One way or another, Nov. 5, 2019, will be a red-letter date in Morris Township politics.
Either Committeeman Peter Mancuso will win a seventh term and preserve a Republican presence on the governing body… or William “Bud” Ravitz will give Democrats unanimous control, something unthinkable just a couple of years ago when the GOP held full sway.
The candidates shared their views at a forum last month.we have thrown some additional questions at them. Here are their responses.
Morristown Green: Please share some details about yourself?
- Retired Governor and Stock Specialist at the New York Stock Exchange.
- Member of the New York Stock Exchange for 38 years as Senior Partner for Buttonwood Specialists
- Worked for 10 years for The First Boston Corporation as head of Bank and Insurance stock trading.
- Morris Township resident for 51 years.
- Two grandchildren in Morris School System
- Four sons grew up in Morris Township
- Age: 58
- Vendor Manager/Project Manager at AT&T
- Resided in Township for three years.
- District Representative – Morris County Democratic Committee.
- No children in the school district.
MG: Why are you the best person for this committee seat?
Peter Mancuso: I have spent 18 years on the Morris Township Committee, six of them as Mayor. My experience is critical to the Committee and to the Township, as I lend balance and perspective to the myriad decisions that will be made now and in the future.
My perspective has always been non-political and will continue to be so. Politics, in any form, cannot be injected into the management of this Township. I have also spent 17 years on the Planning Board, which gave me an important perspective of the growth of our Town, present and future.
I have been head of the Finance Committee for 17 years and have helped cut your taxes in two of the last four years, while leaving the tax rate unchanged in the other two years. I dare to say, very few if any Towns our size in the entire State (565), could match that accomplishment.
I have also been head of the Police Committee during this period as well as participated in almost all of the other Committees that comprise the infrastructure of the Township.
Bud Ravitz: I’m the best candidate for the seat on the committee because I will bring fresh ideas and initiatives, and new energy to the committee and I will be able to make an immediate and significant impact on the committee for the betterment of all the residents of the Township.
I have the leadership and project planning background, coupled with the vision and values that will make me an effective legislator and voice for the people of our community. My driving desire is for continuous improvement of operations of the Township and vision for our future.
MG: What are your priorities if (re-) elected?
Peter Mancuso: My priorities, if elected, would be primarily school safety. We have instituted a program to station armed and uniformed Class III special officers in each of the Township’s schools to provide a deterrent to a potential threat to our children. Nothing is more important!
I have also been very involved in attempting to discourage distracted drivers, especially those who “text while driving.” This major cause of injury and death is a major problem for all drivers and needs to be addressed much more stringently by our lawmakers. The penalties for repeated offenders need to be much more rigorous than are currently in effect.
I will also attempt to continue in every way possible to keep our tax rate low while not in any way diminishing services which our citizens are entitled to.
Bud Ravitz: My top 3 priorities are:
1. To keep taxes low, by seeking ways to continuously improve operations, to find cost savings, without reducing Township services. One such improvement will be to explore the use or using renewable energy sources on municipal properties and to put the Township on a path of being certified “green.”
2. Smart planning for controlled growth by keeping residents of the community engaged and listening and responding to the concerns where development will have an impact on the community. Township residents want transparency and that is what I intend to keep giving them.
3. Ensure the community is aware of, and the residents of the community know, the Township is prepared for and can manage through the effects of the changing climate. Also engaging with all residents to discuss ways individuals and the community can do their small part in helping reduce the burden on an already over-stressed climate.
MG: A major apartment complex is proposed for the Convent Station parking lot. The former Honeywell headquarters on Columbia Turnpike has undergone large-scale housing development, and a major apartment/retail project is underway on the former Colgate tract on Hanover Avenue. Do you support these developments? Why/ why not?
Peter Mancuso: As a member of the Governing body it is inappropriate for me to comment on any potential development in our Town as it could bias our Planning Board and Board of Adjustment members. It could also prohibit me from voting on these projects while sitting as a Committeeman.
As for the projects that have been built, a tremendous amount of time, negotiation and thinking has gone into the implementation of them. The good of the Township and our residents has always been and will continue to be our primary goal.
Bud Ravitz: I heard that the Convent Station redevelopment plan has been withdrawn and no new plan has yet to come before the Board of Adjustment. I cannot say whether I support something that does not yet exist.
However, I can say I will be open-minded once a plan comes before the committee and after the residents of the community have had their input on how they will be impacted by such proposed development. Resident input will be a key element to my decision-making and I look forward to engaging residents when I am on the Township committee.
As for projects that are already under way, my support or non-support is irrelevant.
MG: How much development is too much? When is it appropriate for the committee to say no to developers?
Peter Mancuso: Developers have the right to monetize their asset. Our job on the Township Committee, the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment is to scrutinize the applications and the variances that are requested and do what is totally in the best interest of the Township.
As in the previous question, I would jeopardize my vote if I had a pre-conceived bias toward any potential project. Again, my sole consideration is to protect Morris Township.
Bud Ravitz: I am running on smart planning for growth and continuous improvement. I am running because I want to be the voice of the people on the committee. As I mentioned, I am very open-minded and want to fully understand the pros and cons of any building proposal in the town to ensure that any development benefits the Township and the residents.
