Name: Richard N. Leonard
Current Occupation: Member of the Roseland Borough Council: broker at Arcadia, REALTORS; Founder, SellBuyZip.com
Education: Roseland Public Schools; West Essex Regional High School; Boston University (BA Political Science); Montclair State University (Masters, Teaching); Rutgers University (NJ Tax Assessment)
Family: Wife, Lee Ann Eltzholtz was a Verona resident before marriage and moving to Roseland; daughter Mackenzie, graduate of West Essex High School and University of Vermont; son Connor, graduate West Essex High School and attended University of Vermont
Years Lived in West Essex: 65. Lifelong Roseland resident and proud to be third generation to have served on Roseland Borough Council.
Q: Why are you running for Freeholder?
A: I have had the honor of serving my home community of Roseland as a Mayor (1975-1986) and a member of the Borough Council (1973-74; 1987-2004 and 2011-present). Early in my life I learned from both my mother and father the importance of local government.
My dad was a council member in Roseland before becoming Roseland's first borough administrator and later administrator in Verona. My mother was secretary to the mayor and council in Roseland in addition to answering police phones and collecting taxes.
Growing up I learned about the importance of infrastructure (water, roads, bridges and buildings) and services (snow plowing, garbage collection, library, police, first aid and fire departments). Our dining room discussions were more likely to revolve around a Borough or County issue than trying to analyze why a particular team won a certain game.
Capping a career in local government, I believe it would be helpful to have someone with my municipal background and experience on the Freeholder Board. While running for office in Roseland I was elected initially as a Democrat in a Republican leaning town. I was also elected once as an Independent when I was part of an effort to create non-partisan local elections. For my past two terms in Roseland I have been elected as a Republican. Being selected by the Republican party to run for Freeholder in Essex County is an honor. If elected, I will do what I have also tried to do: serve with an open mind and seek to solve some of the economic and planning challenges facing Essex County.
Q: How do you feel about property taxes in Essex County? Please explain.
A: Essex County taxes have reached the point where many residents question whether they can afford to remain residents of both Essex County and New Jersey. I will highlight the tax burden with a sampling of five of the 11 municipalities in the 4th Freeholder District:
Cedar Grove: $11.239 million base tax and $341,501 open space tax
Fairfield: $12.667 million base tax and $382,446 open space tax
Livingston: $36.885 million base tax and $1,116,000 open space tax
Verona: $11.023 million base tax and $334,897 open space tax
West Caldwell: $11.411 million base tax and $346,805 open space tax
The amount of tax paid by the 11 towns in the 4th Freeholder District is huge. I will review each and every line item before voting either "yes" or "no" on a county budget. In my years in Roseland I have supported every budget as a council member because I had the chance to help set the tone and direction of spending in the municipality. Before I vote on the 2015 Essex County budget I will do a thorough review of the budget and seek the assistance of municipal officials with that review.
In 2013 between my business and my family we paid $26,521.50 in property taxes to the Borough of Roseland for municipal, school, county and open space taxes.. Approximately 25% of that amount (just over $6,600) was paid to Essex County. My goal is to reverse the growth of county spending including spending by the Essex County Improvement Authority.
The ECIA recently announced that it was accepting bids for the sale of the Bears and Eagles Stadium in Newark. The minimum bidding price is $30,000,000. The county residents should never have been asked to fund the stadium in the first place. It's time to rein in spending and truly put Essex County residents and taxpayers first. For county government to be able to continue to provide basic services, the private sector must grow faster than the public sector spending. Additionally, a focal point of my Freeholder service will be to encourage private sector growth throughout Essex County including the revitalization and marketing of the many "downtown" and Main Street areas throughout Essex County.
Q: Besides running for office, what other ways are you involved in the community?
A: From being named an honorary Girl Scout while I served as mayor to being a member of the North Essex Chamber of Commerce I have been involved in the West Essex area my entire life. I have served as a Little League Baseball coach, served as chair of Roseland United Way Campaign, and been a charter member of the Roseland Historical Society, a donor to various community organizations with prizes such as tickets to Papermill plays and time shares to help raise money for school and civic groups.
I also served as president of the Roseland Rotary Club and served as moderator and host of the cable show "A Talk with Your Mayor" for over ten years on Suburban Cable and later Comcast Cable.
Aside from being a Roseland Council member and Mayor I had the privilege of serving as a member of the West Essex School District Board of Education. I have always said that serving as a member of either a school board or a board of adjustment are probably the two most challenging positions citizens can serve in. Having served as a member of the West Essex Board of Education only confirmed the valuable role school board members play in our communities. I am also thrilled to know that the Grover Cleveland Homestead will soon have a museum to add to the attraction of the Caldwell Landmark.
Q: What should people know about you that they might not know already?
A: Having a track record of service in my home community of Roseland permits me to highlight a few "creative" things I have done:
1. Non-System Water Source: I pushed for and helped establish a "non-system" water source for Roseland residents in case of a water quality or distribution crisis. This initiative created a water well operated by a generator to be used in case of emergency.
2. EMT Bonus for Police: I was sponsor of a bonus for police officers who "get and maintain" an Emergency Medical Technician certification annually. While volunteer First Aid Squads are a valuable community resource it is often the police officer who responds initially to a 9-1-1 call. One of Roseland's newest police officer who joined the department with EMT certification was involved with a lifesaving call on his day off duty.
3. Analysis of Property Sales Annually: Each year the New Jersey Division of Taxation establishes an equalization table which provides the mechanism for distribution of county and shared service agreement payments (i.e., regional school tax distribution and consolidated school tax allocations).
By completing my tax assessment training when I first became mayor, I understood the importance of carefully reviewing which sales are "usable" and which sales are "not usable" as it has applied to the community I have served for over 30 years. In seeking to represent the 11 communities of the 4th Freeholder District I have suggestions which will help create a "fair and equitable" treatment tax wise for the communities I will represent. The 4th District communities pay a huge portion of the Essex County budget.
Q: What else would you like to say?
A: While campaigning for re-election in Roseland one year, a Pitcairn Park resident said to me, "Leonard, I don't even like you but I always vote for you."
While shocked initially I understood what he meant with that very direct statement. Residents may not always agree with me but they know where I stand on issues facing the citizens I represent. They know that I always try to do what is necessary to keep Roseland safe and affordable.
I will provide the same commitment to the residents of the 4th District as a Freeholder. For voters wishing to follow my campaign in the days leading up to the November 4 general election, I invite them to view my Facebook account by searching Rich Leonard 4 Freeholder Essex County NJ. I also invite voters to email me with any other questions they may have about my candidacy at RichLeonard@aol.com.