In Tuesday’s election for Red Bank council, incumbents Juanita Lewis and Ed Zipprich, both Democrats, face Republicans Sean Di Somma and Linda Schwabenbauer. Here are Lewis’s answers to questions sent to all four candidates by redbankgreen.
Name: Juanita Lewis
Where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Red Bank.
How long have you been a resident of Red Bank? All of my life, except when I went to college, graduate school and when I worked overseas for one year.
Did you graduate from college? If so, which school, with what degree? Yes, Rutgers University (New Brunswick and Newark-BS Accounting and BA Economics) and Seton Hall University (MBA in Finance with a certificate in International Business)
What do you do for a living? Senior Manager, IEEE, Standards Association, Senior Manager, Business Operations and Administation
Party affiliation: Democratic
How important is party affiliation to you? What does it mean to you to be a member of your party? I am a Democrat. I believe in the core values of the Democratic Party. Democrats believe that we’re greater together than we are on our own. Democrats believe in communities. To me it is important to be a decent and honest representative for the community with integrity and commitment.
What should Red Bank residents expect of a council member? We need hard working committed people who have strong moral character. A council member truly needs to be a part of the community and understand the community they serve. Red Bank is a melting pot. Council members need to be adept at dealing with and representing the entire Red Bank community on a consistent basis. More importantly, we need to be unifiers for the community.
What should Red Bank residents expect of their mayor?
How would you describe your approach to budgeting and taxes? Red Bank practices zero-based budgeting. The Borough looks at every possible option to keep taxes as flat as possible without changing the quality of services. The Borough continues to do more with less and increases shared service agreements. We continue to examine the budget and reduce unnecessary expenditures to ensure that the municipality lives within its means. We are taxpayers too.
Are there any borough operations or services that should be reduced or eliminated? I continue to work with my colleagues to look at ways that we can operate the Borough more efficiently and effectively. We have worked hard over the past several years to reduce redundancies and provide services and will continue to do so.
What are the primary criteria you have used or would use in deciding whether to approve a tax increase? I ask the question have we cut in every possible area? I review the budget submissions and ask for validation of the budget. We do the due diligence to reduce expenses without reducing services while looking for any revenue opportunities.
Red Bank has a large number of charities that don’t pay property taxes, accounting for ownership of an estimated16 percent of the borough’s aggregate valuation, far more than nearby towns. What if anything should be done to address this? This administration has continued to encourage PILOT payments (payments in lieu of taxes) in order to supplement the absence of tax monies from exempt organizations.
Regarding the borough water utility: should it be sold? No!!!
The water utility generates surpluses that have been used in the past to bolster the general fund, thereby limiting tax increases. Is this a positive or a negative for taxpayers? Reducing tax increases is definitely a positive.
What is your view of the borough’s permitting and licensing procedures for new businesses and existing businesses that wish to expand? Is the process business-friendly? The Administration has reduced the time to process permits, etc. We will continue to improve efficiency so that new businesses don’t have long wait times or numerous challenges to overcome that delay the objective of opening a new business.
Does Red Bank need a downtown parking garage to secure its economic future? Based on the feedback we have gotten from the doors we have knocked on, a garage is needed for the Downtown businesses. We have to look at our options and determine what is best.
Would you vote for a garage that was not paid for by private investment? My choice would be a parking garage that is not funded by taxpayers. We may need some “out-of-the-box” ideas and solutions. We have to do the due diligence to determine what is the most practical solution.
How do you rate the work of Red Bank River Center at attracting businesses and visitors to central business district? River Center is so important to our business community and to our town. They help promote us, create dynamic and creative events and bring businesses to town. They work hard and are committed to a better Red Bank.
How do you rate Red Bank’s commitment to conservation and environmental protection? We have room to improve. I believe we have opportunities to enhance our open and green space.
On the question of the bulkhead at the public library, should there be some type of a “natural shoreline” created instead? Is this feasible under the terms of the Eisner deed? This was asked and answered during the course of this year at a public meeting. I was proud to support the effort to build a hybrid bulkhead that would fit under the Eisner deed. It’s important for the public to understand that the shoreline, while appealing in nature, would be in violation of the deed restrictions and our legal counsel was adamantly opposed. It would have been irresponsible to expose the Borough to the negative legal and financial ramifications of violating the deed.
A mailing for the Democratic candidates this month said they “created a community garden for all to enjoy.” How is this an accurate or inaccurate statement? It is an accurate statement. The Council voted to approve a community garden located on Marion Street. The residents who wanted to participate in the Community Garden leased plots and enjoy gardening there.
How do you rate the conditions and maintenance of public facilities such as our parks and streets? What if anything needs to be changed? Our parks are a constant source of enjoyment for young and old alike. This past spring, we realized the renovation of Riverside Gardens Park, rehabilitation of our basketball courts in both Eastside Park and Count Basie Park along with the tennis courts in Eastside Park. We replaced the aerator in Mohawk Pond. Our parks provide active and passive enjoyment and pleasure for our residents and visitors alike year round.
Does Red Bank practice transparent governance? What if anything might be done to enhance the public’s insight into decision-making? Yes. The Borough’s award winning website hosts important information on meeting dates and times. Agendas are posted in draft form as are ordinances and resolutions. Minutes of meetings are available for review and viewing on the site. Timeliness of the website could be improved to enhance the public’s insight.
Do you agree or disagree that all mayoral/council email correspondence should be conducted in borough email accounts and subject to OPRA requests? Yes
How would you rate the borough website in terms of effectiveness? Can you identify specific changes that should be implemented? The borough’s website as mentioned earlier has won awards and honorable mention in the past several years. While content update is a challenging task, I believe the content should be current at all times. Our alert system allows the Borough to send messages to registered residents via phone, email and text. It is an important communication vehicle that is a benefit to the community.
What if anything might be done to improve the ability of pedestrians to cross Shrewsbury Avenue at Locust Avenue and other unsignalized intersections? Pedestrian safety is an important issue in town. We have been working with DPW staff to coordinate with Monmouth County as well as the State of NJ to improve crossings all around town.
What role, if any, should the borough government have in the effort to save the T. Thomas Fortune House? The Borough itself has limitations but council members can work with the key principles. I do support saving this national landmark. We have to stay vigilant on this important cause!
Where do you stand on the question of whether to build a children’s play area and spray park at Bellhaven Nature Area? This Westside neighborhood supports the park project as do residents throughout the borough. There was a petition circulated before the Red Bank Council with over 300 signatures supporting the conceptualization of a park and nature area. I support our neighbors and believe that it is my responsibility to represent those residents’ voices in Borough Hall. I believe our children deserve a safe haven in which to play in their neighborhood. At BellHaven, we have the opportunity to build a park that allows our littler residents the opportunity to enjoy the natural environment inherent to that location. Monmouth County has stepped up to partner with the Borough by providing approximately 47% of the cost to construct this park. This project allows the greater utilization of this area to residents than it does in its current state.
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