Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Matawan has a Tie Vote

Note: The state has approved a special election to be held Tuesday, January 15th. Only Mayor Aufseeser and Councilman Buccellato will be on the ballot. Mayor Aufseeser will remain in office until the winner takes the oath of office.

Monmouth County "found" another vote for Councilman Buccellato in Matawan's mayoral election, bringing the vote to a tie. No doubt, accusations will fly in all directions. Supporters will suggest chicanery at the town level. Detractors will imply election fixing at the county level. And all people will agree that elections are too important to be left to government bureaucrats.

I stated that Councilman Buccellato should not, and probably would not, request a recount. The reasons were obvious. I could not find a single election, conducted by electronic ballot, that had been overturned through a recount. I believed that his slim chances of success balanced against the possible acrimony and accusations that could ensue, would weigh against requesting a recount.

I also stated that Matawan should require automatic recounts in all close elections so that candidates wouldn’t be forced to make this Hobson’s Choice. Citizens have every right to demand that all election counts be accurate and that elected officials are, in fact, elected.

Still, I am shocked that another vote was found. Apparently, someone X’ed an oval instead of filling it in. Perhaps Councilman Buccellato knew of this. Don’t know. Assuming none of the absentee or provisional ballots are challenged, the candidates will need to negotiate a resolution and get approval from the judge. The borough charter is silent regarding tie votes.

There will definitely be another election. The question is when. The options are now or at a future scheduled election. If now, it would need to happen in December to allow the winner to assume office in January.

I’m not about to make the mistake again of predicting what the candidates will do but this is what I’m afraid might happened: Councilman Buccellato will demand an immediate special election. Mayor Aufseeser will provide a thousand reasons to postpone – not enough time, not enough resources, the “found” vote was improperly counted, another recount is needed, etc. The Mayor only needs to delay the process for another two weeks. If she succeeds, the election will likely be postponed to either coincide with the school board election or the presidential election.

Until a special election takes place, Mayor Aufseeser will remain mayor. She has absolutely no reason (but patriotism) to expedite the process.

Of course, a judge could override her but we’ve been there before. Last year, Mike Cannon asked the court to wave the residency requirement for candidates so he could run for a council seat in Matawan. Such a petition had never before been granted in Monmouth County. Yet, Judge Lehrer, in complete disregard for the plain language of the law, allowed Cannon to run because his “heart and mind had always been in Matawan.”

(Cannon, speaking to the court by phone while vacationing in Hawaii, claimed he moved to Aberdeen for financial reasons. His Florida vacation home was ruled irrelevant to the case.)

Will Mayor Aufseeser postpone the special election till next year? She sure could.

>>> Read more!

Aberdeen Plays "See No Evil" in the Upcoming Revaluations

Last night’s town meeting in Aberdeen saw some familiar faces from this past election. Mayor Sobel and Council Members Drapkin, Vinci, and Gumbs were all there. It was easy to recognize them in the crowd. They were the ones smiling.

They have lots to be happy about. It was through their neglect that the town did not have a property revaluation for over 15 years. As Neil Rubenstein of the Realty Appraisal Company explained, 15 years is a very long time to not have a property revaluation. Over that period, property assessments become increasingly disconnected from their market values. Eventually, Monmouth County had to force Aberdeen (and Matawan) to have a revaluation to ensure that everyone was paying their “fair share”.

However, as a result of waiting so long for the property revaluations, there are going to be some major readjustments. Over the next two years, scores of homeowners will see their property taxes rise over 30% while hundreds more will see over 20% increases.

Stuart Brown, the town manager, kept stressing at the meeting that the revaluations are revenue neutral. So what? If a family sees their taxes suddenly go up $1500, do you think they’ll care that their neighbors got a tax cut? Brown also made the point that the town portion only accounts for a sixth of the property taxes. Again, so what? Some homeowners will be facing a massive tax hike and they will rightfully blame the revaluations.

At the meeting, there were several complaints that homeowners were being punished for maintaining their homes. New Jersey property taxes are “ad valorem”, according to the value. A well maintained home is worth more than a poorly maintained home and is therefore charged a higher tax rate. The town insists there’s nothing they can do about that.

Let’s be clear – Mayor Sobel and the Town Council are personally responsible for any tax upheavals and there’s plenty they can do about it.

First, they should guarantee all homeowners that annual tax hikes will be capped at 10%. While still high, it’s far better than having a 20% or 30% tax hike. Those whose taxes would normally rise higher than 10% could receive financial assistance from the town in the form of a tax credit so that the net result would be a 10% increase.

Given the fact that Aberdeen has a normal distribution of property values, the vast majority of homeowners would not require assistance from the revaluation. Of those that do, nearly all of them would be phased out over the first three years. Ultimately, they will be forced to pay their “fair share” but at least there would be a transition period allowing them to adjust.

