Leaning on decades of experience poring through budgets, council candidate Russell Forenza says he can be the finance watchdog residents need in government.
A 51-year resident of Ridgewood, the Paterson budget officer says his approach is simple – if there's a problem that needs fixing, he wants to be out in the forefront hammering out issues with all stakeholders.
You may remember the when he ran for the seat .
"I've worked in finance and budgets for 40 years," he said. "I'm very capable, I understand government, I understand how it works. I certainly can be a definite asset. If people got over and realized the Valley situation is not a factor for me – I'm working with everybody on it – I would think I should win."
, spoke of his platform with Patch.
Process isn't necessarily the problem when budgets are crafted, Forenza contends.
"Things do work when they're done properly. You can put a budget together but the guy that spends the money has to be watched over to make sure it's spent well," he said.
During the interview, Forenza made a point of noting there's often the attitude in government that because a certain dollar figure is allocated to a project, it has to be spent in full. That, he said, is lunacy, and one of the prime reasons taxes rise.
Procurement is one such way to realize savings, he said. State contracts set prices early in the year and very often months later the value of the purchase decreases.
"A way we can keep costs down is to bid everything," he said, adding "transparency" was an important item in his view.
He spoke at length on the level of services and the cost municipal government incurs. Forenza's been increasingly vocal about the police and fire contracts.
Prefacing that he fully supports the right to negotiate for public employees, he believes Village Manager Ken Gabbert and the village council left the taxpayers out to dry when renegotiating with its biggest unions, public safety. Forenza said had Village Hall waited, police and fire would have been forced to pay 1.5 percent of salary toward health insurance much sooner.
Police in Ridgewood kick in on Jan. 1, 2013 and fire follow the year after. Insurance costs account for about 14 percent of the budget and police and fire wages are another 26 percent of the $44 million budget. Police and fire currently pay on average about $480 a year, he said.
"If we caught that money, it could have gone back into the budget. Instead of laying people off we could have re-used it," he remarked. "The Manager and council failed the taxpayer. I'd catch that if I were there. None of the council members have said anything about it."
He pointed to a way to keep overtime costs – which are rising – may be to hire more officers, though he was non-committal given the annual costs.
Forenza also suggested revising salary schedules for certain village employees. He said it's his belief some are set entirely too high.
Other employees, like the Ridgewood Village Manager, also seem too well paid, he said. In Paterson, the business adminstrator is responsible for the third-largest city in the state. He's paid less than Gabbert, whose domain includes 25,000 people.
"No one gets that kind of raise anymore," he said. "That's ridiculous."
He'd also like to see the village stop "killing the golden goose" by its supposed nickel-and-diming of business owners with fees.
"The more you charge, the more customers may say they'll go to another town for the same steak," he said. He suggested the village consider trying free parking during November and December under the stipulation merchants park at the Graydon lot.
"I'm willing to sit down with any members of the Guild and Chamber to see if we can do it," he said. "Anyone."
A neighbor of the hospital for decades, Forenza said he's not a Valley strongman as he believes he's been painted.
"I don't want to shove anything down anyone's throat because you know what, it's not going to work," he said.
However, the candidate who has supported expansion efforts in the past, may not have a seat at the table.
"I don't know the answer," he said of potentially recusing himself from hearings. Forenza's wife works in the hospital's human resources department. "I'd have to seek legal counsel to review the situation. I don't know it's enough to make me stop voting."
One other candidate, Albert Pucciarelli, said he'd recuse himself from votes because of a work conflict.
Nevertheless, Forenza's plan is to get people to the table. "I belive we can come to some type of agreement, probably between one year or a year-and-a-half."
If an agreement can't be reached, Valley will have to present its plan to the village, he said.
"I'm not going to tell people they're going to have forced construction or forced this or that," he said. A non-binding referendum may be a thought, he said.
He thinks being proactive is the best approach, a contrast to the mayor. He was worried about the Master Plan rescinding the amendment with the lawsuit it's named in. "I'd like to steer clear of that," he said.
Paterson Overtime Scandal
Forenza's name has come up, though he says he's done nothing wrong, has taken no money and his name shouldn't have come up.
"My name got put in by mistake," he said, explaining he was scheduled to be off because the bridges were closed. He said he came in on Friday not to work on anything related to hurricane matters, but to fill out a state application on state aid that needed to be submitted by the end of the day.
As a non-exempt, non-salaried employee, he said he's entitled to overtime.
"I kept the check and returned the check and canceled it. I should have never been put on that list. The city and state knows about it and it's the end of the story. I've done nothing wrong or inappropriate."
Sometimes traffic moves too fast on E. Ridgewood Ave. the candidate commented. "Maybe we need speed bumps," he said, adding he feels "crosswalks are also dangerous." Forenza said he believed the village should seriously consider shortening crosswalks to lessen the danger.
One intersection in particular is a concern for him – Maple and Franklin avenues. He wondered why a delay can't be implemented to cars aren't turning left on a red onto Franklin.
"The mayor, a police captain, can't see that?" he wondered. "There's something wrong there."
The budget officer in the Silk City said he knows a thing or two about aging infastructure and how to update it. The key to the plan? Underground cameras to see where there's wear and create a solid replacement plan before catastrophe strikes.
"I'd RFP that, see who gives us the best price," he said. "Maybe buy the cameras, and train our people to do it."
Citing a need to develop shared services, he said perhaps Ridgewood could make money going to other towns and make some loot off it.
This concludes our candidate profile series. Mayor Keith Killion has not made himself available for an interview. , , , Keith Killion, and Russell Forenza are running for three four-year seats. Elections are held Tuesday, May 8.