Council candidates, from left, Dana McArthur, Ed Zipprich, Michael Ballard and Linda Schwabenbauer at Monday’s event at River Street Commons. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
The polite exchanges gave residents in attendance a chance to compare a three-term incumbent, a political newcomer, and two candidates who work with numbers all day.
The race pits nine-year incumbent Democrat Ed Zipprich and his running mate, board of education vice president Michael Ballard, against first-term incumbent Republican Linda Schwabenbauer and her ballot mate, Dana McArthur, who has not previously sought office.
Some highlights from the nearly two-hour event:
• Schwabenbauer, who works in accounting and tax Services at Prudential Insurance and heads the council’s budget-setting finance committee, said she “thought long and hard about” running for a second term, but decided to do so after what she called “an epiphany.”
“Our commercial property is undervalued,” she said, and needs to be increased in order to “swing” more of the tax burden from residents to businesses. “So we’ve got a strategy to fix that.”
“You can cut and cut and cut, and you’re not going to feel much, and that’s the truth,” she said. “So how can we get somebody else to pick up more? If we can swing the ratio, then we have a real shot at tax relief.”
Ballard, a financial consultant, several times challenged Schwabenbauer’s assertions, as when she said that taxes on the average-assessed home had risen just $7 over the three years she’s been chairing the finance committee. Ballard said they’d gone up $52 in the past two years, and that reserves had been drained under her watch.
Schawabnebauer did not dispute his figures, and said she had talked her predecessor as finance chair, former councilman Mike DuPont, into using reserves for to keep the tax rate flat in 2015. “Afterward, I was really kicking myself,” she said.
Ballard responded that Schwabenbauer was putting blame on others and taking credit when it suited her.
Ballard, who said he gets hired by companies to find “leakages” in their finances, told the audience, “I can’t promise you your taxes won’t go up: the price of everything goes up. But I will make sure they only go up when absolutely necessary, and the taxes you do pay… go to improvements that make you want to stay in Red Bank.”
“If you want to know what I’m going to do, it’s keep taxes flat,” she said.
• A number of questions concerned the White Street municipal parking lot, with the two Democrats insisting that a parking study is needed to fix what Ballard referred to as a “cart before the horse” process that’s been followed so far.
Schwabenbauer said a whichever of the two remaining private-sector contenders to redevelop the site is chosen, they’ll need a detailed parking study.
Meantime, “I think if you see see steam coming off the water, you don’t have to stick a thermometer in to see if its hot,” Schwabenbauer said. “Do we need a parking garage? Yeah, we do, and the parking study’s going to tell us the size.”
“It’s like Linda has already determined that a parking garage is in our future,” said Ballard. Without a study, “we don’t know if we need a garage, or how big it should be.”
Zipprich said that a compromise, enacted earlier this month, to nullify a lawsuit by rescinding the redevelopment plan, meant that the council was now “starting with a clean slate.”
• Wayne Wooley, of Mechanic Street, asked Ballard why voters should support him when he voted against renewing the contract of school Superintendent Jared Rumage.
Ballard replied that his vote was based solely on specific provisions in the contract he found troublesome, and expressed full support for Rumage, who he said “has been fantastic for our schools.”
• Ballard and McArthur appeared to agree that the West Side doesn’t get the same amount of attention from borough hall as the East Side.
“The whole town is split in half,” said McArthur. “The West Side has been neglected.”
“No other part of town was even discussed” as part of the Request for Proposals, or RFP, that drew concept plans for White Street from five builders, said Ballard, to applause.
• Zipprich spoke several times about his experience on the council, spotlighting his work with public works in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy five years ago and on roads.
“These are things I take seriously,” he said, adding that the utilities department has learned “to do a lot more with less” in terms of staffing.
• Residents urged the candidates to address pedestrian safety, traffic and parking issues in several locations, including South Pearl Street, where resident Adrienne Bilaal said parking spillover from Count Basie Fields when there are well-attended events causes problems for people who live there.
Today, October 17, is the deadline for voter registration deadline in the November 7 general election. Registrations must be completed and submitted to the Monmouth County Superintendent/Registrar of Elections by 9 p.m., when its office in Freehold will close. Three towns will also hold extended hours to accept applications: Bradley Beach, from 4 to 9 p.m.; Freehold Township, from 4:30 to 7:30; and Ocean Township, 4:30 to 7 p.m. The application can be downloaded here. For more info, call 732-431- 7780.