The program would cost under $3 million over a five year period. The money would come from the road maintenance program, where we spend $2.5-$3 million a year. Yes, the roads need to be improved but they won’t crumble because the program was under funded for a couple of years. I’d rather drive on a bumpy road then watch more people forced from their homes.

Next, the town should make certain this never happens again. As I’ve outlined in an earlier posting, the town could require each homeowner to assess his own property at least once every ten years. The homeowner could schedule his assessments prior to any major improvements. This would allow the homeowner to improve his home without any immediate tax penalties and to plan ahead for future assessments. It would also give fair notice to any future homebuyer.

Lastly, by postponing all new projects for one year, the town and the school could both have a one-year budget freeze. Not only would this create long term fiscal benefits, it would greatly help the public through the upcoming revaluations.

Unfortunately, the town plans to do absolutely nothing for those poor folk who are about to have their property taxes skyrocket. The town council created this situation through their neglect. The council has the power to help. To act otherwise is heartless and cruel.
>>> Read more!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Politician's Mindset

Our taxes are too high. Our schools are failing. Why don't our elected representatives fix the problems?! Because, once elected, they become politicians.

Politicians perceive a different reality from the rest of us. To understand why government officials do what they do, we need to first understand their mindset. This is how they think:

  1. Government is the Answer
    President Reagan once famously said that the ten scariest words in the English language were “Hello, I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” But that's not the view of most office holders. Next year, the combined budgets of Matawan and Aberdeen , including the school district, will approach $90 million dollars. When you oversee that kind of money, and you have the power to regulate people's behaviors, and your constituency is pleading for you to take action, it's extremely difficult to say no. You become a believer in the awesome power of government. You believe government should do more because it can.

  2. #1 Cause of Failure is Lack of Funds
    $90 million dollars is an extraordinary amount of money. Expressed in one-dollar bills, it would stretch over 8,500 miles and weigh over 140 tons. Yet, nearly every elected official in Aberdeen and Matawan will tell you it's not enough. Why? Because they ran for office to do more, not less. And they come to believe that every problem can be solved by throwing enough money at it.

  3. The Public Can Afford to Spend a Bit More
    Budget increases are always reflected in percentages, not dollars. For example, the school's new Response to Intervention (RTI) program is expressed as a 1% increase in the school budget rather than $600,000 in new annual spending. One percent sounds small. Even five percent sounds small. In the politician's mind, the taxpayers can surely afford these small increases. But, in fact, the increases are huge. If we froze the municipal and school budgets for Matawan and Aberdeen for just one year, we would save $35 million dollars over the next five years, an average of $3,000 per household.

  4. Easier to Do Many Little Things than One Big Thing
    A member of the school board told me that the budget must go up every year but he tries to restrain the increase. A representative of the township told me that there are no plans for reducing the costs of road maintenance or controlling pension fund liabilities. Both people are fiscally prudent. Both people recognize we're among the heaviest taxed in the county. Yet, they intend to raise our taxes every year. Why? Because it's easier to raise taxes than it is to fight the unions, the special interests, and Trenton . Instead, they spend all their time trying to save us a few bucks here and there so that our tax increases are a drop smaller.

  5. Disruption is a Bad Thing
    Every major business and industry goes through cycles of creative destruction. Every cycle has winners and losers but, overall, the general public benefits. Government accounts for over one-third of the United States economy yet refuses to permit any creative destruction within its sphere. Does the federal government really need a law enforcement branch dedicated to alcohol, tobacco, and firearms? No. Is spending nearly half a million dollars a year on four kindergarten teachers really the best use of school funds? Of course, not. Why do they allow it? Because no one wants to fight the system.

  6. Better to Make a Thousand People a Little Unhappy than Have One Person Really Mad
    Politicians count the votes. They can only pursue their pet projects if they have the political clout. Why are special interests treated better than the general public? Because they're passionate and will fight for or against a politician based on a single issue while the general public takes a more balanced (and often apathetic) approach.

  7. Most of the Public is Uninformed, Misinformed, or Ill-informed
    In the politician's mind, there are only three reasons why the public wouldn't support him:

    A) The public knows too little
    B) The public is wrong
    C) The public knows too much (i.e. they know something they shouldn't)

    It doesn't occur to them that maybe, just maybe, the people are right.

  8. Always Be Prepared to Take the Credit or Share the Blame
    If a politician succeeds, the credit is his. If he fails, there are many to blame.

  9. The Public Needs Me
    The politician is a true believer in his personal vision and capabilities; only he can lead us to the promised land.
What can we do? The general public has three demands:
  • That government only do what it needs to do
  • That government only take what it needs to take
  • Competence
To establish these three pillars, we, the public, will have to fight for them. “Don't place your trust in princes, in the son of man, for he does not possess salvation.” (Psalms 146:3) This is a fight that will never end. >>> Read more!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Losers and Winners in the Upcoming Property Revaluations

Matawan recently announced that its property revaluations have been completed. Aberdeen will be having a public meeting on November 27th to discuss their 2008 property revaluation. It’s no surprise these announcements took place after the elections. The news isn’t good.

