Get to Know the Candidates for Mayor Series: Week 3
HARRY CLEWELL for MAYOR
What do you think the County's role in government should be? Do you agree with the shared service agreements the borough has in place? What would you add, improve, or change with regards to shared service agreements? With budget caps and rate of inflation, are we going to face severe budget problems? How should spending be managed to offset these increased costs?
Union County’s role should be the following: to aid and assist our Borough by fostering collaboration between New Providence and other municipalities, as well as with the County itself. Our success will be measured by our ability to receive our fair share. The single greatest way New Providence can get our fair share is by improving its working relationship with Union County. Right now, the results can be better. For the past three years, when compared to towns like Summit, Berkeley Heights, and Westfield, New Providence received the lowest amount of infrastructure grant money. As a result, projects that are paid for by the County in other towns would be paid for by taxes here or not done. A stronger relationship with the County is essential if we are going to combat this trend. Similarly, projects that can provide immense benefit to New Providence, but require county support, are often dismissed because they are “not controlled by us.” For example, we cannot put a crosswalk to cross South Street by Barth’s Market because it is a county road. As a result, residents often cross the street illegally, putting their safety at risk while also increasing congestion. While it is true that South Street is a county road, municipalities work with the County to improve county roads all of the time. New Providence should be no different, and this collaboration starts with a good relationship. Summit Councilman Danny O’Sullivan currently has the proud distinction of attending more Union County Commission meetings than any other city-elected official in the County. It has paid off for Summit, but with all due respect to my friend, I will beat that record in 2023, so that it pays off for New Providence. I had the immense honor of working in the New Jersey State Legislature. During that time, I developed critical relationships with state and county leaders, I will work to grow these relationships and ensure that we receive our fair share of resources and services. Union County is responsible for county wide services including property tax assessments, tax administration, elections, transportation, repairs to our county roads, planning and zoning, environment, county parks and water management, law enforcement, courts, and health and human services. Nearly 25% of our property tax dollars go to the county to help it effectuate these tasks, and as you can see, many of these responsibilities overlap with the Borough’s responsibilities. Given that many of these services intersect, it is important to look for opportunities to eliminate redundancy and at least “not reinvent any wheels”. Shared services among municipalities is another easy way to do so. New Providence shares the following services with other municipalities: court services, sewer management services, dispatching services, and health services. With the success of these exchanges, we should continue to explore additional opportunities, on a case-bycase basis, to share services with the County and other towns. Here is what I would do: I would identify any services that we are performing exclusively for New Providence. For example, New Providence pays for the following services itself: Animal Control Services Automotive Repair Services Wastewater System Operations and Maintenance Landfill/Solid Waste Disposal Recycling Technology/IT I would take a fresh look at each of these services and determine whether they are being performed efficiently or inefficiently. If they are being performed efficiently, is there opportunity to expand these services to other towns to bring in additional Borough revenue? If efficiencies can be improved, is there an opportunity to merge with other municipalities to reduce costs? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then we should explore partnering with other towns/the County to maximize income and minimize expenses. We will only face severe budget problems if we continue to rely on antiquated budgeting methods and failing to take advantage of programs designed for municipalities to combat inflation. Here is what I would do to make sure that doesn’t happen. We must reexamine the current budget: It has been years since the budget was thoroughly analyzed from the bottom up. It is important that the Mayor personally review every line item in the budget, ask questions and challenge assumptions, especially with inflation as high as it is. We must rebuild the budget starting from zero and reexamine whether our tax dollars are being spent efficiently. Then, we can improve operating efficiencies by leveraging technology to streamline processes, reduce waste and ultimately reduce costs. This should be done often, so that we are able to analyze the effects of inflation and react nimbly, while also understanding that what may have been effective in 2002 may not be in 2022. Work to obtain Federal money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as well as the Inflation Reduction Act. There will be plenty of opportunities for New Providence to receive money to reduce the impact of inflation. We need to work with our leaders in Washington to make sure that New Providence is prioritized to receive these funds.