RED BANK COUNCIL Q&A: YNGSTROM

erik yngstrom 031716Erik Yngstrom, Democrat. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Election_2016_Plain

One year after Republicans narrowly displaced Democrats as the controlling party in Red Bank government, ending a 25-year reign, voters return to the polls on November 8 with five candidates to choose from for two council seats: one now held by a Democrat, the other by a former Republican-turned-independent.

All five candidates have indicated they’ll participate in the West Side Community Group’s annual candidates’ forum at the River Street Commons at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 18. For more information about the event, take it here.

To help voters compare the contenders in terms of personal background and positions on key issues, redbankgreen emailed them identical sets of questions late last week. Here’s what Erik Yngstrom had to say in response.

erik-yngstrom-092616Erik Yngstrom at Calvary Baptist Church watching a televised presidential debate in September. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

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Name: Erik K. Yngstrom

Age: 31

Address: 97 West Westside Avenue

Do you own real estate in town? No.

Where did you grow up?  

I grew up in Freehold Township where my father was a Union electrician and my mother was a registered nurse.

How long have you been a resident of Red Bank? 

Approximately 4 years.

Where did you go to high school?

I graduated from Freehold Township High School.

Did you graduate from college? If so, which school, with what degree? 

Monmouth University, B.A. Major in Political Science;

Duquesne University Law School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, J.D.

Have your served in the military? If so, which branch and when? No.

What do you do for a living? (Title, employer, brief description of your responsibilities): 

Attorney with Lomurro, Munson, Comer, Brown & Schottland in Freehold where I represent individuals in workers’ compensation, personal injury and municipal offense matters.

Party affiliation: Democrat

How important is party affiliation to you? What does it mean to you to be a member of your party?

Party affiliation is important to me as I share many of the ideals of the Democratic Party. However, being a member of the Red Bank community is more important to me than party affiliation.

Who do you plan to vote for in the presidential election and why?

I will vote for Hillary Clinton as she is the most qualified candidate to lead our country for the next four years.

Do you have a role model in public life? Who and why?

President John F. Kennedy. As I’ve learned as a member of the Zoning Board, public service can become very stressful when the public’s demands, the Borough’s welfare, the limitations of our government, and your own conscience may be pulling you in many different directions. Kennedy faced several situations in his relatively short time as President where the unity of our nation and the fate of the world was at stake. He faced them with immense clarity and poise under pressure. I very much admire that ability and try to emulate it in my personal, professional, and public lives.

Why are you running for Red Bank council?

I am running for Red Bank council because I love this town and want to see it continue to thrive as one of the best small towns in America. I hope to be able to serve the public and restore a sense of community to Red Bank by ending the divisive politics which has plagued our town for the past few years.

What should Red Bank residents expect of a council member?

Red Bank residents should expect council members to act in a professional manner, provide leadership, dependability, and transparency. A council member should be able to work civilly with other council members and be able to put the Red Bank residents before their party affiliation.

What if any specific initiatives can voters expect from you if you are elected?

One initiative that is important to me is the improvement of our parks. The rehabilitation of Marine Park and the creation of a new park on the Westside for kids to play are major issues which I expect to tackle if elected.

How do you describe your approach to fiscal issues such as budgeting, taxes and debt?

I am fiscally conservative, but I firmly believe in balance. That is, I’m not against spending money as a community, but for every expense, I want to see a tangible improvement, service, or result for our residents. Whatever the usual election season propaganda says, the truth is that a majority of the municipal budget is pre-determined by State-mandated obligations, ever-increasing healthcare premiums, and collectively bargained obligations to the Borough’s employees. So, my approach would be to make sure we are getting our money’s worth for those structural expenses in every department, and moreover, to utilize the remainder of the municipal budget to either: (1) improve our quality of life through enhanced Borough services and/or infrastructure improvements; or (2) not spend it and use it for property tax relief in the event that a discretionary expenditure does not meet the first criterion.

Are there any borough operations or services you think should be reduced or eliminated?

