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Candidates Talk Valley, Manager Raise, Consolidation at Debate

Who do you think fared best during Monday night's League of Women Voters Candidate's Debate?

Though following the candidate's debate on Monday, candidates have also fielded questions about the conflicting ‘H-Zone’ ordinance and planning board amendment; before Christie comes to town; the state of village trees; Gabbert’s raise; ; infrastructure; and a vision for the future.

Voters will cast ballots for three candidates on Tuesday, May 8. Russell Forenza, , , Keith Killion, and  are all running for four-year seats.

Here's what the candidates said on the issues on Monday night:

Conflict with ‘H-Zone’ ordinance and planning board amendment
 

Although the , the saga continues. The planning board’s amendment to the Master Plan remains on the books and a future council could simply overturn the November vote.

Councilman Paul Aronsohn said it’s time for the planning board to rescind . “We need a blank piece of paper,” Aronsohn said. “It’s time to move on, it’s time to move forward…the mayor and council needs to step up.”

He called for a “proactive” approach in which the council initiates conversation with the stakeholders.

Pucciarelli, who said he will abstain from Valley voting matters due to professional conflicts with his law firm, agreed with Aronsohn. Having Valley go back to the planning board would simply continue the initial process that’s been wrought with contention and resident distrust, according to Pucciarelli. There also runs a risk the planning board would be politicized, the current vice chairman, said.

He later remarked that because he can't vote, he'd be the perfect mediator.

Hauck expressed similar sentiments, remarking that the council needs to take a “leadership role” before another proposal comes to the council level.

But the boldest statement may have come from Russell Forenza. A 51-year resident of Ridgewood and the budget officer in Paterson, Forenza said that while he supports Valley and sees a need for modern health care, it can’t come at the expense of residents around the hospital.  He said he believes he could find an agreement in 12-18 months should he be elected and work with all stakeholders.

Others saw things quite differently. Given that the planning board is still locked in litigation with CRR, Mayor Keith Killion said the process has to play out in the courts and in the normal course of government.

Valley needs to come back to the council with a new plan, he said. 

“Valley is a business; the process is they go through the planning board like any other business,” the mayor said. 

Killion remarked that the council has already spent too much time on Valley and working as a mediator would merely become a distraction at a point in time where so many other issues need council oversight.

Jane Shinozuka, also a planning board member and involved with the HSA, said the current code is outdated and needs review, in conjunction with strong council oversight.

Village manager raise 

There was little question the subject would be broached. The retroactive has proven to be a sore point for many residents.

Mayor Killion, who along with Walsh, Riche and Wellinghorst voted in favor of issuing the raise over the summer, defended his vote.

In 2009, former Village Manager Jim Ten Hoeve received $187,500 in total, , Killion said in defense from other candidates.

The mayor said Gabbert has presided over tough times that include , and and should be compensated for it appropriately. He rebuffed and shouldn't receive further compensation.

“Would you go to your employer and say, 'thanks for saving us a quarter of a million dollars and by the way, zero percent raises this year,'” Killion asked rhetorically, adding Gabbert's negotiating will save $400,000 per police officer hired over the next few years. “I stand by my decisions, so does three other council people. It is divisive and should be put to bed once and for all."

Killion found little support from other candidates.

Pucciarelli said remarked that just because Ten Hoeve made a higher salary doesn't mean it was a good idea either.

“The nature of this raise on its face is absurd when you're laying people off and you're asking fire and police to spread out increases in their contracts,” he said.

Because of layoffs, , other workers had to take on additional responsibilities, Pucciarelli said. Many of them didn't receive raises. Forenza also said the raise was “outrageous” and questioned the taxpayer value of the police contract, saying the numbers didn't quite add up given the state tax cap.

Hauck said the 12 percent raise was “bad timing" and said she wouldn't have voted for it had she been there.

Aronsohn, not surprisingly, said it was "arguably the worst decision the council has taken in recent memory.” He said 12 percent raises are not in line with any sector and it's an insult to taxpayers. 

A brief confrontation arose between Aronsohn and Shinozuka when the incumbent councilman questioned the strength of her response.

“If I was on that council, I very likely might not have done that,” Shinozuka said of how she would have voted, adding the issue was too divisive and people should move on.

“I can't believe you don't have a position on it,” Aronsohn said, taking aim at what he considered a wavering response.

Shinozuka shot back that she wanted to “tread lightly” to mitigate the emotional component of the discussion. “If I used the wrong word, I do apologize for that,” she said.

