MONTVILLE, NJ – Residents gathered at the Senior House on Oct. 25 to hear Montville Township Committee candidates Matthew Kayne, Emily Ryzuk, Lucy Tullo and June Witty debate.
With long-term committee members Mayor Jim Sandham and Deb Nielson stepping down, two positions will be opening on Jan. 1, 2018. Kayne and Witty are running for the Republican party, while Ryzuk and Tullo are running for the Democrat party.
The candidates were given two minutes to make opening statements, answered seven questions, and closed for two minutes. The debate was moderated by TAPinto Montville owner and publisher Hope White. The order for answering questions was rotated, but candidates were kept in the same order for opening and closing statements.
Ryzuk opened by stating she is married with two young children and is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice. She is a long-time Montville resident and has run a sexual assault center for Morris County, providing counseling, accompanying rape victims to the hospital and writing grants, she said. She helped establish the Morris Alliance in the Prevention of Sexual Assault and studied political science at Drew University under former Governer Thomas Kean, and interned for Congressman Bill Pascrell in Paterson, she said.
“These experiences gave me exposure and knowledge to state politics and government,” Ryzuk said. “My experiences running a county agency and writing grants taught me the inner workings of actual programs and the money behind these programs.”
Ryzuk said she and her husband were ecstatic to buy and restore an old stone house in the community, but were “blissfully unaware” of the issues in the town, such as Pilgrim Pipeline, the “environmental burden of overdevelopment,” the taxes and the drug issue, because of the disconnect from her day-to-day life and the town’s leadership and community, she said.
“People don’t want to or don’t know how to be involved,” she said, “which has led to apathy.”
Ryzuk decried one-party rule and said it leads to peer pressure against anyone speaking up.
Witty opened next and said she is a lifelong Montville resident, growing up and raising her family in town. She was the nurse at the high school for 21 years and continues to serve as a forensic nursing consultant. She said that she and candidate Matt Kayne have met many residents and heard their stories, and spoke of “Mary” (not her real name), who had recently lost her niece to opiate overdose, and the family’s difficulty in dealing with the disease of addiction over the past years.
“The opiate epidemic has no boundaries and has affected our community, our state and our nation as a whole,” Witty said. “I will bring passion to all the concerns related to the community.”
These issues include the opiate epidemic, protecting our aquifer and natural resources, keeping our neighborhoods safe, continued fiscal responsibility, careful review of development, and “always putting our citizens’ concerns first with enhanced communication,” Witty said.
Tullo opened next and said she and her husband have three children and are also long-time Montville residents. Tullo was on the Valhalla Civic Association, holding several board positions, and the PTAs for her children’s school, also holding several board positions, she said. She also runs a small business. She volunteers with the Montville Education Association and is on the Montville Stigma-Free Task Force, Sustainable New Jersey and the Montville Township Green Team.
“My environmental activism goes way back to 1972 when I participated in the first-ever Earth Day,” Tullo said.
Tullo is also the founder, with her daughter Veronica, of Help Educate At Risk Teens (HEART) a group for teenage suicide and depression awareness.
“My decision to run for township committee comes from my desire to create a committee where all town residents are represented, and ideas matter,” Tullo said. “I want Montville to become a town that other towns aspire to be like.”
Kayne has been president of the Board of Education for about two years, he said.
“I have been an elected official in our town for nine years,” he said.
He has attended more than 200 public meetings during that time, Kayne said, where issues were addressed and resolved.
“I have worked with, and listened to, parents and citizens, teachers, other employees, administrations and students,” he said.
Kayne said he has made hard decisions, led meetings, chaired negotiations, and shown a way to build trust and respect through character, actions and behavior. Kayne said he has other sides of his perspective he hopes to bring to the position. He has been a volunteer for longer than he has been an elected official, he said, and his family is a product of the school district.
Kayne said he is a practicing dentist and has been a small business owner for more than 30 years. He has been “walking with June for several months,” he said, and has heard “similar stories” from friends and neighbors.
“We have heard your issues, your concerns, your high praises for this wonderful community of ours,” he said. “I am the candidate who has town-wide public official experience and I am running to bring those skills to the township committee.”
The first question posed to the candidates was regarding taxes.
1. Taxes and how tax money is spent is always a topic of concern to residents. For example, if money is spent to pave more roads in town, then maybe some township-sponsored programs receive less funding. Where do you feel is the balance and how do these tough decisions get made?
Kayne spoke first and said he knows from his time on the Board of Education that there is a fine balance between tax burden and spending, and he will gain knowledge over time on the committee of the type of expenses necessary. He said in speaking to residents across town, he will be watchful of all spending.
Ryzuk said she is confused by the budget because she feels the taxes she pays are high. In looking at the budget, she saw $4.5 billion in taxable value and wants to do a forensic audit “to see where the money is going.” She wants to make sure it’s valuing all citizens, that seniors are not paying a burdensome amount, and make sure resources are being sustained.
Witty said roads are maintained over 15 years and the township has kept spending at less than two percent even before Governor Christie established a cap. The township budgets a surplus, has a AAA-rating, which “says a lot for our town,” so if the township has to borrow money, it is at a low rate, she said.
