By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
This year’s Republican candidates for Fair Haven borough council haven’t gotten caught up in the latest political buzzword “change.” For Ben Lucarelli and Bob Marchese, it’s more of an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
But that doesn’t mean the GOP running mates will be able to sit pat if elected to the council. As Lucarelli sees it, change is coming whether anybody likes it or not. The state’s fiscal problems, he said, will have an effect on small towns like Fair Haven because they’ll lose a big percentage of state aid. He and Marchese are more concerned about managing that change rather than creating it.
“Fair Haven is not broke. The state of New Jersey is broke and shattered,” Lucarelli, owner of Lucarelli Construction Company in Red Bank, said.
“Because of that, the state’s going to be in very dire straits,” he added. “We’re going to hit the point very quickly where the state just can’t sustain the way it’s doing business. Period. End of story.”
That means the task for whomever gets elected to the council will be to cut costs and generate revenue without raising taxes, said Marchese, a Brooklyn native who has lived in Fair Haven since 1995.
It’s a daunting task to say the least, considering state aid in recent years had been around $600,000, and last year accounted for about $400,000 of the borough’s $3.5 million budget. This year Lucarelli isn’t sure what amount to anticipate, if anything.
“That’s a big percentage of our budget that we’re just not going to get anymore,” Lucarelli said. “We’re a small town, we do everything right, and yet we’re part of this organism that’s sick. Our job moving forward is defending this town and shielding ourselves from this sickness.”
Lucarelli, who has been on the council since January, when he filled the role of Thomas Gilmour, said so far the council has proven it can stifle spending and municipal tax increases. Both have gone down in the last two years, Lucarelli said.
He and Marchese say keeping taxes down will take aggressiveness toward sharing services and being open to opportunities that are presented.
Marchese also suggested a tax discount program, in which a property owner who pays his or her taxes in advance would get a small discount. Then the borough would take what was paid and invest it at a higher rate than the discount.
“It’s going to take a bunch of small steps to make progress,” Marchese said.
All this, while maintaining services and what Lucarelli said people in Fair Haven really want a small town, Mayberry-like feel.
“Our biggest task is maintaining the fabric of small town culture,” Lucarelli said.
That includes increasing school safety. Marchese says it’s too easy for anybody to walk into the borough’s two schools. Improvements, like security cameras linked with the county dispatch center, must be made.
“I think the benefit versus the cost of doing this is extremely cost-efficient,” Marchese said.
In the process of accomplishing these goals, Lucarelli and Marchese say they want a minimal presence in residents’ lives. The campaign slogan on the back of their business cards reads: “Lower taxes + smaller government = more (economic) freedom.”
“Government should never suit up and play in the game,” said Marchese, a Red Bank-based lawyer. “It should only suit up to be the referee the match, and enforce the rules and regulations that are already in place. It’s important to keep Fair Haven moving in the direction that it is.”