Property taxes are determined according to a property owner’s “fair share” of the tax burden. The taxing body “assesses” the value of all taxable properties (ratables) within its jurisdiction. The total value is called the assessment roll. A property’s fair share of the tax burden is equal to its share of the assessment roll, or “ad valorem”, according to its value.

To simplify the math, taxing bodies express taxes in terms of a tax rate. The tax rate is equal to the appropriations (needed tax revenues) divided by the assessment roll and expressed in dollars per hundred dollars of value. For example, if a school needs to raise $5 million in taxes and the total assessment of all ratables is $100 million, then the tax rate would be $5 per $100 of assessed property value. If a home is assessed at $500,000, that home’s annual tax burden would be $25,000.

The municipal revaluations are being mandated by the state. Previously, assessments were a percentage of market value. For example, in Aberdeen, a property’s assessment was 45% of its estimated market value. The state now requires that all property assessments be uniform at 100% of market value.

In theory, property revaluations should have no effect on an individual’s tax burden because they don’t change the property’s fair share. For example, if there are ten homes of equal value, each homeowner would be responsible for 1/10th of the tax burden. If all the homes suddenly doubled in value, each home would still be responsible for 1/10th of the tax burden.

The problem is that current property assessments in our neighborhood are wildly inaccurate. Aberdeen’s last property assessment was in 1992. Following the Rule of Thirds, after the revaluations, a third of the properties will see their tax bills decline, another third will see little change, and the remaining third will see their taxes go up.

For example, Aberdeen Township estimates the value of 2 Campbell Ct., a custom colonial, at $470,700. In 2007, the home sold for $625,000. Between the revaluation and next year’s estimated tax increase of 5% (the state’s 4% tax increase cap allows for certain exceptions) the homeowners at 2 Campbell Ct. could be looking at a 25% property tax increase.

119 Courtland Rd., a country clubber, is valued at $348,000. Last year it sold for $450,000. It, too, could be looking at a 25% property tax increase.

681 Cliffwood Ave., a modest house on a small lot, has an assessed value of $210,000 but sold this year for $365,650. The homeowners could be hit with a 60% tax increase.

12 S Atlantic Ave., a condo by the train station, sold this year for $175,000 but the town only valued the property at $90,700. It’s facing a possible 80% tax increase.

At this point, it’s impossible to know how much property taxes will change until the property revaluations are completed. Obviously, there are far more homes that are undervalued than overvalued since homeowners are quick to challenge high property assessments. For this reason, I've tried to give conservative estimates for possible tax hikes. Still, if the Rule of Thirds holds, many homeowners could be subjected to property tax increases over 20%. (Percentage-wise, the more affordable homes are facing the largest increases.)

As for the municipalities, they see it as a good thing that these homeowners will finally be forced to pay their fair share. There is no cap for how high property taxes can go up and there is no assistance available for those families facing a huge tax increase.

The easiest way to see if you’re at risk of a huge tax increase is to visit the New Jersey Tax Records site and look up your home address. Divide the total assessed value by 0.40 to get the assessed market value. If the actual market value of your property is more than 10% above the municipal estimate, be concerned.

If you’re thinking you can sell your home before the new assessments, think again. All realtors are required to inform prospective buyers of the revaluations.

Matawan and Aberdeen will be talking about tax rates but the only thing that matters is the tax bill. Some homeowners will be facing massive tax increases next year. If these homeowners have adjustable rate mortgages as well, expect to see more foreclosures.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fighting Over Crumbs at the School Board

Last night’s Board of Education meeting for the Matawan-Aberdeen School District was painstakingly long but chock full of interesting tidbits. Sadly, tidbits were all we got.

The single largest item was the audit. Though technically dense, there were some very disturbing findings. In a sampling of purchase orders, twenty-five percent were either blank or for non-earmarked items. The board and auditing firm did their best to assure the public that there was no evidence of fraud but, to the contrary, this is strong evidence that there is fraud. Someone looking to buy party supplies for his kid’s birthday could easily generate a purchase order and list stationery. As far as the auditor is concerned, there’s no sign of fraud because the money is accounted for. Slopping bookkeeping in the school system could easily lead to widespread pilfering that would be undetected by an ordinary audit. Normally, the school administration budgets more money than necessary to stay on the safe side. In this instance, due to “sloppy bookkeeping” there was a $134,000 shortfall.

The auditor also mentioned a $1.7 million shortfall in the listing of capital assets. Once again, the board tried to reassure the public that this was only an “accounting” item that didn’t affect revenue, expenses, or cash flow. Nonsense. Capital represents long-term assets that depreciate over time. If this capital depreciates at a 5% annual rate, then we’d be underestimating our cost projections by $85,000 per year.

