Incumbent Council Members' Responses to Questions from Scotch Plains Neighborhood Alliance

The Scotch Plains Neighborhood Alliance recently made a written inquiry to the 3 incumbents running for re-election to the Township Council via e-mail.  In an effort at full transparency, the incumbents' responses are being published publicly here.  The Neighborhood Alliance asked 5 separate questions of the candidates.

Question 1. Please tell us a little about yourself, education, family and why you are running for public office.

Elizabeth Stamler: I am a lifelong resident of Scotch Plains, earned a Master’s Degree in Accounting from New Jersey City University (2016) and an undergraduate degree in Criminology from the College of New Jersey (2009). My family includes my partner, Seth; mother, Jeanne; and brother, John Dennis. I also have two dogs, Annie and Scout, and a foster dog or two from time to time.

I ran for Town Council in 2018 seeking to bring a fresh perspective on matters big and small.  I am proud of the accomplishments my colleagues and I have made, but seek more time to make more of a difference in our town, as we have an extensive agenda.

Roshan “Roc” White: I have lived in Scotch Plains for 20 years, completed a five-year apprenticeship program through the UA Plumbers Local Union 24 and graduated from the United Association Instructor Training Program through Michigan State University/Washtenaw Community College. I am married to Bonnie Mason-White, and have two children, Kobe and Kaci, both proud graduates of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. I am a veteran of the Gulf War, served our Country for six years in the United States Marine Corps, and earned the rank of Sergeant.

I ran for Town Council because I love my town and wanted to continue on a journey of public service.  I am a person of action.  Just let me know what needs to be done, and I will do whatever is within my power to get it accomplished.

We have a tremendous track record of success during our first term on the Township Council, accomplishing many capital improvements while still stabilizing the municipal tax rate.  There are many other initiatives underway that I would like to see through fruition.

Matt Adams: I lived in Scotch Plains during law school from 2005-2007 and came to love the town as the perfect place to raise a family. So, when I began a family of my own, I returned and have called Scotch Plains home since 2014.

I earned a JD from Seton Hall University (2007) and a Bachelor’s Degree from Rutgers University (2004). I am married to Meredith; we have three boys, Michael (9), Andrew (8) and Nicholas (4).

Getting involved on the local level has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of my life. My colleagues and I are really making a difference and improving Scotch Plains. I am hopeful that voters will recognize our many successes over the past few years and will reelect us to continue the progress.

Question 2.  What is your vision for the future of Scotch Plains, and what would be your top priorities over the next 5-10 years for the town? Such as downtown redevelopment, relocation of town hall and all emergency services, business zoning, cannabis, flooding, light industry zoning, traffic, schools, our children’s future, parks/recreation, services for seniors, individuals with disabilities?
Scotch Plains will have a more stable financial future, improved parks and recreational opportunities for residents of all ages and be safer because of the hard decisions and investments that we are making in our town today.

Regarding downtown redevelopment, we have adopted a Redevelopment Plan that has attracted 11 redevelopers that have shared their visions. Until now, no such process has occurred or came close.  This is a plan that will jumpstart the revitalization of downtown Scotch Plains.  The plan, with full public input, calls for fewer housing units and density than what was previously considered. To revitalize downtown Scotch Plains, emergency services may be relocated to Plainfield Avenue.  This proposal has been in the works for many years, long before any of us were elected, and we have improved on the original plan.

Four years ago, the town sought to relocate Town Hall and emergency services to the DPW yard on Plainfield Avenue and the adjacent conservation zone. We modified that plan to preserve the conservation zone as much as possible after listening to residents who participated in Downtown Redevelopment Committee meetings. Town Hall is now proposed to remain in our downtown area as part of a new library.

Keeping Town Hall in our downtown reduces the footprint of an emergency services facility on Plainfield Avenue and, thereby, makes it much less likely that the conservation area will be disturbed. If emergency services are relocated to Plainfield Avenue, emergency response time will improve as the Plainfield Avenue location is more centrally located than the current locations near Town Hall.

The township has modified zoning on Route 22 only to permit the lawful sale and manufacturing of cannabis to businesses licensed by the state, following the ballot referendum amending the New Jersey Constitution and legalizing cannabis in New Jersey in 2020.  The businesses are not permitted anywhere else in town; such businesses may exist on Route 22 only.

