Council Candidate Selma Avdicevic: Town Is Living On Credit Card Debt

This is an occasional column that takes a look at the various candidates running for office in May's nonpartisan election

Selma Avdicevic, a founder of Woolly Boo—which sells natural, chemical-free bedding for children—has announced she is running for the 2nd ward councilor position in May's local election.

In an email Friday, she said she has not joined any slate as she "personally believes them to be beauty contests. Should there, however, be a slate with candidates that have same interests at heart for the Montclair and all its residents as myself, I will gladly join it. I am nothing if not a team player. In the mean time, I will try to bring forward the issues that have been plaguing us all, AND TRY TO FIND THE SOLUTIONS. Those issues are:

"1. Stop the tax increases!
1a—Deal with the crushing municipal debt.
1b—Create efficiencies of scale in the Municipal Office. It is time they enter the 21st Century.

"2. Help the town recruit and hire a new superintendent of schools.
2a—Create economies of scale in the main office. It is time they enter the 21st Century as well.
2b—Improve test scores.
2c—Improve graduation rates and college admissions.
2d—Close the achievement gap.
2e—Resolve Montclair Community Pre-K funding.

"3. Save things that make Montclair what it is:
3d—First Night/May in Montclair
3e—Public spaces

"4. Bring commercial tenants to the shopping areas.
4a—Help the Montclair Center Business Improvement District promote Shop Locally initiative.

"Now, before we start a debate about the issues outlined above, I just wanted to let you know that I do believe that these things can be achieved by living within our means. The current Council, the Mayor, and the Town Manager have a tendency to announce and talk about these grand ideas, like carbon footprint, and bike lanes, yet we still have issues with garbage pickup and potholes that are not being addressed. Our town lives on what can easily be described as credit card debt that is being shuffled from one credit card company to another, but everyone cries foul when municipal and BOE jobs need to be cut.

"I can't promise you that any of these things will be accomplished, but I do promise to work very hard with all the members of the Council, the Mayor, and the Town Manager, as well as all volunteer commissions, groups, committees which as a goal have best interests of Montclair and its residents.

"If you agree with these points, and are a 2nd Ward resident, I urge you to sign my Petition of Nomination. I will be available in public to talk about these issues, and listen to any concerns my future constituents might have:

"On Saturday, February 25 on Watchung Plaza, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
On Monday, February 27 on Watchung Plaza, between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, February 27 at the Watchung train station, MSU bound side, between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
On Saturday, March 3 in front of the Learning Express toy store in Upper Montclair.

"If more dates are requested by the public, they will be posted.

"In addition, for this purpose, the following Facebook page has been created. Please "like" and share with your friends and neighbors not on this mailing list: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Selma-Avdicevic/199186090182653?sk=info

For those using Twitter, you can find me at @selma_avdicevic.





