October 26, 2017
Earlier in October, CFR distributed a questionnaire to the three candidates for Readington Township Committee. On the November ballot are Republican John Albanese, Republican Jonathan Heller and Democrat Alan Harwick. Mr. Albanese and Mr. Heller chose to combine their responses, except for the last question, as they are on the same ticket. The candidates could respond in either paragraph form or in bullet form.
Our offer is to print the responses, word for word, up to the word limit. The word limit was imposed so that all candidates would have the same amount of space to express their viewpoints. Following our past practice, we had to truncate three of Mr. Harwick’s responses that were beyond the word limit.
Note to our readers: CFR is alternating the responses. For example, the response to the first question is Republican, then Democrat; the response to the second question is Democrat, then Republican, etc.
Q1. What qualifications do you bring to the Township Committee and how will those qualifications benefit Readington over the next three years? (250 words)
John Albanese & Jonathan Heller:
John and Jonathan are longtime residents (53 years combined) who will bring an in-depth knowledge of many of the complex issues in Readington. Jonathan has spent 32 years in the sale of steel construction products in the metropolitan NY area. John has been a project manager and network planner for fiber optic telecommunications networks for the NYC market for over 20 years. We both have experience in reviewing blueprints, estimating & preparing million dollar budgets, planning and project managing. We have worked with architects, engineers & contractors as well as office personnel and have proven leadership and decision making skills in our respective careers. John Albanese has experience in state government serving as a Legislative Aide to State Senator Bill Schluter.
We have attended most of the Township Committee, Planning Board, Open Space Advisory Board, Environmental Committee and Board of Adjustment meetings over the past few years which affords us the ability to say that we have a good sense of what is going on in Readington Township. We will continue to pay attention to what the residents of Readington Township want from their elected officials. We possess the ability to listen to all sides of the issues and to make the best decisions for the greater good in a collaborative manner. We will be able to open the lines of communication between the Township Committee, all of the professionals that conduct business with Readington Township and with all of its residents.
PRIOR ORGANIZATIONS AND POSITIONS
Crossroads Homeowners Assn., Bridgewater, NJ- Executive Committee
N.J. State Bar Assn.-Workers Compensation Section- Executive Committee
Juniper Lane Swim Club, Bridgewater, NJ-President
Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District Bd of Education- Vice President and President
Manville, NJ- Municipal Attorney for the Bd of Health and Redevelopment
Readington Township, NJ-Current positions:
Historic Preservation Commission- Vice Chair
Board of Adjustment- Vice Chair
Planning Board- member at large
In my professional career I have been the supervising attorney for two Insurance Companies’ legal department's Workers' Compensation Unit. I have also been the supervising attorney for the Workers' Compensation Department of a mid-size New Jersey law firm. In these roles, in addition to my responsibilities as legal counsel to public entities, Fortune 500 corporations, insurance companies, and business small and large, I have developed management and inter-personal relations skills. I have created and implemented annual operating budgets and marketing plans, as well as supervised payroll and personnel reviews of professional and support staff.
In my positions as a community volunteer I have used my professional and life experiences to identify the needs of these organizations and formulate and implement plans to address those needs. I always try to work collaboratively to achieve the goals established by the organization and will do the same when I am serving on the Township Committee. I will listen to the people and professionals and make decisions only after collecting and assessing all of the information and opinions. I will bring objectivity to the role and be guided by empirical data, facts and logic rather than unsupported innuendo or unsubstantiated rhetoric.
Q2. What would be your approach, as a Township Committee member, to the future of Solberg Airport? 250 words)
The first thing I will do when I take the seat on the Township Committee in January, 2018 is to review the records of closed session minutes to see what has been going on behind closed doors. I will first fully familiarize myself with what efforts, if any, have been made to find common ground between the parties and build upon that. I will strongly advocate for a renewed effort to negotiate a settlement of the litigation.
I know that I would not have chosen the path taken by the Township Committee over a decade ago. I would not have taken a preemptive move against the Solberg Airport, but would have been a zealous advocate for the community at large if there was ever an application made to expand the runway and transform a small General Aviation Airport into a complex as large and active as Teterboro or Morristown. I took this approach when I lived in Bridgewater and was confronted with the Somerset Airport's plan to build a tax-payer funded 5 acre helicopter maintenance facility on what is only a 200 acre property constrained by environmentally sensitive wetlands and conservation easements.
