RED BANK: SCHWABENBAUER Q&A

Linda Schwabenbauer. (Click to enlarge.)

Two three-year terms on the Red Bank Borough Council are up for grabs in the November 7 election. On the ballot are four candidates: incumbent Republican Linda Schwabenbauer and her running mate, Dana McArthur; and incumbent Democrat Ed Zipprich and his running mate, Michael Ballard.

Here are Schwabenbauer’s written responses to questions posed to all four candidates recently by redbankgreen.

Name: Linda Schwabenbauer

Age:  52

Address: 58 Leroy Place

Where did you grow up?  

I grew up in Downingtown, PA, which is about 110 miles southwest of Red Bank. After graduation from business school in 1995, I moved to Boston, where I lived until I moved to New Jersey in January of 2005.

Where did you go to high school?

Downingtown Senior High School

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

I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in English Writing. I got a job as a copywriter for a direct response insurance company in Valley Forge, PA, and within five years was a manager in the company’s market testing center. I became interested in how the business ran and how decisions were being made, so I left the company to earn an MBA from Cornell.

Have your served in the military? If so, which branch and when?

I haven’t served, although my family has a tradition of military service in the Army. My Grandfather Schwabenbauer fought in France in WWI, and was still there when the war ended – my parents have his discharge letter from General Pershing framed in their home – and his son (Uncle Den) went back to France during WWII. My Grandfather Schmader was stateside in WWII, teaching soldiers to drive tanks since he was an experienced drag line operator in the Pennsylvania coal country. My father was in the Army for three years, serving as an anti-aircraft guided missile fire control system technician.

How long have you been a resident of Red Bank?

12 years.

Do you own real estate in town?

Yes, I own my home.

What do you do for a living?  

I lead Accounting & Tax Services for Prudential – we perform the accounting and tax support functions for Prudential’s US businesses, and the team comprises about 100 people in four primary sites across the country. Before that, I spent ten years as the CFO and Chief Accountant for Plymouth Rock of NJ, which is based on Newman Springs Road. Prior to then, I was an auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers for ten years, working in Boston.

Please tell us a little bit about your community involvement efforts, if any.

Between my job and my service on Council, my dance card is pretty full so it’s hard to commit to additional organizations. Red Bank has a number of terrific groups that serve the community, such as Lunch Break, the Parker Family Health Center, and the Elks, and I support all of these in different ways.

Party affiliation: Republican

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

Party shouldn’t be a factor in local politics. The ideology of the national parties really doesn’t come into play when we’re deciding whether to build a bulkhead at the Eisner Library or outsource trash pickup. I think what we need on Council are intelligent people who are willing to work with others regardless of party affiliation, and who care more about doing the right thing for Red Bank than about getting re-elected.

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

I don’t really have a role model, but back in the 90s I read about Elizabeth Dole’s work with the American Red Cross and was really impressed with her. She led the organization through most of that decade, and it was said of her that the secret to her success was that she was always the most prepared person in the room – I always remembered that and took it as advice I could use.

Why are you running for Red Bank council?

The first time I ran, it was because I thought I could make a difference on Council – I didn’t see anybody with a financial background sitting on Council, and I thought I could cut expense and stop taxes from climbing by applying my experience. I think I did that – municipal taxes stayed flat during my three years on the Finance Committee – but the problem is that our taxes kept climbing anyway thanks to school and other taxes the Council can’t influence. I know a lot more than I did three years ago, and about eighteen months ago I had an epiphany – the Council can’t stop school taxes or county taxes from rising, but we can leverage our business district to get commercial property owners to pick up a bigger piece of the tab, meaning residents are then paying less. It’s the only way the Council can drive a meaningful tax decrease, since Borough taxes are only 28% of the total property tax bill, so 72% is out of our control.

The converse is also true – if commercial property owners pay less, then residents pay more. And this can easily happen, since there are four or five major projects about to kick off that will attract people to spend money in neighboring towns instead of Red Bank. When business falls off in Red Bank, the value of our commercial property declines, and so commercial properties attract a smaller percentage of the total tax bill. And we residents then pay more. We’ve got to prevent that, and we have to move on it now.

So why I am running again? I want to finish the job. If Dana and I are elected, that will give us enough votes on Council to enact a plan to bring down taxes. If I’m elected and Dana isn’t – well, then we’re a 3-3 split Council again, and every step we try to take forward becomes a political fight with an uncertain ending. I did think long and hard about whether I wanted to run again, because much as I enjoy doing this work, I truly dislike the politics that come with it. But I feel like Dana and I have a real shot to make a difference, so that’s why I’m in the race.

What are the most pressing issues facing the town, and how do you plan to address them?

We knock on a lot of doors during campaign season, and the number one issue most people want to talk about is property taxes. I’ve already talked about how we want to address that – by undertaking initiatives that drive business growth in the commercial district – so I won’t repeat that discussion here. I’ll just add that until I was on Council, I didn’t realize that 60% of my property taxes were controlled by our Board of Education, and so I now pay a lot more attention to the Board of Education election. I’m sharing because I think it’s important that all residents understand that as well.

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

I’ve spoken about controlling property taxes and that’ll clearly be my number one focus. In addition to enacting a plan to drive up the value of our commercial district, I’ll continue to be the spending watchdog, questioning department heads and Council members on spending and pulling it back when appropriate. I’ve been challenging spending since before I took over as Chair of Finance and it hasn’t exactly endeared me to everyone, but it’s been effective in slowing spending.

