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Eatontown Council/Mayor Election Preview

Albert Baginsky
Dennis Connelly
Donna Mazzella-Diedrichsen
Matthew Jacobs
Mark Regan
Gerald Tarantolo

EATONTOWN: The race for mayor and two spots on the borough council will be highly contested this year.

Incumbent Mayor Gerald Tarantolo, a Democrat, is being challenged by Councilman Dennis Connelly, a Republican.

Republican Councilman Mark Regan is looking to reclaim his seat and have his running mate Donna Mazzella-Diedrichsen, sit next to him on the dais.

Two Democrats, Albert Baginski and Matthew Jacobs, will also be on the ballot on Nov. 4.

Word On The Shore reached out to each candidate and asked them all the same three questions about some of the biggest issues facing the borough.

Candidates were given a 400 word limit to answer the following questions:

1) What are your thoughts on how the demolition of Howard Commons at Fort Monmouth should be handled?

2) Do you feel Eatontown Borough Hall has a space issue? If so, what would be your plan to correct this issue?

3) There are many vacant storefronts in the borough, what is your plan to bring new businesses to the borough?

All of their answers are printed verbatim below.

Mayor

Dennis Connelly:

1) The Howard Commons area is not currently a part of Eatontown but our residents have been watching this blighted area deteriorate over the past several years and it is causing a negative effect on property values in our town. The demolition of this area is not the responsibility of the residents of Eatontown. Mayor Tarantolo is a member of FMERA by statue, not by appointment or selection of the borough council members. His failure to address this issue with FMERA or hold them accountable has only made this situation worsen. I recently toured the property with Congressman Chris Smith. I have also met with our state and county legislators. These buildings need to be torn down but this will not happen on the backs of the Eatontown Taxpayers. If we do not see any progress by our area representatives, I would be in favor of taking more aggressive legal action to expedite the demolition. If this property was left abandon by a private industry, this would have been in court already. There is no reason that the Federal Government is not being held to that same standard as private industry.

2) Back in 2006, Mayor Tarantolo stated that the Eatontown Municipal Building "is bursting at the seams" and the solution of the problem is to move to a new building. Eight long years later, he is advocating the same problem and solution. A year ago, Eatontown and Tinton Falls signed a share services agreement to have Tinton Falls handle all the Municipal Court services for our town. This agreement saves close to $100,000 a year in salaries and employee benefits for Eatontown. This also freed up the existing courtroom and court clerk office space in the municipal building. It should be noted, that Eatontown was one of a very select few towns that actually had a municipal court room and council room within the building. Most complexes would use one space for both functions. Another issue that has been lacking within the borough is file retention. As technology has been rapidly progressing, the borough offices have not been upgraded or supplied with the proper equipment to utilize the more efficient uses of this technology. This causes each department to be cluttered with paper files that have been closing in on the employee's workspaces. Our existing building does need updating and a redesign to use the all space to the maximum potential and to make the operating costs more efficient but, our town does not need a new municipal complex.

3) With most of the past 8 years being concentrated on the closing and redevelopment of Ft. Monmouth property, our town has had several areas left unattended. There have been several studies to help improve the Downtown area of town in past years but nothing has ever been implemented. I would like to improve the downtown streetscape by installing decorative streetlights that would have welcoming seasonal banners attached. The Wampum Park bridge on Hwy 35 is also an area that needs a facelift to improve the image of our beautiful park that is currently blocked from vehicular view. The intersection of Industrial Way and Hwy 35 not only needs engineering for more efficient traffic flow but, both the North and South jughandle islands could be manicured green spaces with monuments to showcase our Industrial Park area which is one of the best in the state of New Jersey.

The borough's code enforcement office also needs to address the property owners that have neglected or failed to address obvious violations within their properties. With some investment of time and engineering to the beautification of Eatontown along with an aggressive marketing campaign, our town should attract new interest to conduct business in our community.

Gerald Tarantolo:

1) Demolition of Howard Commons - Howard Commons has been vacant for over 20 years. During that period the buildings and land area have fallen into serious decay. The blight that has resulted concerns me and I have even greater concern for the residents that live adjacent to it. The buildings should be demolished as soon as practical even if the Boro takes the initiative to undertake the demolition. I propose that we take that initiative by bonding for the project only if we are assured contractually that we are repaid by the eventual developer of the property. This will buy as full year of a non-blighted area.

