At a candidates' forum attended by more than 50 people at Lincroft School Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Stephen Massell emphasized what he considered the current administration's various accomplishments, while challenger Linda Baum described her ideas on how Middletown could save more taxpayer money.
The Monmouth County League of Women Voters moderated the forum, hosted by the Lincroft Village Green Association. Massell, a Republican, and Baum, a Democrat, are vying for an open seat on the Middletown Township Committee.
Other candidates at the forum were competing for county freeholder or the full-time position of County Clerk. The freeholder candidates were Freeholder Director John Curley and Freeholder Serena DiMaso of the Republican Party, facing Kevin Lavan and William Shea of the Democratic Party. For the office of County Clerk, the contest is between Republican incumbent M. Claire French and Democrat Michael Steinhorn.
Baum, an actuary, said she has been regulary attending government meetings in Middletown for several years. As a founder of Middletown Open Government, she has helped organize the videotaping of public township and school board meetings for distribution to the public.
She said the current administration's 1.97% tax increase -- which came in under the state-imposed 2% cap -- is not good enough. "We're talking about limiting the increase in our taxes. I think that is the wrong focus," she said. "We should be focusing on not increasing them at all, or reducing them."
Baum said there are several ways the township could be offering residents tax relief. One idea is to pre-approve a half dozen engineering firms so that they can compete for engineering projects -- rather than appointing one firm for an entire year. She also is in favor of dissolving the Middletown Sewerage Authority and combining its services with the township.
Baum said the government body needs to delegate work to citizen committees, such as a pesonnel or finance committtee. "I would be very vocal about good ideas that we should be implementing to save taxpayer money. That's what i would do differently," Baum said.
Massell, a Realtor who is currently serving out his first term as deputy mayor, said he is proud to have played a part in facilitating a deal that brought Memorial Sloan Kettering to town. He also touted single stream recycling and a shared services money-saving plan with the Board of Education as cost-saving measures.
He opposes dissolving the "incredibly efficient" township Sewerage Authority. At $70 a quarter, "We have the lowest rates in the state." He also is not in favor of televising government meetings for broadcast due to the costs, which he said could potentially add up to $100,000 a year.
He said that if re-elected, he would focus on improving the youth athletic league fields. "We have got to spend more time on our fields, we owe it to our kids," he said. Other initiatives he stands behind is the dredging of Shadow Lake and the establishment of the Economic Development Committee.
"And most importantly, keeping our taxes down, and working very hard," Massell added.