Ten Questions for the 2009 Candidates for Township Committee (and their responses)

Editors Note: In this election, four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Township Committee. The Delaware Township Post has asked each candidate to respond to ten questions on various topics of importance to Delaware Township residents. We’re pleased to have the participation of all four candidates.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.  Here are their responses – in their own words.                                                                                            .

About the Candidates

Stephanie Dunn

Occupation:   Personal Life Coach

Education: Bachelor of Science-Thomas Edison State College, Coaching Credential-Coaches Training Institute

Party affiliation: Democrat

Personal Statement: [no answer submitted]

Experience

List participation in any township boards, committees, commissions, civic groups or other organizations: Serve as an Advisor to the Delaware Township Planning Board,  Small Business Owner, President of the Ringoes Moms Club,  Certified Hunterdon County Substitute Teacher, Serve on the Board for Our Local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, Professionally Certified Ski Instructor, Actively promote Health and Wellness as a Personal Fitness Instructor

Experience in any elected office: [no answer submitted]

Relevant professional experience: [no answer submitted]

Roger Locandro

Occupation: Organic Farmer, Horticulturalist, Tree Mover, Storm Water Facilities Installation, Stream Restoration

Education: Delaware Town Ship, Hunterdon Central, Mercer County College, RV College, Rutgers University, BS, Ag& Environmental Economics, Graduate Studies in Environmental & Natural Resource Economics. Continue Education, Rutgers University, Shade Tree Federation DEP Wetlands Studies. Under Ground Storage Facilities.

Party affiliation: Republican

Personal Statement:

I will provide a unique perspective to the Township Committee, I’m a farmer, Businessman, life long resident. Until Recently I had 4 generations living here in Hunterdon County. I have experience first hand, the costs associated with my grandparents wanting to stay close, children going to school.

Experience

List participation in any township boards, committees, commissions, civic groups or other organizations: Shade Tree Commission, Appointed to a second term now a 5 yr, currently Chair Appointed by last year’s TC. 2 terms on the Environmental Committee, Currently the Chair. Appointed by this years TC. NJ Shade Tree Federation, NJ Nursery Landscape Association. Golf course Superintends Association, NJ Turf Grass Federation, NJ Organic Farmers, 4-H Parent,

Experience in any elected office:

Relevant professional experience: I have real experience in stream restoration, and storm water installation, common sense and experience in business administration, budgeting, labor issues, road and bridge construction. Curiously, farming large trees gives me a unique perspective on long range planning and budgeting.

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Ken Novak

Occupation: [no answer submitted]

Education: [no answer submitted]

Party affiliation: [no answer submitted]

Personal Statement: [no answer submitted]

Experience

List participation in any township boards, committees, commissions, civic groups or other organizations: [no answer submitted]

Experience in any elected office: [no answer submitted]

Relevant professional experience: [no answer submitted]

Sam Thompson

Occupation: Systems Analyst in the pharmaceutical industry

Education: BS Systems Engineering, University of Virginia

Party affiliation: Democratic

Personal Statement:

My parents were brought up on farms during the Depression. They came from very modest means. As a result, they taught me the value of hard work, the importance of saving money and spending it wisely, and the rewards that come from serving one’s community.

They also taught me the importance of family. I am truly blessed to have been married to the same incredible woman for 20 years, with whom I am raising three beautiful children.

I am proud to live in Delaware Township and I’m honored to be considered for a spot on Township Committee.

Experience

List participation in any township boards, committees, commissions, civic groups or other organizations:

Presently Township liaison to the Sergeantsville Farmer’s Market

2007 and 2008: Chairman, Environmental Commission

2006: Planning Board Advisory member

2006: Delaware Township Municipal Utilities Authority

2003 – 2006, 2009 – present: DTAA Soccer coach

2006 – 2009: Greater Flemington Soccer Club coach

2003 – present: Trinity Episcopal Church (Sunday School teacher 2006 – 2009)

2001 – 2003: Board of Trustees, River Valley School

2004: Finance Committee, River Valley School

Experience in any elected office: [no answer submitted]

Relevant professional experience: I work in an industry that is governed by numerous regulations and requires operating on tight budgets. I have experience managing multiple long term projects that run concurrent with addressing day-to-day issues. My job requires that I lead many people who have differing opinions and guide them to mutually agreed-upon solutions.