Other little morsels included Ex-Superintendent Quinn shaking down the school for $5,000 in order to cooperate in some arbitration hearings. Then there was the $6,000 for five school administrators to attend an educational conference in New Orleans.

When asked why the schools were spending over a $100,000 a year on extra-curricular advisors rather than use community volunteers, Interim-Superintendent Glastein explained that the schools were contractually bound to pay teachers for these advisory positions even if qualified volunteers were willing to do the work for free.

The board also decided that, in addition to the $28,000 spent this year on the school's new website, the district would spend another $1,880 to instruct teachers how to best make use of the site.

Glastein’s new contract was also reviewed. Even though the new position is only temporary, the board felt he deserved a $7,000 raise rather than a one-time bonus to cover his expanded duties until a new superintendent is found.

As is customary for the board, none of the “objectionable” expenditures were rejected but rather tabled for reconsideration.

Dr. Gambino, the newest member on the board, asked why the school had not been reimbursed the $24,000 for an assessment exam that was never properly evaluated. The administration explained that the vendor was unresponsive and withheld needed textbooks until the bill was paid.

While interesting and often fun to watch, these sideshows don’t even add up to one percent of the school budget and have nothing to do with the school’s mission, namely to educate our children.

On this point, Dana Egreczky, Vice President of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and President of the Business Coalition for Educational Excellence (BCEE), promoted the BCEE’s new program, She stressed the need for requiring students to take more demanding courses, to learn advanced math and science, as this will dramatically impact their likelihood to succeed in life. Egreczky presented an abundance of statistics showing that without more math and science, our students were more likely to fail in college than succeed.

Egreczky’s passionate call for higher standards seemed to be met with a giant yawn. Board Member Gerard Donaghue, in a remarkable display of ignorance, questioned why the school should train its students for high-tech positions when “they’re all being outsourced.” In fields requiring advanced science degrees, the United States is experiencing the largest labor shortage in its history. For an educator to be unaware of this simple fact is stunning. That nobody on the board responded was shameful.

Dana Egreczky was right. We need to raise our standards. We need to mandate that all students take advanced math, science, and language classes. And we need to do it now. This should have been the central topic of last night’s board meeting.

Imagine all the verbs you associate with educators: Teach, Educate, Instruct, Tutor, Train, Develop, Coach, Nurture, etc. You won’t find one of these verbs in the Board of Education’s mission statement. When the school board discovers that it’s their job to teach, instruct, tutor, train, develop, coach, and nurture our children, then we can hope for a better future.
>>> Read more!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ballot Recount

Update: Alyssa Passeggio is reporting that Matawan Democratic party Chairman Joseph "Bud" Mullaney said the mayoral recount is rescheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Several states and municipalities have mandatory recounts whenever the difference between two candidates is less than 0.5% and below a certain threshold, i.e. less than 1,000 or 2,000 votes. Sadly, neither New Jersey nor Matawan has such a provision. Following a loss by one vote in Matawan’s mayoral election, Councilman Buccellato has chosen to request a recount. To the best of my knowledge, here’s how it works.

New Jersey requires that all recount requests be made by the 2nd Saturday following the election. That effectively makes the 2nd Friday the deadline for filing a petition for recount.

The petition is reviewed by a Superior Court Judge. The petitioner only has to provide an evidentiary basis for his “belief” that an “error” had been made in the ballot count. However, since the judge has the discretion to order a remedy tailored to the initial complaint, Councilman Buccellato will likely need to claim that he heard of problems in both the electronic balloting and the mail-in/provisional ballots. Otherwise, the judge could order that only one be recounted but not the others. The Councilman will also need to guarantee that he will cover all costs/fees of the recount.

Next, the judge will confer with the county to set a date for the recount. The county will then appoint an election auditor who will be responsible for the recount but does not need to personally oversee it. Often, the county will request the town clerk to oversee the recount but the initiator has the right to object to any selection.

All ballots, whether paper or electronic, and the voting machines are stored in a secure location. The county auditor’s representative will oversee a non-partisan three person panel that has at least one registered Democrat and one registered Republican. The panel will first survey the machines to ensure they function properly.

The electronic machines have multiple redundant systems to ensure that votes are captured and stored in independent areas. Those votes will be recounted through electronic means to ensure that each stored value is consistent throughout the system. If the panel chooses, they can also request a manual printout of each vote. The machines take a “screenshot” of each vote submitted to allow for a manual recount.

The panel will certify the machine count and then review the paper ballots. Each ballot is approved or declined based on majority vote but a dispute on any ballot could be grounds for an appeal.

The recount is public and the candidates will be allowed to be present but all non-officials must be physically separated from the recount process.

Once the recount is complete, the new totals are then used by the county to certify the election. If the losing candidate chooses to appeal the decision, a higher court will render a final decision. There is only one appeal which is automatically expedited.