I want to hear what the residents have to say on development plans and especially the voices of those who will feel the greatest impact. The days of backroom deals are over. Every project has to have a benefit to our municipality and our residents.
MG: What, if anything, can be done to improve traffic in the Township?
Peter Mancuso: Spend time, as I have done, with the Mayors and Administrators of the contiguous and nearby towns to discuss the impact of their traffic and our traffic on each other.
There is no simple solution to increased traffic. Constant dialogue with the Department of Transportation about regional planning and the utilization of their expertise could help in our thought process.
Our roadway infrastructure throughout northern New Jersey needs to be improved. The cost would be astronomical with limited funding with limited funding sources. We have implemented many traffic-calming measures throughout the Town to address our residents’ concerns. It is a high priority of the Township Committee to find solutions to this public safety problem.
Bud Ravitz: This is an issue many communities in New Jersey are facing. The Township committee recently formed the Transportation Advisory Committee to address the traffic issues and I look forward to hearing the recommendations and reading the reports from it.
We also want to listen to residents’ recommendations before moving forward with any action(s). I will look for ways to get people out of their cars and onto their feet and bikes, to help get cars off the roads.
MG: The Township is facing a substantial affordable housing obligation in coming years. Should the Township have planned for this sooner?
Peter Mancuso: The Township has been at the forefront of providing affordable housing since 1987, building over 450 affordable units at no cost to our taxpayers. When COAH was disbanded in 2015 we filed for Declaratory Judgment to determine our obligation through 2024. We negotiated an agreement for additional affordable housing to be built by developers at no cost to the Township.
We have recently reached an agreement with Fair Share Housing which has been approved by the courts to develop 400 Low and Moderate homes to meet our fair share obligation. This number was reduced from their original demand of 1100 by negotiation from our planners and the Committee. The agreement protects us from any builders remedy law suits until 2024. We are way ahead of the curve on this issue.
Bud Ravitz: The number of affordable housing units is determined by the courts. When the Township is given the number to meet, we must, as mentioned earlier, plan for this growth. In keeping with the new openness and committee transparency, we will engage residents and solicit input as to how to meet the Township obligation.
MG: How do you feel about the Township’s portion of Morris School District costs?
Peter Mancuso: We share the costs of the School District based on a ratio formula determined by the State of New Jersey. Although there are approximately the same number of students from each Town attending the schools, the Township pays two-thirds of the school budget. This puts a higher tax burden on the taxpayers of Morris Township.
Bud Ravitz: Since Morris Township pays more than Morristown and yet has fewer students in the district, I am very open to a review of the agreement to see where we can make necessary improvements that can reduce the burden on our residents without compromising schools in any way.
MG: Morristown has extended its James Street sidewalk to the Township line. The Town’s mayor says it’s time for the Township to live up to its end of the bargain by completing its sidewalk. What’s your position on extending the sidewalk in the Township?
Peter Mancuso: Morris Township is currently moving forward on this project. If all goes well the sidewalk should be in service in early 2020. The design work is underway and we are required to get a stream encroachment permit from NJDOT for a small portion of the walk that needs to be built over the stream.
Bud Ravitz: I am absolutely in favor of extending Township sidewalks, and even putting in bike lanes, to meet Morristown sidewalks. This will help reduce traffic congestion while helping to reduce the carbon footprint of residents. Those plans are already underway. When I am on the Township committee, I will work to ensure that the Township will complete those sidewalks as expeditiously as possible.
MG: People periodically suggest merging the Morris Township and Morristown to save money. Under what circumstances, if any, would you support this?
Peter Mancuso: Merging the two towns would initially require a petition and then a referendum of the citizens of both towns. What kind of majority would be needed to implement this change? Would this merger be in the best interests of Morris Township?
There would need to be an agreement on a new form of government and numbers of elected officials. Different bargaining units for each town would be very complicated to reconcile. Tax rates would conceivably be different with Morris Township paying more in property taxes if implemented.
Bud Ravitz: No. However, we should look harder at what services we could share with other towns. Morris Township touches nine other municipalities and there should be many ways we can share services with several of them in order to save money.
MG: Along those lines… the Township shares its municipal court services with neighboring towns, shares a school system and library with Morristown, and formerly shared a seniors transportation system (Colonial Coach) with Morristown. What other services could/ should be shared? With whom, and why?
Peter Mancuso: We continually look for shared services. The Township has shared services with our contiguous municipalities for sewer services, Morris County Communications for police, fire and EMS communication, dispatch and 911, Township of Hanover for nursing services, and Morris School District for recreation and facilities use.
We share the Morristown & Morris Township library. There are also mutual aid agreements for police, fire and EMS mutual aid. The only requirement is that is has to be beneficial to Morris Township both economically and in work force efficiency.
Bud Ravitz: Two areas where we can possibly explore sharing services are with public works and recreation. There may be an area where it is more cost-effective to utilize a neighboring town’s DPW as it is simply closer to the point where such services are needed.
Being able to utilize shared recreational facilities might be another area where we can find some cost savings. Neither of these ideas entails reducing employment for either town as I would not be an advocate of eliminating these needed jobs. Again, we will look to share services with all our surrounding municipalities to see what would be a good fit.