For Montclair issued the following statement on Sunday afternoon in response to the questions posed to all candidates by the chair of Montclair's Capital Finance Committee.
For Montclair candidates are: Harvey Susswein for Mayor, Tim Barr for councilor-at-large, Bill Hurlock for First Ward, Walter Springer for Second Ward, and Jeff Jacobson for Third Ward.
For Montclair is grateful for the service of the members of the Capital Finance Committee. We strongly disagree with the council's decision to deauthorize the Capital Finance Committee and, if we are elected, we would reconstitute the Capital Finance Committee immediately. More importantly, we would listen to the Capital Finance Committee's expertise on these matters.
The questions the Capital Finance Committee chair has posed to council candidates are important ones. Here are For Montclair's answers:
1. What policy, if any, should the Township adopt with respect to the overall level of capital spending?
The candidates of For Montclair are committed to reducing Montclair's debt load. To that end, although each proposed capital spending project needs to be looked at on its own merits, we have two overall policy goals. First, during our term in office, we will aim to borrow less for new capital projects each year than the amount of debt we pay down in that year. Second, we are prepared to say no to any project that is not important to public safety or that is not expected to pay for itself within a reasonable time.
2. What policy should be adopted for prioritizing capital spending?
We would like to look at all of Montclair's capital spending proposals -- from the town itself, the Library and the Board of Education -- together, so that the highest priority items town-wide can be addressed. That will require cooperation between the council, the BOE and the library. We believe that, until Montclair's overall debt load is reduced, no non-critical capital expenditures should be made anywhere in the town.
3. Do you support the conversion of short-term notes to bonds even if this increases debt service in the short run?
When the Capital Finance Committee told the council that Montclair had a higher percentage of short-term notes per resident than any other municipality in New Jersey, the council should have listened. Instead, the council recklessly muzzled the Capital Finance Committee then went out and spent taxpayer money on a consultant who delivered exactly the same news the Capital Finance Committee had. Only then did the council wisely convert a percentage of Montclair's short-term notes to bonds. We support that decision, even though we recognize that the increased interest expenses will put additional strain on the budget. The alternative -- leaving Montclair vulnerable to swings in short-term interest rates (or, worse, a potential inability to borrow at all) -- is not acceptable.
4. Should the Township continue to borrow money to pay for annually recurring expenses such as shade trees and the repaving of streets?
We strongly oppose the use of borrowed money to pay for operating expenses.
5. What role should the Capital Finance Committee have and do you support the resolution recently adopted by the Council, which prohibits the Capital Finance Committee from examining particular capital spending projects?
If the voters elect the For Montclair slate, one of our first acts as a council will be to re-adopt the ordinance appointing the Capital Finance Committee. This differentiates us from Montclair 2012, whose First Ward candidate (Rich Murnick) voted to abolish the Capital Finance Committee and deny its members the right to speak. More importantly than just re-establishing the Capital Finance Committee, however, is that we plan to listen to it. The men and women who have agreed to serve on the Capital Finance Committee possess valuable expertise and we will be lucky to have the benefit of that expertise. We will welcome the Capital Finance Committee’s views with respect to the wisdom of particular projects, although, of course, the final decision with respect to whether or not to proceed with a project will lie with the council.
6. Are there items that should be eliminated from the pending capital budgets prepared for the Township and the Board of Education?
We were glad to see the Board of Education listen to our Second Ward candidate Walter Springer and abandon its proposal to spend $1 million on artificial turf for a playing field. Our Third Ward candidate, Jeff Jacobson, recently spoke at a council meeting to urge the council to examine more closely the bids for the South Park Street project, which appeared to overcharge for items the town could deliver less expensively itself if those items were removed from the scope of the project. Unfortunately, the council ignored that suggestion. We also note that the town is carrying over $6 million of "bonds and notes authorized but not issued." Some of these are for projects long since abandoned, such as purchase of the parking area behind the Police Station and a redevelopment plan for Hahnes and Orange Road. This list should be dramatically pruned and revised so as to minimize confusion in the public eye and any chances for unwarranted borrowings going forward.
For Montclair will be making this and all other policy statements available on our web site www.formontclair.com