Candidate Perspectives

Holding our Government Accountable

We expressly built our platform around the values we believe are most essential to good government: Access, Transparency, Inclusivity and Accountability.

Immersing ourselves in Township government operations, we have learned that several key township committees, particularly those associated with the acquisition of open space, have a long history of violating the NJ Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the “Sunshine Law.” This law was passed in 1975 to protect the public’s right to attend all meetings where government business will be discussed, and to ensure the availability of public records of all such meetings after the fact.

After attending dozens of Township Committee and commission meetings over the past year, we submitted several Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests asking for relevant meeting minutes going back to 2014. We were shocked when the Township acknowledged that many records were not available.

As a result of these findings, Readington Township is now under investigation by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor for failing “to keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of all of its meetings and make them promptly available to the public.” The County Prosecutor has expressly directed the Township to comply with state law, requiring them to take corrective measures to ensure that the “records of Township and its Committee meetings be accessible to the public” in the future.

These violations have occurred under the watch of current Mayor Ben Smith, who has been a member of the Township Committee for 3 years. (serving as mayor since January 2017.)

In addition, we have learned that several committees are not following their charters and bylaws, and the ultimate decision-making process and authority of how the Township spends your hard-earned tax dollars on open space remains unclear.

Open Space Advisory Board, chaired by our opponent Juergen Huelsebusch,is an offending committee that, under his leadership, has overstepped its legal responsibilities laid out in the township bylaws. The Open Space Advisory Board does NOT have authority to acquire properties, yet they do. Acquisition is the responsibility of the Environmental Commission, according to our township bylaws. One can only conclude that Smith and Huelsebusch have been, and continue to be, comfortable operating without accountability and transparency.

Violations of the Open Public Meeting Law, like those discovered by our campaign, unnecessarily expose the Township to potential legal liabilities. Worse, however, these violations degrade the Township residents by depriving them of vital information that belongs to them.

We discovered these violations as a direct result of our own eagerness for Access and Transparency, and in doing so, we have indisputably established that we are more committed to these critical values than our opponents.

When elected to Township Committee we will immediately implement a review of all operating charters and make sure that each part of town governance is in compliance with state regulations and is operating in full transparency.

If you, too, believe in those values and wish to see them advanced in Readington on your behalf and for your benefit, vote for Esakoff and Fiore on November 6th. We pledge to continue our vigilance and commitment to Access, Transparency, Inclusivity and Accountability in Readington Township’s government.

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Residents and Farmers Pay More

Readington has gone backwards on municipal taxes since 2015. Residents and farms pay more. The municipal tax numbers (not including school taxes) speak for themselves:

Our ratable base has declined in the past 3 years, most notably in the commercial sector where the assessed valuation has declined by 12% since 2015. Our ratable base has declined in the past 3 years, most notably in the commercial sector where the assessed valuation has declined by 12% 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. 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.

The Economic Commission we propose will bring much needed balance to our taxpayers. The Economic Commission will 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.

Municipal Debt

Our Municipal Debt simplified:
We think it is important for taxpayers to know the portion of the taxes we pay toward the municipal budget (not including schools) that goes just for Debt Service on the enormous debt we currently have.

$14.7 out of the $20.1M municipal budget is funded by our taxes.

And 25% of that is eaten away by payments on our Debt- $3.7M in 2018 alone!

To put our Debt situation in perspective, our total Debt in 2017 was $59.6M which is 3.2 times (yes 3.2 times!) higher than what our neighbors in Tewksbury, Clinton Township, and Raritan Township have as total debt outstanding. The average total debt across those towns in 2017 was $18.9M.

First Responders

Our first responders are vital to our public safety. Did you know that our Fire Fighters are all volunteers and our Rescue Squad relies heavily on volunteers as well? Did you know that we need to have at least 10 new volunteers PER month on each squad to make up for people leaving our first responder squads? Every single one of us relies on these squads to be there in a moment of need.
The Township needs to do more to support our First Responders. When elected we pledge to do more than just set the minimum amount of money aside year after year for equipment and training which is what our opponents have done. We MUST support our first responders with programs that maximize enrollment and tenure. Here are some of our ideas:


• Budget for professional recruitment support to ensure strong volunteer recruit pipeline
• Support quarterly recognition programs to publicize key accomplishments of individuals who serve with excellence
• Engage local businesses to support first responder discount programs
• Identify ways to support the 25-45 year-old volunteers who often leave the squads to meet the demands of work and family

Taxes and Transparency

The most important issues that Readington Township faces are economic sustainability and lack of transparency in government operations.

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 12% 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. 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 municipal 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.

It is important that government operations and decision making be transparent and that information on decisions that affect all of us be readily available to the public. 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.

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.

Together 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.