I do not know of any contested election since electronic balloting that has been overturned through a recount. If anyone has additional information, please let me know.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Councilman Buccellato's Tough Decision

Following the recount, the Matawan Mayoral Election has been declared a tie.

Councilman Buccellato has a tough decision to make. After thousands of hours of work by him and his volunteers, thousands of dollars his supporters donated to his campaign, and a heartfelt belief that the people of Matawan need him, Buccellato lost the mayoral election by one vote. Although no one has suggested any improprieties, there were reports of at least one machine malfunction. Plus, there’s a general mistrust in the government’s ability to do anything a hundred percent correct. Doesn’t Buccellato owe it to his supporters who worked so hard to at least request a recount? No and he probably won’t.

As his legal experts have surely advised him, there is little Buccellato can do. Only a few dozen of the votes were mail-in, provisional, or electronic write-in ballots, and each one was reviewed by a small committee of people. That leaves claims that there was a problem with one of the voting booths.

An electronic ballot can be challenged in one of four ways – software error, mechanical error, ballot misalignment on the machine causing an elevated undervote rate, or unlawful tampering.

Software error would be extremely unusual. This is akin to Microsoft’s Excel being unable to sum rows and columns.

A mechanical error during transmission could corrupt the file but not change the vote. The vote count is contained in a single file that is either transferred or isn’t. Machines don’t transfer counts a vote at a time. Another possibility is a mechanical error that took place during the voting process but this would invalidate the machine and all the votes taken on it. Given the closeness of the election, invalidating any machine would alter all the election outcomes for Matawan and throw the entire borough election into the hands of the courts.

Another possibility is that a ballot wasn’t perfectly positioned on one of the machines leading people to believe they had clicked on a candidate’s name when no vote was actually recorded. However, undervotes are often recorded when voters choose not to select any of the candidates. An undervote rate of 1-8% is considered normal. The undervote rate in Matawan’s mayoral election was only 3.4%.

The last possibility is that someone altered the vote outcome. Contrary to media reports that hackers can easily compromise an electronic voting system, it’s actually quite difficult. Electronic voting machines are not networked to any other machine. At the end of the vote, a printout is generated and an electric cartridge removed. Both are securely stored and delivered to the central election system. In order for a hacker to affect the results, he would need to physically break into the voting machine and find a way to connect his laptop. Then, he would need to conceal any evidence that he had broken the lock on the voting machine. Not even the tinfoil hat crowd would suggest Matawan’s mayoral election was worth the effort and risk.

The only reason Councilman Buccellato would dispute the results is to demonstrate to his supporters that he did his utmost to win and thereby fully appreciated their efforts. But he has a higher obligation to the residents of Matawan whom he has nobly served these last several years. Casting suspicion on an electoral outcome, absent any evidence that the recorded votes do not reflect the will of the people, is more likely to harm than benefit the community. I trust Councilman Buccellato will do the right thing and continue to serve the borough he loves.
>>> Read more!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Big Spenders on the School Board

Let’s assume that an elected official performing his fiduciary obligations in guarding the public purse would object to at least one out of every hundred requests for money. What is the chance that such an official exists on the Matawan-Aberdeen School District Board of Eduation? Almost zero.

Following the most recent board elections, there have been approximately 300 line item expenditures that sought board approval. Of those 300 financial requests, not a single board member voted against a single item. To show how improbable that is, let’s assume that each person on the board is fiscally restrained, which we again define as voting against at least 1% of expenditures. What is the likelihood that everyone on the board is fiscally restrained yet no one ever voted against one of the 300 monetary requests? 164 billionth of a billionth percent.

But surely there must be at least one person who would object to at least 1% of cost items? Well, there is a 4.9% possibility that at least one board member would normally reject some spending but simply couldn’t find anything objectionable.

Of course, that solitary board member would still need to justify why an underperforming school system would choose to spend money on the following items:

  • $4,650.00 – Girls tennis coach
  • $4,520.00 – Fill vacancies on the Local Professional Development Committee
  • $18,000.00 – Re-writing class curriculums
  • $1,070.00 – National Geographic Competition Advisor
  • $2,443.14 – Send two teachers to the HOPE Foundation, a program that teaches individuals “how to work as a team”
  • $2,100.00 – Send three teachers to School Attuned Training
  • $11,000.00 – New audio system for the high school weight room, band room, and dance studio
  • $11,500.00 – New audio system for the high school cafeteria
  • $9,000.00 – To create proposals for converting the TV studio into an instructional facility
  • $1,650.20 – To send an administrator to the National Association for Pupil Transportation Conference
  • $4,770.00 – Send three teachers to the National Reading Recovery Conference, a program that shows how to tutor first grade reading
  • $11,300.00 – Two assistant boys soccer coaches
  • $1,130.00 – Interact Club Advisor
  • $4,430.00 – Two student council advisors
  • $1,130.00 - Basketball Cheerleading Advisor
  • $28,262.00 – Food service vehicle
  • $28,063.00 – New school website (plus $30,000 over the next four years)
The above expenditures were approved by the Matawan-Aberdeen Board of Education during the past three months alone. The above costs, like all costs presented to the board, were approved unanimously. What is the probability that there is at least one fiscally prudent member on the Board of Education? Approaching zero day by day. >>> Read more!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Addicted to Money in Aberdeen