Over the past year, the township has authorized applications by entrepreneurs who control property on Route 22 and have provided business plans demonstrating the applicants’ commitment to follow the stringent rules and procedures set forth by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC).

Ultimately, we believe the CRC will grant state licenses only to the one or two strongest applications, and each of the applicants that have come before the Council have agreed.  

Moreover, if a state license is issued, the applicant will then have the additional burden to obtain a local license to operate in Scotch Plains.  This will require an applicant to demonstrate that their facility complies with all our local zoning requirements, such as whether they have adequate parking, signage, odor control, security plans, etc. We recognize that cannabis businesses are now part of the legal business marketplace and have been for some time. In fact, two applications were considered and unanimously supported by the former administration to operate medical dispensaries on Route 22. Further, we believe the town should support all small businesses, especially those with minority and female leadership.

We also believe it is our responsibility to seek opportunities that reduce the town’s reliance on residential taxpayers.  It is estimated that the township will recognize meaningful tax income if any such businesses are permitted to operate on Route 22. Finally, we believe that having one or two heavily regulated cannabis businesses on Route 22 are more advantageous than empty highway storefronts.

Flooding has been a problem in Scotch Plains for longer than anyone can recall.  After Hurricane Ida, when we helped flooded residents by connecting them with federal, state and county resources, fueled by volunteers from the town and greater community, we demanded that the township take additional measures to limit flooding.  We quickly learned, however, that the cooperation of many towns and several counties is needed to fix the underlying regional problems.  Moreover, the towns and counties cannot come close to affording the price tag of the necessary repairs without the cooperation of the county, state and federal governments working together on a cohesive solution.

The good news is things are finally happening.  For example, Congressman Tom Malinowski helped secure funds to complete the Green Brook Sub Basin Flood Control Project so that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may complete substantial work, and greatly limit flooding in town during extreme weather events.

At home, our Town Manager has worked extensively with our Department of Public Works to ensure that sewers and brooks and other areas are regularly and consistently cleared of debris, to seek grant opportunities for expensive remedial work and take other responsible measures, such as working closely with the County and neighboring towns to limit flooding as part of a broad-based strategy.

We have also charged the professional engineers and planners who work for Scotch Plains with answering “what else could Scotch Plains do to protect existing residents from flooding?”  As a result, Scotch Plains will soon require soil percolation testing as part of all land use applications.

Soil percolation tests will provide a better understanding about how absorbable the ground is at a particular project.  If the testing, for example, demonstrates that the soil is too saturated to absorb water, then our professionals and land use boards may require the installation of dry wells and other water infiltration systems to obtain town approvals.

We are proud of our support of the Recreation Commission’s “Master Plan” and of the improvements we have made throughout the town.  These improvements include, but are not limited to, resurfacing Southside Field, holding DOGust eventsimprovements to Brookside Park, new pickleball courts and a multi-sport basketball/hockey/futsol (hard court soccer) area at Green Forest Park, new, handicap accessible equipment at Greenside Park and restoring the proper, historical name to our municipal golf course, Shady Rest.

The township is hosting more and more events for residents 55 years of age or older, such as games promoting daily exercise, miniature golf and trips.

We also want to continue doing away with events that few residents participate in and replace them with activities that are fun for all, including individuals with disabilities.  See https://www.tapinto.net/towns/scotch-plains-slash-fanwood/sections/community-life/articles/scotch-plains-announces-upcoming-senior-programs-and-services for what we are doing and for what is coming our way.

Question 3. What do you think are the most pressing issues for Scotch Plains and what would you intend to do about it?
The most pressing municipal issues are concentrated within the following three themes:

  1. Maintaining the town’s strong fiscal management;
  2. Ensuring public safety; and
  3. Carefully making community improvements while always watching the bottom line.

Question 4.  How do you think the Scotch Plains taxpayers can be more involved in planning for the future of our community? 
One way is for voters to meet with candidates running for Town Council, asking them smart, non-partisan questions and voting for the candidates who best reflect the voter’s values and shares the same comprehensive plans for the town’s future.

Another way is to participate in our many public monthly meetings of our many boards/commissions, such as the Town Council, Planning and Zoning Board, Recreation Commission, Environmental Commission, Green Team and Library Board meetings.  As stated above, we determined Town Hall should remain in our downtown, a central gathering place for civic participation.

Yet another way is to contact our town manager or any member of the Council and share one’s ideas about the future of the township.  Each of us makes the time to connect with residents whenever asked.

