Meet the Candidates in the 2017 Harrison Township Committee Election: Week 4

In the fourth week, the committee candidates give their final pitch on why they should be elected

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

Jacqueline Vigilante

I believe there are many reasons why both Lisa Rotte and I should be elected to Harrison Township Committee. For the first time in many years, Harrison Township has a real choice in leadership. Last year many residents voiced their desire for change and supported Vince Gangemi and Jeff Jacques for Township Committee in the June primary. Because of Gangemi and Jacque’s success in the primary, there was no general election — there was no democratic candidate and, as you all know, former Republican Mayor Louis Manzo was not in the race, having lost in the primary. The choice voters made last year, however, was ignored when Manzo resigned from the Township Committee for “continuity purposes” in September 2016, and had himself reappointed just a few weeks later when John Williams suddenly resigned from Township Committee.

This year the choice is real. When you go to the polls, your choice will be between two candidates that represent conservative spending and tax relief, and a repeat of the last ten years of growing budgets, increased borrowing and out of control spending. Your choice will be between Julie DeLaurentis and myself because we are both running for the three-year term that is on the ballot. Your other choice will be between the current mayor and Rotte, my running mate, for the one-year vacancy in the seat vacated by Williams.

Your choice is clear. Let me first tell you why Rotte should be your choice for Township Committee. For those of you who don’t know her, Rotte is an army wife who has lived all over the world as her husband, an Army combat helicopter pilot, was stationed foreign and domestically. In each place that was lucky enough to have Rotte call home, she brought her unique ability to unite people for a common goal. She is always ready to lead by example by joining in, volunteering and accomplishing whatever task needs to be done. That is true leadership. Rotte is a different leader than Harrison has had in the past, and is the kind of leader Harrison deserves in the future. As an attorney, I have spent almost 30 years fighting government corruption on behalf of people who were victimized by career politicians. I understand the challenges of managing resources and balancing budgets as someone who has owned a small business for the past 20 years. Our team is the perfect match of ability and strength, experience and knowledge.

One of the main reasons I chose to run for Township Committee in Harrison Township is that so much of what the government has been doing is not transparent. There were no answers to questions such as why so many areas in our towns have been zoned for redevelopment, why our sewer rates were the highest in the county, why our assessments have increased so significantly. In looking for those answers, we discovered that our current administration has buried us in debt, while mismanaging revenue and spending borrowed money and tax dollars on items we don’t need and cannot afford. The lack of transparency concerns me because public trust is the hallmark of good government. Once the trust has been breached, corruption follows. So rather than complain about what concerns me, I decided to do something about it and run for committee.

As the election draws near, consider your choice for Township Committee and, when you do, we believe your choice is clear. On behalf of Rotte and myself, we thank you for your support and look forward to serving the residents of Harrison Township.

Lisa A. Rotte

Why should we be elected to the Township Committee? That really boils down to, why should anyone vote for Jacci Vigilante and Lisa Rotte? That’s an easy question to answer and I can do it in less space than I’m allotted for this piece.

Vigilante and I are not politicians and have never run for office before, but we are passionate about the future of this township and about a few core beliefs that you can count on us to maintain if we are so privileged to serve on your Township Committee.

First, we believe strongly in the voice of the people and the power of the vote and we vow to honor that voice throughout our terms. You can count on us to listen to the views and desires of the people of our township and to carry that out. We will never circumvent the people’s will or find a loophole to support our views at the expense of the voters. Second, we believe in fiscal responsibility and balancing our budgets. We will treat the taxpayer’s money as if it was our own…because in the end, that’s exactly what it is. It’s our money that is intended to provide services and facilities that support the needs of the citizens of Harrison Township. It is not intended to buy things that we want or would like to have, but rather than the citizens need in support of their lives, especially when we have so much debt.

Lastly, we believe in growing the township in a responsible way that does not pass on tremendous debt to our children. People love Harrison Township and want to move here…and that’s a good thing that we will encourage. But, we must grow at a sustainable rate, not one that adds $30 million of debt every 10 years. We will ensure that the growth of the township is steady and that the infrastructure of our town keeps pace with that growth.

So, there you have it. If you’re alright with committee members thinking they know best and bypassing the will of the voters, if you believe that we can continue to spend millions more than we take in year-after-year and pass on that debt to the next generation, and if you want to see houses and businesses spring up all over the township without an equal growth in services and schools, then we’re not your candidates. But, if you want to see long-term responsible growth and solvency for our township and business conducted in an open, candid and forthright manner, then your choice is clear. We ask for your support and trust with that vision. Throughout the 13 moves that my husband Randy and I have experienced in our lives in the U.S. Army, we have always strived to leave every community better than we found it. That was my goal when I moved to Harrison Township and made it my home. As a member of the Township Committee with Vigilante, I will have the opportunity to make that same difference in Harrison. I have spent my adult life in service to others and I look forward to serving you.

Thank you, Lisa Rotte.

Louis Manzo

This is the final entry of the Meet the Candidates series. I want to thank The Sun for the opportunity to share our thoughts and views with you.

That said, I’m guessing you’re ready for all the political ads to stop, right? Me too. The pitch on the opposite page today is likely focused on why not to vote for Julie DeLaurentis and me. For some campaigns, that’s the only option available and can make your decision easier. I’ll make my pitch for your vote shortly.