This November 28th, Aberdeen’s Zoning Board will be hearing two variance requests from Centex Homes, LLC. The Zoning Board Engineer called both requests “intense” devlopments. The agency hired to review the submissions, characterized them as rezoning proposals under the guise of variance requests that would “substantially impair the intent and purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance.” The public opposes the plans because of traffic congestion and adversely affecting our school system and property taxes. Yet, despite the universal opposition to these developments, everyone is afraid they might garner town approval. Why? Because Aberdeen has a history of choosing private money over the public interest.

Centex is proposing to build 62 townhouses on Rt. 34 and 120 age-restricted units on County Road about a block from Rt. 35. The variance requests were reviewed by Coppola & Coppola Associates. In 2006, Coppola & Coppola, based in Princeton Junction, donated $300 to the Aberdeen Democratic Party. That same year, Aberdeen awarded them $98,246 in land use consulting services.

Timothy Gillen, the Zoning Board Engineer who reviewed the requests, is a paid consultant from CME Associates. In 2006, CME, located in Parlin, donated $7,800 to the Aberdeen Democratic Party and, that same year, won $413,470 in engineering and consulting services from the township.

Meanwhile, the township has been taking money from developers in the form of PILOT programs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes). Through PILOT programs, the developer negotiates a payment schedule in exchange for a multi-year property tax waiver. The developer benefits from a “tax break” while the town can request a substantial up-front deposit.

These PILOT programs have led to one of the state’s highest growth rates for a developed municipality. From 2000-2006, Aberdeen’s population grew 44% faster than the State of New Jersey. (That number jumps to 59% if you include the town’s increased liability to produce state-mandated affordable housing.)

However, the town is likely to reject Centex’s request for the simple reason that Centex probably lacks the financing to develop the properties. In October, Centex Homes had their bond rating dropped to junk status, meaning they will no longer be able to finance their projects through normal channels. No money means no PILOT program means no reason to grant approval.

But residents shouldn’t become too excited. SK Properties has taken over the Aberdeen Forge project in Freneau. The “K” in SK Properties stands for Murray Kushner, elder brother to Charles Kushner, and a major donor to the state’s Democratic Party. (Hat tip to Paul Rinear for the lead.) Kushner is renegotiating both zoning and PILOT program incentives with the township. Not only does he have the money to develop but he’s also in a strong bargaining position.

Concerned about the November elections, the all Democrat town council voted to forgo property hikes and, instead, blew through the town’s surplus. (There’s also strong suspicion they intentionally postponed the Centex variance request to take place after the election as well.) But the town council is now facing a quadruple whammy – lost revenue from forgoing a tax hike, lost revenue from interest on the now-depleted surplus, a state mandate limiting next year’s tax hike to 4%, and the likelihood that developers like Centex won’t be able to secure financing.

The township chose financial gimmickry to secure an election and will now need to face Murray Kushner from a severely weakened position. Word on the street is Mayor David Sobel will not be running for re-election. That’s probably for the best.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Why the Republicans Lost

Consider the following: In 2005, Mary Aufseeser garnered 30% more votes than her opponent. Two years later, running as the incumbent mayor, she won by 1 vote. In 2007, 30% fewer people voted in Matawan and Aberdeen than in 2005. The Democrats in Aberdeen won four council seats with only 48% of the votes. The Democrats swept nearly every seat in Matawan and Aberdeen because the Republicans failed to run an effective campaign.

Here’s where the Republicans went wrong:

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes
The Republicans did not offer a single proposal for lowering taxes except through the controversial Transit Village Project. The party of limited government couldn’t think of a way to cut expenses.

Missing Voters
The Matawan Republicans only needed to bring a dozen more voters to the polls to win the mayoral election. Both Republican parties should have gone through the 2005 election rolls and contacted each Republican voter to get assurances that he would vote again and see if anyone needed assistance getting to the polling stations. (Editor's Note: The candidates assure me they made extensive efforts to bring people to the polls but the locals were uninterested. Editor's Second Note: Aufseeser's lead has dropped to 1 vote. Buccellato has begun the process for a recount.)

The Democrats did not have a strong record to run upon. The Republicans should have forced them into a public debate.

Short Campaign
A political party never stops campaigning. Both Republican parties should be building relationships with local reporters and constantly working themselves into the newspapers.

