RED BANK COUNCIL Q&A: HORGAN

kathy-horgan-101416Kathy Horgan, Democrat. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

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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.

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 Kathy Horgan had to say in response.

kathy horgan 061616Kathy Horgan at a vigil in June for victims of the Orlando nightclub attack. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

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Name: Kathleen Horgan

Age: 71

Address: 146 Branch Avenue

Do you own real estate in town? Yes

Where did you grow up?

Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York

How long have you been a resident of Red Bank?

17 years

Where did you go to high school?

St. Dominic High School, Oyster Bay, NY

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

I studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, France, for 4 years (this was a non-degree program) and attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts for three years before life circumstances took me away before graduating.

Have you served in the military? No.

What do you do for a living?

I am the Liaison to the Board of Trustees and Special Assistant to the Vice President of Development at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, New York City, where I have worked for the past 15 years.

Brief description of your responsibilities:

Principal responsibilities include structuring and facilitating communication discreetly and diplomatically between the CEO’s office and staff with amfAR’s high-profile Board of Trustees; providing administrative support and assistance to amfAR’s CEO concerning all Board-related matters; planning and coordinating all Board and standing committee meetings.

Party affiliation: Democrat

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

There is an important philosophical difference between the Democratic and Republican parties and the divide has become even wider – as we have seen in this year’s presidential election. The Democratic Party’s genuine concern about “the people” speaks to my heart.  To me, it’s a party that is inclusive and nurturing.  It embraces the middle class, women, minorities, workers, unions, teachers, and senior citizens.   I am drawn to its humanistic and rational approach to solving the problems of the day and its quest for justice, truth, and fairness.

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

Hillary Clinton. Simply because she is the best candidate. She has experience, expertise, intelligence. She understands the issues and has a plan to deal with each. She is tough, resilient, a hard worker, and an excellent role model for young girls. She has proven herself to be a leader in the US Senate and as Secretary of State.

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

Eleanor Roosevelt is my heroine. Born to wealth and privilege, she, nevertheless, devoted herself to public service throughout her life. She advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees. She pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations and became its first delegate. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Why are you running for Red Bank council?

When I moved to Red Bank 17 years ago, I knew this would be my forever home. I have a vested interest in this community which has been good to me over the years. I want to give back. I want to make Red Bank the best that it can be for those who live, own a business or visit our little town.

 What should Red Bank residents expect of a council member?

Commitment, dedication, hard work, transparency, integrity, accessibility, and accountability.

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

If re-elected, I will continue my fight against the charter school on behalf of our district students and our resident taxpayers, just as I fought its expansion earlier this year on the Blue Ribbon Commission. Another top priority of mine, and a common-cause with my running-mate, Erik, is the restoration of Marine Park so that it can be enjoyed recreationally by our visitors and residents. We also support moving forward with access and facility enhancements for the Bellhaven parcel to provide an outdoor play area for kids on the West Side.

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

The Borough’s approach in recent years has been to use zero-based budgeting.   This is a method where budgeting starts from a zero base and every function within Borough Hall is analyzed for its needs and costs. We consistently try to minimize tax increases without reducing services and to prioritize spending reductions to minimize the impact on those services. We continue to meet State guidelines mandated by the Christie Administration on spending and appropriation levy caps, otherwise our budgets would not have been approved by the State. I think every dollar counts, and although it was uncomfortable at times, I voted against the Republican-led tax increase and held firm that we could cut more. After some bi-partisan negotiation, I was proud that my stand led to a reduction of the originally proposed tax rate.

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

Over my nine years as a councilmember, the Borough has been constantly looking for ways to streamline its operations and still maintain high-quality services. Most departments are working with staff who are performing two or three job functions, and we are always looking for shared tasks and increased efficiencies. In this regard, I recently voted to privatize Red Bank’s sanitation department, which saved Red Bank taxpayers over $250,000 this year.   Now, to be fair, the Republican councilmembers believe the savings is $193,000 because they make different underlying assumptions, but the benefit is tremendous no matter whose approach you take. If re-elected, I will continue to pursue these types of approaches to reduce our budget and property tax burden.

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

The first criterion is necessity. Do taxes need to be raised to maintain the same level of services as the year before? If not, then I would not vote for a tax increase. The second criterion is that all alternatives have been exhausted. Can revenue be raised from non-tax sources or can cuts be made to out-of-date or inefficient operations? If there is an alternative, then we should pursue it. The third criterion is magnitude. If a small increase in taxes would maintain all services, then I would be likely to vote for it. If the increase is substantial, then I would have to move to the fourth criterion as a last resort: What can we cut in order to stabilize the tax rate and minimize the tax impact on our residents?

 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?

One of the reasons why Red Bank is a thriving market town and destination center is because we have such a variety of non-profits. Residents and visitors alike can enjoy and access the many amenities that these non-profits offer. By attracting visitors to our town, the non-profits also attract dollars that benefit our tax base. Requiring them to pay taxes is not an option. There are centuries-old public policies underpinning charitable tax exemptions and I do not believe they should be changed.