Tullo said the budget has to be monitored for sustainability for each area and she also wants a forensic audit done. She did not want the budget to be balanced based on money received from the library budget.
2. A tax reduction strategy could be to attract large companies to areas like Route 46. What are your thoughts on that type of strategy or do you have other ideas that may foster a reduction in taxes?
Tullo said she was interested in installing solar panels on municipal buildings to reduce energy costs. She was interested in bringing in “the right businesses for our town,” because they bring in jobs.
Kayne said he was not in favor of bringing in new businesses as a tax base strategy because Montville is already attractive enough. “Line by line there are ways to go through the various [budget] items” to reduce taxes,” Kayne said, and he recommended looking at health insurance as one, because of recent savings the Board of Education had seen.
Ryzuk said looking at budgets to reduce costs, looking at solar panels as Tullo mentioned, and adding industry on Route 46 was “not a bad idea as long as it didn’t cause traffic or place undo burden on the neighborhoods, and is done in a careful, deliberate manner.”
Kayne used his rebuttal and said that he was involved in bringing solar panels to the school buildings; he said they are cost prohibitive and the SREC programs did not work very well. The two largest schools have solar panels, Kayne said, which have saved the district close to $400,000 using clean energy, but at this point they’re cost prohibitive because there are no grants available.
Returning to answering questions, Witty said the Financial Planning Committee, composed of residents with experience in finance who make recommendations in “lowering or the need of increasing taxes in different areas. As far as solar goes, the county is losing $60 million per year on projects they put in place because they still have to pay the bonds that were taken out on that. Montville may get a little break, the rest of the county is making up that difference.”
3. In 2016, Montville Township unfortunately had the most deaths from opiates and heroin in Morris County. By the end of August this year, there were 60 drug related deaths in Morris County, according to the Morris County Sheriff, which is 7 more than the 53 deaths the county had for all of 2016. While not a simple answer, what needs to be done in Montville Township that isn’t already being done to try to reduce these numbers?
Witty said 71 opiate deaths have occurred as of Oct. 23 in Morris County and 154 narcan saves. Witty said she is on the Montville Drug Awareness Council and the County Opiate Task Force, and she and Kayne have plans to bring in programs to the Montville Township Youth Center with a facilitator to teach kids how to communicate, listen, and develop skills they can use on the outside and “hopefully make better decisions when it comes to using drugs.” She said Montville has been entered in a pilot program at the Morristown jail so that if someone is arrested for drug or alcohol use, they and a family member will be connected with a peer counselor.
Tullo said that she and the Stigma Free task force have been discussing the problem for months, and the programs need to be targeted towards parents and kids.
“It can’t just be in the schools, it has to be on a community level, because this problem affects everybody,” she said.
Running HEART with her daughter, Tullo said, “this is a problem no one wants to talk about,” but it’s a conversation that has to start at the township level, but will continue to grow if it’s not “micro-managed in town.”
Kayne said that as a dentist, he can give out prescriptions for opiates, and a patient’s life has been changed forever because a specialist gave the patient such a prescription and he has been in and out of rehab. Kayne said he and Witty are moving forward with and have been endorsed by Sheriff Gannon and it is helpful to create awareness.
Ryzuk said that she sees people struggling with addiction regularly as a psychotherapist.
“Addiction is one of those things that is best handled when everyone rallies around that person or that community,” she said.
In talking to people at Montville Day, she discovered many residents didn’t know that this is an issue in Montville – not just opiates but also alcohol in the schools, Ryzuk said. People turn to substances when they haven’t learned coping skills, she said, so “we have to go in a primary prevention manner, teaching coping skills at a very young age.”
4. A Montville Township Committee member deals with complex issues such as protecting the aquifer, deciding if the township should settle or pursue litigation in the affordable housing situation, and dealing with developers in conjunction with the Planning and Zoning Boards. Do you feel you’re up-to-date on the nuances and complexities of these issues, and that you’re ready to take on these issues for the township?
Ryzuk said she has been reading a lot and asking as many questions as possible to learn about these issues.
“To try and be an expert at every field is not something you can do,” she said.
She said she’s passionate about protecting the aquifer, banning pesticides, and is trying to learn as much as possible about affordable housing and overdevelopment.
Witty said the aquifer is very important for the community, and affordable housing is going to be an issue for Montville moving forward.
“There are properties in town that developers are already looking at,” she said. “We have developers and interveners who are advocates to push these big developments through. I think Matt and I are both on the same page to keep these big projects out.”
Tullo said there are many issues – “there are SuperFund sites in town, powerline issues, the pipeline issue, building on the aquifer, overbuilding in town – there are a lot of issues,” she said.
She said she will do her research, talk to people and she is passionate to make the right decision for the town.
Kayne said that he and June have been spending a lot of time attending township committee meetings, meeting with Township Administrator Victor Canning, and “asking the questions necessary to learn more about our town.”
He said in his monthly meetings with the mayor as part of the board of education, he learned about the roads, the pipeline and other issues.
Editor's Note: Responses to the remaining three questions posed to the Montville Township Candidates can be read HERE in the Montville Township Committee Candidates' Debate - Part II.