Political Naiveté
The Aberdeen Republicans made two giant mistakes in regards to the Green Party. First, they should have tried convincing the Greens to run on a unified ticket. Putting Alice Osipowitz on the Republican ticket would have been a huge boost. Not only would they have captured Green votes, they’d have captured women votes as well. In Aberdeen, each candidate received votes in direct proportion to his placement on the ballot. The first name on each ballot got the most votes with each succeeding name getting less. The only two people to buck the trend were Democrat Janice Gallo and Green candidate, Alice Osipowitz.

The other mistake was befriending the Green Party to the point of sending mailers that encouraged people to vote Green. The Republicans should have said loudly and repeatedly that splitting the vote would return the Democrats to power.

Lack of Ideas
The Republicans were running on disaffection with the current administrations. That doesn’t work. People vote because they like you or hate the other guy. They’re not going to vote if they don’t recognize a significant difference between the parties. The Republicans never gave the citizenry a good enough reason to vote.

If the Republicans want to win the next election, they’ll need to earn the votes through vision and competence.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Local Election Results - Democrats Win (Barely)

Following are the unofficial election results. There will likely be a recount in Matawan's mayoral election but Mary Aufseeser appears to have won re-election. The only non-democratic seat was won by Republican Councilwoman-Elect Linda Clifton in Matawan. All of the elections were extremely close. The Democrats of Aberdeen won by a plurality, not a majority. Republicans would have swept all the elections in Matawan with a half dozen swing votes.

Mayor - Matawan
7/7 100.00%
Under Votes 64
Over Votes 0

Vote Count Percent
Rep - Paul BUCCELLATO 946 49.68%
Dem - Mary AUFSEESER 947 49.84%
Write-In 9 0.48%
Total 1,894 100.00%

Borough Council - Matawan
7/7 100.00%
Under Votes 202
Over Votes 0

Vote Count Percent
Rep - Linda CLIFTON 949 25.50%
Rep - Debra BURAGINA 922 24.77%
Dem - Robert T. BUNYON 917 24.66%
Dem - Kevin R. MENDES 933 25.07%
Write-In 0 0.00%
Total 3,710 100.00%

Councilmembers-At-Large - Aberdeen
13/13 100.00%
Under Votes 771
Over Votes 0

Vote Count Percent
Rep - Anthony GARAGUSO 1,329 10.86%
Rep - John GARTLEY 1,296 10.59%
Rep - Thomas ALJIAN, Jr. 1,255 10.25%
Rep - Leon MATCHIN 1,222 9.98%
Dem - Vincent VINCI 1,524 12.45%
Dem - Wilhelmina GUMBS 1,439 11.76%
Dem - Owen DRAPKIN 1,415 11.56%
Dem - Janice B. GALLO 1,470 12.01%
GRE - Paul RINEAR 345 2.82%
GRE - Mark E. TEICHMAN 313 2.56%
GRE - Philip W. PETRIGNANI 308 2.52%
GRE - Alice OSIPOWITZ 323 2.64%
Write-In 2 0.02%
Total 12,241 100.00%

>>> Read more!

Goodbye, Mr. Quinn

Today is Superintendent Bruce Quinn’s last day at the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. He will be assuming the position of Assistant Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials. I wish Mr. Quinn well on his new journey. I’m glad to see him go.

His associates certainly have some very nice things to say about him.

  • Lawrence O’Connell, President, Board of Education: “His innovations improved school security, safety, and business office operations.”

  • Kimberley Honnick, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction: “It is his love and passion for this community that will be missed the most.”

  • Susan Palumbo, Confidential Secretary: “I admire how deeply he cares about this district.”
Mr. Quinn is proud of his accomplishments, such as his Response to Intervention program and reorganizing the elementary schools. Although he had a rocky relationship with the Board of Education, he credits them with approving all his budget proposals.

Before Mr. Quinn leaves, I would like to ask him one question – What happened to the $250,000,000 we gave you to educate our children? Would any normal person look at the progress our children made in the last five years and say “Yeah, I’d spend two hundred fifty million dollars for that”? That’s about $9,000 for every man, woman, and child in Matawan and Aberdeen.

We have endured one of the highest tax rates in the county, and would be willing to pay more, for the sole purpose of educating our children. Where did the money go? Our children score below the state average across the board. Our schools are ranked among the lowest in the county. Could anyone argue that the $250,000,000 under Mr. Quinn’s direction was well spent?

Not one of his associates commended him for his strength in education. Not one of his fans talks about his ability to raise educational standards and expectations. No, to the contrary, he has been the vanguard of diminished expectations.

His Response to Intervention program will not be used to improve educational standards but rather to explain why they’re so low. Already, they’re claiming that nearly 20% of our students are learning “challenged”. Already, they’re considering intervention programs for kindergartners.

Rather than acknowledge the schools have failed to educate our students, Mr. Quinn’s administration was busy “proving” that the onus was on the students and community.