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Questions

1. None of the candidates this year have prior experience on the Township Committee.  What experience do you have that will help you in office, if elected?

Stephanie Dunn

First of all, I was raised by my grandparents, and was taught the value of hard work. We didn’t have the luxuries of my peers, but we did have our integrity, and a strong commitment to our beliefs. These beliefs include honesty, empathy for others, fairness, and loyalty. I was a part of an old fashion community that helped each other, cared for each other, and stood together in times of strife. Unfortunately I have witnessed first hand what tax raises and high costs can do to seniors and push them out of there homes and communities.

Old fashioned values inspired me to open my own Life Coaching firm at the age of 24. The foundation of my business is constructed on the above core values. Being a small business owner requires leadership, careful planning, intent listening, and the policy of having open communication always. I believe that my upbringing primes me for the ultimate commitment to our township, and my experience with running my company prepares me for the challenges I may face when granted the honor of serving my community.

Roger Locandro

My love and deeply rooted attachment to Delaware Township. I have a passion for preserving the township as we know it today. I don’t just believe in preserving open space, I embrace it. My wife and I are the largest single landowner of preserved farmland in the township.

My family and I own and actively farm 375 acres of preserved farmland, and I have applied to preserve additional acres that I own. I have the personal experience of the application process to preserve open space. I make a living as a full time farmer and hold the values of this rural community close to my heart.

I have a lifelong involvement in the township. I hold appointed offices in Township government, my degree is in agricultural economics and my experience in maintaining a balanced budget for my business all transfer to important skills to keep Delaware Township a great place for us and our children.

Ken Novak

I’ve been running my own business for 14 yrs. Government should be run like a business, not afraid to cut expense to keep cost down. Before having my business, I worked in accounting for 7 yrs. This will help in providing a strong knowledge on the financials of the township. And I currently serve on the Delaware Twp Board of Ed. for the school. 5 yrs. On the finance committee.

Sam Thompson

I served as the Chair of the Environment Commission throughout 2007 and 2008. During that time, the EC was able to reinstate the state-mandated activity of monitoring environmental easements. This activity had lapsed in prior years.

I presently serve in a leadership capacity at work, where I oversee the work of multiple professionals. Throughout my career, I have managed multiple project and departmental budgets, and I am very experienced in overseeing the work of my team members.

I also have worked as part of a team to manage school budgets when I served on the Board of Trustees of a small private school. I saw first hand the impact to members of our community when a budget didn’t balance and tuition had to be raised and I also participated in the hard decisions that led to the termination of employees who also were members of the school community.

Finally, I believe that members of the Township Committee are obligated to bring an attitude of customer service to their role as Township leaders. Because I work in Information Technology, the products of my group are used by 100s of employees, and one of my responsibilities it to ensure that all systems are running in a user-friendly manner. I am constantly polling my clients to see what my team can do better and I would bring that same level of service to my constituents.

2. How has the Township Committee been effective this year?

Stephanie Dunn

Our Township Committee has placed Delaware Township in the position of a model community to other townships for Delaware’s ability to share services. The committee has been able to not increase our municipal tax this year without cutting services and still continues to build a strong “rainy day” fund. The Township Committee has been able to control spending in this difficult economic time yet at the same time try to meet all of the needs of the residents.

Roger Locandro

I think this election is about the future and not the past performance of those who are in office. I stand for representing the people in Delaware Township.

Ken Novak

Like that they are looking at improving the computers in the office for the office

Sam Thompson

The Township Committee was able to provide a decrease in the Municipal tax rate, while avoiding service cuts. The Township Committee is also beginning to respond to the on-going storm water runoff issues that more and more residents have been facing.ers. Our community needs to able to reach elected officials easily and a direct email system would allow community members to have a larger voice.