Receiving our weekly E-Messenger, delivered on Fridays, is another way to stay informed and become more involved.  Residents may record their email address on the very top of www.ScotchPlainsNJ.gov to receive the weekly online newsletters.

Question 5. Is there anything else you think our alliance members need to know about you and your perspective on our town?  Each of us cares deeply about Scotch Plains and seeks your support so that we may continue representing the township responsibly on the Town Council. 


SPDC Oktoberfest!

It was a beautiful day for that annual right of Fall, the SPDC Oktoberfest! Thank you to all our supporters and well wishers. Facts matter. Progress is undeniable. #KeepMovingForward.


Councilman Adams is talking the superb fiscal health of Scotch Plains in his latest weekly e-messenger piece to the community. Just the facts. Check it out here, and let's #KeepMovingForward

Message from Councilman Matt Adams

 

Welcome to October!  This Fall is a busy time for Scotch Plains.  The dawn of the new season brings federal, state, county, and municipal elections, along with robust planning for the new year that is right around the corner.  That means that the township’s administration and new Chief Financial Officer Christopher Macaluso, with input and direction from the Council, are hard at work on the 2023 budget.

Especially at this time of year there is, and should be, robust discussion about the direction of the municipality.  We have 9 full months “in the books” to reflect on since 2022 began.  At a time when talking points too often get substituted for actual data and statistics, it is critically important that the ongoing evaluation of the state of the township be done using objective facts, not opinion or conjecture.

I would like to highlight once such objective measure of the state of our town’s finances, a third-party report written by Moody’s Investor Service. Moody’s is a credit agency that, according to its website, provides international financial research on bonds issued by commercial and government entities.

Moody’s is fiercely independent; it uses its own proprietary research criteria to assess municipal bonds to help guide the fiscal strength of local governments. For cities and towns that enjoy strong bond ratings, like Scotch Plains, they can borrow money at considerably lower interest rates to the direct benefit of taxpayers.

Although it must be used responsibly, this favorable bond capacity is part of the engine that drives the type of progress we have seen in recent years without appreciable tax increases.  It is achieved only through diligent financial management and sound fiscal planning.  Even as we dream big, we must live within our means, and that is exactly what independent observers like Moody’s look for and say we have done.

So, for people like me in a fiduciary role, as well as for any other taxpayer in our community, it is very important to hear what Moody’s has to say about Scotch Plains, especially as the township has enjoyed a relatively flat tax rate over the past eight years under governing bodies led by both Democrats and Republicans.  Since 2014, for example, the municipal portion of the tax rate in Scotch Plains has increased by an average of only 0.63%.  During that same period, the municipal portion of the tax rate was held flat -- with a 0% municipal increase -- in 2015, 2018, 2020, and 2022.  That is a tremendous feat, considering that the dollar had an average inflation rate of 2.84% per year between 2014 and today, producing a cumulative price increase of 25.11% in that time.

In its report on our town, Moody’s writes: “Scotch Plains Township has an exceptional credit position. Its Aaa rating is much higher than the median rating of Aa3 for US cities. The key credit factors include a very strong financial position, a very strong wealth and income profile and a solid tax base. It also reflects a negligible debt burden and a somewhat elevated pension liability.”

Moody’s adds: The township's financial position is robust and is aligned with the assigned rating of Aaa. The cash balance as a percent of operating revenues (55.9%) is above the US median, and grew modestly from 2015 to 2019… Scotch Plains Township has an exceptionally healthy economy and tax base, which are in line with its Aaa rating.”

Those are not the words of a politician seeking elected office.  They are the words of a trusted, third-party authority regarding the financial health of a municipality.

Despite keeping taxes flat this year, Scotch Plains has used its budget for a number of improvements, such as: renovations to Greenside, Green Forest and Brookside parks; hiring a new police officer and providing our police officers with state-of-the art training and equipment like new fully outfitted patrol vehicles and body cameras; upgrading the municipal IT system; purchasing an ambulance and other life-saving equipment and education for our Fire Department; adding a DPW worker; improving leaf collection; and hosting a number of inclusive community events, according to the Town Manager’s budget briefing this spring, delivered at a public Township Council meeting.

I hope this public information helps residents gain a better understanding of the ongoing fiscal strength of our municipal operations. To review the municipal budget, as well as annual budgets back to 2012, click the tab for “Budgets & Financial Documents” at scotchplainsnj.gov.  The Moody’s report is included there, as well.