I also want to find more ways to support environmental initiatives. This is really a global issue that I think has to be tackled on the local level, with small towns like ours doing all we can to maintain and improve the quality of our environment – earth, air, and water.  It’s slightly alarming that, from the dawn of mankind up until about the time I was born in the mid-60s, the population of the earth grew to 3.4 billion – but just over the course of my lifetime, it’s more than doubled to 7.4 billion. So what does the next 50 years look like? We need to find and enact more initiatives that support the health of our environment. The good news is that we don’t have to go it alone. There’s a lot of grant money we can draw from, and plenty of creative solutions in the field that we can study and implement if we decide they’re right for Red Bank – we just have to make it a priority, and we should. I’m hearing the younger voices on our Council, Mark Taylor and Erik Yngstrom, bringing forward what they’re learning from their work on the Environmental Commission and Navesink River Municipalities Committee, and I think there’s a lot we can do at a reasonable cost.

Does Red Bank need a downtown parking garage?

 We do, and the key will be to keep it to a size and an architectural style that fits in with the downtown landscape. The process is unfolding as we thought it would – we provided guidelines that allowed developers maximum creative leeway, and got back five excellent proposals which allowed developers to show us what they could do and share their vision. Based on this, we were able to narrow the field to two developers who we believe could bring the project home by flexibly adapting their original proposals to scale them down and  incorporate reactions we’re hearing from residents and the business community. We haven’t yet met with the two developers since the public Parking Meeting at the Primary School two weeks ago, but I anticipate we’ll do so soon, and we’ll want to understand how they see their projects changing in light of the feedback they heard.

Should the borough-owned White Street parking lot be made available for private development? Why or why not?

The White Street lot is a key asset for Red Bank – it’s a large piece of real estate right in the middle of town, and we need to be very thoughtful about what we do with it. Because it’s Borough-owned, the White Street lot can be developed privately only if we sold the land outright or entered into a public/private partnership to build a parking garage.

We have no plans to sell the lot, and so I’ll address the second possibility – whether we should enter into a public/private partnership. I stated earlier that I believe we need a garage, and having looked at the financial outcomes for taxpayers under a Borough-built option versus a public/private partnership option, I can tell you there’s no contest – the public/private partnership is far more favorable. In addition, private development will bring more residents into the downtown area itself, and these residents will shop in our stores and dine in our restaurants – so businesses benefit, too.

Is the former incinerator site on West Sunset Avenue a good location on which to build a new park?

 We need more parks on the west side of town, no question, and the West Sunset Avenue location is a great spot for just about everyone.

The concern about “Sunset Park,” as it’s been called, isn’t location – it’s contamination from years of use as a landfill site as well as from the incinerator. I participated in a meeting with a group of west side residents, some of whom had worked at the incinerator site back in the day, and all of whom were extremely concerned over the safety of the area, especially for use as a playground.

This concern is certainly real. We’re all familiar with Love Canal and similar stories about underground contamination causing serious health issues, and we’ve learned from that – environmental testing and remediation have come a long way over the last thirty years. The Borough has been performing testing for many years in the Sunset Park area with oversight from the NJ DEP. We won’t be able to do anything in the area until the NJ DEP signs off, and we aren’t there yet. I also sat in a meeting last year with the environmental engineers from T&M, who walked us through a few different approaches to remediation we could consider, and we’ve got some decisions to make there as well before can take action.

So there’s a lot of work to do yet, and we’re looking at maybe five years before we’d have a park there. I anticipate many more discussions with residents, the NJ DEP, and environmental remediation specialists before we get to that point.

Is there a better alternative for providing outdoor recreation for residents, particularly those who live on the West Side?

 Right now, I don’t see another open area of that size on the west side, and that’s where we need a park. The only other alternative would be Bellhaven, and that’s more of a nature preserve so not really an option. We’ve talked about putting a small playground in Bellhaven, but that’s really all you’d want to do there.

The Sunset Park area is much larger than many people think – it’s about eight acres, and it’s right on the river. Although it’s far in the future, we’ve already started talking about what kinds of things could potentially go into a park that size assuming we’re successful with the remediation work. We’ve talked about how to configure the shoreline access to maximize usage by both kayakers/boaters and also people who just want to walk along the water and enjoy the view. There’s space for a soccer field, a winding nature path, a playground, a small boardwalk/river path, a dog park (my personal ask!), and maybe more. This could be a terrific recreational area, and we just need to keep focused on getting the remediation done so we can move forward.

Is Red Bank doing all it can to keep the municipal portion of the tax rate in check? If not, what more might be done?

When I think about how we’re doing with managing overall tax increases or decreases, I focus on the dollars and not so much on the percentage change, because the annual fluctuations in the value of the town cause distortion if we take the more traditional approach of looking at changes in the tax rate alone.

Over the three years I served on the Finance Committee, the average resident saw a municipal tax increase of about $7. We kept municipal taxes flat by both reigning in spending and by cutting pockets of reserves throughout the budget, and so our financial position is about as lean as we’d want it to be. Our Moody’s rating is still very strong with favorable commentary, so I’m comfortable we haven’t pulled back the cushion too far, but we’re facing headwinds for future budgeting since our lease income from Riverview’s rental of the east side parking garage is ending soon, and union salaries and benefits continue to rise. I prepare a presentation on the budget every spring and walk residents through the different pieces in non-accounting language, and I encourage anyone who wants to learn more to take a look at the online version of the powerpoint from that meeting. My cell phone number is on the Borough website, and I’m happy to answer questions.

Find the ballot here. And below are the locations of polling places by district.

1Hook and Ladder Fire House7 Mechanic Street
2Red Bank Middle School101 Harding Road
3United Methodist Church247 Broad Street
4United Methodist Church247 Broad Street
5Trinity Episcopal Church65 West Front Street
6Calvary Baptist Church23 River Street
7Red Bank Middle School101 Harding Road
8Red Bank Senior Center80 Shrewsbury Avenue
9Red Bank Housing Authority189-195 Drs James Parker Blvd.