2) Two and a half years ago our Boro Administrator and Architect did an audit of all departments with department head input to determine if indeed space was an issue. The results of that audit indicated that we did indeed have a space issue and that and additional 15,000 square feet was needed. It was demonstrated that some of our building inspectors do not have work stations. Architecturally, our current building could not grow vertically only horizontally. If that option was pursued we could only gain about 10.000 square feet. My solution was to explore moving our municipal complex to Fort Monmouth near to the new Eatontown Town Center. I feel this option gives us the best flexibility and the ability to grow into the future and have our municipal complex become part of Eatontown's new town center.

3) Eatontown like so many other municipalities throughout the state was impacted by a down economy. Our problem was compounded by the closing of Fort Monmouth. This is one of the reasons why I created the Eatontown Economic Advisory Committee. The committee comprised of local business individuals meets once a month to explore ways of energizing our economy and filling vacant commercial space. I am pleased that the economy is turning around and vacant space is now being filled.

Council

Albert Baginsky:

1) First, it is a question of timing, if we do nothing, Howard Commons will eventually be sold to a developer and demolished.

Mayor Tarantolo has already worked with FMERA to increase the scheduled mowings, improve the lighting of the area and to install a mesh barrier on the fence to block the view of the blighted area. The residents of the area and the elementary school children that attend the 2 schools adjacent to the blighted property, deserve the best we can do to resolve the issue.

2) I don't know enough about the space requirements of the various Departments in Borough Hall to give a definitive answer. However, I have noticed that there are filing cabinets lining the back of the Council Meeting Room and the Municipal Court has been transferred from Eatontown Borough Hall to Tinton Falls Borough Hall.

3) We need to develop an Economic Development Plan for Eatontown. The Plan would identify vacant store fronts and commercial property and provide input into what businesses want to attract, and how to attract them.

Matthew Jacobs:

1) The Borough should incentivize private developers by reducing their risk while having no impact on the tax payers. There are several reasons why this is a better direction for the Borough than suing the state and federal government or waiting for the federal government to bail us out.

First, the Borough can get a low interest rate, far below anything a private developer can get. Second, by demolishing the homes ourselves we cut the time the developer has to fully construct the site. This again incentivizes the private sector by reducing the developer's costs as they no longer have to pay interest on their loans for demolishing the site which can add months to the project. Lastly, this has the benefit of the town not having the blight and due to the cost savings to the developer mentioned previously, the developer can increase the quality of the homes they plan to build which will boost the value of homes already in the Borough.

These are the reasons why the developer would be glad to work with the Borough when they purchase the property. This also shows the state and federal agencies that the Borough is serious about working with FMERA and getting things done efficiently.

As an economic consultant, I've worked on BRAC projects before and understand that the BRAC process is slow and tedious and that the Borough is legally bound to work with FMERA, the only federally approved Local Redevelopment Agency (LRA). When compared to other BRACs around the country (like Walter Reed, Fort McPherson, New Brunswick Naval Air base) that had major losses, we are at a similar stage in our development. This shows that Eatontown and other towns going through the BRAC process are not alone.

The Republican position of suing FMERA and the federal government is not a refundable option and it also endangers our relationship with our only legally mandated partner. In addition, it would cost us much more than actually demolishing the buildings since lawyer fees mount up and FMERA can refuse to work with the town due to a lawsuit. This means no other properties would be sold or touched until our lawsuit against FMERA is completed, which could take years.

2) Currently I do not work at Borough Hall so I am not privy to the space issues and how it impacts the productivity of the Borough employees. I have not seen all of the studies conducted or the data collected on this issue. In addition, I have not seen a proposed cost associated with future actions such as building a new building, expansion of the old building, or the decentralization of services. Therefore I would have to state that my position is to find out more information. Drawing a definitive conclusion without conducting a proper due diligence and cost benefit analysis would be irresponsible of me.