Please contact me at mattadams@scotchplainsnj.com if you have any questions or comments.

Thank you.


Your Latest Installment of JUST THE FACTS...

Your latest installment of JUST THE FACTS…
Our downtown central business district is on the rise. Our team has made unprecedented progress on downtown revitalization (see summary below), after a revitalized downtown has been talked about in Scotch Plains for 40 years! And, we are just getting started!
With 11 separate developers responding to our transparent RFQ process for the Tier 1, Phase 1 Redevelopment Plan adopted by the Council last November, we are one step closer to remaking our central business district into what residents demand and deserve.
#KeepMovingForward by voting Stamler, White, and Adams, on Column B by November 8.

Five Questions with...Elizabeth Stamler

TapInto's latest in its series on this year's incumbents on the ballot for Council focuses on Deputy Mayor Elizabeth Stamler, a fierce advocate for the residents of the place she was born and raised. Read the full article by clicking on this link

 

How long have you lived in Scotch Plaiins?
I am a lifelong resident (all 35 years) of Scotch Plains, earned a Master’s Degree in Accounting from NJ City University (2016) and a BS in Criminology from the College of NJ (2009). My family includes my partner, Seth; mother, Jeanne; and brother, John Dennis. I also have two dogs, Annie and Scout, and a foster dog or two from time to time.

Why are you running for reelection to Council?
I am running for another term on Town Council because I want to continue the momentum and progress that my running mates and I are making in Scotch Plains. It is hard to believe four years have passed by so quickly, but I believe there is still more work to do.

Tell us about your career and how your work and life experience will be beneficial.
I have spent my career in public service, so I know how to listen. I truly value the diversity of opinions that people bring to Council meetings or when they contact me to discuss issues in the town. I know they are reaching out to share their ideas because of how much they care about our town. In canvassing this year, I have heard from many residents about how we should do this or try that, and while it is not all feasible, it is always worthwhile considering different points of view because ultimately, we want to do what's most beneficial for Scotch Plains.

What are the issues that you think are most important in Scotch Plains this year?
What I am hearing most on doorsteps is that residents desire to carefully watch town spending and know about the future of downtown. Many people want to see our downtown revitalized, but want to know how much will change and at what cost. I agree with these concerns, but I also know that this has been a long time coming and that nothing worth having comes easily. I think it's extremely important to have new ratables in town, so the high tax burden is not solely on the backs of our residents. There is a high cost for living in this town. I think that's one thing we can all agree on. We do have a very safe town, however, and top-rated schools (which is where ~67% of the tax bill goes!).

What should people know about you that they might not know already? 
People should not hesitate to get involved in town issues. Your voice truly does matter and every opinion holds value. Please always reach out to your council members with ideas, questions, and concerns you may have. And don't forget to vote on Nov. 8!

Favorite music?
The Eagles, Zac Brown Band, Motown

Anything else you would like to say?
Please register to be an organ donor today. This year, we reached one million people who have received life-saving transplants. However, there are still 105,000+ people across the US waiting. Registering takes less than two minutes. You can do so here: https://registerme.org.


Five Questions with...Scotch Plains Councilman Matt Adams

TapInto’s latest in its series on this year’s incumbents on the ballot for Council focuses on Councilman Matt Adams. Read the full article by clicking on this link

Name: Matthew S. Adams
Current Occupation: Partner/ National Co-Chair, White Collar Criminal Defense and Regulatory Compliance Practice Group, Fox Rothschild LLP
Education: Rutgers University, BS (2004); Seton Hall University, JD (2007)
Family: Married father of 3 boys (Michael, 9; Andrew, 8; and Nicholas, 4)
# Years Living in Scotch Plains: I lived in Scotch Plains during law school from 2005-07, and moved back in 2014, where I have resided with my family ever since.

Why are you running for Council? 
I want to continue working on the elusive things that have evaded progress for too long because the best days for Scotch Plains are yet to come.

My grandfather -- a small business owner and local elected official in Monmouth County for close to four decades -- taught me that a public servant needs to fight every day for the needs of each and every member of the community that they serve.  My father, a police officer who ultimately ascended through the ranks to become chief of his department, taught me that there is nothing you cannot do if you put your head down and work hard at it.  I look to those important role models every day while tasked with the awesome responsibility of representing the residents of the community where I have chosen to settle and to raise my children.