Because I have not been on the inside of the Borough’s operations, it would be irresponsible for me to point to a Borough operation or service that I would eliminate at this time without full knowledge and consultation with the Borough’s administration, which of course, I would undertake if elected. That being said, I’m certainly not against cutting government waste and I think I’ve fully explained my approach in my responses to prior questions as to how I would make such a decision to eliminate or reduce Borough expenses and/or operations.

What are the primary criteria you have used or would use in deciding whether to vote in favor of a tax increase?

First, I believe that, before a councilmember votes for any tax increase, there has to have been a bona fide effort on his or her part to review the budget line-by-line and double-check what the administrative staff and finance committee is saying about “structural expenses” to ensure that a tax increase is necessary in the first place. Second, if the tax increase is determined to be necessary to maintain the same level of services for our residents as the prior year, then the primary criterion in voting for or against the tax increase is obviously the magnitude of the tax increase. If a 0.0001% tax increase would maintain all Borough services for another year, I’d likely vote for it. If a 10% tax increase is required, then I’d vote against it and Borough services would have to be cut. As I have previously said, I am fiscally conservative so I won’t accept substantial tax increases, but I also believe in balance, so I likewise won’t pledge to vote against any and all tax increases for the sake of political convenience. I don’t think that an inflexible approach works one way or the other.

Red Bank has a large number of charities that don’t pay property taxes, far more than nearby towns. What if anything should be done to address this?

The classification of real property as tax-exempt and the criteria for doing so are governed by State law and County authorities. I do not believe that anything can be done to address it on the local level. I’m also skeptical about what could or would be done at higher levels of government to eliminate charitable tax exemptions, or even whether it is a good idea from a societal standpoint.

Should the borough maintain ownership of its water utility?

The Borough should maintain its ownership of the water utility so long as it is financially viable and beneficial to the Borough’s residents. If there comes a time when it is demonstrated that privatization would substantially lower our rates and/or reduce our infrastructure costs, then it would have to be considered as an alternative.

Is Red Bank business-friendly?

Yes, I believe that Red Bank is business-friendly, and the amount of commerce occurring in our relatively small Borough is evidence of that fact. Of course, the business community’s needs and circumstances change over time, so I think the most important thing is for our Borough Council to be responsive to those needs. Failing to do so or discouraging business would be catastrophic for our residents’ property taxes if commercial ratables are lost.

Do you agree or disagree that Red Bank is becoming over-developed? If you agree, what should be done in response?

I do not believe that Red Bank is becoming over-developed. However, Red Bank is at a crossroads in its history – we are going to have to balance continued growth as a commercial hub while also protecting our small-town character. The solution is simple – follow the Borough’s Master Plan and avoid redeveloping former commercial properties into residential ones. Personally, I don’t like the increasing traffic around town, but I can tolerate it knowing that the commercial activity is beneficial to the Borough and our residential property tax burden. What I can’t tolerate is dense residential development in our downtown that creates traffic as a result of overcrowding, and not as a result of commerce.

Does Red Bank need a downtown parking garage?

I am inclined to say yes anecdotally, but I do not have a scientific or study-backed reason to justify such a large expenditure. If elected, and this is a pledge Kathy and I have made throughout our campaign, we will advocate for an up-to-date professionally produced traffic flow and parking capacity study for Red Bank. I think that we have to compare the expense of a wholly or partially publically financed parking garage with other potentially less expensive alternatives – all with the clear objective of enhancing our downtown parking capacity. So, while my gut tells me a downtown parking garage is a good idea, I would have to fully investigate our situation and options before committing to it.

Are there conditions you would like to see met before a parking garage is approved?

Yes, there has to be an up-to-date professional study of the exact nature of our parking problems before we undertake a multi-million construction project. We all have our individual observations and experiences with parking as residents of Red Bank, but I believe in making such important policy decisions based upon the best objective information available. Further, I do not believe that the residents of Red Bank should bear the entire cost of constructing the parking garage. There should be a public-private partnership or a special assessment on beneficiaries because, if a parking garage is indeed proven to be necessary, then it is clear that there would be a broad-based benefit beyond the residents’ interests.

