Republican incumbents Gerard Scharfenberger and Kevin Settembrino are being challenged by Democrats Pat Olsen and Linda Baum. Polls open on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Below are the responses from Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger:
Can you please provide a brief bio, including how long you’ve lived in Middletown and your ties to the community?
I am the Director of the Office for Planning Advocacy in the Department of State. I am also an adjunct professor in the History/Anthropology Department at Monmouth University. I currently serve on the Township Committee. My family and I have lived in Middletown for 19.5 years. In addition to volunteering on the Township Committee, my other volunteer work consists of serving on the Middletown Landmarks Commission, Municipal Drug and Alcohol Alliance, Open Space Committee, Economic Development Committee and Middletown 350 Steering Committee.
My years on the Township Committee have been extremely productive and rewarding. During that time, Middletown has been named one of the top 100 places to live in America for three years in a row of eligibility by Money Magazine. Other notable accomplishments include the fact that Middletown has one of the lowest spending per capita, smallest workforces per capita, and smallest police forces per capita, while having a high quality of life and one of the lowest crime rates in the state.
Other accomplishments include bringing Memorial Sloan Kettering to town, constructing the Leonardo outflow, forming the first municipal veterans affairs committee in the state, getting the largest municipal employee health benefit contribution in the state, saving the Middletown Swim Club and bringing a world class ice rink into town at no cost to the taxpayers, instituting single stream recycling which increased revenues, and decreased costs, expanded the offerings and number of participants to the award-winning Middletown Arts Center, having the number one-rated municipal website in the state, and increasing open space acquisitions to several thousand acres, to name a few.
What are your motivations for running for elected office?
I have always felt that our greatest freedom as Americans is the right to self-governance. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to serve and guide the community that I call home, and I want to keep Middletown the special place that it is for my children and future generations.
What new ideas do you have for Middletown?
- Constructing a new, state-of-the-art Clean Natural Gas (CNG) fueling facility at no cost to the taxpayers.
- Introducing the new Property Tax Rebate card in 2014 to help people reduce their property taxes.
- Roll out a township mobile app to increase access to information and transparency.
What challenges does Middletown currently face, and what do you plan to do to address them?
I feel the single biggest challenge is keeping municipal property taxes stable in the face of rising health benefit and energy costs, increasing workman’s compensation claims, and increasing regulation from the federal government. My ideas are spelled out in Question 5.
Other challenges include rebuilding after Sandy, maintaining and upgrading our infrastructure, and preserving as much of our remaining open space as possible. The rebuilding of the sections of town impacted by Sandy has been a slow, but steady process. We are currently working closely with the county, state and federal authorities on a number of flood control and infrastructure improvements to the areas most vulnerable to these types of events. We are actively working to rebuild the areas in a way that would make homes, businesses and infrastructure as resistant as possible to future extreme weather events.
The township recently was awarded a substantial grant to upgrade and harden our energy infrastructure. We will use this to help protect and provide alternate power sources that can be utilized during power outages to protect critical structures and help maintain order and movement during extreme weather events. We will also look to forge partnerships and encourage preservation of open space through direct purchase, conservation easements and partnering with private organizations and individuals to add to our already substantial inventory of open space.
Property taxes are always a concern, especially in New Jersey. How can Middletown control taxes?
There are several strategies for controlling the municipal share of property taxes. First and foremost is to always keep municipal spending to the bare minimum while providing essential services and infrastructure maintenance. Second, continue to aggressively pursue shared service agreements to increase revenues and cut costs. Third, continue to fight unfunded mandates such as government subsidized, low income housing that drive up property taxes, and result in unwanted development and a loss of precious open space. Fourth, continue to fight to remove education funding from the backs of property taxpayers. Middletown was the first municipality in the state to pass a resolution calling for a new funding system that didn’t involve property taxes. Finally and most importantly, facilitate economic development in Middletown to expand the commercial tax ratable base and take the burden off of residential property taxpayers. One of the ways we are doing this is through our newly formed Economic Development Committee. We have also actively pursued redeveloping and repopulating our existing commercial properties to increase business activity and private sector job creation, while protecting open space.
Another initiative to help businesses while lowering the property tax burden on residents is through the new Middletown Property Tax Reward Card. This initiative rewards Middletown residents with a lower property tax bill just for shopping at participating businesses located within the township. Overall, we will continue to explore every avenue to help lower municipal property taxes.
What accomplishments in your private life translates positively to a position in public office?
Certainly having gone through many years of school which culminated in earning a doctoral degree has conditioned me to be dedicated, focused and relentless to achieve a goal. As a professional archaeologist, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work my way up through the ranks in my profession to reach the most senior position. This taught me to work with and manage diverse groups of people, while overseeing large budgets and complex projects in a timely manner. My long career in teaching has given me the ability to communicate with and relate to large numbers of people for a common goal. As a public servant, these skills are precisely what is needed to manage a government entity, work with other officials, organizations, employees, and most importantly, residents. It also has conditioned me to handle adversity, while being creative in tackling any problem that may arise.