Our parks, centers for socialization and growth for our children through organized and less formal activities, were allowed to fall into disrepair for too long. This changed with my leadership, and I want to continue ensuring that our town invests in our parks.

A year ago, Ida struck our region, and caused devastating flooding.  The storm reminded us that we continue to be especially vulnerable to flooding as climate change alters our weather patterns. The price tag for the various engineering and other work to make our community at less risk to flooding, however, is simply too great for our municipality to tackle alone.  Our ability to progress as a community depends upon our ability to become more flood resilient.  That is why we need to build bridges to state and federal leaders for their support.  I believe that I am particularly adept at this type of relationship building.

Sound fiscal management is vital in everything, but especially local government.  The decisions that we make as a council directly impact the wallets of our residents.  That is why I am particularly proud of the fact that we have presided over a time of such tremendous progress while keeping taxes flat and earning a AAA bond rating.  I am a details person.  My training and my job dictate it.  I sat down for hours with the mayor and the township’s chief financial officer during the budget process, carefully and painstakingly ensuring that residents would not see any increase in the municipal portion of their property tax bill. While progress no doubt requires expenditures, those expenditures must be fiscally responsible.  I am proud that we have achieved everything we have achieved for our community while keeping taxes flat and earning a AAA bond rating.  You can expect that same attention to detail from my colleagues and I as we keep moving forward.

Finally, a major part of leadership is representing all people, regardless of their background. I know that everyone will not always agree on all issues, all of the time, but when it comes to inclusivity, there is no middle ground, period.  Hate has no home in Scotch Plains, and I am not afraid to say it.

Tell us about your career and how your work and life experience are beneficial in your role as a Councilperson?
There is an obvious interplay between being a lawyer and working in government. The policy decisions that I make as a councilman are rooted in the same principles of our democracy that I have dedicated my career to mastering and carrying out through my work. Yet, there are other aspects of my legal career that I carry into my role in local government. Specifically, as a practice group leader and partner in one of the 100 largest law firms in the country, I also help run a significant business. The responsibilities and skills that I have developed in that role have direct parallels to my duties as a councilman in shaping budgets, handling personnel decisions, and developing policy.

In my personal life, I am the father of 3 very active young boys. My weekends are spent mostly on the sidelines coaching or in the stands rooting for my boys and their various teams. This has given me a direct feel for so many of the needs of our community, in particular our parks and recreation needs. This perspective has directly shaped my work as liaison to the Recreation Department and the rest of my portfolio of responsibilities as a councilman.

What are the issues that you think are most important in Scotch Plains this year?
In no particular order, because they are all equally important priorities:

  • Paving roads and fixing sidewalks;
  • Creating a local economy that attracts small businesses;
  • The revitalization of our downtown business district in an open and transparent way;
  • Continuing to rebuild our parks, recreation, and youth sports facilities;
  • Maintaining public safety and providing our first responders the tools they need;
  • Continuing to work toward solutions to the flooding issues in our town;
  • Pushing back strongly and decisively on over development;
  • Ensuring an inclusive, welcoming environment in our community, FOR ALL; and
  • Finding creative ways to derive revenue for our town to pay for all that needs to be done without increasing the tax burden on residents and keeping Scotch Plains affordable.

What should people know about you that they might not know already?
I have participated in dozens of marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons throughout my life  Those solitary events leave you alone with your own thoughts for hours. Through them, you don’t just learn a ton about yourself, you develop a mental toughness that you carry with you to the rest of your life.

Hidden Talents
I love to cook and to entertain. Before law school, I worked in nearly all facets of the restaurant business, in the front of the house and in the kitchen. It taught me a great deal about worth ethic, and also how to make a mean clam chowder, enhance the flavor of a bunch of things with rice wine vinegar, and, most of all, how to be hospitable.

Favorite Sports Teams
New York Yankees
New York Rangers
New York Jets
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Seton Hall Pirates

Anything else you would like to say?
Serving the people of Scotch Plains for the past 2 years has been the honor of a lifetime. If re-elected, I will continue to serve with honesty, integrity, and passion. Above all else, I am a fierce advocate for all our residents. Never hesitate to reach out to me at mattadams@scotchplainsnj.com, or let’s meet for a cup of coffee or a beer. The road to lasting progress is not always easy, but I am always in your corner.