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Taxes and Edison Redevelopment Dominate Council Candidates Forum

Forum held at Thomas A. Edison Central Six School

Over 50 people came to the Thomas A. Edison Central Six School Thursday night for a forum featuring the seven council candidates who are running in the municipal elections on May 8, Tuesday.

Taxes and the Edison redevelopment project figured prominently during the event.

The candidates currently vying for the three four-year seats are: incumbent council members , Joe Krakoviak and . Jake Freivald, Jerry Guarino, Rodolfo Rodriguez and Clare Silvestri are also in the running.

Councilman Krakoviak is with Frievald, his former campaign manager, and Silvestri, his wife. The trio are calling themselves "Team Krakoviak." The other candidates are running independently.

More information on the candidates can be found at this

The forum was sponsored by the West Orange African Heritage Organization and moderated by Marlene Sincaglia from League of Women Voters, the Berkeley Heights chapter.

The approximately two-hour forum started off with opening statements, a portion devoted to questions from organizers, questions from audience members, and then closing statements.

Opening Statements

In their opening statements, Spango and Anderton touted their experience on the council and their efforts in keeping taxes down. Spango highlighted her background as owner of Starlite Restaurant and Pizzeria. Anderton pointed out his background as a lawyer, including a stint working with the township planning board.

Guarino said he believes his experience as a financial executive and analyst will be helpful for the township.

After highlighting his experience as a manager, Rodriguez emphasized his opposition to high taxes, which he went onto repeat throughout the forum.

"They are saying our signatures are worthless," he also said, referring to the petition campaign to put the Edison redevelopment project under a referendum. The petition was rejected under technical grounds but residents behind the campaign recently submitted another batch of petitions.

The Krakoviak team all stated their opposition to higher taxes and advocated transparency in making desicions. Krakoviak himself pointed out he has been out voted most of the time on council, especially on matters of finance.

"I need partners," he said, referring to his running mates.

What follows are the responses from council candidates on some of the forum questions:

Edison Redevelopment Project

The first question of the night was name three reasons why they supported or opposed the Edison redevelopment project, which calls for 333 luxury apartment units for rent and 18,500 square feet of retail space.

Anderton, Spango, and Guarino said they supported the project, which has generated much controversy in the town.

Anderton said financial risk has been minimized for the township in regards to the project, while Spango said it will increase tax ratables and will give a revitalized look to the town's Main Street.

"As goes Main Street, so goes West Orange," she said.

Guarino said, "The site is in vital need of redevelopment for too long. This will be a catalyst to the entire downtown area."

He said the project will generate new jobs and more opportunity. And the historic Edison location, where advances in audio technology were made, deserves better, he said.

"It's time to rectify this," he said, referring to the existing property, which looks old and blighted.

The Krakoviak team landed on the opposition side of the project with concerns of how much risk the township would be exposed to if the project is not successful financially.

Krakoviak called it a multi-million dollar risk, bringing up the real estate collapse a few years ago.

"I am not against redevelopment, just this current arrangement," Freivald said.

"The people don't want it," Silvestri said.

Rodriguez said he was also in favor of redevelopment, but wanted voters to decide in a referendum whether the project should go forward or not. He also opposed the residential elements of the plan.

On Controlling Spending

The Krakoviak team emphasized the need to hold the line on taxes.

"We have raised taxes plenty enough," Krakoviak said, echoing his running mates.

Guarino said the council needed to take a line item approach to spending, even making unpopular desicions. But they shouldn't cut vital services which would lead to a lower quality of life, he said.

Rodriguez focused on what he called unnecesary spending, starting with moving elections to November and have the council work for half or zero salary and no benefits.

"We should be using that money for something else," he said.

Spango, though, highlighted her experience controlling spending and balancing that with the needs of the town. Municipal spending has been decreased by $1.6 million while more than 40 employees have been removed from the work roster, she said. There has been no capital budget in the last few years, she also said.

Anderton also emphasized the fiscal conservatism the council has acted upon.

"There's no question that West Orange, during the three years I have been on council, has actually reduced spending," he said. "The fact is we are spending less."

The council has kept costs down by shopping around for better, cost-effective health benefits, which he said is one of the biggest expenditures that the township shoulders.

Anderton said they have also reorganized the workforce through attrition.

Strengths and Weaknesses of West Orange

All the candidates touted the passion and diversity of the community, while there were some discussions on the lack of civility in debates on the Internet and during council meetings.

"One of the weaknesses of West Orange is the element of civility," Spango said. "We don't always have to agree and that's okay. There just doesn't seem to be the respect we used to have."

Krakoviak agreed with her.

"We need to remember we are all in this together," he said.