What I did in Bedminster was to organize and represent a citizens group that was legally recognized by the Bedminster Planning Board and the New Jersey Superior and Appellate Courts as an Objector. I presented my own professional witnesses and testimony to challenge the application and ultimately was successful in having the Planning Board vote to deny the application.
Albanese & Heller:
We would like to see the airport operate as a successful general aviation facility that our community takes pride in. We do not support runway expansion that takes the airport into a category of a large commercial facility that negatively impacts our community. Communications with ownership is the key to moving towards an amicably negotiated resolution to the airport issue. There has been no meaningful dialogue between the Township and the Solberg’s for too long. The questions need to be asked; what does ownership want, what are they willing to accept, what do they expect the Township and the residents of Readington Township to accept from our neighbors on Solberg Road? We do not have any outside interests other than getting this issue off taxpayer backs and removing this cloud that’s been hanging over Readington for decades.
The appeal process is currently in-flight. We look forward to reviewing all of the options that Readington has with the attorney hired to represent the town. We have already spoken with Readington’s attorney for the airport litigation but will have all the details available for us when in office. The two newly elected members to the Township Committee will need to deal with what has already taken place. There is no turning back the clock to correct past missteps and will proceed in an advocacy position on behalf of Township residents.
Q3. How do you view the decision on the Nelson Street affordable housing plan? How would you handle the requirements for future affordable housing (possibly 1,000 units over 10 years) that may be imposed by the State onto our Township? (300 words)
Albanese & Heller:
Affordable Housing, as it’s now being mandated in Superior Court, will be ordering most towns in NJ to add a substantial amount of new residences. The numbers we are hearing are staggering for our town (500-1000 new units). We would recommend staying the course with Readington continuing to advocate in Superior Court. Readington has partnered with the other towns in our vicinage to conserve resources in this advocacy position. The Township is now looking at various locations around Readington (expanding Mirota Senior Center, the Gables/Whitehouse Diner and the abandoned Interstate Iron Works facility (Bramco). More will be added. We will investigate recapturing any sewer capacity via repairs to the system to maximize capacity and give more options for locations. We should continue to be proactive in planning to meet these requirements by building as many 100% affordable housing developments (Nelson Street/ Willows at Readington) as possible to reduce the impact on the town. The Township should also look to partner with developers to determine the least impactful development plans to meet these requirements. The Township should attempt to coordinate with any pending development to include an affordable housing component. By remaining proactive, we can assert our own master plan and zoning ordinances, and, resist the “builder’s remedy” that are pending in our intervener lawsuits. We see the devastating impacts this is having on other towns across NJ that have not been pro-active on this issue.
We have spoken with State representatives for our area including Senator Bateman encouraging them to solve this problem via a legislative remedy. We now see this included as a core campaign component for our Legislative District 16 Republican candidates. They have heard us! The clock is ticking and municipalities need a State legislative solution. Every option needs to be on the table on this issue.
A major flaw in the process of permitting Nelson Street to move forward has been a lack of community involvement in that process. Going forward, I will demand that we hold town hall meetings when there are building applications or policy changes which will affect the entire Township. The people in Readington need more opportunities to interact with elected officials and our team of professionals in order to educate themselves and make informed decisions. The Nelson Street project still faces challenges from an engineering standpoint, as well as actual implementation of the building plan. As a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, I reviewed and approved the overall design and appearance of the cluster neighborhood, but the process should have been much more open and transparent to the public. I have faith in my fellow residents and believe in their willingness to provide for affordable housing in the Township. The Township Committee needs to adopt a more open and inclusive process of presenting its overall affordable housing plan to the people of Readington.
Q4. Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) is a mechanism sometimes used in negotiations between townships and developers. Instead of apportioning the payments according to our regular tax formula the spending of the full amount is left to the discretion of the Township Committee. How do you approach the spending of these funds? Would you support a stipulation that a certain percentage goes to school taxes or that school taxes are paid in full? (150 words)
As a part of the Nelson Street project, the Township has entered into a contractual agreement with the Developer to accept payments in lieu of property taxes (PILOT). In this particular case this agreement calls for the Township to receive annual payments from a low of under $20,000 to approximately $50,000 from years 1 through 30, respectively. This annual payment appears to be extremely low when measured against the financial impact the families moving into the units will have on our schools and municipal services. If these were owner-occupied units each would pay a separate tax bill and contribute revenue to the budgets of the municipality, county and schools. Since the Township Committee has already approved the amount paid by the Developer, who will also act as the landlord/property manager, I believe that each of the yearly installments should be allocated in a proportion to the services and obligations which must be met by Readington Township. The Township Committee must recognize that a proportionate contribution should be made from these annual payments to support the school system. Going forward I will challenge any new PILOT Agreement and secure payments commensurate with the true financial impact the development will have on Readington.