First, I would like to set the record straight on a few things. There has been an inordinate amount of incorrect information circulated and it is difficult to respond to non-specific comments on “spending, taxes and debt” when you’re the person targeted. Given the opportunity to address specific details or data on those topics, the task is easy. That has occurred at a couple of HOA meetings recently, where I was able to dismiss the incorrect information on the spot. Unfortunately, I’m not able to respond in-person to a mailer you receive containing the same incorrect information.

We fall back to the factual and verifiable fiscal record over the last nine to 10 years. That independently audited record makes any claim about the “tripling” of property taxes false and ridiculous. All municipalities in NJ must adhere to state-induced limitations on tax increases. And yes, it’s a fact that Harrison has the second-lowest tax rate in Gloucester County. Yes, it’s true we were recently recognized in a statewide study on property taxes. That said, taxes in NJ are infamously high. If the 85 percent of your tax bill that leaves Harrison was managed in the same manner as the 15 percent we control, NJ would have a different reputation.

The factual record also shows that our fiscal process has been under extra scrutiny for the last 10 months, which we welcome. Every expenditure over the last several years has been analyzed by these “taxpayer watchdogs” and every dime spent this year reviewed. The record shows that not one prior expenditure could be identified as “reckless” and this year’s budget received unanimous approval at every Township Committee vote. That might seem odd considering things you may hear, right? But that’s the truth.

Local leadership is all about relationships and taking action. Political parties are irrelevant, unless you choose to make them so. Did you know that in Ohio, candidates in local elections are not allowed to use political party designations? What a novel idea. You base your vote on the person and their record or ideas, not their political affiliation.

Julie DeLaurentis and I are Independent candidates for a reason (here’s my pitch). We have no motive other than to act in the best interests of our community and our record confirms that. So here is the simple choice in this election: Though our opponents offer no details in their plan, a vote for them is a vote to change……something. And hope that they will be more specific someday.

A vote for Julie and me is a vote to maintain the momentum we have built in making our community the best place to live and raise a family in South Jersey. Decisiveness and action that brought the new Medical Center to Harrison and supported the bypass for the “greater good.” A philosophy implemented to control the growth of our town while maintaining its charm. Initiative that created Second Saturdays and Lights on Main and a focus on providing the best parks and recreational facilities in the area. I humbly ask for your support to continue that good work.

Julie DeLaurentis

Harrison Township has been my home for 27 years. I’ve contributed to multiple local organizations as a leader and volunteer. My work in the township has given me the opportunity to establish relationships with many individuals in the Harrison Township government, the police department, Gloucester County government, as well as local schools and businesses.

My goal is to continue serving the residents of Harrison Township by facilitating the positive momentum in our community, while maintaining the small town charm we all value. I will work with Lou Manzo and the committee to build our bipartisan approach and work closely with the state and county officials to get the necessary support we need locally. This is very important. The relationships we’ve built have resulted in millions of funding dollars coming to our town. Fundamentally this is where we differ from others running for Township Committee. Being Independents reflects our bipartisan philosophy and the direct benefit to everyone in Harrison Township. It’s critical that we remain committed to our bipartisan values.

Harrison Township, like every town in New Jersey, is facing the challenge of high taxes. Hopefully this is not the first time you’ve heard this, but only 15% percent of your property tax is controlled at the local level. All of the residents, working together under the leadership of Manzo and the Township Committee, have used the 15 percent to create an outstanding community. We grew fast and previous committees failed to plan. That all changed when Manzo was elected as mayor and made the commitment to build relationships and address the issues he inherited from past committees.

Programs put in place the last four to five years have been crucial to maintaining the second lowest tax rate in Gloucester County. Our foundation is solid and the future will only be better as we will look to reduce the tax burden on residents. Our commercial tax revenue increased over 300 percent and we have more new businesses coming that will offset expenses. There are additional opportunities to minimize costs through more shared services, as well as continue to utilize PILOT programs that have a tremendous impact on our bottom line.

I would work with our Township Committee and professionals to continue to improve and expand our infrastructure. Sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian-bike paths are a necessary component of our township’s connectivity. People will be able to safely enjoy our community on foot or on bikes. Harrison Township’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan identifies and outlines future recreational paths and the current Sidewalk Project is in place to increase safety and accessibility throughout our town.
My experience and commitment are well documented; I have built relationships and earned the respect of residents through hard work and dedication. My outlook differs from our opponents — I know we have a tremendous community and are going in the right direction.

Harrison Township’s accomplishments and accolades confirm this. Our township has been voted “№1 in slow paced small towns in New Jersey where life is still simple,” “among the top five South Jersey towns you need to invest now” and ranked №14 statewide as “best town to raise families.” It is no surprise that Manzo will be inducted into the New Jersey League of Municipalities Mayors Hall of Fame next month. Our township’s accomplishments over the last 10 years are the result of township’s elected officials, employees, volunteers and residents working together. It’s not about Republican, Democrat or Independent, it’s about doing what is best for our residents. And that is my pledge to you.

I am excited and honored, if elected, to continue to serve the residents of Harrison Township.