"Sometimes it's hard for us to see what the other side actually thinks," Frievald also said.

On Residents' Concerns of Crime

On questions on residents' perceptions of increased crime, Spango and Anderton pointed out that crime has actually been trending downwards overall with some categories that have spiked.

"Perception may seem that way," Anderton said about crime. "Residents simply are more aware. It's good thing. It's a positive thing."

Guarino said crime is down 13.5 percent but social media has fueled speculation that crime is up.

"Barrage of information skews overall reality," he said.

Silvestri said perception is reality and that a proactive communications plan needs to be in place to address residents' concerns. Freivald called it a question of transparency.

"I trust the people of West Orange to make a judgement," he said about giving crime date to residents. "For me, show the data and the rest will follow."

Krakoviak and Rodriguez both said the town needs to hire more police officers.

On Stabilizing Taxes

Spango and Anderton both repeated their experience of holding the line on taxes while they have been on council and renewed their commitment to keep them down through various means.

"We have done it," Anderton said.

The Krakoviak team said more needed to be done.

Krakoviak said the town should get rid of its current branding effort, not hire a full-time plumbling expert, and other measures.

"We haven't been putting contracts out for professional services for competitive bidding and that has changed thanks to Councilman Krakoviak," Silvestri said.

She called for more competitive bidding and prevent costs overruns by holding department heads more accountable.

Frievald said the town needed to increase ratables and have less emphasis on bringing families with small school-age children into town, which would drive up taxes.

"Not reduce the appeal but specifically stop the demographic changes that would work against us in a certain sense," he said.

Rodriguez, again, repeated his lines of cutting spending, moving the election to November, and halving or doing away with the council's salaries.

"Every penny counts," he said about the May election costs.

Guarino said the town needed more commercial revenues and have the town run like a business. Also when it comes to cutting expenses, Guarino said they need to make smart desicions on cuts that will not impact services and quality of life.

He again repeated that controlled spending needed to go hand in hand with increased commercial ratables.

Open Space

Most candidates pointed out that there isn't much open space left in West Orange, but the town needed to maintain the ones they have.

Silvestri said that if elected, she hopes that a piece of township property on Ridgeway Avenue, next to a monastery, could be turned into an arboretum and have a non-profit run it.

"I promise to work towards a public/private, non-profit group to run that and create a beautiful open space there," she said.

Silvestri claimed that she brought the idea up to Mayor Robert Parisi but the plans stalled.

Increasing Revenue

On questions of how to increase revenue for the township, Rodriguez said more commercial development needs to come to town. He also brought up the Edison redevelopment project and said it should be solely commercial with no apartments. 

"That would bring a lot of people," he said.

Guarino echoed Rodriguez's comments by saying commerical ratables need to be brought into town.

He called the Edison project a commerical ratable and that foot traffic at the project will show businesses that there will be people there who will shop.

Frievald emphasied his previous point on the demographic issue of families with children, whose education needs to be subsidized, he said. He did bring up that he has nine kids of his own and loves children.

Krakoviak and Silvestri said they needed to make the town more business friendly and reduce property taxes.

Silvestri also brought up a move by council, which did not bid out a recycling contract last summer to another company - a move that could have saved money.

Spango rebutted her comment, saying that the other company had a lower price but offered less services. 

"We cannot jeopardize the services," she said.

Anderton also said they have done many cuts to the budget but they need to balance that with maintaining quality town services.

Another way they can increase revenue is privatize some services, which the town has already done, he said. That has saved money.

"A penny saved is a penny earned," he said.

