RED BANK COUNCIL Q&A: MARK TAYLOR

mark taylor 033015Mark Taylor, Republican. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Election 2015 graphic

The balance of political power is at stake in the November 3 election in Red Bank, which features four candidates for two three-year seats on the borough council. All four 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 Thursday, October 1. 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 Mark Taylor had to say in response.

Name: Mark D. Taylor, Esq.

Age:  32

Address: 159 Bridge Ave, #1, Red Bank, NJ

Where did you grow up?  Red Bank, NJ

How long have you been a resident of Red Bank?  32 years

Do you own real estate in town?  Not yet

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

University of Scranton, double majored in History (B.A.) and Criminal Justice (B.S.)

Have you 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.

Party affiliation:  Independent (age 18 – 32), Registered as a Republican, March 2015

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

From the time I was eligible to vote, being affiliated with a specific party didn’t really appeal to me because my personal politics straddle a number of issues on the national level. On the local level, it’s really about being a genuine person and someone people trust. This year, party affiliation does matter because Red Bank needs a new voice. Running on the Republican ticket appeals to me because fiscal conservatism is what Red Bank needs. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, the council needs to make better decisions for the town, regardless of party affiliation.

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

My father, Les Taylor. He has been a Red Bank resident for over 40 years, served on the RBR Board of Education for 20 years and even coached our rec. soccer teams despite knowing nothing about soccer at the outset! His commitment to education, public service and his adopted town has resonated with me throughout my life and ultimately is the reason I am running for council. I want to have the same connection to and service of my hometown.

Why are you seeking a seat on the Red Bank council?

Red Bank is a great town to live, work and play. We need to continue to make Red Bank a desirable location for families and our many visitors. I want to balance the demands of being a “hip city” while maintaining the culture of a small town. We can accomplish this through more transparent and accountable government and limiting spending to provide a more affordable Red Bank for our residents.

What should Red Bank residents expect of a council member?

A person who is: trustworthy, dedicated, and willing to listen.

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

The business of government is to provide essential services to the residents at the lowest cost. Taxes and debt are directly related to the budget.   Our budget must be determined using a zero-based budgeting approach. As a fiscal conservative who views our current debt load as an albatross on our residents, we need to correct the mistakes of the past where the mayor and council have continued to borrow based on irresponsible budgeting.

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

Honestly, I don’t know enough about how the money is allocated or where our taxes go to support borough operations and services in town. I will say that I don’t believe Red Bank residents are suffering from “over-servicing.”

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

I would start with whether the increase provided a service that was either lacking or critical to the well-being of our residents. I would evaluate the long-term consequences and whether there were other options that could provide a solution without a tax increase.

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?

I believe the P.I.L.O.T. program is a good start, but honestly I know nothing about how it is operated (despite diligent efforts to understand it better). I believe Red Bank needs to be proactive and protective of our tax base so as not to overburden our residents. New applications for and expansions of existing non-taxpayers should be closely scrutinized and possibly denied based on the overall impact to our homeowners.

Should the borough maintain ownership of its water utility, or should it be sold?

I would call for an operational review to figure out how best to approach the water utility. I would consider selling the utility if it made sense financially and would result in a lowering of our outrageous water rates.

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?

Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is not sound budgeting. Plugging holes in the budget, as a result of overspending, is a disservice to our residents and is why we need more transparency and accountability from our elected officials. If the water utility is generating a surplus, the residents deserve lower water rates and/or lower property taxes.

What is your view of the borough’s permitting and licensing of new businesses and existing businesses that wish to expand? Is the process business-friendly?

I have never tried to operate my own business in town, but I have worked in town and have seen the red tape and bureaucracy first hand. I have spoken with business owners in town and the results are a mixed bag. Some were positive, some were very negative. We need to make the process simpler and level the playing field for every business owner, not just those with friends in the right places.

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

Red Bankers have a long history of fighting to preserve our historic structures and maintain our small town culture. We also embrace the idea of being a progressive, cool little town. What frightens me more than a few new buildings is the underlying infrastructure. We must devote resources to the hidden elements that allow our town to function on a daily basis. Building a fancy new structure won’t mean anything if the water main breaks or doesn’t carry sufficient water pressure.

Does Red Bank need a downtown parking garage to secure its economic future?

Red Bank’s economic future is not tied solely to a parking garage. However, parking continues to be an issue. If done responsibly and in partnership with private development, I think a garage could solve some of the parking woes in the downtown area. I hear from residents all the time how they don’t want a garage because as a resident, they “know where to park.” For those that don’t, and before any decision on a garage is made, I would erect better signage for the multiple garages that already exist in town.