According to Aronsohn, citing population figures, the real vote on the matter is 25,000 to 4 and there's a disconnect.

Consolidation measures

Ridgewood better hurry up and find ways to either shrink the size of government through consolidation or perhaps even grow larger to serve other towns, candidates said. If it doesn’t, the state looks poised to force them to keep costs down. 

No candidate supported having the county police take over. Some openly questioned why we have a county police force in the first place. Still, shared services were definitely points candidates eyed at the debate.

 Shinozuka wasn’t a fan of the idea of consolidating the fire department or police department. “People want security,” she said, adding she favored the idea of exploring ways to offer services to other towns in the area assuming it’s “logical” and done with care.

Pucciarelli has run largely on a platform of keeping costs down. Another large tax increase, he said, just can’t happen. He pitched exploring taking over the Ho-Ho-Kus police department or having Ridgewood’s fire department serve Glen Rock.

“We must change the way we do business,” Pucciarelli said.

Killion, a former police captain, said he was open to the idea of perhaps sharing a traffic or detective bureau with neighboring communities. “This is where you start,” he said, adding the village already does have some shared service agreements. 

“Shared services with contiguous towns is how I intend to save money,” the mayor stated.

Hauck correctly stated public safety is the largest portion of the budget but said big consolidation could bring with it a loss of community identity and problems with personnel issues. The key, to her, was the savings. Princeton’s merger saved $3.2 million, she said. If the money’s right, maybe Glen Rock, Ho-Ho-Kus, Midland Park and Waldwick as one coverage area could work, Hauck remarked.

Forenza said the key is to beat Governor Christie to the punch. The governor has already taken aim at municipalities increasing fees to get around the tax cap. He agreed with Hauck but would add Wyckoff to the mix as Wyckoff is part of the Ridgewood Water system. He said the village should open the process to seeing if Ridgewood could merge police and fire services with others and if other towns would be interested.

Aronsohn, who’s called for a zero-based budgeting approach, said doing more with less needs to be embraced and the village needs to continue exploring shared services agreements.

State of shade trees

Candidates were fairly in line over their views on what to do with the . Hauck pitched the idea of forming a commission to maintain inventory while also encouraging volunteers to adopt trees. Pucciarelli said it’s a dollars and cents issue and said the 75 trees the village has budgted in replacements wasn’t enough. He lauded the village service whereby trees are sold to residents at good prices.

Killion, a self-proclaimed tree hugger, said the trees have been neglected and said a shared service agreement might be perfect for this opportunity in light of the three village workers all retiring this year. Shinozuka agreed with Killion and suggested expanding the Parks & Recreation Commission to concentrate on grants and fundraising. She also conceded even hiring three people again wouldn’t fully meet the village’s needs. 

Aronsohn said outsourcing and shared services were all options. It’s a public safety, budget and aesthetic imperative he said, adding they help with flood waters.

Forenza, under the banner of “trees are Ridgewood,” said the laborers are far too expensive and he thinks the village can find cheaper workers. He said the tree commission in the past worked but suddenly doesn’t anymore.

Graydon staying natural?

If you saw the debate, you didn't find much difference between what the candidates said on Graydon. None expressed bold ideas to make changes to the pool.

The Preserve Graydon Coalition the following day endorsed Pucciarelli, Shinozuka and Killion. They also criticized Aronsohn for previous statements he's made on the pool.

Housing developments in Downtown

Limited in what they can say over the applications of several large housing developments proposed in the Central Business District, the three sitting planning board members expressed varying levels of support for downtown projects but with some hesitancy.

Shinozuka said she was concerned that "wrong" applications could be approved by the various boards. She didn't want overdevelopment in town, she said, adding senior housing options were of interest to her. Pucciarelli agreed and added there are "underutilized" parcels in the CBD and called for a close eye on urbanization and parking variances.

Forenza, as he had said regarding other issues, said he'd like to sit down with merchants and consider how to approach prospective business owners considering Ridgewood.

Aronsohn said the village should be more "proactive," especially when it comes to cell tower proposals. All options for the downtown should be explored, he said.

Hauck remarked that developments could be great for Ridgewood, especially seniors, on the condition it doesn't overburden the school system.

Killion, in answering the question, said everything has to be considered "in moderation" but stated that the planning board can't deny applications based on a possible influx of school children.