3. What could the current administration have done differently?

Stephanie Dunn

I would have liked to see the issue of down-zoning adopted this year. I also think that more effective communication needs to be enhanced between the township and the county perhaps with more dialogue between officials and the freeholders so that future road/bridge projects are handled in a more community friendly manner. I would also like to see the Township Committee more accessible to our community members. Our community needs to able to reach elected officials easily and a direct email system would allow community members to have a larger voice.

Roger Locandro

See my response to Question 2.

Ken Novak

First and foremost, the township needs to learn to stop spending money. We are a small community that does not need everything that larger communities need. It would be nice to see the current administration learn to stop Micro- managing.

Sam Thompson

I would like to have seen the Township Committee be more assertive with the County Roads department. I think that the Township Committee could have managed the situation with firehouse in a better way.

4. What are the three most important problems facing Delaware Township? What is your approach to solving them?

Stephanie Dunn

Controlling Costs and Taxes- large developments produce the need for more services, more township paid employees, and higher taxes. When elected, I would support the master plan that reduces number of buildable lots by 40% which helps control tax raises. Many of Delaware Township residents are seniors. These are the people that built this community. It is our duty to not only protect our seniors who are on a fixed income but also keep costs and taxes down for all of our township residents.

Preserving Our Drinking Water- as illustrated in the Master Plan that was approved by the Planning Board this week, we need to make certain necessary changes to the current zoning in the Township to provide adequate recharge of the nitrates and other pollutants produced by septic systems. I will make sure that our Master Plan addresses this very important safety issue for our community.

Threats to Our Rural Character- with the enactment of the Highlands Protections Act in our northern townships, Delaware Township is now clearly in the radar of big corporate developers. I believe that with the inevitable turn-around in the real estate market, we will start feeling pressure from deep-pocketed developers and corporations and their “hired gun lawyers” to turn our beautiful farms and open spaces into sprawling housing developments; only to leave us with the sky-rocketing costs, congestion, and increased classroom sizes related to such development. I will work tirelessly to fight such development and to promote and develop ordinances that reflect the goals of this Master Plan.

Roger Locandro

1. Maintaining the rural character of the township, minimizing environmental impacts; controlling growth.

2. Keeping the township a safe, quiet and affordable for our residents; maintaining our character and controlling tract developments.

3. Controlling unfunded mandates from state government; work with our representatives to control state mandates.

Ken Novak

Learning to stop spending money all the time, I would look at making sure the money spent from taxes is used wisely. Ensuring that employees have the proper tools to get their jobs done. I would make sure there is good communication. And thirdly, try to have the master plan brought before a vote of the community instead of it being decided by a few.

Sam Thompson

• Property taxes

• Managing development and fighting sprawl

• Preserving the quality of life for Delaware Township Residents.

Everyone agrees that property taxes in New Jersey are simply too high. Hunterdon County’s taxes are some of the highest in the country. Our taxes, when added to the cost of a mortgage on the median assessed house in Delaware Township make it difficult for a family starting out, senior citizens, and pretty much anyone else who is trying to earn a living.

Our current municipal tax (including the local open space tax) makes up 14% of our tax bill. For the average assessed house in Delaware Township (which pays about $10,000 in taxes), that 14% translates into about $1400 per year in taxes. The Township Committee has direct control over this amount.

I would push to bring zero-based budgeting to our annual process. Other municipalities have adopted this approach resulting in reductions of up to 30% of the municipal tax. I would propose that the salaries of Township Committee members be dropped below the amount that requires pension contributions.

The threat of development brings a much bigger impact on our taxes. A buildout analysis of our current zoning shows that 1800 more houses could be built. This new development would require increased costs for maintaining infrastructure, expanding the school, and expanding Township police and other staff. I support the zoning changes proposed by the Master Plan revision (but I am not in favor of the hamlet option) as a specific and effective means of managing growth (and reducing the tax increases required to support it) and preserving our quality of life.