Do you support the recent borough council decision to designate the vacant lot at 55 West Front Street as “area in need of redevelopment” after a development plan for the site was rejected by the zoning board?

No. I voted against the exact same redevelopment when it came before me as a member of the Zoning Board. Transforming an empty lot in our central commercial zone into a dense residential property of condominiums is terrible community planning. Just days after the Zoning Board rejected the plan, the Republican members of Council joined with the Mayor to pass it anyway over Kathy’s objections. Once that property becomes residential, those potential commercial ratables in our downtown are lost forever. To be clear, I’m not completely against residential units in our downtown because our businesses need walk-in customers. But, that is already accounted for in Red Banks zoning ordinance, which allows residential development in the central commercial district as mixed-use developments with the residential on upper floors – your classic apartments over storefronts that dominate attractive, balanced towns like Red Bank. 55 West Front Street would certainly be commercially viable as a mixed-use development, and the zoning ordinance specifically allows that result. The Republican-led overriding of the applicable zoning sets a dangerous precedent for future developers that want to build easier-to-sell residential developments all over Red Bank.

How do you rate the borough government’s commitment to environmental protection and conservation?

The borough government’s commitment to environmental protection has been good but could improve. We must take actions to help make Red Bank greener, and most importantly, strongly lobby State and Federal authorities to clean up the Navesink.

Are Red Bank’s parks and other public facilities well-maintained? What if anything needs to be changed?

Riverside Gardens and Count Basie Park are immaculately maintained. However, Marine Park and Bell Haven need to be examined and improved for more public access. I also believe the expansion of recreational space on the Westside needs to be a priority. There has been talk for years about the need, but I want to make it a priority if I am elected.

 Is Red Bank government transparent? What if anything might be done to enhance the public’s insight into decision-making?

Local government is required to be transparent by State law, and I haven’t seen any violations. However, beyond bare minimums, enhancing the public’s insight into the government is dependent on the amount of information that the government makes readily available to the public. My running-mate, Kathy, understood that, for a busy public, easy access to information and effective presentation of that information is crucial. I’m proud that Kathy was instrumental in enhancing the Borough’s technology and overhauling the Borough’s website. The site is infinitely more navigable and has effective search functions. This has greatly enhanced the transparency of the Borough and I intend to help her build on that initiative if elected.

Do you agree or disagree that all mayoral/council email correspondence should be conducted in borough email accounts and subject to OPRA requests?

I agree that all mayoral/council email correspondence should be conducted through borough email accounts, which are subject to OPRA requests.

How would you rate the new borough website in terms of effectiveness?

The new borough website is a tremendous improvement over what we once had. It is more user friendly and allows for the residents to be more informed as to what is transpiring with the borough government. I applaud my running-mate, Kathy, for leading the effort to overhaul the website and make local government more transparent.

What specific initiatives, if any, should be implemented to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in town?

Pedestrian and bicyclist safety should be a top priority of the borough’s government and especially the police department. One suggestion is that bigger signs, such as the ones they have in Asbury Park, should be implemented at all cross-walks. Because foot traffic is vital to our local businesses, I’d like to see a more pedestrian friendly town, which begins with effectively managed traffic and community planning. I am always in favor of mixed-use development, which encourages pedestrians by placing businesses alongside housing.

Should the clay tennis courts be kept in Marine Park?

I think that the fate of the clay tennis courts has distracted many people from the real issue: Marine Park as a whole needs a facelift and there need to be improvements to the entire park. This will be a top priority of mine if elected. I would like to solicit full-park renovation plans and public input. If the clay tennis courts end up as part of a cost-effective plan, then I would be in favor of keeping them.

What if anything should be done to provide outdoor play areas for children on the West Side?

The children on the West Side certainly need an outdoor play area. I live on the West Side and I constantly see children playing in the streets. This is unacceptable and the children need an area to go where it is safe for them to be kids without worry. I think the Bellhaven parcel is an obvious choice for recreational amenities, and positive steps were taken last year to advance a plan. If elected, I will push to continue on the path toward enhancing the Bellhaven parcel, and looking for other recreational opportunities in my neighborhood.

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