A. Gideon February 24, 2012 at 06:27 PM
In no particular order or pattern... "Deal with the crushing municipal debt." How, exactly? What do you envision doing that will "deal" with this issue? "Close the achievement gap." How do you envision the council being involved in this? "Create efficiencies of scale in the Municipal Office. It is time they enter the 21st Century." Again: How? Specifics? The current council has requested an analysis of the possible outsourcing of our garbage collection, for example. That report has failed to appear. What can you (and your new council) do cause such analyses to be performed? Given that you are limited by our model of government to working through the manager, how would your council be identifying and imposing efficiencies? "Galleries" This begs the almost-related question: The current council has stepped back from various groups that promoted economic development and/or arts in the town. What would you do differently? More generally, how would you leverage outside groups? This takes me to: what about the various financial groups like the capital and budget advisory groups? What about the other issues in town, such as the Park Street project or the Wildwood housing project? ...Andrew
profwilliams February 24, 2012 at 06:35 PM
How Andrew? She's not them. Good luck Selma!!
Butterfly February 24, 2012 at 07:08 PM
I think Andrew is confusing Town Manager responsibilities with Town Council responsibilities.
Howard Beale February 24, 2012 at 07:31 PM
I think Selma is confusing Town Manager responsibilities with Town Council responsibilities.
Kyle Martinowich February 24, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Manager produces Municipal Budget-Council affirms through a Vote. If you want a Municipal Budget that you describe stopping tax increases and lowering municipal debt, then you will need to convey that message to the town manager if you are elected. If he does not produce such a budget, then you as a councilor should gather votes to have him removed and find one that can produce the budget you describe. Its all about the details... Will you cut across the board, or individual programs and departments? Joe Hartnett produced a 5% reduction Municipal Budget, it was great, but the Council caved. And his replacement has not produced a Municipal Budget that does not provide for anything but increases, more debt and debt service. I would compel any candidate to be specific and upfront about how to control Municipal Spending. It is really not that hard, unless your afraid of offending certain constituents!
Stuart Weissman February 24, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Kyle +1.
A. Gideon February 24, 2012 at 08:13 PM
"I think Andrew is confusing Town Manager responsibilities with Town Council responsibilities." No; I am recognizing that there is a difference and therefore asking how such an agenda would be realized. This isn't unique to this candidate, of course: the question applies to all candidates. They'll need to operate w/in some fairly strict constraints if they win, so the question becomes how they each plan to achieve what they are saying they'll achieve given those constraints. ...Andrew
A. Gideon February 24, 2012 at 08:20 PM
"Joe Hartnett produced a 5% reduction Municipal Budget" I could be wrong about this, but I was told that his budget was a "naive" reduction as opposed to perhaps reducing more than 5% in some places and less in others. But this begs the question: If the council wants something "more creative" than a straight-line reduction, how can it get that? "gather votes to have him removed" Is that possible? The manager hasn't a contract? ...Andrew
ira shor February 25, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Good morning--Selma and other candidates: Cut taxes and you gut the public schools needed by 5700 of our kids. Cut taxes and you gut the public sector which makes life hospitable here, like our municipal services--short-handed garbage service already can't keep up with the waste generated; sort-handed teaching staffs get larger classes. Cut taxes and you gut civic life of free public libraries open all week, wonderful first night, etc. Directing aid to businesses in town is money wasted on small potatoes because the business tax base is only 9% of town revenues. Candidates must say how they will finance good civic life in this town instead of gutting the things that make life here good. Schools are essential to our property values--families will pay high prices and taxes for good schools for their kids. If any candidate knows of corruption, waste, and mismanagement, you must specify where, who, how much, and the damage done, so we can vote for you to save our money where it's being wasted and stolen by cronies, not cut the civic goods we need to make the town appealing. How about some out-of-the-box thinking which candidates and the BOE love to mention but fail to do, like taxing local banks do so much business here? Banks are sitting on hundreds of billions in cash right now which they refuse to spend or lend---to start, why not tax banking in Montclair to raise revenue? If these cash-rich banks object and leave town, town credit unions can take their place.....ira shor
carols February 25, 2012 at 06:13 PM
"2. Help the town recruit and hire a new superintendent of schools. 2a—Create economies of scale in the main office. It is time they enter the 21st Century as well. 2b—Improve test scores. 2c—Improve graduation rates and college admissions. 2d—Close the achievement gap. These are not within the direct responsibility of the ward representatives or even the town council (other than the mayor appointing the BOE members). THE BOE is responsible for hiring the new superintendent, not the town government or the town council.
