Oct. 18, 2017: In anticipation of the November Borough Council elections for two seats, I put together a list of questions and sent them to each candidate. Council incumbent Reed Leibfried and interim Councilman Todd Pagel sent in their answers. I also sent questions to Republican candidates Richard Menziuso and Daniel Lebar. I’ll post their answers once they get them back to me.
Leibfried’s and Pagel’s answers are presented together and lightly edited for clarity.
1.) How has the borough done so far on downtown redevelopment?
Leibfried: Due to the leadership of our mayor and council, and after countless public meetings seeking community input regarding the Woodmont and Whole Foods applications, our Main Street is as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it. Vacancies are at an all-time low, the local economy is booming, and these additional ratables have assisted the borough in controlling property tax hikes.
Pagel: The current council and mayor have done an excellent job with downtown redevelopment. We now have Whole Foods Market which is not only a great local grocery store for Metuchen residents, but it will bring in more visitors to our town who will support all of our local businesses. Now that a substantial portion of the development is winding down, I believe we need to begin focusing on other issues such as continuing to make Metuchen an extremely walkable town and making Metuchen a leader in sustainability.
2.) What is your vision for Metuchen?
Leibfried: Preserve, Progress and Promote. Preserve the historical charm of our neighborhoods, continue to have an open and transparent process with all community stakeholders to ensure that positive progress continues in Metuchen. Promote the Borough of Metuchen, our school district, the thriving arts and music scene and the volunteerism that makes our community unique.
Pagel: I want Metuchen to be a leader in New Jersey and for our Nation. Our Brainy Borough is full of talented and motivated individuals who want to make our town and world a better place to live. I want to harness this energy to make Metuchen a leader in sustainability, creativity, the arts, and most importantly promoting equality.
3.) What should the borough do about the firehouse?
Leibfried: The firehouse should be constructed on borough-owned property that meets the needs of our community and Volunteer Fire Department. Like any other capital improvement, the firehouse should be funded through bonds, but a variety of grants need to be explored in depth to identify all the potential options available to us.
Pagel: As a former volunteer firefighter, I understand the importance of having a local volunteer fire department. Not only are firefighters the ones who rush to put out fires, but volunteer departments act as the heart and soul of a community. It is great to see kids climbing on the fire trucks at the June Bug Arts Festival. With that being said, I know that the firehouse is in need of repair and many have discussed moving it. When I am elected to the council I will work with everyone involved to make a coherent decision that best benefits the residents of Metuchen.
4.) Should Metuchen try and lower its debt load? Or does it make sense to take on more debt to get projects like the firehouse done?
Leibfried: Inherited debt was refinanced which saved taxpayers money over the last couple of years. For future capital improvements, the borough needs to seek any and all grant opportunities, the possibility of private/public partnerships to assist in offsetting local taxpayer contributions and continue to hold open and transparent public meetings to listen to the wishes of the overall community.
Pagel: As demonstrated by the most recent audit, Metuchen’s debt load is fairly conservative. The Borough is in sound finance shape. As we get closer to paying off Borough Hall, much of the debt load will disappear. I also strongly support seeking out grants for community-based projects so residents are not footing the bill.
5.) Are taxes too high in Metuchen?
Leibfried: Similar to an overwhelming majority of municipalities in New Jersey, the Borough strives to maintain quality services while simultaneously controlling property taxes. It is important for our residents to remember that the Borough of Metuchen controls only 20 percent of the property tax bill that we all receive on an annual basis. Eighty percent of the same property tax bill is allocated to fund our outstanding public schools, our Metuchen Municipal Library and County contributions that fund open space projects, music and arts programs and a plethora of other quality programs that are enjoyed by our residents.
With healthcare contributions rising annually, pension obligations and inherited debt taking a significant portion of our 20 percent, we work hard to ensure that quality services are still provided to our residents. Significant funds awarded to the Borough through grant opportunities have and will continue to have a direct impact on our community in a positive way.
Pagel: We are fortunate to have excellent schools, an excellent police department, and excellent fire department, along with many other excellent services funded by our tax dollars. As a council member I will do everything in my power to maintain these services and keep our taxes as low as possible. I would also like to explore other creative ways to lower property taxes in town, such as a tax credit for supporting local business.
6.) Metuchen is fighting to force developers to conform to zoning code, particularly on size of structures on properties. What is your view on this?
Leibfried: I have been personally working with the mayor, council, planner and zoning officer on this issue since I was first elected over two years ago. I believe that community input is essential for any municipality to change and adopt with the times and the Brainy Borough has an extremely active volunteerism that is second to none. I believe that by listening to the community, we have started the process of improving this extremely complicated issue. I had the honor of sitting on the Technical Review Committee, which allowed me to express my opinions and concerns over specific new construction applications. We have been collaboratively working with community stakeholders in an attempt to improve the design standards of new construction homes and the overall size of the home depending on the specific neighborhood.
Pagel: I believe our codes were written to help Metuchen maintain its small town character and I believe that developers need to abide by these codes. We live in a town that many people want to call home and that means new development. We must ensure that any new development fits with our historic neighborhoods and smaller lot sizes.
7.) Should Metuchen be more pedestrian and biker friendly? If so, how can the borough make this happen?
Leibfried: Of course. We have consistently been pursuing an expansion of the Middlesex Greenway while also working to complete the implementation of the five crosswalks we were awarded through a grant, and assist the Metuchen Police Department in enforcing speed limits and pedestrian laws to the strictest degree. This is a complex issue with no quick-fix solutions, and it takes all the community members to do their part if we want to address it effectively. Spreading awareness is certainly the first step, and the participation of all residents is instrumental. Everyone here should become an important part of the solution.
Pagel: YES! We need to extend the Greenway to give everyone in town access to it, to get back and forth from different parts of town. We need to maintain and improve our current crosswalks while at the same time adding more crosswalks to busy areas in town. We also need to continue to enforce all traffic laws which our police department does a great job with. And we need to get more people walking and biking around town. Something that I would really like to see implemented in town is a bike share program and I have been working with neighboring towns such as Asbury Park to create a system for our town.
8.) Free question — what else would you like to say about your campaign?
Leibfried: As a longtime resident of Metuchen, I have been very involved in all types of community service to help our town thrive and grow. I have been fortunate to work with many talented, dedicated residents whose devotion to this cause continues to inspire me, and I consider it a privilege to represent them as a council member and to help facilitate and actively support their ideas and initiatives. As so many others in this town, I believe that Metuchen’s potential for growth and prosperity is boundless, and that tapping into our local talent and brilliance is the key to realizing that potential. Fully committed to the residents of this town, I intend to serve them in a way that reflects this commitment and is focused on reaching our collective goals.
Pagel: We are called the Brainy Borough because of our residents. We have such an eclectic mix of people who each have their own talents and skills that we can use to continue to improve our town. As a council member I would work tirelessly to get as many of our residents involved in town-related projects and activities. I would also work with groups such as the Metuchen Downtown Alliance, Borough Improvement League, Chamber of Commerce and Metuchen Gives back to better organize our residents so that everyone can lend a helping hand if they desire to do so.