Closing statements and a future vision for Ridgewood

Apart from making his big endorsements in closing statements, Aronsohn also said he'd like to see a far more proactive council. A council that gets out ahead on issues, he said, one that isn't reactive to situations.

A somewhat humorous phrase that emerged at the debate was if candidates can walk, chew gum and perhaps even jump rope. Much centered around if mediating Valley would take the council's attention from other matters.

The councilman said he'd like to see exploration of not having parking meters, a library that is open 365 days, and no vacancies in the business district.

Killion said in five years, he'd like to see a vastly improved infrastructure system and a town devoid of big buildings or McMansions. Less turf would also be nice, along with preservation of historic structures, he said.

Hauck focused on character and community, saying a village that is focused on families needs to be maintained. She said modernization can be done without destroying character.

Shinozuka said she'd like to see a Ridgewood that is not urbanized, and a village with a more financially successful business district. It was a point Pucciarelli latched onto. Ridgewood shouldn't become a White Plains or Morristown, he said, adding he would prefer smaller homes on smaller lots.

Forenza suggested free parking be something the village consider for its downtown with Graydon serving as a lot for the merchants. He also lobbied for greater use of the library.

How do you think the candidates did on Tuesday? Candidates will be selected by the voting public on Tuesday, May 8.

Pete McCarthy May 03, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I'm really torn up about this. I voted for Keith last time out, and Paul and Anne. Keith is the guy to call when you need something taken care of and he's all over the village. Remember the picture with the bear? I worry that somehow he's lost touch with what the village is saying. Maybe the people closest to him aren't giving him good advice and people are intimidated to tell him the truth. It's not about fixing streets and sidewalks. It's about having having a clear picture in your head of what Ridgewood should be and putting in place what we need to get us there. I wasn't here but I think that's what got us to be what we are and without great ideas we'll just stay stagnant. Anyone else feeling like the old Keith really listened to us and the new Keith hasn't heard us?
anonymous May 03, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Keith has not changed at all. Keith does have a clear picture in his head of what Ridgewood should be: Tree lined streets, a vibrant downtown, cautious development, Graydon Park, pedestrian safety, a solid infrastructure and yes, fiscal responsibility. None of us were there, but Gabbert's raise was a 4 to 1 vote. I don't agree with it on the surface, but I have to think there must have been good reason to warrant it, otherwise the vote wouldn't have been so 1 sided. Before Mr Gabbert, I hear the previous village manager practically ran Ridgewood into the ground. Nobody wanted the job because the mess was too much to clean up. Gabbert had the guts to take the job, make the hard decisions and bring Ridgewood out of the whole it was in. I believe Gabbert has saved the town hundreds of thousands of dollars. Keith is always there to listen, to help and to lead. I will be proud to vote for him.
Pete McCarthy May 03, 2012 at 12:37 PM
It's not about the raise or the manager to me. I'm not sure why you wrote so much about that. If in his closing he had said all that stuff: Tree lined streets, a vibrant downtown, cautious development, Graydon Park, pedestrian safety, a solid infrastructure and fiscal responsibility it would be easier for me to pull the lever for him. I listened and when the other candidates were making the closing case for themselves all he talked about was infrastructure. And he's said that a bunch of times in the papers. This doesn't feel like an infrastructure election it feels like we need ideas to get us where we all want Ridgewood to be. I'm just not hearing that from Keith and I'm disappointed by that.
anonymous May 03, 2012 at 07:48 PM
I don't remember what was in Keith's closing statement, but I think throughout the debate he touched on all the things in my previous post. I have spoken with him several times and that is what he is all about. Maybe he's just not a great closing statement writer.
Jeanette L May 03, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I will take Keith Killion and Jane Shinozuka over every other candidates running. I think Keith and Jane care about this town and at least, unlike a couple of other candidates, doesn't want it overdeveloped. Keith is right about infrastructure though. An example is the high school. Years ago, the schools were taken care of as cheaply as possible, at one point some of the bathrooms were so disgraceful they had no doors. When they did the major renovation it cost them more than if they had been maintaining it properly all along. That's the point of penny wise and pound foolish. I saw it from the beginning when I first moved here. And what happens is it's always more expensive to do a major overhaul then proper maintenance. And I suspect that what he is worried are things like water main breaks, and other issues that we are not aware of until they break down.
Kelly McKensy February 02, 2013 at 01:53 PM
soooo, now that the election is over, will the towns dissolve and merge their police departments????

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