Would you vote for a garage that was not paid for by private investment?

If another garage were to be built, it would need to be done as part of a public/private partnership. I would never saddle the taxpayers of Red Bank with the burden of a 100% publicly funded garage.

How well does Red Bank RiverCenter do in its mission of attracting businesses and visitors to central business district?

I’m unsure of the direct impact. I don’t know how the funds are allocated, whether businesses are reaping the rewards of RiverCenter’s involvement and promotions or whether our various types of businesses are benefiting equally. I would like to know more about the process of how RiverCenter operates to see where we can make improvements.

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

I think the borough does a decent job, but only when the issue is brought to their attention. The bulk of the praise for conservation and environmental protection efforts in town must go to our residents who care passionately and devote themselves and their time to bringing issues to our public officials. The borough needs to be more proactive on these issues.

How do you rate the conditions and maintenance of public facilities such as our parks and streets? What if anything needs to be changed?

As a member of the parks and recreation advisory committee, I am passionate about our parks and often find myself picking up trash, surveying our parks and talking to residents about ways to improve the facilities. Those experiences lead me to believe our parks are generally well-maintained, but there are definite areas for improvement: more trash/recycling containers, better lighting, security, signage, etc.

Our streets need more attention. I hope that one of the byproducts of privatizing our garbage pickup means those DPU employees who were reassigned will lead to better road maintenance and repair and not just right before an election.

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

In a word, NO. Our residents have been turned away, cut off and shut out of the process for far too long. There is a mindset that things won’t change, so why bother? This is one of the most critical reasons why I am running this year. We need more openness about our budgeting and decision-making. We need a proper website that posts information BEFORE meetings happen or votes are cast. We need to bring issues forward to the public, rather than making backroom deals without regard for the desires of our residents. We should hold quarterly town hall style meetings with the residents to voice their concerns. We should draft ordinances that can be read and understood by everyone. We should live-stream our council meetings so our residents who can’t be physically present, can still be informed and get involved on the issues that matter to them.

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

I fully support the idea of more transparency. Borough business communications should be conducted via borough emails. Unless the issue involves a confidential matter or there is a legal limitation on the content, correspondence should be subject to public scrutiny.

How would you rate the borough website in terms of effectiveness? Can you identify specific changes that should be implemented?

The borough website is a disgrace. Information is next to impossible to locate and identify. I’m hopeful the recent hiring of a full-time employee devoted to IT will bring much needed improvements to the website. This is one of the key areas where we can improve transparency and also get our residents more involved.

What if anything might be done to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in town?

Education and enforcement. We need to continue to educate our residents (and non-resident visitors) on how to share the road and observe pedestrian crossings. We also need to make a more diligent effort to enforce the laws, otherwise they have no value. The recent incidents involving pedestrians struck by cars were sadly avoidable. My condolences to the families of those involved and I hope to work toward a solution so these tragedies aren’t repeated.

What role, if any, should the borough government have in the effort to save the T. Thomas Fortune House?

This question may be partly answered for us as the State of New Jersey has recently made an offer to purchase the T. Thomas Fortune House from the private owner. If that sale is finalized, the borough, and the concerned residents who have fought so long to save the house, must be proactive and take steps to make the history of the house and its owner more a part of the physical and written history of our town.

Where do you stand on the question of whether to build a children’s play area and spray park at Bellhaven Nature Area?

I will treat this as two different questions as it requires two different answers.

1. I do not support the idea of a spray park.

2. I support a park for our children west of Shrewsbury Ave. We have a grant to build such a park and need to provide more recreational facilities in that area so our children don’t have to cross a very busy street. Bellhaven is a good location for a simple park designed in a manner that is both safe and does not negatively impact the environmentally sensitive surrounding area.

What’s your thinking on the future of the clay tennis courts in Marine Park? Should they be restored where they are? Should that site be made available for possible private development?

I want to thank all three groups who responded to the Marine Park RFP. I also want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who attended a meeting (or five), sent in a comment form, and voiced your opinions to the Parks and Rec. Advisory Committee or Council. This type of concern for the community is what makes Red Bank great. However, as a member of the advisory committee, I cannot comment on the Marine Park situation as this is a confidential process. Until a formal recommendation is made by the council committee to the borough council at large, I will refrain from making public comments on this issue. I am happy to continue to hear from our concerned residents in private.

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

  • Better signage for existing parking;
  • Introduction of term limits for council members and the mayor;
  • Changing the hours of the parking meters;
  • Implementation of a tax freeze for elderly residents who live in Red Bank;
  • Operational reviews of borough services to identify areas to reduce spending.

If there’s anything you’d like to add, please do so here: