Meet the Candidates: Answers on police body cameras and taxes

Below are Medford township council candidates’ responses, in alphabetical order, to questions regarding the Medford Police Department’s recent decision to start using body cameras and how they would balance taxes and spending.

Kelly Clark

1. What is your reaction to the Medford Police utilizing body cameras?

I am in favor of the Medford Police using body cameras because they allow an unbiased point of view of interactions between police and the community that can be reviewed after the fact. Also, when people know they are being recorded, they are less likely to behave aggressively — both officers and citizens.

I think it is a positive step forward that the Medford Police Department has started using body cams.

2. How do you/would you balance maintaining necessary funding for township services while still keeping taxes at a reasonable rate?

A previous set of council members rang up some serious debt in the past. The current council came in and addressed this problem by raising taxes and cutting services.

Now, as the debt is coming off the books, the question we need to ask ourselves is “what’s next?” Do we continue to live in a town under these austerity conditions? Or do we take the percentage of our tax money that we’ve been using to pay off past debt to bring back the services that residents most need and want?

Taxes are the price of a civilized society and how we use our taxes in the town reflects our values. Personally, for my town, I value safety, responsibility and honoring the past while building the future. But more importantly, in a Medford for All, we will want to hear what the residents of Medford value and expect from council.

I believe we can offer operations and services on the same level as surrounding areas — without raising taxes by implementing shared services with nearby towns — working together with the county freeholders, and applying for grants from the state.

Using innovation and creativity will allow us to find the perfect balance between what we already collect in taxes and what services we give back to the people of the town.

Stan Czyzyk

1. What is your reaction to the Medford Police utilizing body cameras?

I feel body cameras are a helpful tool in maintaining public safety. They provide a third party account, and in many cases police departments have come to view cameras as a valuable resource. I believe our local police force is outstanding, and body cameras help create a record of the high level of professionalism and performance of our officers. Body cameras have been shown in rollouts at departments across the country to often result in improved interactions between police and public and reduce the likelihood of suspects to engage in violence against officers. Source: https://www.policefoundation.org/body-worn-camera-study-by-executive-fellow-chief-tony-farrar-is-published-in-scientific-journal/

2. How do you/would you balance maintaining necessary funding for township services while still keeping taxes at a reasonable rate?

Medford was faced with a serious level of debt and deficit five years ago. Current council has not raised taxes in the last five years, but did precede these years with a referendum which raised taxes 25%, the equivalent of 12.5 years of allowable increase without referendum. This was combined with significant services cuts. This was a direct approach, pulling the two levers of revenue and cost.

However, nearly half a decade later, this approach should be resulting in a timetable to restore services and/or return of tax dollars added via referendum. With this not being the case, it means that Medford may not be able to cut their way out of those past budget issues. Therefore, we need innovative approaches to provide services more on par with those delivered by neighboring towns within our current budget.

It means looking outside our borders for additional sources of savings. Pooling contracts with neighboring towns will reduce costs of materials and services (salt, office supplies, lawn mowing, etc). Sharing services with our neighbors will reduce costs as well.

We can also find additional revenue outside our borders. Working with the newly elected governor and improving relationships with the county will help secure higher support and funds. Investing in grant writing will pay back in the form of dollars our residents pay in federal, state, and county taxes coming back to Medford in support of Medford.

Incumbent Deputy Mayor Brad Denn

  1. What is your reaction to the Medford Police utilizing body cameras?

I am happy to support our police chief and his concern for protecting both our officers and our citizens. Chief Rich Meder presented us with a thorough proposal of the benefits of this initiative and the return on investment. It was well-researched and thoughtfully outlined. It is clear to me that this decision protects all parties involved and provides unbiased information should an issue arise. I applaud our police officers for their transparency and willingness to embrace this new protocol. We have a fine police force in Medford, and I want our residents to know our officers for their good works and civic responsibility.

2. How do you/would you balance maintaining necessary funding for township services while still keeping taxes at a reasonable rate?

My goal is to continue the five-year streak of not raising our taxes and to ensure we continue to be a fiscally minded council. As past debt payments are eliminated, additional services can be added such as increased road paving. It is my intent to use the additional cash flow, as a result of eliminated past debt, to speed up budgeted infrastructure improvements while using money in hand versus borrowed dollars. In time I anticipate Medford being able to lower its annual capital budget and increase capital improvements by using current cash flow, which does not include a tax increase. I believe a fiscally minded Town Council can achieve this in three to five years.

Linda Goldman

1. What is your reaction to the Medford Police utilizing body cameras?

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”― John Wooden

However, if you fear for your life or the life of another, the equation is changed. Science has proven, that we humans are notoriously bad at re-creating an accurate depiction of a stressful situation. During times of fear and the need to make a quick decision, survival becomes our reigning impulse. Our officers are highly trained to transcend those impulses.

