NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – With a few exceptions, three candidates for two vacancies on the Borough Council appeared to be like-minded as they debated in amicable and friendly discussions at Thursday night’s debate at Memorial Library. One clear departure was on the subject of recreation.
During the 80-minute debate, Republican candidates Alan Lesnewich, Gary Kapner and Independent Victor Moschella fielded a broad array of questions ranging from municipal consolidation with neighboring towns, property taxes, services, buckling sidewalks and recreation facilities.
During opening statements, Kapner, founding member and past president of the New Providence Business and Professional Association, cited his qualifications to serve.
“I have the vision and expertise to serve on the Borough Council. I need your help to get the job done,” Kapner said. He added the borough must grow in a responsible manner and parking problems in the Downtown Business District must be addressed.
Lesnewich added some humor as he talked about his life-long residency in the borough. “I was here when there were no traffic lights or shopping mall,” as he noted growth in the borough.
Eight years ago, he founded and served as president of the New Providence Athletic Foundation which raised funds to provide artificial turf and lights at the high school’s Lieder Field. As a member of the Borough Council for the past two years, he proudly noted that New Providence is one only six communities in the country with a AAA bond rating.
Supportive of Borough Council efforts, Moschella said nevertheless, the borough cannot continue addressing problems in the same old way. He said the council should be responding to the needs of the community rather than reducing services such as garbage collection and leaf vacuuming.
Moschella said New Providence should investigate consolidation with neighboring communities to form one township with one government, one mayor, one town council, one Board of Education, one police department and one fire department.
Both Republican candidates took issue with Moschella’s proposal. Lesnewich said he saw no reason to merge with other communities. Kapner said the cost of consolidation could be very high and there was no evidence that the borough could save money. He referred to a study conducted by Rutgers University that urged caution in approaching consolidation. He added that shared services are the way to go.
Attendees at the debate also raised questions about the state of existing recreation facilities and how to finance improvements.
Councilman Lesnewich cited a recent example as Hillview Field where the borough received a matching grant from Union County, used Open Space Trust funds and plans to issue $190,000 in notes or bonds to finance the improvements.
Moschella took issue with bonding saying there was over $400,000 in the Open Space Trust fund which would eliminate the need for borrowing.
Moschella also stated that he believes recreation is "a luxury" and that "it's a luxury" the Borough "can't afford" to be paying for.
Candidates were asked how they would draw new business to the borough. Kapner responded that the Downtown Business District needs to become more user-friendly and parking problems resolved. He added that both the Planning and Zoning Boards needed to streamline their processes in order to make it easier for businesses to move into town.
Lesnewich cited recent borough efforts which have led two new businesses – Strawberry Fields and Fan Bistro.
Moschella said the borough should consider reducing local taxes for small businesses to offer an incentive for others to move to the borough.
With Hurricane Sandy possibly bearing down on New Jersey, candidates were asked about emergency precautions.
Moschella said that since Hurricane Irene had caught everyone off-guard, many improvements have been made. “The town did the best they could,” Moschella said. His comments were echoed by the two Republican candidates.
Since Irene, the borough has purchased and installed a new emergency generator in the Municipal Building, Lesnewich said. “We’ll be ready for that storm on Monday,” he added.
Candidates were asked about enforcement of speed limits in the borough particularly those streets that have a 25-mph maximum. Lesnewich said that police need to enforce all speed laws. Moschella suggested installing cameras, if economically feasible, and send tickets to violators in the mail. “It could generate some additional revenue,” he said.
Asked what steps the borough could take to reduce taxes, Lesnewich pointed out that the borough only controls 20 percent of the total tax burden. He added that Union Country takes 20 percent and the Board of Education takes 60 percent.
Moschella made another plug for municipal consolidation saying that taxes could be reduced by reducing the size of government.
Kapner said that many of the expenses that the borough faces are outside of borough control. He added examples like gasoline, utilities and insurance.
All three candidates were opposed to any movement to merge services with Union County. “It’s best to keep things in-house, keep it local in a financially responsible way,” Lesnewich said.
Candidates also received questions concerning buckling sidewalks and overgrown hedges. Moschella said there must be existing ordinances that govern those circumstances.
The status of empty Mountain Ave. properties was also discussed.
Kapner said the former Allstate building located at the intersection of South St. and Mountain Ave. was scheduled to receive demolition permits in January 2013. That property will be the site of a continuing care facility.
Lesnewich added that the somewhat empty BOC buildings along Mountain Ave. are in the process of being re-populated.
“We should look at why buildings are empty and why people have left,” Moschella said. He added the borough should find incentives to bring them back.
Residents also expressed interest in the possibility of savings through shared services with other communities. Lesnewich said the borough is currently in discussions with Summit to establish a joint Emergency Services Dispatch System. He added the two towns already share a brine machine that lays down a coating on roads to reduce ice and snow build-up prior to a storm. The candidate was also strongly opposed to combining school districts. “I don’t see any incentive for New Providence to share school services,” he said.
Moschella said it was time to wipe the slate clean and investigate every opportunity. “It’s something that we need to look at and not put on the back burner just because New Providence is good as it is.”
In his closing statement, Moschella stressed the need to look at things differently. “We need to take more responsibility for our town and become more involved,” he said.
Lesnewich, in his closing remarks, again took issue with subject of consolidation. “I agree you have to think out of the box, but I don’t want to be part of an experiment.”
Kapner, owner of a small 37-year-old business that has been in the Borough for 27 years, urged responsible economic development and greater involvement by the community in borough affairs.
Elections will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.