Fanwood Candidates Debate the Issues
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 • 10:00pm
FANWOOD, NJ – The Borough of Fanwood held a political debate Wednesday night moderated by Fred Rossi from the Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains Times. There are two Council seats under contention and four candidates – Jack Molenaar and Dan Levine for the Democrats and Michael Szuch and Robert Manduca for the Republicans.
The first question was “What do you think of the downtown development?” Jack Molenaar declared that he was “proud of the downtown development”, although he admitted that there is always “more to do.”
Robert Manduca responded that taking eight years to develop two blocks was a bit much and that the town could have “built several empire state buildings” in that time, and he would “ not necessarily characterize is as a rousing success.”
Mike Szuch pointed out that there was still a lack of attention to parts of South and LaGrande, however, the Council was helping property owners by showing them designs and sidewalk upgrades and other things to help them “stay viable as businesses.” He hopes to see a major anchor store in the new development soon.
Dan Levine admitted that the development “has been slower than we would have liked, but there was a very serious recession to deal with.”
The concept of consolidation was then broached and candidates were asked “where do you stand on the efforts of the Courage to Reconnect group?
Jack Molenaar replied: ‘Courage to Reconnect has their heart is in the right place- they want to save tax dollars, I want that a swell, but the best way to save is through shared services, not consolidation
He pointed out that “Consolidations are usually unsuccessful, cost more money and much wasted dollars on studies. We will be there asking questions, at this point I’m more in favor of spending most of our energy on making shared serviced happen”
Councilman Manduca replied that he felt it was a “very perilous time for Fanwood” and “the devil is in the details. It could save us a lot of money or it could cost us a lot!” He felt that his background in the private sector would allow him to bring “a businessman’s view to the process” to “ensure a positive outcome.”
Dan Levine replied the “I have yet to find a single person who supports consolidation, yet they are curious of what the numbers would be. I do not favor consolidation, but I think we have a responsibility to work with the commission to understand what this could mean.”
Councilman Manduca pointed out the study conducted several years ago that showed shared services as the way to keep property taxes down. “I think this report said that there would be around $100 per household if the towns consolidated.” He pointed out that not many residents would be willing to give up the unique qualities of Fanwood for such a small savings.
Councilman Szuch agreed, saying that shared services are the fasted and most obvious way to saving money. The larger items are more complicated and will take more time, and at this point, the current bipartisan council has been able to work well.
The panel was then asked to consider senior Citizens - What do you say to them about being able to afford to stay in town?
Councilman Manduca was all for helping Senior Ci9tizens, pointing out that they “can’t afford to stay, they leave and then a young family moves in with three kids for the school system. We need a balance.”
Jack Molenaar pointed out that “any savings made thru shared services will save more each year and be better for senior services. We need to start with small changes and keep going,” while “staying in front of the process.”
Councilman Manduca felt that is was becoming “a bit farciacal” that some politicians thought that throwing the phrase “shared services” around would keep the taxpayers quiet. “If you look at our Rescue Squad and Fire Department, they are all volunteer – you can’t get any lower than zero with our costs!”
The debate them moved on to the concept of whether or not the Country could do more to keep costs down.
Councilman Manduca pointed out that “these are complex questions and two minutes is not enough time to do them justice!” However, he felt that the Council needed to “agitate” the county for a better deal and that having “friends in both camps” by having a bipartisan council was a good thing
Jack Molenaar pointed out that his past experience working for a county would be a benefit to the Council and he felt the Country had been generous in the past with grants for Fanwood.
Dan Levine also took the opportunity to show has his professional history would benefit Fanwood.
“We need to examine, create and implement shared services where possible and I think I have the qualifications to make that happen.” He then thanked Fanwood residents who had “taken the time to share their thoughts with me j- I would like to be your advocate to the Council to bring smart leadership to Fanwood.”
Councilman Szuch concluded with “A true bipartisan Council works here in Fanwood. We have kept taxes down in recent years. People who have their focus on keeping costs down and continue to provide the services that are needed…I don’t think Fanwood can afford a one party council. Through Mayor Mahr’s leadership and a bipartisan council we have been able to keep costs down and maintain services.”
Jack Molenaar concluded by thanking everyone who had supported him in his decision to run again for Council. He wanted the voters to know that “I am not afraid to look in depth at this question of consolidation.”
Councilman Manduca declared, “I’m damn proud to be from Fanwood. . .I find my fellow council members to be sincere I ask tough questions, not to be difficult, but organization who don’t’ ask tough questions don’t succeed.” He then concluded that here needed to be someone from the private sector on the council to ensure a balance.