Medford has a highly qualified and trained police department. The Medford Force is proud to wear cameras because they are confident in their professionalism and have the trust of their leadership and of the town. Now we all get a glimpse of our thoughtful and intelligent police!

The decision to get cameras was a long process and not taken lightly.

We’re in the 21stt century and technology can be a welcome addition to our lives. Forensically, it falls in the category of identification through DNA. Officers and citizens deserve truth, honesty and respect. After my conversation with Police Chief Rich Meder, I am confident that we will only feel prouder of our officers.

I am proud that Medford has implemented the use of body cameras.

Per our chief, countless positive, truthful and uncontested outcomes have already come to fruition. The ability to accurately and quickly retrieve interactions saves time, judicial resources and overtime expenses.

The cameras will continue to help bring our community together. When our police and our families bond through trust and communication, we have created the definition of a great town.

2. How do you/would you balance maintaining necessary funding for township services while still keeping taxes at a reasonable rate?

Actually, taxes aren’t at a reasonable rate and necessary funding for services are skeletal. We lost services and took a 25 to 30 percent tax increase in 2012.

72 percent of our tax bill goes to local and regional school tax. 14 percent goes to Burlington County. Only 14 percent of the tax we pay stays in Medford!

Of the 14 percent of tax revenue Medford controls, we will reset priorities. Council had chosen to pay off the out of control debt in a way that caused austerity as a way of life. The decision to remove services and pay off debt at a hyper-fast rate is akin to making two mortgage payments every month while allowing termites to eat away the studs! It was an unwise use of funds. Interest rates had never been lower. Medford had the time to pay the debt more slowly and keep services. No one asked our opinion. What we have inherited is an unnecessarily high cash outflow leaving little left for road clearance and maintenance, bathrooms in the parks and quality debris removal. We also lost all children’s and teen’s recreational programs. Austerity is bad for property values.

Since most of our taxes go the schools, it’s important to focus on that number. Reducing educational costs, without losing our talented teachers can be done. We need to work with the Board of Education by opening the doors of communication. The town must have cooperative, fruitful discussions with all branches of government. Medford also needs to develop a stronger working relationship with the library system. We lost that too. With a new governor, we also have a very good chance of drawing more funds from the state.

We are a positive, vibrant, creative, energetic group finding ways to problem solve. Our team’s expertise will improve the town.

Let’s work together. We are all tired of nothing getting done, because of an unwillingness to work together.

Medford deserves a great outcome. We will make it a MEDFORD for ALL.

Erik Rebstock

1. What is your reaction to the Medford Police utilizing body cameras?

Body cameras are a benefit to the police force and Medford citizens alike. The footage helps to remove any doubt and error that may exist and allows Medford officers to maintain their high standards of law enforcement. It also helps protect the people of Medford in potentially difficult situations. Protecting the police force and Medford residents is a win for everyone.

2. How do you/would you balance maintaining necessary funding for township services while still keeping taxes at a reasonable rate?

It is a matter of fiscal responsibility and judgment. Living in one of the highest taxed states in America, the last thing Medford residents need is even higher taxes. Council members must approach municipal finance as they would their own household or private business budgets — you can afford only so much and you must make judgments about what is “worth the money” with input from others in township management. Medford’s current town council has done an excellent job keeping township taxes at the same rate for the past five years while keeping (and in some cases even restoring) the vast majority of services. With this type of diligent approach to strategic long-term financial stewardship combined with a dedicated effort to reducing spending whenever possible, together we will protect Medford’s financial interests today and in the future.

Incumbent Mayor Chuck Watson

1. What is your reaction to the Medford Police utilizing body cameras?

I am proud that Council approved the purchase of body cameras for our police officers. Documenting the interactions our officers have with our residents, as well as others traveling through our town, will protect all parties involved and de-escalate situations involving our officers. There is little to dispute when an interaction is being recorded. People tend to act a little differently when your words and actions are being recorded. The data from the cameras is stored on a cloud-based system that makes it much easier, and more importantly faster, for our officers to log their information and access it when needed. In my tenure as a Councilman we have always been about transparency. Body cameras bring that transparency to our police force.

2. How do you/would you balance maintaining necessary funding for township services while still keeping taxes at a reasonable rate?

I was one of five new members of Medford town council that took office in January 2012. One of the first things we were tasked with was the budget process. We looked at every line, did it during meetings that were open to the public, and considered every penny that we spent as if it was our own. It is my desire that we continue to do our budget this way for as long as I hold office. My father taught me very early on in life to never spend more than you have and that too much debt will land you in financial trouble. That is how I look at Medford’s budget. We took office inheriting a budget deficit of over $6 million and by using these fiscally conservative principles municipal taxes have not increased in the last five years. This year there was actually a slight reduction. We have restored services to appropriate levels, continue to look at services yearly during the budget project, and increased spending on infrastructure, for example, by including millions of dollars in a road repair program. By continuing to manage our budget like my father taught me to manage mine, we will be able to maintain fiscal responsibility for many years to come.