A. Gideon February 25, 2012 at 11:29 PM
@Carols is correct, but I admit it would be nice to have a BOSE that was a bit more involved than as a last-minute rubber stamp. It doesn't seem to be too large an issue nowadays, where the BOE is far stronger than the town council. It's just a bit embarrassing, though, when a BOSE member repeatedly makes the same mistake, confusing "aides" with "students" for example. The one small area where I don't quite agree with @Carols is in point 2a. We already share a small amount of infrastructure between town and school, but I expect that there are plenty of opportunities for more of this. That would require active cooperation on both sides. ...Andrew
tryintosurvive February 26, 2012 at 12:29 AM
"why not tax banking in Montclair to raise revenue" seems impractical and would probably have unintended consequences. To some up with some unique tax for a particular business type. Most people rarely go to banks anyway, they use ATMs and use direct deposit and bank by mail. Even if it were done, it would not be too hard for the banks to move one town over. The Bloomfield, Verona, Clifton and other borders are so close this would be easy. One thing that is within the town's purvue is to decrease the salary and benefits of all employees and to put caps on the amount that employees can make. With new union contacts coming up in most areas, this is the most likely area that expenses can be reduced or at least contained. Beyond this, outsourcing of sanitation seems like a smart thing to do. Many other towns have done this successfully and are happy with the results. Outsourcing of the recreation department and other service seems like it needs to be explored in earnest. This is something that the current town council could not accomplish no matter how many times it was raised.
Bitpusher February 26, 2012 at 12:50 AM
"why not tax banking in Montclair to raise revenue" Is that even legal for the municipal government to do? Why even discuss it if it isn't?
tryintosurvive February 26, 2012 at 01:15 AM
It seems that some townspeople think that this could work. I don't see how it could, nor would any kind of an increase of real estate (or other) taxes. I don't think anyone would propose a town tax or other new off the wall tax idea. We can't realistically increase the town's revenue very much so we have to reduce expenses. Since the bulk of the municipal and school costs are in staff salary and benefits, the only significant way to reduce these appear to be these options: 1. Outsource things 2. Reduce salaries and/or the towns contribution to benefits 3. Reduce staff Only item 3 would result in decreased services, the other two would not.
ira shor February 26, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Old thinking trapped in the box dies hard. Mention "tax the banks" and chills run down some people's spines. We can stay in the box and force austerity cuts down everybody's throat and weaken our local and national economies even more. Or, we can tax those with tons of cash on hand, like the banks, which the Wall St Journal reports have $3 TRILLION in CASH on hand now along with their collegial corporations. Taking wages away from working people is the old box many won't leave; taxing banks dripping with cash is fair and common-sensical...ira shor
tryintosurvive February 26, 2012 at 02:58 AM
"Taking wages away from working people is the old box many won't leave" has not been tried in Montclair as yet. At least eight years of continuous tax increases, and raises for all employees. Perhaps we should try it in here, other cities have made it work (e.g. Baltimore). They outsource what is not core to the town, and pay reasonable salaries and benefit costs for the rest. Even if there was some success in "taxing banks dripping with cash", it would be on the federal level along with corporate and other tax changes. It may very well be possible to make the banks, the oil companies, the hedge funds, the billionaires, etc pay their fair share. The wind is blowing that way. However, this income would be on the federal level and would go to fund country wide initiatives, pay for federal entitlements and/or reduce our federal debt. There is no chance that this would flow down to a municipal level and do anything to fund town employees. Believing that we could force Chase or B of A to pay to help fund Montclair municipal salaries and benefits is unrealistic.
ira shor February 26, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Taking wages away from working people hasn't been tried?? Mtc teachers two years in a row gave back millions in pay raises to the town as a gesture of support for the town's fiscal problems. We no longer have f/t aides in all classrooms. Nationally, major industries like auto, airlines, etc., have all imposed massive wage cuts on new hires, sometimes 50% of what veteran workers earn. All this while banks and corporations pile up $3 TRILLION in CASH ON HAND(according to Wall St J and NYTimes) refusing to spend it or lend it or pay their share of taxes on it. Bof A, Chase and others don't need us to cry for them. Taxes on local banking and on high-end dining and wine purchases are obvious ways to raise revenue from the places where themoneyis. About time the T word stopped being off-limits when the T hits those with billions and not those with bills.....ira shor
