Meet the Candidates in the 2017 Cherry Hill Township Council Election: Week 3

In the third week, the council candidates answer questions about the municipal budget and communication.

Editor’s Note: This is the third week of The Cherry Hill Sun’s four-week Meet the Candidates series.

Andrew H. Behrend

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

The Cherry Hill Township 2018 budget reduction of approximately $22 per year is a pittance when looking at the percentage of increase in overall taxes paid by the residents of Cherry Hill on an annual basis.

It has been made extremely difficult to analyze the annual township spend, since it has become the practice of the council to not discuss any bills being paid, prior to approving them. That being stated, I believe that there are always avenues to pursue to increase services, while decreasing costs. This can be done by sharing of services (not Fire, Police or Ambulance services), but those available to us through either state contract, or through agreements with neighboring municipalities. We also can look at areas within the budget that are redundant or wasteful, and do not provide value to the members of our community.

Also, we must as a community insist that all businesses that reside within and/or ply their trades within Cherry Hill Township’s borders pay their fair share of the tax burden.

It has become a common practice to give long term “sweetheart,” deals to developers and businesses to move into the township. If these businesses were taxed at the proper rate, the burden on the homeowners would decrease exponentially.

We also must insist that the school district look at its own budget, which has expanded well past the point where those residents of the township on limited or fixed incomes can sustain paying it.

We want to ensure that all current and future funds being spent are directed towards the education and safety of all of the children in our district.

The very scary part of the current scenario is that at this point, with all of the townships schools (infrastructure) approaching, or at the end of usable life, an enormous bond issue will be required to overcome the financial requirements of a rebuild. This will lead to an even greater tax burden on the township’s residents. This could have been avoided had there been greater focus by past administrations and our Board of Education.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

As to communications, the current administration has been abysmal, with minimal (if any) transparency.

I would ensure that all meeting agendas would be posted at least two weeks prior to the meeting, both in print media, online and through social media. The notifications would include all topics that are to be discussed at the meeting as well as solid/valid reasons why the Township is considering the action.

Any residents that would be directly impacted by any agenda item would receive a direct mail notification at least two weeks prior as well.

All meeting minutes would be posted within a three-day period of time and would include ALL of the testimony from ALL of the speakers, including those in opposition to what the council is discussing at that meeting.

There is currently an “editing” process whereby anybody who’s testimony criticizes councils pre-determined outcome, there comments are omitted from the minutes. The only way to get them in, is to hand them to the clerk in writing, and then they will delay in publishing the minutes until it is convenient, or the topic has passed.

I would make sure that I am available to any and all members of the Cherry Hill community for input. There would be regular outreach to all of Cherry Hill Township’s unique neighborhoods for their opinions and direction. I believe that this type of interaction is sorely lacking. The true needs and desires of the township’s residents are rarely reflected in the decisions of the current council due to this, as well as an overwhelming deference towards the input of outside influencers.

Scott J. Cohen

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

As for continuing to maintain our current tax rate and have additional tax reductions, the township contracts needs to be revisited to ensure Cherry Hill is receiving the best valve for good and services. No bid contracts should not be awarded.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

With important issues the township has seen debated over the last couple years, it is obvious that communication is an important question this election. The communication of Cherry Hill Township needs to be improved, especially to those that may be affected by council and zoning board decisions. For example; separate/special emails and regular mail must be sent to civic associations and residents in areas where council and zoning board decisions will affect them. They must be sent with ample time for them to respond.

Sangeeta Doshi

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

Taxes are a very important issue for most residents. That is why I would work with the members of the council to review every budget line to make sure that we were spending wisely and in the best interest of the community. I would also work with the administration to continue to apply for as many grants as possible to be able to keep municipal services at a high level, but offset expenses.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

I think the Township does a good job at utilizing a variety of mediums to communicate with residents, increasing transparency. These mediums include email, social media, the township’s website, press releases, and community events. I would encourage television stations and newspapers to cover more local news stories that would be great for our residents.

David Fleisher

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

Our residents expect and deserve fiscal accountability. This is reflected in the decisions that are made every day…eliminating waste, partnering with other governmental entities to maximize purchasing power, capturing state and federal grant dollars, and continuously keeping an eye on the bottom line.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

The township does a good job getting information out to residents, but we can always do better. Live-streaming council meetings has enabled residents to watch real-time, in addition to the township website and social media to keep residents informed. I’m also a little bit “old school” and always enjoy conversations with neighbors on the soccer field, in the grocery store, or whenever a resident has a question.

Carolyn M. Jacobs

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

Keys to keeping taxes flat or again reducing them for our homeowners are a combination of increased revenues and controlled expenses.

On the revenue side, we should continue to encourage investment into our commercial areas. Such investments generate important tax dollars that offset what our homeowners pay. We should also be searching out and applying for every available county, state and federal grant dollar available to us and adding those to our income.

On the expense side, we need to continue our history of applying sound fiscal management techniques, carefully evaluating all of our purchases and expenditures.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

I firmly believe that you cannot over-communicate with our constituents. We fortunately live in an electronic age that makes communication easier and quicker every day. We’ve got plenty of tools to do that: our township web page is regularly updated with news, schedules and meeting announcements; residents can use our portal to directly contact our departments about concerns and issues; we send email messages; we update our Facebook page; we take advantage of Twitter; and we have a live-stream feed of our township council meetings. We also have written communications including our recreation book and our own hometown newspaper. We also have an open door policy in Town Hall and anyone can come in to see the Mayor and his senior staff.

