On Oct. 24 the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times held a candidates forum for Fanwood council elections, featuring Republican incumbents Mike Szuch and Robert Manduca and Democratic candidates Jack Moelnaar and Dan Levine.
Moderator, Fred Rossi of the Times/Westfield Leader, addressed the candidates with questions ranging from the big issue of consolidation to what the candidates hope to do for senior citizens and the younger people of Fanwood.
One important issue facing Fanwood right now is the possible consolidation of the town with Scotch Plains.
Rossi asked the candidates how they felt about a possible consolidation and the efforts of Courage to Re-Connect.
Molenaar responded that Courage to Re-Connect's heart is in the right place in terms of wanting to save tax dollars, but the question is what is the best way?
Molenaar felt the best way to save tax dollars, while still maintaining services is shared services. He added that consolidations are usually unsuccessful and cost more money than anticipated. Additionally, he agreed with why the question is being asked and believes Fanwood's energy is best spent on pursuing shared services.
Councilman Manduca called this a perilous situation for Fanwood. He once agin stated that the devil will be in the details.
If re-elected, Manduca said he would be able to bring a businessman's attitude and knowledge to the situation. He pointed out that Fanwood hasn't always gotten the fair end of the stick, which is something he would like to stand up and change.
Candidate Dan Levine said during his campaign the issue has come up with each resident he spoke too, all of which did not seem to support consolidation.
However, he said the residents were curious if they could save money by consolidating. Levine agreed with running mate Molenaar that shared services is the best route to save taxpayer money.
Councilman Szuch, who is up for re-election, called upon a study done just three years ago which examined the idea of consolidation. He said the study said that each household would save roughly $100, from this he asked, is that worth losing Fanny Wood Day, the Christmas celebration, upcoming halloween events and more? Szuch added that he would be afraid to lose all of this and see Fanwood disappear from a small town into a small city.
Rossi addressed the candidates with a question on the merging of departments and if by doing so, residents would see significant savings. This issue was touched on during the consolidation question, but the candidates went into further explanation.
Councilman Manduca noted that many of the departments were already merged so it's hard to put too much focus on a significant savings. He did say, however, that no department should be untouched and all should be examined for savings, pointing out the courts as one option.
Levine pointed out that under Mayor Mahr's leadership they have already instituted a shared public health department with Westfield, Animal Control with Linden and dispatching through the County of Union. Levine said, the next item would be the police departments since that is the biggest budget item.
Fanwood has been working with Scotch Plains to merge the two Police Departments for the past year.
Councilman Szuch said that anyone who knows him, knows he is against merging the police departments. He said Fanwood PD is a part of Fanwood's identity and seeing a police officer you probably know at your door is comforting for residents.
He did agree with Manduca that all departments should be up for review.
Molenaar said no matter what, he is interested in providing the best services possible for the lowest cost possible and would do whatever it takes to get him down that route.
He also called on his experience as part of a committee at Rutgers University that is looking at the merger between Rutgers and UMDNJ. He said his experience on this committee taught him that if you don't have the information you're looking for then you ask for it and get it, which he would apply to his work on Fanwood council.
Manduca brought up the issue of shared services in a response to another question saying that many politicians choose to use shared services as a crutch and a way to mollify taxpayers. Adding that Fanwood Fire Department and Rescue Squad is already 100 percent volunteer and you cannot get much lower than zero.
Molenaar pointed out that even the smallest saving is still a saving and whether it be a dollar or a cent he would still like to work towards a taxpayer savings.
Keep checking scotchplains.patch.com for what the candidates thought on other important Fanwood issues.
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