For several years, the Planning Board has been working on a proposal to change the township’s zoning laws. The Board is proposing down-zoning (larger minimum lot sizes) and three “non-contiguous cluster” sites.  This re-zoning project seems to be the hot-button topic of the moment.  Four questions regarding the proposal:

5. The Planning Board studied agriculture in the township, and found that the average farm size is 16 acres. To be eligible for farmland assessment for tax purposes, a residence must have at least 6 acres. Parcels in the 6-8 acre range are as likely as not to be farmland assessed: 46% were farmland assessed, and 46% were not. Parcels in the 8-16 acre size range are more likely to be farmland assessed: 67% were farmland assessed, 23% were not. The Planning Board’s agricultural study views this as an indication that increasing minimum lot sizes to the 8-14 acre range would extend the opportunity to farm.  What do you think? Would you suggest some other way to assure land is available for farming?

Stephanie Dunn

Family farms are the key component of American society and some of the most crucial people in our communities are those individuals who plant the seeds and work the land that enable food to be put on our tables. The trends in the farming industry are smaller niche like farming with diversified crops. Additionally, there is a need for adequate size parcels to accommodate this type of farming. In effect, 8 acre based zoning generally speaking, in reality 14 acre lots, would be appropriate to accommodate this type of farming.

Roger Locandro

The farmland assessment process is a valuable incentive to landowners. All of my actively farmed land is farmland assessed. Other very large landowners do not apply for the program. That is a personal decision. The reality is an agricultural community is not defined by a patchwork of 6 acre lots. Statistics can be created to support any position. The voters are familiar with what makes our township the great place it is. It is the family who keep a few horses, it is the part time farmer that comes home from work at the office or the plant and climbs on his tractor until sunset. I don’t think percentages and averages tell us what intuitively the people of Delaware Township know. We need to provide the leadership that keeps farms here, not overcrowd farms with developments.

Ken Novak

Do not believe in the current plan. Believe in supply and demand, would rather have a tax payer determine if they want to farm or not. Everyone is not made to farm, but the current plan wants everyone to farm

Sam Thompson

While I think that the Master Plan’s goal of preserving agriculture is extremely important and timely, I do not believe that 8 acre zoning by itself will preserve land for diverse types of farming that occur in Delaware Township today.

Clearly, the large operations that provide soybeans, corn, and hay would not be successful on an 8 acre plot. However, there is a component of the Master Plan that would provide a density bonus for developments that cluster, so that 75% of land is left for farming. When compared to the zoning of the current Master Plan, this option would keep more land out of the hands of developers and would encourage farmable land to be joined to other tracts of farmable or preserved land.

As the Planning Board’s study shows, more people are engaging in different types of agriculture (sheep, alpacas, and other niche farming) on lots as small as 8 to 16 acres. By increasing the base lot size as proposed, every subdivision will have land that can be farmland assessed.

It is very unlikely that Delaware Township’s agricultural industry will return to the productivity of generations past. The diversity of options in the proposed Master Plan revision (even with the hamlet options removed) will support the diverse ways in which agriculture has had to evolve.

6. The township’s current zoning ordinance has a “village cluster” option that gives landowners with 100 acres or more the permission to build hamlets – dense development on small lots served by sewage treatment plants. The new hamlet cluster proposal limits this to three sites and is proposed as both a preservation tool and a method to allow for housing on small lots for younger first time home owners, farm workers, school teachers, firemen, and seniors – people with a wide variety of incomes – who may want smaller homes than the typical “market rate” housing, the $800-$900k homes that are increasingly common. The hamlet concept drew sharp criticism at the Sep. 8 Planning Board meeting. If the hamlet concept and noncontiguous clustering is not your preferred option, what ideas do you have for providing housing for the above-mentioned diverse groups?

Stephanie Dunn

Family farms are the key component of American society and some of the most crucial people in our communities are those individuals who plant the seeds and work the land that enable food to be put on our tables. The trends in the farming industry are smaller niche like farming with diversified crops. Additionally, there is a need for adequate size parcels to accommodate this type of farming. In effect, 8 acre based zoning generally speaking, in reality 14 acre lots, would be appropriate to accommodate this type of farming.

