plaques of the volunteers and donors to the Library being moved. He stated he objects even more to the Township taking Library money into its budget when he has heard a lot of complaints about the amount of available books and other media.
“[The Library] does a good job on services, but they’re short on product,” said Grant.
Cooney stated he is not familiar with the background of the solar project, but he is familiar with the solar projects installed at the various schools, and stated the school district administration is happy with the panels.
Russell read another written question asking the candidates how they would save money here in town.
Cooney stated he thinks the current Committee has done an excellent job over the years, but that “facilities and areas in town are now lagging behind, and it’s time to re-prioritize upgrades to capital improvements while keeping taxes stable, in order to maintain the infrastructure.”
“The Township built a lot of buildings all at once, about every three years, and now it’s time to make repairs,” stated Cooney.
Grant said there isn’t a building in town that he didn’t have a vote on, one way or another, but “we did it at a time when the previous Committee had a plan for 7,000 moving into the Town. We had townhouse developments going up, an awful lot of people coming in, and we used the additional ratables to pay for a lot of that [building of new facilities]. Now it becomes a maintenance issue, and what the town has done is privatize a lot of areas which really doesn’t save a lot of money. When you go around town and look at the actual work that’s being done, our own people could do it better; we just have to have enough of our own people to do it.
“I spend a lot of time in town looking at things that I’m very proud of that I participated in, and when I see them going downhill because of lack of attention, or lack of money being spent on it, I don’t like it.
“But first we have to have an accurate assessment of what the tax burden is in town. You don’t get that – Frank wants to give them credit for stabilizing taxes without saying that they have taken, literally, millions of dollars from water and sewer rate payers to pump into the general fund, so you’re not getting a fair reflection. And bear in mind that property taxes are tax deductible, water and sewer rates are not. So you’re getting a double whammy, because you’re paying too much for water and sewer, and it’s going into the township tax base, so you don’t know what your true property tax is.”
Cooney added that “another way to bring in some ratables to our town, is to become more business friendly. There are so many issues in town when people come in with a small business. There are a lot of obstacles when going in front of the boards. We need to attract more businesses to Montville.”
Grant stated, “Streamlining the process is good, as long as all of the steps in the process are done on a faster basis. I think what we don’t want to do is be in a position of improving areas and then finding out after they’re over-developed -- that it was too much, that traffic studies weren’t done, that other issues come forward. The town has hired a new planner to develop the Route 46 corridor and it happens that the town hired that same planner to do the same job about 12 years ago, and not much has changed down there. What I’m afraid of, is that planner’s just going to crank out the same plan and get paid twice for it because nobody on the Committee knows that that happened.”
Resident Tom Mazzaccaro asked the candidates to back-track and state what facilities need improvement.
Grant stated it was not so much buildings as curbs, grass cutting and aesthetics that used to be handled by the Township’s roads department. He stated the 9/11 Memorial in the park was in disrepair and citizens, including Cooney, cleaned it up for the ceremony, but that “these kinds of things should be ongoing. The Township is big, but it’s not that big,” stated Grant.
Towaco resident Dan Pagano stated that the Committee mentioned the School District is interested in hiring a school resource [police] officer, and that the Township would pay for the officer [as TAPintoMontville has reported, that position is still being negotiated between the Township and the District]. Pagano asked if the Township should pay for the police department to hire the officer.
Cooney stated he didn’t think that the Township should pay for the resource officer. He stated he is “for” having a resource officer in the schools “to go hand-in-hand with the problem we’re having with our youngsters and in the County,” but he stated there should be “more manpower on the streets, and make sure the manpower is settled. We’ve recently had three burglaries in the last couple months, and luckily they did catch them, but a lot of highways come in and out of town, and we need to make sure we have enough on the streets before we put them full-time in the schools. We need to have them on the road,” said Cooney.
Grant stated that the Township has had “joint projects” with the Board of Education in the past and a number of improvements were made with “triple effort, involving the Township, the BOE, and citizens who would participate and contribute, which is a bargain for both areas.” He said an officer, paid for in part, or completely, by the District, would benefit the entire town.
“We never had these hard and fast lines before between the District and the town. We tried to work together, comprehensively, to get things done,” said Grant.
Resident Kurt Dinkelmeyer asked about the study conducted regarding the Township Police Department, which he believed recommended 36 officers. He asked how many officers are on the force currently, how many do the candidates recommend the force should have, and the candidates’ thoughts on the study.
Cooney stated he doesn’t think the Township Committee should decide how many officers the police should have in order to keep the Township safe, but he believes the study should be used by the chief and the township administrator as a tool. Cooney stated the chief had been at a recent meeting and stated he would be comfortable with a “40-man department.” When asked how many are on the force, he stated he wasn’t sure, due to retirements, but he thought the department was still four members short of the 40-man department. He stated “the dynamics of the town have changed since the study was done.”
Dinkelmeyer asked what dynamics have changed, and Cooney stated the problem with “the drug epidemic in the State of New Jersey and Morris County especially, homes being burglarized, the amount of traffic going through town – we lost our traffic department, which used to have three officers, while now it’s a part-time man.”
Russell interrupted Cooney to elicit Grant’s answer.
Grant stated that in 1990, “prior to many people moving into the town, there were 34 officers, and the population has increased by about seven or eight thousand people, so I think 40 is probably a justifiable number. We had a study done way back then that said 42 or 43, so these studies can reflect what the governing bodies desire them to say. That is from 15 years of experience in dealing with these studies. I do think we need more.
“We used to have five traffic zones, because when something happens at Rachel Gardens, the nearest backup was on Boonton Avenue and it would take eight to ten minutes to get there. We have to recognize what we are: we have Route 46, we have condominium developments, easy access to the highways. You could rob a house in Pine Brook and be out in Essex County in 15 minutes. We have to have a presence on the road,” said Grant.
Russell asked for closing statements, and Grant said Cooney had his vote when Cooney ran for the Board of Education, but he doesn’t think Cooney fulfills the need for the Township Committee to be more open with the community. The Committee won’t have a give and take and won’t answer questions, said Grant, and when he was on the Committee, there was a “dialogue between the people paying the bills, and the people making the decisions. That dialogue is gone, and I don’t see that changing.”
Cooney stated he has dedicated more than half of his life to serving the town through the police department and other volunteer experiences, and he feels he is “uniquely qualified” to serve the Committee, bringing a “fresh perspective,” and making “careful, thoughtful decisions, based on experience, common sense, and deep knowledge of the town.” He vowed to protect quality of life by preserving Open Space and historical heritage. He vowed to work together with others and stress greater volunteerism. He stated that going door-to-door, he has gained a greater understanding of the issues facing Montville, and he is proud to call Montville home.
For more information about Frank Cooney go to http://cooney4montville.com/#
For more information about Dan Grant go to http://www.dangrant4montville.com/