wohopeful April 29, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Let's look at the facts now.. 1. Both Patty and Sal voted to increase municiapl spending. 2. Both Patty and Sal are in faovr of increasing taxes this year. 3. Both Patty and Sal voted to recap the cell towers instead of a longer term deal that would generate revenues for years to come. This helped cover up the increased spending they were in favor of. 4. Patty and Sal both retreated from a 2 million dollar taxpayer savings recommended by the experts they hired. 5. Both Patty and Sal allowed the voice of the citizens to be stifled at public meetings and did not support increased transparency to the public. 6. Both Patty and Sal voted in favor of using taxpayer dollars and tax abatements to fund private development by millionaire developers. Neither Patty or Sal have done anything that has actually helped the honest hard working taxpayers of West Orange in their tenure as council persons, why whould we continue with another 4 years of their anti-resident stand on government.
Alex Sohn April 30, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Mr. Englert claimed: "Given the "4" (pro-redevelopment all) have been repeatedly elected and re-elected, it is reasonable to conclude that, yes, the majority of the voting public does feel the same way that they do." Of the "4" only Mrs. McCartney has been "repeatedly elected and re-elected". Sal Anderton is just finishing his first term as is Patty Spango. Vic Cirilo is about halfway through his first term, having been elected for the first time in 2010. Although I agree that it FEELS as if they've been around forever, I also agree that it may be time to elect some new candidates - we've had the same old same-old for long enough.
MP April 30, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Municipal (including teachers') salaries and benefits are still high compared to private sector. It should be cut down further to reduce taxes in the town. Otherwise property values will keep going down. The unions and politicians don't care because they think if we become another Newark, the state will pick up the tab and they won't lose anything. They don't care about the homeowners who will be screwed.
Loren Svetvilas April 30, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Excellent, Mr. Eben -- I drive by the Starlite often and wonder why someone would choose such a hideous design for their [established] restaurant. Your post has me cracking up. I would hate to see our town turn to stucco facades to look "new" and "fresh". I like what was done with the hotel downtown.
Gary Englert April 30, 2012 at 03:01 AM
@ Alex Sohn: I do not need to be lectured as to who was elected when and you may parse words all you wish but, the simple fact remains that (with one notable exception) every individual who has been elected/re-elected to municipal office in the last decade has been in favor of Main Street redevelopment. Ergo, common sense suggests that, absent any evidence to the contrary, the electorate approves of the decisions made, over time, to move the project forward.
john anthony prignano April 30, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Jake I think Gary R. Englert gives an accurate description of the former Town Attorney{s} . During the 1994 Mayoral campaign, Mayoral candidate Councilman John Mckeon denounced the financial and ethical abuses of the town Legal Department in the strongest possible terms. Councilman John Mckeon also APPROVED ALL the expenditures of the should - have - never - been - hired,over - billing , often unqualified town Legal Department .Mckeon took Sam Spina to task for hiring his { Spina's } good friends . Spina responded by saying " They may be my friends, but they do a good job " OBVIOUSLY, by approving all their bills, Mckeon thought they were doing a good job too. What do you think Mayor John Mckeon would say if someone said to Mckeon " You hired Town Attorney Richard Trenk and Assistant Town Attorney Ken Kayser ONLY because they're. your good friends and campaign officers " How do you think Mckeon would respond ? Here's two for you Jake ; Since Mckeon and Parisi have been in charge , the town's yearly debt payment has increased close to 600 %. They couldn't WAIT to get their hands on the town credit card . AND, Parisi and Council members are going to take the hundreds of thousands of dollars in overbilling that theJoint Meeting annually refunds to the TAXPAYERS, and.... give it back to the taxpayers ? NO! Keep it and apply it to the Municipal Budget .
Gary Englert April 30, 2012 at 05:36 AM
When John McKeon was elected to the Council in 1992, Sam Spina had been the Mayor (and Joe Dooley the Municipal Attorney) for 14 years. Approving a bill list for payment (Municipal Attorney devoted X number of hours at Y hourly cost on case Z), is not to say one thought it prudent, desireable or even economical for said Municipal Attorney to be handling the matter in the first place. The business of the Township simply could not be shut down. The simple fact of the matter is that, in a strong mayor-council government such as ours (as detailed in the Faulkner Act) that decision is within the purview of the mayor. What was within then Councilman McKeon's purview was setting into motion an initiative to audit the Legal Department; prudent given the then common knowledge that 100% of the Municipal Attorney's government salary was garnished by the Internal Revenue Service, due to his non-payment of employee withholding taxes in his private practice. While that audit revealed that far too much latitude was given Mr. Dooley to decide the path of each matter he handled (for example: litigation added billable hours, settlement closed his cash register), Mayor Spina was disinclined to change the paradigm since Dooley (his friend and political confidant) needed every dime he could lay his hands on. This all would have likely continued had I not filed a complaint with the Office of Attorney Ethics that lead to Dooley's disbarment and criminal charges for embezzlement.