Roger Locandro

The Council on Affordable Housing has strict mandatory rules that control the amount of affordable housing that must be made available. I do not believe it is the role of government to make it easy and profitable for developers to create a dense development that would swell our township, in a period that would seem like overnight.

Ken Novak

Again, supply and demand will dictate this. As people move out of their small homes, these houses would be made available for people to buy. Government should not dictate who buys what

Sam Thompson

The goal of providing housing for the population described above is laudable. Our current Master Plan would allow for at least 10 sites to be built as a village cluster (with similar densities as the proposed hamlet option would allow) so the revised Master Plan takes a step in the right direction by reducing that number to 3.

I am uncomfortable, though, with the additional density that non-contiguous clustering would allow, especially since all three proposed hamlet locations are directed more into the center of the township. This design would ensure that more traffic would have to navigate throughout township roads each day as the residents of these communities commute to work.

Also, I am not sure that the proposed hamlet option would produce houses in the assumed lower price range. The costs of building the water and sewer plants and of purchasing the additional open space will be added in to the cost of the homes. Since the Master Plan does not dictate a price range for new homes, there is no guarantee that these costs won’t be spread out over each home, making Delaware Township still out of reach for this demographic.

I do think that there is merit in exploring an option to encourage builders to include in new developments a set-aside for moderately priced homes. This might be a way to provide housing for people with a variety of incomes without the dramatic surge in development that a hamlet would bring.

We should revisit our ordinance to enhance the concept of family compounds where there is sufficient land to support them. It might be advantageous to provide incentives for minor subdivisions to receive density bonuses when they allow moderately priced homes.

Finally, we could provide incentives for existing homes to be converted into dual residences to provide reasonably-priced housing for seniors. This option would allow more seniors to remain in the township.

7. The township Open Space Coordinator recently reported that, after current preservation projects are completed and debt service is paid, a balance of $20,000 – $40,000 per year will remain for land preservation, down sharply from previous years. If the hamlet concept and noncontiguous clustering is not your preferred option, what ideas do you have for continuing land preservation?

Stephanie Dunn

The Master Plan as adopted by the planning board is the best way to assure the preservation of our open spaces and rural lifestyle. The recent severe downturn in the economy has had a real impact in the funds available for farmland preservation through the purchase of land and deed restrictions. But, as evidenced in many of the other rural townships in Hunterdon County, appropriate lot sizes and other sensible zoning provisions are the best was to preserve land at the lowest cost to the taxpayers.

Roger Locandro

Delaware Township has the honorable position of having preserved large areas of open space. We need to maintain that momentum, and partner with other agencies who believe in the value of open space preservation. We should not devalue our open space, and develop large tracts of land crammed with low value homes.

Ken Novak

The same as it been for previous yrs. Everyone does not want to have their land preserved. Supply and demand will determine if people will want to put their land into preservation. We’ve had a lot taxpayers keep their land open without putting it into the program not selling it to developers. It has worked for years at no cost to township.

Sam Thompson

While Delaware Township residents routinely vote to support funding Open Space and Farmland preservation, many members of our community are not in a position to increase their taxes by a significant amount (through an increase to the local open space tax) this year.

As it was presented during the October 20, 2009 Planning Board meeting, the revision to the Master Plan would result in zoning that would reduce by 30% to 40% the number of houses that could be built in the A-1 zone (and by 15% in the A-2 zone). Additionally, even without the hamlet option, there are provisions that encourage clustering and provide for the preservation of contiguous farmland. These provisions, along with our continued partnerships with non-profits, the county and the SADC, will allow us to leverage our open space dollars more wisely for farmland and open space preservation.

8. In the A-2 zone – roughly speaking, the northern part of the township – the Planning Board proposes downzoning from the current 6-acre minimum lot size to seven acres.  This is to accommodate safe dilution of septic effluent and groundwater recharge. Comments?