Should the borough maintain ownership of its water utility?

Access to clean and affordable water is a human right. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water services to people and that is the danger of what can happen when private companies take over local systems. A corporation has different goals than a city does, it will make its decisions using a different set of criteria, often one that emphasizes profitability. This can create conflict.

Is Red Bank business-friendly?

Effective regulation is important, but I believe the Borough can do better in cutting the red tape faced by people wanting to do business in Red Bank. Landlords can be more amenable to fair rents so that businesses can grow and thrive for years to come without having to worry about exorbitant annual increases.

 Do you agree or disagree that Red Bank is becoming over-developed? If you agree, what should be done in response? The threat of overdevelopment is omnipresent. Smart growth is the answer. Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement.

 Does Red Bank need a downtown parking garage?

Red Bank has a parking issue. Can this problem be resolved by building a parking garage? Perhaps. But before the shovel is placed in the ground on White Street, this issue needs to be further studied and all options laid out on the table. What is our parking inventory and how can it be tweaked? Would several smaller garages around town ameliorate the traffic that would surely increase with a central parking garage? No one has answered these questions and I’ve found little support from the Republican majority on the council to study the issue, as three appear committed to a central garage and the other, now independent, appears opposed to any such expenditures. If my running-mate, Erik, and I are elected, we will push for a comprehensive study to determine the viability and efficacy of a central downtown parking garage.

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

Please see the above answer.

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! This is known as spot zoning, undermines the authority of the Zoning Board, and begs the question of what actually is behind this maneuver by the Republican councilmembers and Mayor. Turning a commercial property in our downtown into a residential complex will exacerbate traffic, eliminate a potential commercial ratable, and set a dangerous precedent by opening Pandora’s box for any developer who is not happy with a Zoning Board ruling.

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

The Borough is blessed with an active and knowledgeable Environmental Commission and Shade Tree Commission. These two advisory bodies are committed to conservation and environmental protection. They are an invaluable resource to the Borough Council. They review each Zoning Board and Planning Board application to ensure that each project incorporates appropriate landscaping and other issues that could affect the environment. That being said, environmental protection is always an area where local government can improve as new problems are identified and new conservation ideas develop over time.

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

Considering that Red Bank is only 1.8 square miles, it contains many beautiful parks, open spaces and playing fields within its borders to be enjoyed by residents and visitors. Riverside Gardens Park, Eastside Park, the Westside Pocket Park, Maple Cove, and the Count Basie Fields are great examples. On the other hand, Marine Park and Bellhaven need attention and I speak about them in more detail in response to later questions.

Another exciting opportunity I hope to pursue, if re-elected, is Sunset Park. Although a lot more work is needed before it reaches fruition, the Borough has been working to remediate the site of the former incinerator on West Sunset Avenue into what will eventually be called Sunset Park. If re-elected, I will continue the fight to develop this 8-acre site of waterfront property along the Swimming River into dedicated parklands.

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

I believe that our Borough government is transparent, and I have always made myself accessible and available as a councilmember to enhance that transparency. Further, as Chair of the Education and Technology Committee, I led the overhaul of the Borough’s IT and website to increase the amount of searchable information available to the public. Transparency basically means available information, and I’m proud of my work to make Red Bank as transparent as it has ever been.

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

Yes, I agree.

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

Our new website is state-of-the-art. It is “clean” and easy to navigate. As Chair of the Education and Technology Committee, I can say that we’ve worked very hard over the past two years with IT Director Joe Fagliarone to hammer out a website that is user-friendly for both the public and borough staff. The website had a soft launch a few weeks ago so it will continue to be improved. We would appreciate input from the public about any component of the website which they feel needs improvement.

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

More crosswalks with flashing lights should be implemented in heavily trafficked areas like the ones on Maple Avenue and on East Front Street in front of the hospital. They alert drivers to pedestrians getting ready to cross the street. More police patrolling to ensure that drivers obey the rules of the road. Better synchronization of traffic lights to favor pedestrians. Bike paths (sharrows) do exist on certain roadways (Chestnut Street, Bridge Avenue). At the same time, pedestrians and bicyclists also need to play their part and respect the rules of the road. Pedestrians should not dart out in front of cars. Bicyclists should have proper lighting and reflectors on their bikes and clothing to make them visible at night. And everyone should put the cell phones away!

 Should the clay tennis courts be kept in Marine Park?

Marine Park needs a holistic approach to how it should be used and redesigned. The public made its voice heard loud and clear last year that they want the park for passive recreation. That could very well include the rebuilding of the tennis courts. Perhaps not clay courts. There are many options. However, if the courts are rebuilt, I believe that they should be open to the public and not run as a private club as they were in the past.

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

It is shameful that toddlers and small children are forced to play on the sidewalks and in the streets on the West Side of town. They deserve better. Bellhaven is the natural answer to this dilemma. While there was much controversy over last year’s plans, progress was made on discerning the public’s desire for the area. If re-elected, the development of Bellhaven into a popular park for the children of the West Side will be top priority for me. I know Erik shares my commitment and concern.

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