The following are our responses to a candidate questionnaire on issues facing Readington Township residents.
1) Briefly list your most important volunteer activities that you have done for Readington. (max 100 words)
Denise Esakoff was a Girl Scout Troop Leader for 5 years in addition to volunteering in the schools and recreation sports programs. Elizabeth Fiore is co-president of MOMS Club of Three Bridges, a Girl Scout Troop Leader, and chairs the HSA Fine and Performing Arts Committee, which donated $4,500 to the district arts program last year alone. However, our biggest volunteer commitment thus far has been attending Township Committee and subcommittee meetings gathering information and meeting with concerned citizens. Together, we have invested more than 640 hours to understand and embrace the process of local governance.
2) What qualifications do you bring to the Township Committee and how will those
qualifications benefit Readington over the next three years? (250 words)
Denise brings 25+ years of business experience in marketing, data analytics, forecasting, market research, product management and advertising in the health care and telecom industries. Denise holds a Master’s Degree in Economics from Rutgers University, which included a focus on environmental economics, looking at ways to improve water conservation and clean air among other things. Elizabeth compliments that with her years of local government and non-profit experience. Also a NJ native, with a degree from Rutgers, Elizabeth most recently was the administrator for her town’s Community Preservation Program in which she managed grant allocation for historic, recreation and open space projects. Her expertise in fundraising and community building encompasses art, social services and land conservation non-profit organizations.
Our collective experience has already enabled us to drive positive change. Through deep immersion in the current government’s operating practices we have uncovered violations of the NJ Open Public Meetings Act (“Sunshine Law”) and the township has been given notice that they must comply with state law by making records of their meetings accessible to the public. Several committees are not in compliance (e.g., Environmental Commission and the Agricultural Advisory Committee). We have also discovered that the Open Space Advisory Board, and the Environmental Commission, are operating outside their current written charters. When elected we will immediately implement a review of all operating charters and make sure that each part of our governing body is in compliance with state regulations and is operating in full transparency.
3) What are your views on Solberg Airport? (150 words)
We firmly oppose expansion that would turn Solberg into a major jet airport. We want to reduce litigation costs, which have averaged $726,000 for the past 4 years. We are open, once the court cases have been resolved, to meeting with the Solbergs to find ways to work together on a solution for upgrading the facility and providing a commercial and recreational benefit to the town. We were saddened when we heard that the Readington Middle School Aviation club holds meetings, not at Solberg, but at Alexandria Airport instead. The Economic Commission that we hope to establish will be a key part of the dialogue between the Solbergs and the Township, looking for mutually beneficial commercial opportunities such as an airport restaurant or club meeting rooms. This will be an easy win for all parties and a step on the path toward economic sustainability for Readington Township.
4) What actions would you take on Affordable Housing over the next 3 years? (250 words)
Affordable housing is a state mandate; the number of units we are required to provide in Readington is being decided in the courts. Going forward, we can improve the process by which the township has operated thus far, and include the voices of all citizens of Readington. When elected to Township Committee, we will encourage consultation with the stakeholders most affected by the location such as neighbors, Emergency Services, the Board of Education, and the community at large. We will also bring additional clarity to the township’s affordable housing plan since it is unclear who is even serving on the affordable housing committee as referenced in the slide presentation on township’s website. We will also ensure that important government documents such as the Master Plan, which includes the affordable housing element, are always free and easily accessible to township residents. When our campaign requested electronic access to the Master Plan, we were told by Township Administration it is only available in hard copy for purchase at a substantial cost or to review in person. Upon further pressure, the Master Plan was only recently made available online. Breaking down barriers to open access, such as providing the Master Plan for free online, is a step in the right direction, and we want to continue to move Readington in the direction of transparency and accessibility.
5) Should Readington devote more, fewer, or about the same resources to open space as it has over the past 5 years? (150 words)
We love our open, green spaces. We want to reevaluate our open space plan, as Hunterdon County just did, and prioritize acquisition of open space adjacent to preserved properties with public access, utilization, and a coherent plan for maintenance in mind. We support balancing open space acquisition with sound economic sustainability to minimize impact on tax base, debt burden, and long-term financial viability.
There must be full transparency to the planning and acquisition of open space. The Environmental Commission, which has in its charter responsibility for acquiring open space has not published meeting records since 2014. Unlike our opponents, we will ensure all Township sub-committees operate in accordance with Open Public Meeting laws. The Open Space Advisory Board has no authority to recommend acquisition of parcels, yet they do. Both committees are currently operating outside their respective charters. These charters will be reexamined and updated when we are elected.
6) What other programs would you advocate for Readington over the next 3 years? (ex. social, seniors, Merck/Unicom, development, or whatever) (200 words)
Upon election we will implement a market research study to collect information from residents across the spectrum of citizens, and business operators, in this community. We will use that information to assess and prioritize plans and programs. This will give all community members a chance to be heard. Establishing an annual ‘Citizens Satisfaction Survey’ will provide valuable feedback to the town leaders ensuring governance is conducted in accordance with the needs and interests of the entire community in mind.
It is an imperative to work proactively with UNICOM to ensure they become integrated into the community. Our Economic Commission will do just that, exploring with UNICOM the types of support goods and services they need and; that will also benefit township residents. Through this dialogue we hope to bring a wealth of new opportunities to Township residents to enjoy, including new community gathering places and recreational activities.
We have heard from many citizens over the past year and are excited to bring to life ideas for enhanced recreation opportunities, more connectivity to each other with community gathering space, and to jobs, with enhanced transit options.
7) Comment on the health of town finances (budget, debt & taxes). If you advocated any new or expanded programs in the above question, explain how you would finance them. (250 words)
In our view the Township has gone backwards financially under the current administration. Our ratable base has declined in the past 3 years, most notably in the commercial sector where the assessed valuation has declined by 10% since 2015. The picture is worse looking back to 2014, the year before our opponent took office. Since then, we lost $58 million in assessed value. The tax burden on residential property owners has far outpaced the commercial sector under this administration as well. Per household taxes paid by residential property owners have increased 11% over the past 3 years; farm assessed property taxes have increased 5%. The commercial sector’s municipal tax contribution has declined 2% over the same period.
Not only have homeowners and farms been disproportionately impacted by rising taxes, they bear an increasing amount of debt. Since 2015, the year our opponent took office, our total municipal debt burden has increased 5% to nearly $60 Million. The result? A 26% growth since 2015 in the amount we pay out of our municipal budget just to service this debt. In 2018 alone, 25% of our budget goes toward debt service and that allocation has increased by 15% since 2015.
These alarming trends must be reversed now. The Economic Commission we propose will do just that: proactively engage with citizens and business leaders to bring the right mix of businesses to our community. Businesses that will increase the quality and convenience of life in Readington without compromising its rural character.
8) Explain how you are different than your opponents. (150 words)
It is time for change. We bring new thinking, new skills, and new energy in order to create a more representative governing body. We will not stand for government leadership that allows the municipal tax burden to increasingly shift toward residents and that tolerates ever increasing debt. Nor will we stand for leaders that operate outside the bounds of acceptable government practices with at best, sloppy record keeping, at worst, a deliberate attempt to shift key decision-making responsibilities to a limited few without full transparency for all our citizens.
We look forward to incorporating the voice of all Readington citizens into the planning process through surveys and town meetings and to shining the light of transparency on government operations. Importantly, we are eager to rebalance our economics and revitalize our community with new shopping, dining, and recreation opportunities that our Economic Commission will bring to bear. Learn more: esakoffandfioreforreadington.com.
Last Update 10/21/18