Better Accountability in Government
The Caldwell Borough Council has made decisions recently that do not reflect our values and expectations. We will advocate for ideas that promote public trust and more accountability in local government.
- In 2015, the Caldwell Borough Council voted to increase the “Sewer Commissioners” budget line item from 4,217 to 7,217, a 71% increase of $3,000 (1). The Council neglected to disclose to the public during that and subsequent budget votes that they themselves are the Sewer Commissioners. This vote for a Sewer Commissioner pay increase effectively raised the Borough Council members’ overall salaries by 52% to $8,717.
- Only two of the Borough Council members, Frank Rodgers and Richard Hauser, disclosed the fact that their total income from the Borough of Caldwell exceeded $2,000. You can examine their financial disclosure reports here.
- The last time the Sewer Commissioners were publicly appointed at the reorganization meeting was 2008. As a result, the public is generally unaware of both the existence and membership of the commission. The Sewer Commission’s schedule and meeting minutes are not listed on the Borough’s website alongside its other boards and commissions and their respective schedules and minutes. According to one Borough employee, speaking of the Sewer Commission: “We have meetings that are recorded but there are no minutes. In 3 years there may be only 2 or 3 meetings.” (2). The Open Public Meetings Act (a.k.a. “Sunshine Law”) states
- Public funds should not benefit the family members of public officials. Any municipal contract that does so is unethical and borders on illegal. The Borough has come dangerously close to violating its own Ordinance (20-3.d):
We will oppose any contracts that have the appearance of a conflict of interest (3).
- In 2015, Caldwell asked the Essex County Board of Elections to move the polls for voters in districts 4, 5, & 6 from Grover Cleveland Middle School and to the Community Center. In September 2017, two members of the governing body publicly argued against moving the polls back to the GCMS from the Community Center at a time when large portions of its parking deck have been closed.
We will advocate for more convenient voting for elderly residents in those districts by working to move the polls for districts 4, 5, & 6 back to GCMS.
- Whenever Caldwell settles lawsuits involving public officials, the public is really the ultimate loser, both financially and in terms of accountability. We will work to make relevant information in the public domain readily accessible (4).
- Caldwell lacks a comprehensive plan for the use of technology in local government. We have a vision for optimizing the Borough’s website, utilizing online surveys, social media outreach, and improving channel 35 in order to better serve residents.
1. In 2014, Caldwell Borough Council Resolution 8-179 established the Sewer Commissioners salary at $4,217. In 2105, Caldwell Borough Council Resolution 10-184 established the Sewer Commissioners salary at $7,217. The minutes from these meetings lack any disclosure of the personal benefit to the Borough Council members of these votes. Ordinance 190-44 reads: “The Caldwell Sewerage Utility shall be managed and administered by the Borough of Caldwell through persons designated by the Mayor, with the advice and consent of the Borough Council, and a reasonable administration charge (to be annually fixed by the Borough Council) shall be paid by the Caldwell Sewerage Utility to the Borough of Caldwell for said service.”
2. Citation from an email sent from a Borough employee on 10/30/2017.
3. The Progress, “Snow Job in Caldwell“, 6/3/2011, Caldwell Borough Council Resolution 9-173, 9/20/2016, Caldwell Borough Council Resolution 8-186, 8/7/2012
4. New Jersey Herald “Towns/School Boards Should Disclose Lawsuit Settlements”
Better Economic Development
Caldwell needs a long-term economic development strategy that promotes higher home valuations, keeps taxes low, increases shared services, generates new revenues, and confronts the economic realities of the 21st century.
The Borough’s recent property reassessment found 59% of homes in Caldwell gaining value since the previous reassessment but 41% of homes losing value since 2005. The average home value has declined since 2011 (1). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median home value in Caldwell dropped by almost 18% from 2010-2015 compared to 2006-2010 (2). We will work to ensure that municipal policy helps all average home values rise by supporting investment in our downtown and ensuring the Borough’s Master Plan is kept up to date and forward looking (3).
- High property taxes are much harder on residents living on a fixed income and make our community less attractive to would-be homeowners. Caldwell needs to find new ways to fund the annual budget that ease the burden on taxpayers. We will work closely with local businesses as well as local, county, and state officials to develop revenue strategies that actually lower property taxes (4).
- Caldwell and West Caldwell have a common interest in more shared services; benefits to residents would increase and total taxpayer cost to both communities would decrease. We support a long-term evaluation of more shared service opportunities, beginning with the Department of Public Works, and a better overall relationship with West Caldwell.
- Caldwell’s economy is both local and increasingly centered on mobile shopping. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, 48 cents of every dollar spent at downtown shops gets recirculated locally, while only 14 cents spent online benefit Caldwell (5). The Borough needs to consistently encourage local shopping while utilizing every means available to incentivize downtown patronage. Increasing pedestrian shopping will also help to lower infrastructure maintenance costs (and therefore, property taxes) in addition to improving Caldwell’s air quality. We will promote a long-term economic development strategy that confronts these truths and innovates accordingly.
- Local business owners have requested new municipal signage that would increase shopping downtown. We will advocate for new signage, especially parking, in order to help shoppers discover our downtown stores and shops.
