MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ - Each week leading to the November 6 election, the candidates running for Mountainside Borough Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Mountainside.

The following answer is from Democratic Candidate for Borough Council Ileana Montes for Week 2.

Question: Residents are concerned about rising taxes in Mountainside. The tax bill is made up of numbers from the County, School and Borough. The Borough's portion of the tax bill is the smallest. Many costs are out of the council's control with the rising cost of services and employee benefits. However, tax payers want to know how you will control the budget while maintaining and improving infrastructure issues and services and preparing for the future. Please explain your plan.

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Residents are right to be concerned about rising taxes in Mountainside. While our current leadership loves to claim Mountainside has the second-lowest taxes in Union County, looking at the rate we pay reveals that this claim is misleading. Residents of Berkeley Heights, Cranford, Springfield, and Summit all pay lower municipal tax rates than we do and unless we start taking a closer look at our budget and working harder to eliminate unnecessary spending, this trend will only get worse.

I have run my own law practice for 15 years. As Director of the New Jersey Division of Women and Director of the Equal Opportunity Employment Office, I managed multi-million-dollar programming budgets. I know where to apply for more state monies to offset Borough costs, how to get the best value for the lowest cost, and how to comb through budget plans to find new ways to save.

I will put this experience to work in Mountainside to guarantee that we keep taxes in check and provide the best services. I will be a true advocate for Mountainside taxpayers, going through every budget and spending proposal with a fine-toothed comb to make sure we are taking advantage of every opportunity to save. We cannot be content with doing the same things we’ve done in the past. We need to actively seek out new technology and build relationships with new companies that can improve efficiency and provide better services at a lower cost.

It is also critical that our leaders on Council do not let friendships and family relationships get in the way of finding the best value for taxpayers. Nepotism has no place in Borough Hall and should not influence the bidding process either. That is why Anjali and I have proposed a plan to revamp our Ethics Review Board to ensure there is an independent watchdog double-checking our spending decisions to ensure that we are making the best choices for Mountainside taxpayers.

This new Ethics Review Board will also ensure that Mountainside taxpayers do not end up on the hook for any more unnecessary legal fees. Since March, Council has already racked up $400,000 in legal fees, settlements, and other costs associated with the lawsuit against Mountainside, and the costs keep on piling up. We cannot afford to let this happen again.

In addition to saving, it is also crucial that we make sure to spend tax dollars on the services and programs Mountainside taxpayers want. Anjali and I have a plan to de-mystify the budget by sharing concise summaries of Mountainside spending. We will hold meetings where residents can offer input on spending and will create an online portal for you to vote on your top spending priorities. Increasing transparency and accountability are crucial to ensuring that we provide the services you need without breaking the bank.

Council can keep taxes under control, but only if we take responsibility for spending and put in the hard work needed to eliminate waste, improve efficiency, and listen to Mountainside residents’ priorities.