All that aside, I think that our residents value real-time opportunities to interact with our Mayor and council members and I would work to ensure that we continue holding neighborhood-based meetings to hear from our residents directly in a give-and-take setting. These have been effective in the past and will go a long way to assuring our residents that Mayor and council are working hard for each and every one of them.

John Papeika

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

A few months ago, the township made a big deal about a reduction in taxes, which equated to a meager $22 average per household. Any reduction is better than an increase, but I would not consider something to make a huge deal. While there was a small reduction in municipal taxes the Cherry Hill Board of Education approved an increase in school tax that equates to an average of $142 per household. And our schools are crumbling!

To keep taxes flat or reduce them, we need to handle township affairs just like we would handle our household. We need to analyze every spend in the budget. When things get tight at home we cancel cable, we adjust our spending habits. Additionally, every month council quickly approves the payment of bills. I would support a deeper examination of bills to ensure our tax dollars are spent properly.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

“Notice of this meeting was posted on the township bulletin board designed for that purpose. Notice was mailed to the official newspapers as provided by resolution adopted on January 9, 2017.” The regular opening on the agenda for council meetings. We hang our communication hats on a bulletin board and newspapers.

Overall, I feel the township does a poor job at communicating with residents. We need to get an effective communication medium that we properly maintain on a regular basis. Currently there is a Facebook page but events are not consistently posted and it seems to be used for political motives rather than for keeping citizens informed. At the time of writing this response, there are no upcoming events listed on the township Facebook page.

Joseph Rodi

1.) Cherry Hill Township is preparing for a master plan reexamination. What is your vision for the township’s master plan?

2.) How would you grade the township’s efforts in preserving open space over the past four years?

In 2014 and 2015, it was reported by the Asbury Park Press that Cherry Hill is one of the highest taxed municipalities in Camden County. The question presented is: Can we reduce or stabilize taxes in Cherry Hill? Yes, we can reduce the tax burden on the people of Cherry Hill. This can be done by taking a comprehensive approach to audit the budget process and reduce the cost of government.

By auditing the budget Cherry Hill can find where taxes dollars are spent ineffectively. Information technology can facilitate placing the whole government online as a virtual town hall where all forms and payments can be made. In addition, we need to look at the buildings and equipment owned or leased by the township and apply energy efficiency standards. By using energy efficiency we can directly reduce the overall cost of government and pass it along to the taxpayer to reduce their taxes. We also need to look to other energy resources like solar to help further reduce our residents’ tax burden. Through the audit process we can determine how much Cherry Hill taxpayers pay for professional services and compare their price to other towns to see if benefits there can be found.

Examine the business sector, it embraced technology to change how it interacts with customers, in turn, government is finding ways to better the citizen experience. Gone is the day of arriving at the municipal building between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to take a number and wait in line. In looking at the average service costs to conduct a single transaction with a citizen you will find substantial savings in the performance of a single transaction online vis-à-vis performing that same transaction offline. We can pass on these savings directly to the taxpayer. There are many social benefits to engaging our residents online. Not the least of which you have the opportunity to provide them information important to them and the Cherry Hill community.

We can also follow supply side economics. Where the more people we have in Cherry Hill the less the tax burden is on everyone and the more revenue is brought in. The current tax burden is oftentimes as much at 50 percent of the principle payments if not more depending where you live in Cherry Hill. We can reduce the tax burden in Cherry Hill we just need the will to do it.

Carole Roskoph

1.) Cherry Hill Township’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget included a reduction in municipal taxes for the average homeowner. In what ways would you keep municipal taxes flat or reduce taxes further in the future?

During his tenure, Mayor Cahn has worked with council to promote fiscal responsibility in the township. We have maintained or reduced spending while simultaneously improving services for the residents. We have more than doubled the road maintenance budget, improved parks and recreational facilities and advanced public safety into the 21st century. This was done by encouraging smart investments into our commercial areas and carefully scrutinizing our spending. Commercial investment can be seen in areas such as healthcare, where each of the major regional healthcare providers have made and continue to make sizable investments into their Cherry Hill facilities. The Mayor and council have been very aggressive in seeking our grant money and we should certainly continue to do that. This is good government at work and we will continue to operate in the same manner in the future.

2.) How well do you feel the township communicates news with its residents and would you do anything differently?

The township communicates with its residents through a myriad of ways. The township website contains a vast amount of information, including meeting dates, upcoming events, contact information for departments, and a specific interactive tool that allows residents to submit concerns to the township 24/7. Council meetings are now live-streamed via our Facebook page. Events and important information are posted on the Facebook page and on Twitter. The Township’s Community Magazine is published quarterly and mailed to all residents, outlining the many recreational events, classes, and programs happening in the township. We also have an emergency alert text system that residents can sign up for to receive information on weather and other emergencies occurring in Cherry Hill. However, all of these systems pale in comparison to being out in the community talking to and listening to residents. I, along with Mayor Cahn and all of the other council members, take pride in our availability to meet with members of our community through town hall meetings, civic association events and other community forums — places of worship, sports fields, swim clubs, block parties and any other place where community happens. Because we are your friends and neighbors, we are always accessible to the residents of Cherry Hill. Email me, text me or, simply, knock on my door. I am here for you.