Albanese & Heller:
Yes, we would support sending a portion of any PILOT fee to pay school taxes and county taxes as necessary. To go a step further, we propose that school taxes be paid in addition to any future PILOT by the developer and/or eventual land owner. We need to find ways to lessen the impacts affordable housing will have on the existing tax base by working with our Township professionals, talking with peers in other towns and relying on our financial experts.
Q5. In your opinion, what type of expenditures are worth an increase in the municipal tax rate? (200 words)
Albanese & Heller:
Assets that have a limited lifecycle such as a vehicles and road repair should be bonded. With bond rates currently low, it is fair to spread the payment over the course of time so those who live in Readington are the one’s paying for it and not just those who happened to be here when the expense was realized. Bonding keeps tax rates stable when big ticket items are needed. We listed a few goals we had in our Primary campaign that would have some cost associated such as an improved on-line presence. This may require a new/part-time hire in the municipal offices. As technology grows and as people are looking more and more for information on-line, Readington needs to adapt to that demand. Another would be the establishment of a community center. Any increases in the municipal tax rate needs to be analyzed with the taxpayer in mind. No one wants to pay more taxes. Our first options should be doing away with things that are obsolete, redundant or where services shared with another town.
I will support increases to the budget only when the expenditures can be proven to provide long term savings that will be reflected in future budgets. Each new item must be challenged and justified. One area where I will support expenditure is in Readington's infrastructure. I will call for a study of the Sewage Treatment Plant. I will insist that the Township Committee commission this study in order to do two things: determine if our plant is operating in the most efficient manner currently, and calculate the true level of available capacity from the plant. This study will identify areas where improvement is possible, the cost of the improvement and the resulting change in the capacity of the plant if the improvement is implemented. In Readington, sewer capacity and availability is the key to our future economic growth. Without growth, the Township will suffer. I will approve only new expenditures which serve to promote and improve the health, welfare and quality of life of the people of Readington, as well as create opportunities for its economic growth.
Q6. How do you distinguish yourself from the other two candidates for Township Committee? (200 words)
In 2013 I chose Readington Township as the community in which I would work and live. I immediately embraced the spirit of the Township and volunteered for and accepted membership on the Historic Preservation Commission shortly after moving into my house. I began to educate myself about the Township. Long before I decided to run for public office, I attended meetings of the Township Committee, Environmental Commission, Board of Health and Open Space Advisory Board, where I watched, listened and participated by offering opinions and suggestions.
I have not let the number of years I have lived in Readington dictate the level of involvement or commitment that I have. My appointment to be a member of the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment confirms the trust that others, also serving the Township, have vested in me. I look at these appointments as a positive reflection of my character and level of commitment to the Township.
As I reflect upon the answers that I have given to the questions 1 through 5, I think that they can be summed up by the recognition of those who have served on the Township Committee before me; I have been offered and accepted these challenging positions without reservation.
John Albanese has been a part of the community since he moved to Readington at 10 years old. I have seen the changes, the issues come and go and have an appreciation for what makes Readington a special place. I understand why people choose to live in Readington and I am here for the long term. I am involved in youth sports teaching them about teamwork and sportsmanship. I volunteer at my kid’s school events, am Vice Chair of the Planning Board and now, I want to do more for my hometown as a member of the Township Committee.
Jonathan Heller has lived in Readington Township 24 years. During that time, I have actively volunteered for many different and diverse organizations that are part of what keeps Readington a great place to live. I have volunteered as a stream monitor, water tester and stream clean up coordinator for the South Branch Watershed Association and subsequently the Raritan Headwaters Association, because I am concerned about the quality of water in our town. I volunteered 13 years in the Boy Scouts of America, because I felt it was important to help young boys learn about responsibilities, learn the rewards of community service, learn to experience safe adventures and learn how to be good citizens. Because I enjoyed helping young boys to become good men, I am still actively helping scouts attain their Eagle Scout Rank by representing Readington Township on Eagle Scout projects on Township property. I have volunteered on Readington Townships Parks, Recreation and Leisure Activities committee to help promote resident participation and use of township facilities, properties and programs. I have volunteered for Open Space Advisory Board helping build 42 miles of trails and planting many trees. I am currently a volunteer on the Environmental Committee and Board of Adjustments.