Though school officials often prefer to discuss delicate matters using nuanced and politically correct terms, the crux of their position is that our children are too stupid and emotionally retarded to do any better. They would rather steal from the taxpayer and rob from our children’s futures than admit that they are the ones who have failed us.

Goodbye, Mr. Quinn. I hope your departure will be a blessing for all of us. >>> Read more!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Aberdeen's Election Issues

The Democratic Party has controlled Aberdeen's Town Council for the past 12 years. This election will be a referendum on that control. Aberdeen Township is also a democratic enclave within Republican Monmouth County and both county and national politics will likely play a role in Tuesday's elections. Every voter should familiarize himself with the issues and the candidates prior to casting a ballot.

Below are the major issues facing Aberdeen . Due to time constraints, I have been unable to get detailed responses from the Green Party and felt it would be unfair to extrapolate their positions solely from their party's platform. Instead, I would encourage voters to visit I would also like to thank Republican Tom Aljian for explaining his party's positions. Regarding the Democrats, as the party in power for the last dozen years, their position is public record.

  1. Residential Development
    Democrat – Allow continued residential development to build neighborhoods and support local businesses
    Republican - Residential development hikes property taxes by burdening our school system. Permit limited residential development to entice developers into other projects

  2. Commercial Development
    Democrat – Office and retail development near the train station and in the Anchor Glass Factory area
    Republican - Develop comprehensive master plan rather than phased development

  3. COAH Units ( Mount Laurel Housing)
    Democrat - Construct low income housing for the elderly, purchase some allowances in neighboring towns, and postpone the rest until absolutely necessary
    Republican - Abide by state mandates

  4. Public School District
    Democrat – Work with the Board of Education to find new ways to improve education and control spending
    Republican - Use the power of the bully pulpit to influence the Board of Education

  5. Traffic Congestion
    Democrat – While some traffic can be reduced through road improvements, current traffic congestion is normal for a town of our size and location
    Republican - Push county for more road improvements

  6. County, State, Federal Funding
    Democrat – Working with officials at all levels to obtain financing for special projects such as funding for the Sea Walk Enhancement project
    Republican - Hire a professional grant writer to pursue additional grants

  7. Anchor Glass Factory Area
    Democrat – Build office, retail, and residential units on the property
    Republican - Light commercial, light industrial, limited residential

  8. Shore Development
    Democrat – Restore the beachfront through successive small projects until private developers find the area worthy of investment
    Republican - Float a municipal bond to properly finance beachfront development

  9. Property Taxes
    Democrat – The municipal tax rate is stable and the town is not responsible for the school budget
    Republican - Keep surplus money in "Rainy Day" fund. Avoid election year financing gimmicks
    (Note: The Green Party has been circulating a chart showing municipal property taxes have risen 36.1% over the Democrats' 12-year tenure. The chart, however, does not account for inflation. In both real dollar terms and as a percentage of household income, municipal taxes have remained flat over the past twelve years. School taxes have risen sharply.)

  10. Infrastructure Maintenance
    Democrat - The town has been actively maintaining the streets and sewers and will continue to do so
    Republican - Continue the town's maintenance schedule

  11. Transit Village Project
    Democrat – 10-story office buildings, 7,000 new parking spaces, and limited residential development
    Republican - Must coordinate all transit area development with Matawan

  12. Parks and Open Spaces
    Democrat – Parks will continue to be maintained and enhanced such as the new lighting for the Oakshades Park
    Republican - Refurbish playground facilities where needed

  13. Contract Bidding Process
    Democrat – The current bidding process is open, fair, and competitive
    Republican - Avoid emergency no-bid contracts

>>> Read more!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Our School District’s New Website

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District launched its new website this week. I submitted an online comment commending the site design but questioning the cost. I was quite pleased to receive a response the next day from Darlene Gallagher. She thanked me for my interest and informed me that the cost was $28,063.00 at startup plus an annual fee of $7,500. That’s about $50,000 over a three year period. $50,000 for a website? It’s a beautiful site but I can’t justify the cost.

The website,, was built by SchoolWires, a company that specializes in school websites. SchoolWires normally charges over $15,000 per year plus startup fees so I should be pleased that we’re getting such a bargain. But $50,000 over three years is still a huge sum to spend on a nice looking website.

When our students are scoring below average in every single standard exam, we can’t afford to spend $50,000 on a website we don’t need. Moreover, the school could have used the student body to build and maintain a new website. Or they could have used Gmail to provide free email services.

Does anyone believe the faculty would prefer this new website over $50 gift certificates during the holiday season? Does anyone believe $50,000 on a website will do more for our children’s education than spending the money on prizes for educational projects? Is there no one on the school board who couldn’t think of a more creative way to spend $50,000?

The Board of Education does not understand the simple concept of limited funds. It does not understand the concept of fiscal responsibility. Nor does it realize that its sole mission is to educate our children without unnecessarily burdening the taxpayer.

Nice website but we’re better off without it.
>>> Read more!