tryintosurvive February 26, 2012 at 03:16 AM
"Nationally, major industries like auto, airlines, etc., have all imposed massive wage cuts on new hires, sometimes 50% of what veteran workers earn" does not mean that the new workers are being paid too little, but that the wage hikes and benefits that the veteran workers got made the companies no longer competitive. Things like getting your salary even when there was no work, accrued paid time off at retirement, lucrative pensions with health care for life all crept in over the years. As the number of employees who had these benefits increased, they had to be changed or the companies went out of business. Some companies and industries never recovered.
Butterfly February 26, 2012 at 03:45 AM
here is an idea: tie pay increases in union contracts to debt ratio of town: >200% -> pay decrease of 20% per anno > +120% -> pay decrease of 10% per anno > 80% -> pay increase of inflation as reported You can change the numbers in detail but the general idea should be clear. And I believe that this would be clearly a policy decision i.e. in the purview of the council.
ira shor February 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Why should teachers lose pay if town debt rises to finance such things like beautifying a business street downtown? That $1mil debt for South Park is a public subsidy for a few small businesses there, so any plan to make teachers pay for such debt is completely unfair. Instead, tax major developers of projects, like the DCH plan--ask the DCH property developer to finance a part of the school budget. Major new bldgs. will increase school enrollment so those businesses crowding even more people into this already-overdeveloped town should help defray the cost of educating the children who come with the units...ira shor
tryintosurvive February 26, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Because over 200 of them make more than $90,000 a year along with longevity pay, accrued paid time off, full health care, pensions and no way to get fired.
El Kabong February 26, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Ira, believe it or not, that isn't the headquarters of J. P. Morgan Chase on Valley Rd. Your master plan to levy taxes on banks, or other merchants, that you perceive to have too much cash on hand would have one predictable result; that is, they would close their doors and move out of town. This is America, not a banana republic dictatorship governed by the fiat of imbeciles. Oh, wait...
Craig February 29, 2012 at 02:34 PM
continued....Looking to share fire services with neighboring towns - we provide services to Bloomfield. We should be looking at a district fire dept incorporating several towns with firehouses in neighborhoods but administration at a central location. This is not that large of an area and every town does not need a chief and other higher-ups. we should also add a volunteer element to work alongside the professionals we have. Many towns use volunteer FDs successfully - we should be incorporating both. And that is really the central theme - posts like those from Ira Shore expect the town to raise the citizens. Cut taxes the world ends according to him. How about private citizens pitching in to fund and promote 1st night (businesses benefit from that), how about a town dump you bring bulk waste to instead of them coming to you to get it? How about volunteer parents being more involved in the schools rather than teachers aids? A highly taxes town allows people to sit back and say - I pay for this, they should do it. A lower taxed town fosters more a community because people should feel that the community needs to be involved for this to be a community that functions.
Craig February 29, 2012 at 02:38 PM
At least Selma is specifically identifying the problems as problems and not talking in generalities like the slates. When recession hit in 2008 my business operated lean for 4 years (we are now increasing the staff by around 25%) - people pitched in, worked hard and we got through it. Why it is unreasonable for the town of Montclair to operate the same way? I never had teacher aids in my classrooms outside of kindergarten growing up in a very good Monmouth Country school district (one ranked well below Montclair in the NJ Monthly rankings) and the classrooms had 20-25 kids. We all lived and most of the kids went on to college, grad school and judging from Facebook and the last reunion, most seem to be happy and doing well. The town should be a responsible employer but does not have a responsibility to be an employer. The first things we should be doing are: Outsourcing sanitation and other services that can take the longer-term pension and benefits costs off our books. Driving the cost per pupil down in Montclair. If Ira Shore is right and we have a student population of 5,700 and a school budget of $114MM that's $20k per child which seems really high. If the district has a large surplus (and they found it by properly planning and operating lean - no kids were harmed in 2011 things went on as usual) the BOE needs to figure a way to make due at the 2012 budget and push some of that surplus back to the taxpayers in the form of a reduction in property taxes.
Craig February 29, 2012 at 02:40 PM
sorry for the typos! hope you get the gist.
Stuart Weissman February 29, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Craig. Take a look at Florham Park's budget. What you are advocating can be done. But not with the last 12 years of spineless jellyfish sitting on the council.


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