However, knowing many of the state's best practices for reducing costs associated with municipal operations, I would not agree with decentralization. For Eatontown's size, having many offices instead of one central office can increase costs due to additional overhead which is counter to the philosophy of reducing costs through consolidation. In addition, the decentralization approach may decrease the effectiveness of services to the public and reduce synergy between departments that would no longer see each other on a daily basis. More effort should be made to understand what other municipalities have done when they were in our situation. This can provide us with invaluable experience on more practical matters that are often overlooked.

I would advocate for an option not yet studied which would be to modernize the current facility by making many of the operations digital. This would include scanning and removing old documents, introducing more modern computer based solutions to operations, and providing staff with the more efficient wireless technology. This can have the dual benefits of improving on our already stellar services and reducing overall costs to the Borough's operating budget.

3) The retail vacancy rates along the Route 35 corridor from Shrewsbury to Ocean has fallen from 10.5% in 2012 to 7.6% in 2014, according to the Goldstein group, a local retail developer. That means the town's major retail corridor's vacancy rate is 3% below the national average and we are stronger than some other retail corridors around the state.

I'll admit that after the recession there were empty store fronts that included massive national chain retail failures such as Borders, but the resurgence in the area reflected by the lower vacancy rates shows retail properties are filled by a sound regional economy and not local government intervention. If we want storefronts filled, the best way is to support the regional and local economy through sound economic development planning not ad hoc or knee jerk government interventions, something the current members of council have yet to understand. The town should not tell businesses how they should be run, or tell commercial landlords what their rental prices should be, or how their services can attract customers. This is for the market to decide.

I've worked for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and as a private economic consultant creating economic development strategies throughout the country. Recently I presented a proposal to the Borough's Economic Development Advisory Council to have them conduct an economic development strategy under my guidance. They overwhelming agreed and as business leaders they understand that market forces dictate the local economy, but a sound economic development strategy will manage and influence the Borough's choices to persuade the market to the direction we, as a community, want it to go. The economic development strategy will include hard economic data about the Borough as well as input from the community and will be an appendix to the Borough's Master Plan update in 2017. Some of the strategy goals are

• Expand the tax base through targeted commercial development of vacant/commercially zoned properties. Possible developments identified include eyesores like the old Roller Rink property on Route 35 and other underutilized properties in the industrial areas.

• Provide needed commercial amenities to residents (some examples might include a supermarket, medical offices, and an animal hospital)

• Grow, strengthen and diversify the local employment base by attracting high paying employers

• Find ways to better retain businesses by reducing government red tape.

Donna Mazzella-Diedrichsen:

1) Eatontown doesn't own Howard Commons. Eatontown needs the federal government to address this issue. Eatontown cannot afford to demolition Howard Commons.

2) No I do not.

3) High tech and skilled jobs need to be brought into the borough. These type of jobs provide more occupation positions and various type of labor to Eatontown.

Mark Regan:

1) Howard Commons should be demolished with the help of the federal government, without taking the money from the residents of Eatontown. The army will not do anything without pressure from above. The army left us with their mess well before they officially closed the base. If Howard Commons wasn't suitable to house victims of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, they should have taken the steps to demolish it back then. All I hear is that the Army standards for construction are not the same as our construction standards, so even for that reason, the Army should take responsibility for their mess and tear down those slums. Mayor Tarantolo says he is the only Democrat on the FMERA board, I believe he should step aside and ask Council President Dennis J. Connelly and the other council members to help in this situation and provide input. Then we would be on par with Tinton Falls and Oceanport who consult with their council members.

2) Eatontown's Borough Hall does not have a space issue. We have a paper issue.

The only department that may be tight is the construction department when all the inspectors are in the office at the same time. But if we reorganize the building, we could save money by not implementing the Mayors plan of moving. Using Council President Dennis J. Connelly's suggestion on file retention services and scanning documents we can save both money and space.

3) My plan to bring new businesses to town could include some marketing efforts to showcase Eatontowns' strengths of being accessible from anywhere. We can advertise them on the boroughs website and we can get our local papers and media outlets to help us with our efforts by keeping the stream of information flowing. All major roads lead to Eatontown. I would also like to try to manage our commercial corridor on Rt 35 by making it an Improvement District similar to the way Red Bank did years ago.

We should focus on being more business friendly also. Commercial and residential areas are in need of some beautification to attract and keep public interest. We cannot and should not abandon our existing commercial and residential areas in favor of more retail space.


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