PLAINFIELD, NJ - Taxes. Redevelopment. Quality of Life. These are all important topics for Plainfield City Council candidates and their potential constituents. But as the clock ticks closer to Primary Election Day on Tuesday, June 4, here is an overview of where the candidates stand on some other key issues, too.
Answers below are from comments made by those who participated in the League of Women Voters forum at the duCret School of Art, and pulled from statements provided to TAPinto Plainfield in our reader series.
Going Green, Flood Zone Plans, and Being a Transit City
To many, going green conjures up images of community gardens, solar panels, and electric vehicles. And there are also calls for bans on plastic bags and straws at stores and restaurants. Plainfield City Council candidates were asked at the forum about plans to go green and being a transit city.
Rivers and Briggs-Jones said they felt that Plainfield was headed in the right direction in terms of being able to receive information electronically, and new developments near the train station are indicative of being a transit city.
Storch began, "We're doing some things, and we could do more." He called the Limebike program instituted by the administration a commendable experiment. According to statistics in Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's State of the City presentation in March, 586 riders took 1,949 rides, traveling 12,930 miles over 9,266 hours since the program was launched.
Storch also said that more walkable areas are needed, particularly around the transit zones, and noted that the Shade Tree Commission has replanted more appropriate trees.
Goode said carpooling should be encouraged, and agreed that the city was being proactive, and is headed in the right direction. He also called the Limebike program successful.
McKenna suggested replacing "seven SUVs at City Hall" with Limebikes as a start to green the city. He also stated that the master plan was not being followed to drive development, and a Wawa with gas pumps on South Avenue is not "green." He referenced a desire to mimic a solar program in Orlando, FL, piloting it in the Brisbane Estates area to be completely self-sufficient with energy.
A question on flood zone plans in Plainfield was raised.
Storch said this is something that is regulated by the federal government, and Goode added that more pressure needs to be applied at the federal level to help reduce premiums for residents not in the flood zones.
McKenna said these discussions have been ongoing, and it not only affects residents but new development. He said the city should put pressure on representatives like Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Briggs-Jones confessed she is not familiar enough on the topic, but mentioned her own personal insurance increase due to being in a flood zone.
Rivers suggested that resident involvement is needed to pressure federal and state representatives.
According to the 2016 Union County Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) update, the high number of flood insurance claims in Plainfield (748) and the relatively low amount of the claims ($4,973) suggests a relatively high level of vulnerability to floods in the community, in terms of the numbers of claims versus the overall number of parcels (10,585) but not in terms of the presumed severity of flooding based on the claims amounts.
Supporting Union Workers
Candidates were asked at the forum where they stand on unions.
McKenna said he is in support of them. “Union wages drive up non-union wages." He added, "We don’t enforce our requirements here in the city when we have developments. We have random set asides - ten percent, five percent - we don't track it." He noted that the city should hold developers accountable to hire local workers, especially if they are getting a PILOT.
Goode said, “I'm in support of union workers, but what about the skilled worker that's not union who needs work right here in our city?" He said charity begins at home, and there should be a focus on workers who need work locally.
Storch was concerned that a strict requirement for union workers could deter some developers. He said there could be opportunities to use union workers, but it shouldn't be done exclusively. He added that developers should utilize local tradesmen for projects within the city.
Rivers said, "I support the unions one hundred percent, but I also support my community." She mentioned past promises by developers who were supposed to set aside twenty percent of their jobs for local workers, adding that those promises had not been fulfilled.
In a January interview with JMF Properties Founder Joseph Forgione, whose firm is building Quin Sleepy Hollow on South Avenue, he said there are very few contractors with 30-man crews in this area who can handle the job. He said he wasn't bashing the local talent, but rather there just aren't that many of the contractors they need out there.
Briggs-Jones, a union member herself, suggested that standards for developers should be set from the beginning. "I am pro union all the way."
A list of professionals and local contractors is maintained by the city for developers to provide local employment opportunities. Residents and local contractors can call (908) 226-2513 to be added to the list.
Working with the Plainfield School District
This question was posed to candidates in our reader series. Here's how three of the candidates who answered the question responded.
Goode said the council has a liaison who communicates directly with members of the school district. "We have worked hard to increase our involvement and input, and have not been well received. It’s important that both entities have a effective, professional, and non-confrontational working relationship in order for our positive efforts to be successful."
McKenna called it the million dollar question. He said the city can help the district by supporting before and after school programs that complement the mission of the school system. He also called for support of existing non-profits, calling it an easy and cost-effective way to work with the district.
"I think the largest impact that the city could have in this area is the creation of a well designed and robust youth/community center that incorporates educational and physical activities to help Plainfield youth stay busy and focused on their areas of interest," McKenna wrote.
Rivers said, "The situation at the school district definitely has room for improvement. I suggest that a credible firm be hired to seek out potential employees, such as a superintendent, that would bring viable solutions to existing problems. Offer classes and local conferences to both city and school officials on building work relationships."
The Neighborhood Health Center is in bankruptcy court. What would you propose if it closes?
Rivers said, "I truly hope we don't lose it." She recommend that resources be provided to the community to provide citizens with alternatives, and referenced the city’s lack of communication and transparency that began with Muhlenberg Hospital closing. According to Rivers, “This is new information that no one knows.”
Storch said the health center has been in bankruptcy for years. He noted he has been involved in the discussions for over a year and a half, adding that the board is being reorganized, and he is involved with recruiting a new CEO.
According to Goode, “This would be chaotic if this was to happen as many residents rely on the health center for many reasons. We should explore immediate resources for the community.”
McKenna stated that the health center has been struggling for years, and the conversations should be happening every day instead of seeing institutions like this die and then try to fill the gap after the fact. He added that the city needs to be more responsive and proactive before things get to a dire state.
Recommendations on the homeless population in town
Rivers recommended that the city reach out to homeless individuals, utilize several city-owned vacant buildings, and create re-entry programs to help solve the problem.
Storch mentioned services provided by Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, where he serves as CEO, that address homelessness and mental health issues. Bridgeway is located in Elizabeth, Storch said, but it serves all of Union County. He said there is a street outreach program, and it has been expanded to help homeless youth and youth that are risk for homelessness. He also said there are wrap around services that are available.
McKenna discussed the void left by the former YMCA shelter, and the lack of support from the current administration that decided to partner with the Gateway YMCA for shelter services. Residents have to be bused to the Elizabeth center.
Goode said Plainfield Action Services provides referral services, and resources should be pulled together to address the growing problem.
Briggs-Jones felt it was important to provide services and shelter locally here in Plainfield.
Want to learn more about the candidates?
Bridget Rivers: Who's Running for City Council - Bridget Rivers
- Candidate Statement: Cory Storch for Plainfield City Council
- Facebook - Cory Storch for City Council
Missed the forum? Catch it on the League of Women Voters of Plainfield Facebook page, or watch it here:
Editor's Note: Jennifer Popper, an editor of TAPinto Plainfield, is a candidate for the Democratic municipal committee in Plainfield.
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