- The Farmer’s Market in the Smull Avenue municipal parking lot was a highlight of community life in Caldwell before it closed. We will advocate for a return of a Farmer’s Market and for the health, environmental, and economic benefits purchasing of locally grown produce.
1. Caldwell Borough Council Meeting, May 16, 2017. According to the recent revaluation conducted by the Borough, there has been a drop in average home values since 2011 with the average home valued at $420,307 in 2017, down from $432,639 six years ago.
2. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2010-2015 median home values declined in Caldwell by 17.95% from 2006-2010 valuations. Caldwells Patch, “Caldwell Home Values Dropping Like Rocks Since Recession: Report”.
3. According to Municipal Planner, Peter Steck, the Borough’s zoning ordinance lost the “presumption of validity” for 2 years because the Master Plan was not updated between 2015 and 2017, 2 years beyond the 10 year review period (2005-2015)mandated by the New Jersey “Municipal Land Use Law.” Caldwell Borough Zoning Board Minutes, Feb 3, 2016. As a result, a lawsuit was filed in that period against the Borough by a local developer seeking a builder’s remedy court order. In January, an Essex County Superior Court judge ruled that the lawsuit may proceed against the Borough.
4. For example, a more profitable Community Center would help reduce property taxes. At the state level, Democratic candidate for Governor, Phil Murphy, has proposed a Public Bank of New Jersey, which if created, would generate new revenues and bring property tax relief to every homeowner in New Jersey. In addition, we believe individual property taxes should be significantly lowered and supplanted by a broader tax base calculated by income, not home assessment.
5. American Independent Business Alliance, “The Multiplier Effect of Local Independent Business. The Progress, “Editorial: Shop Local, Always”, 12/15/2016
Better Public Safety
- Our all-volunteer fire fighters require the most accurate water and hydrant data to help protect us. In an emergency, the absence of any such data is a liability for homeowners and the Borough. We will ensure that the CFD has all mission-critical information before emergencies occur (1).
- Our police officers require and deserve the best work environments in which to perform their duties. We will work with CPD Officers to help ensure they serve in a culture which promotes the highest professionalism.
- Our surrounding communities always help Caldwell respond to emergencies. We will work to promote better coordination between the Borough and neighboring response teams (2).
- Weak code enforcement in Caldwell is bad for everyone. Whether apartments with too many tenants, people who don’t curb their dogs on public sidewalks, uneven sidewalks which are hazardous for pedestrians, or distracted driving, we will propose better code enforcement as a way to prevent problems.
- Certain streets such as Smull and Forest Avenue, among others, would be safer with all-way stop signs. We will advocate for better safety by promoting additional stop signs at high volume intersections as well as additional crosswalks where their absence coincides with unsafe road crossings.
- Renters in Caldwell have had increasingly harder times finding parking places. We will work with landlords and the Caldwell Police to ensure that renters have adequate space to park their vehicles.
- Business owners should not have to worry about being ticketed for parking over 3 hours in municipal lots closest to their businesses. We will support permits for business owners to park in the lots that are most convenient for their work day.
- Drug abuse is a matter of public safety and as well as health. According to New Jersey Advance Media, three residents died in Caldwell last year from opioid overdoses.
We will advocate for raising increased awareness of the opioid epidemic on the Borough Council and seek ways to partner with local organizations in order to help prevent further overdose fatalities, including targeted law enforcement and treatment strategies (3).
1. At the 12/6/2016 Borough Council meeting, the Water Operator stated that the Caldwell Fire Department would receive highlighted fire hydrant maps of all 4-inch loops after the fire in Orchard Square of November 4th: “We had a meeting Thursday after the fire, probably within 3 days, with the fire department; sat down with them, exactly what came up. They said ‘You know it would be nice to move forward knowing quote unquote where certainly 4 inch mains are in town.’ I said ‘We can do that quite simply by preparing maps that are highlighted, give them to you, and you plan as you see fit.’ I don’t want to speak for their plan, uh, but to answer the question of them getting the information they need to plan correctly, that’s moving forward and the maps are being prepared. We’re going to draft them, they’re going to review them, and we’re going to put them in any form they want.” Caldwell Borough Council Meeting, 12/06/2016
2. At the 11/22/2016 Borough Council meeting, Councilman Capazzoli claimed that two of the fire hydrants involved in the Orchard Square fire of November 4th did not have enough pressure because the other teams did not know that they were on the same loop and inadvertently caused a decrease in water pressure. At the same meeting, the Borough attorney stated that there may have been a lack of communication regarding hydrant infrastructure among the responding communities. Near the end of the meeting, the Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department Chief stated, “What happened is more than one engine tied into the same line in response and that’s what drove the pressure down.” Caldwell Borough Council Meeting, 11/22/2016
In addition to these three main planks, there are additional ways to help improve life in Caldwell:
-The creation of an official Welcoming Committee at the Council level that hosts, along with West Caldwell, a “Newcomers Open House” to greet new residents and families who choose to live in our Borough and provides a chance to meet local community leaders and organizations.
-Council-led voter registration drives to ensure that Caldwell voter registration increases to help ensure a healthy democratic process.
-Our children should be able to walk to school in safety. We support a “walking bus” in Caldwell so that parents can safely encourage their children to walk to school.