Mick Erickson April 30, 2012 at 12:08 PM
@Gary Anderston and Spango voted for municipal tax rate increases of 9.2% in 2008 and 4.0% in 2009.
Gary Englert April 30, 2012 at 01:37 PM
@ Mick Erickson: The first fallacy in your pronouncement is that Patty and Sal didn't take office until July 1, 2008, and had no hand in constructing that year's municipal budget...which didn't increase by 9.2%.
john anthony prignano April 30, 2012 at 04:45 PM
John Mckeon,seeking to oust Spina, pointed to rising taxes . When we were debating the issues at The Chronicle offices, Mckeon didn't mention any ideas he had for cutting the budget......... except for a $5,000 savings he had found . I commended him , but it was hardly a game changer. After the electon , the same budget Mckeon had warned the Public about, was passed intact. . John Mckeon was the last vote . The 4 other Council members had voted "Yes', so the budget had passed .John Mckeon said " I'm going to vote " Yes " because I'm a team player ". He's not just a team player, he's the team captain. He felt he had a blank check as a Councilman , because one day it would be HIS money to spend . When that happened, The cronyism { Concerned Citizens } and wild spending he had decried only got worse ,much worse. AGAIN, how would John Mckeon respond if someone said " You hired Richard Trenk and Ken Kayser only because they're your good friends " ?
Jake Freivald April 30, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Since there has been some discussion about what tax rates have been and how much they have risen, I've brought together some information to help put things in perspective. I have left off the last two years' levies -- we all know that they had no increase -- and have extended the time back a few years, to get 2006-2009. Despite someone else's "correction", Mick Erickson's figures for the municipal levies in 2008 and 2009 are accurate: They are 9.2% and 4%, respectively. Overall, those four years saw an increase in our taxes of about 30%, or about three times what we would have seen if we had been able to hold the line on taxes to the rate of inflation. The page is here: http://bit.ly/IlH0mj
Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA, PP April 30, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Adam: I am not involved w/the schools anymore as my children have graduated and moved on. However, I still want good schools, because they are the foundation for the value of my home. As an older person I do not complain that I am paying taxes to support the schools, because some older person before me was paying their fair share when my children were in school and when you are older and hopefully still here, you too will continue to pay. I need the police and fire dep'ts. and expect that when I call 911 they will be at my home withing the precsribed norm for responding. The DPW is another service and they came within 48 hours of the October storm to clear the flood control (brook) that runs through the back of my property. My requirements for garbage are less due to recycling and the fact that we are only two instead of four and generate less garbage. Are there areas that could be cut? I suppose that there are and I made some suggestions earlier. We have to trust that the people we elect will do the best that they can do. It is everyone's right to vote and they should. I am looking for a good turn out next week. Based on who we put back or as some have stated here and in the paper want to replace, will give us and them the direction in which to go.
john anthony prignano April 30, 2012 at 08:24 PM
I just happened to read this ; " Approving a Bill list for payment { Municipal Attorney devoted X number of hours at Y hourly cost on case Z } is not to say that one thought it prudent, desireable or even economical for said Municipal Attorney to be handling the matter in the first place " It IS to say that if Mckeon didn't think it was prudent, or desireable or even economical, that he betrayed the taxpayers, and this is another example of his lack of courage and integrity . A consultant said there was $30,000 in the defeated 1998 School Budget should be cut . Remember Mckeon boasted of a $5,000 savings he found in the Municipal Budget . He voted NOT to cut the $30.000. At a Mayoral debate, he said " We thought the amount was so small. you would be angrier if we cut that as opposed to cutting nothing " Why do the right thing when it will piss people off . He paid the Municipal Attorney every penny he asked for , but he undoubtedly " Held his nose " or he prides himself on being "A team player", or some other cliched refuge of a tax and spend politician . Mckeon voted " Yes " for a second town pool . He negotiated the 23.6% increase in Police salaries He said we would have down worse in Binding Arbitration . Again , seeking refuge . Mckeon had a blank check as Councilman . It was HIS money,after all. Spend ,spend , spend , and Mckeon's "Good friend " Gary R. Englert will blame it, as he blames everything else , on the object of his acute paranoia , Sam Spina .
Gary Englert April 30, 2012 at 11:01 PM
@ Jake Freivald: Yada, yada, yada...pointing out problems is easy; crafting solutions is far more difficult. Care to share any your Team might have? Looking at any past budget and/or year to year increases is pointless without examining the history and what forces and issues were in play at the time. If the suggestion is that any increase or even series of increases were the result of mismanagement, no such data has been placed in evidence.
Gary Englert April 30, 2012 at 11:06 PM
@ john anthony prignano: The only one living in the past (with these incessant walks down Selective Memory Lane) is you and your obsession with John McKeon (your personal boogeyman?) is manifest. I'm truly sorry that you are such a troubled soul and that neither John, nor anyone else, ever paid you the attention you think you deserved but, presenting yourself (even 20 years ago) as you do does tend to have that effect on people. They won't want to stand around and listen to you and will try and get as far away as possible, as fast as possible.