Stephanie Dunn

The down zoning in the A-2 zone is the safest fairest way to effectively protect water quality and quantity in this district. At the same time preserve our rural character and the environment.

Roger Locandro

The preservation of our water resources is a priority. If elected I will tirelessly pursue the preservation of all our natural resources.

Ken Novak

The township needs to make sure that this is not happening to groundwater recharge. This change is based on a projection by a hydrologist but is it really happening or just based on assumptions and projections. Lots of good questions were raised during the master plan hearing that need to address before going ahead with the down zoning and I would hope the township committee would look at them. Learn from an early age common sense is better than something that might be projected from book smarts.

Sam Thompson

I believe this is a good idea. I like the fact that the resulting zoning considers the impact of existing ordinances so that the seven acre zoning will yield an effective lot size of 14 (which is consistent with the Township’s 2004 water study).

9. It is widely known that state preservation coffers are almost empty.  There is a public question on the ballot this year that will allow voters to decide whether the state should issue $400 Million in bonds for Green Acres, farmland, and historic preservation. With efforts to rein in taxes in New Jersey, does it make sense to spend this money?  Please explain your position on this ballot question.

Stephanie Dunn

Increased development in our township that raises taxes increases our infrastructure costs, reduces prime agricultural soils, and diminishes our place in the agricultural community. Intense development and sprawl has been proven to pollute aquifers, increase local flooding, and strain our school districts. Highly developed communities have a high tax burden. We must actively pursue both farmland and open space preservation in order to stabilize the tax rate. In order to continue our legacy of farmland and open space preservation, we need the state and the county to work with us in completing these acquisitions. For example, in most farmland preservation projects, the state contributes 60%, the county 20%, and the municipality 20%. Without this partnership, Delaware Township would not be able to continue its farmland preservation program at the rate in which we are accustomed. I support this ballot question because data has proven that the money allocated toward preservation in the long run has reduced taxes for our residence.

Roger Locandro

This is a vote for issuance of a bond. It is a public referendum. Attaching the red flag word “tax” on the question is not a fair way to represent the issue. I hope the bond referendum does pass. I support it and I urge those who support the bond question to support me. It is a great example of government following the public will.

Ken Novak

Glad it is put to the taxpayers in the form of a public question to let them decide.

Sam Thompson

According to an article on the New Jersey Farm Bureau website, farmland requires only 37 cents worth of services for every dollar it pays in taxes. The same article references a study by the American Farmland Trust which states that for every dollar residential development pays in taxes, it requires $1.19 in services (such as additional roads, police, schools, etc).

The tax benefit of farmland preservation seems pretty clear and I believe we should follow the NJFB’s lead in supporting the passage of Public Question #1.

10. Recently Sergeantsville was granted historic designation by the State Historic Preservation Office.  A large area around Rosemont is now the subject of a similar application, and Sandbrook may also apply.  The goal is to protect these areas from government projects that would harm their historic character.  What is your opinion on the use of historic designation in Delaware Township?

Stephanie Dunn

I am in favor of the historical designation and commend those responsible for helping to make the designation happen. In light of the variety of County road and bridge projects over the last two years, this appears to be the only mechanism to defend ourselves against ever widening road projects and bridge expansions.

Roger Locandro

My personal philosophy of government is to represent the people and be responsive to the people. If the majority of the people in the district want that designation, I would support it. I have never thought that government should dictate what color you should paint your house or what kind of roof to install. That is a personal property responsibility.

Ken Novak

We need to take a slow approach to this procedure to make sure all concerns of residents in designated area are addressed.

Sam Thompson

I attended a recent information session where the application for Rosemont’s historic designation was presented. I was impressed by the amount of detail and the level of outreach to members of the community that had been conducted by the Township during this process.

Given the number of recent County projects that have widened roads and bridges in our township and considering the DOT project to modify the Flemington circle, I think it is a great idea to protect our historic areas from being subject to these types of government projects without a serious level of scrutiny.

I supported the designation in Sergeantsville and I am hopeful that the designation for Rosemont will occur.