Gary Englert May 01, 2012 at 07:13 PM
In the interest of transparency, does anyone think it's telling that, while registered to vote since 1996, Jake Freivald never voted in a municipal election until 2010? I'd be very much disinclined to support anyone for local office whose documented interest in community affairs is of such recent vintage.
Gary Englert May 01, 2012 at 08:28 PM
@ Ralph: My right to free speech is no more or less than anyone else's and I'll exercise it how and when I wish. Unlike you, and a great many others, I don't do so while cowering behind a screen name.
wohopeful May 01, 2012 at 10:00 PM
In the interest of transparency, isn't it telling the type pf person Patty Spango nominated and campaigned for to be on the town council: http://bit.ly/KaMumU I'd be very much disinclined to support anyone for local office who makes poor choices like Patty Spango does.
Gary Englert May 01, 2012 at 11:52 PM
In the interest of transparency, a twenty year-old incident disposed of with no finding of criminality and an expunged record doesn't say much of anything about anyone. The fact that such a thing is posted by a cowardly, anonymous, Internet ntwit, however, speaks volumes.
wohopeful May 02, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Someone once said "if you lie down with dogs you get fleas" I guess Patty caught quite the case from all the support she direction of her failed friend for council. Bad choices seems to be a theme with Ms. Spango and is resulting in harm being done to the hard working taxpayers of WO. On May 8th it will be the chance to rid the township of another failed politico and vote NO to Ms. Spango and her poor choices.
Gary Englert May 02, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I somehow think the sound of footsteps following a cowardly, anonymous, Internet nitwit in any endeavour will be the sound of silence...since both the footsteps and the followers will be non-existent.
Mick Erickson May 02, 2012 at 08:43 PM
@Gary for every $10k we pay in taxes in 2012, will cost us $80K in within 40 years. Thats pretty cool for the town eh! More money to spend!!! Yada yada yada
john anthony prignano May 02, 2012 at 09:16 PM
The Concerned Citizens claim to know more about the goings on at West Orange City Hall than anyone. Where the hell are they ???
john anthony prignano May 02, 2012 at 11:00 PM
That one situation I referenced is really astonishing ; The Judge allowing Trenk to keep the names of Trenk's real estate partners a secret . Clearly, the Judge believed their identities weren't relevant . And he knew this how ? As an Ethics Attorney wrote ;" If the Judge allows Trenk to hide the identities of his { Trenk's } partners, what faith can we have in the system ? "
Mick Erickson May 04, 2012 at 12:40 PM
At the current rate a 30 year old that pays $10k in property taxes today will pay $80k by the time they retire, and SS, 401K and salaries are not growing anywhere near the same rate. most 30 year olds don't even have pensions. Something has to change, but nobody wants to address it! Instead, the town council (except Joe K) is about to guarantee $6.5 Million of loans to the Pyramid Development Corporation and its partners to "redevelop" in WO. Against the position of the nearly 2000 people who signed the petition against the risky project. Where is the cost-benefit for the current residents? How bad an investment is this redevelopment guarantee? This is such a bad an investment that Wall Street won't touch it. It is a bet-the-farm type of risk. We have more than 30 foreclosures and 600 houses in town on the market. We are already have too much supply and not enough demand in the housing market. This is a large risky speculative project. It is not a solid economic investment and it will increase our taxes. Simply put Pyramid cant make the numbers work, so they put a gun to the taxpayer to insure their risk. This is the dream that failed -- the project is too costly and we already have too many empty homes in WO. So, why are we wasting $6.5 million on corporate welfare for a corporation that has not been able to operate without large government subsidies?
MSS May 05, 2012 at 04:46 AM
There used to be the old Pathmark. I don't believe it did very well. I think it would be hard for another food store to compete with Shoprite. Livingston has King's but if you want to pay those higher prices you might has well shop at Whole Foods, it is quite nice.
MSS May 05, 2012 at 05:05 AM
@Gary Englert I know I am an anonymous poster but I do follow many of your posts and respect your attention to detail. I am reading up on the candidates so I can make and informed decision when I vote. I hope you would entertain a question from me. Can Claire Silvestri/Krakoviak run for office with a pseudo name? When they are sworn into council, don't they have to be using a legal name? I would find it quite disingenuous if her legal name was Krakoviak. I probably would not vote for her based on that deception.
MSS May 05, 2012 at 05:08 AM
@Jake Freivald Do you mean to say that more seniors, empty nesters, etc. are leaving West Orange then any other suburban community in this area? I assumed this was true for most of NJ.
Jazmine July 13, 2012 at 03:16 PM
really? not when this project is turning West Orange into a project? Who will be the occupants? No decent family is moving downtown to live. It has already been taken over by Mexicans and poor minorities. Over due? You should tear down that eye sore, build restaurants, and boutiques.
MSS July 13, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Are you sure the Councilwoman referring to the original expression "As Ohio goes, so goes the Nation", instead of your 1983 quote? This would give her statement a completely different meaning.

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