Meet the Candidates, Week 2: Mt. Laurel Township Council

Get to know the candidates on the Mt. Laurel Township ballot.

For the second installment of our three-part Meet The Candidates series, we asked: If elected, what would be your top priorities? How will you keep the lines of communication open with residents?

Sandra Pratt (Republican)

If elected, what would be your top priorities?
While much has been accomplished under the leadership of Mayor Irwin Edelson and Councilman Kurt Folcher, there is still much more work to be done.

If elected to Township Council, my first priority would be to devote my efforts to limiting overdevelopment. This can be accomplished in several ways. First, we must challenge the state to assist us with the cost of infrastructure necessitated by the building of high-density housing, which was court-ordered to meet affordable housing mandates.

In line with limiting overdevelopment, we must hold developers accountable for infrastructure needs brought on by the high-density development they bring to town. Mayor Edelson and Councilman Folcher, along with township officials, were able to secure funding from a developer to improve Union Mill Road. The initiative consists of elevating and repaving the road, which will lessen flooding that tends to occur during periods of heavy rainfall. Seeing this project to fruition is a definite priority of mine. The repaving of roadways in the township is of high interest to our residents. I will also work to ensure that an updated schedule of all township roads to be paved/repaved will be made readily available to residents on the township’s website.

To limit overdevelopment, we must also continue to pursue the acquisition of more open space. The St. John Neumann Monastery property that consists of 71 acres was our most recent acquisition. This property was being pursued by developers for the construction of 58 homes. I strongly support the township and their efforts to actively acquire more land that will be used as open space or recreation.

How will you keep lines of communication open with residents?
Maintaining lines of communication is of utmost importance to me. Many of our residents may not have the time to attend regular Council meetings. Before COVID-19, we hosted “coffees” as an alternative way to communicate with residents about specific problems in their communities. I am eagerly anticipating the day when we can resume those informative informal gatherings.

I would also continue offering virtual meetings, which enable us to obtain feedback from our residents on issues and concerns in their immediate area. Virtual meetings would be offered throughout the year. I also plan on attending township events so that residents have the opportunity to communicate with me directly. One can learn so much about residents’ problems and concerns just by attending community events and speaking with them.

Nikitas Moustakas, Fozia Janjua and Karen Cohen (Democrat)

If we have the honor of being elected to Mt. Laurel Township Council, we will have three top priorities for office: open communication with residents, accessibility and transparency, and financial responsibility.  

As longtime residents of Mt. Laurel, we know the difficult times faced by many residents during the dual crises of COVID-19 and the preceding economic fallout. The current Republican representatives on town council have been disconnected from the needs of its residents and are invisible in the face of a public health and economic crisis. Residents want to hear from their elected official regularly, not only when they need their votes.

We believe it is the responsibility of public officials to engage with the residents to bring the government closer to the people being represented. If elected, we pledge to radically improve communication to keep taxpayers informed and up to date. We will require town meetings to be transparent, available online and open to all. As the new town council members, we will make transparency a priority and aim to provide an open and transparent government at town hall.  

Similarly, we know that residents’ tax dollars are hard earned, and it is the job of town council to be doing all it can to make your life better. Under the current leadership, the Republicans on council have mismanaged our finances with a declining budget surplus (also known as a “rainy day fund”), which will be critically needed as tax revenues are on the decline due to the economic shutdown of the COVID-19 crisis. Their failure to build up that surplus will likely result in massive tax hikes. 

If elected, we will fight for improved oversight of our tax dollars. We plan to implement cutting-edge solutions to improve oversight and ensure your tax dollars are spent efficiently and effectively. We support a concept called Zero Based Budgeting, where each department starts their budget at zero and justifies every penny of tax dollar they want to spend before final approval. If elected, we will take Mt. Laurel into the future and will work bring more modern fiscal ideas to Mt. Laurel Town Hall.

We are committed Mt. Laurel residents who are devoted to community and transparency in town hall. If elected, we pledge to each bring their unique experience to make this township be the best place to live. We will work to make the council person position more accessible to the public and bring innovative thinking to the Township.  

Kurt Folcher (Republican)

If elected, what would be your top priorities?
A top priority for Mt. Laurel as I see it, is maintaining the town’s fiscal strength while providing quality services. This needs to be done without burdening our residents with excessive taxes and fees. Often when I speak to our residents, they rightly complain about the heavy expense of living in New Jersey.

Our job is to work within a budget that prevents the town of Mt. Laurel from contributing to that burden while providing quality services. Mt. Laurel currently boasts an AA Bond rating. This rating provides third-party validation that we have achieved this goal. I am happy to report that through the COVID-19 emergency, Mt. Laurel was able to keep township employees on the payroll. Our township employees were able to avoid the struggle of being furloughed, and township residents continued to receive all services during this national struggle. Our fiscal responsibility put the town in a position to weather this storm. The people of Mt. Laurel deserve a tip of the hat. After all, it is the people and employees of Mt. Laurel who make it the Number One town in the state, and 16th in the country to live in (Money Magazine ranking).

How will you keep lines of communication open with residents?
Prior to the quarantine, Mayor Edelson, Deputy Mayor Bobo and I had held once a month coffees at neighborhoods throughout the town. Residents would invite us into their home to chat with neighbors. We looked forward to these face-to-face meetings as it’s not easy for people to get to Town Council meetings on Monday nights to share their issues. These coffees would provide the opportunity to learn about specific things that needed to be addressed in each neighborhood. I will continue these coffees in the future and can continue to use Zoom meetings if needed.

We have attend HOA meetings, which also give us insight into residents’ concerns. We will continue to use these opportunities as a way to connect with our residents.

We are always accessible via email on the Township’s website. We will continue to answer residents as quickly as possible with the best available information.

Irwin Edelson (Republican)

If elected, what would be your top priorities?
There is a reason why Money Magazine ranked Mt. Laurel the 16th best places to live in America: hard township-focused work by this team and the people who work for Mt. Laurel. If re-elected, I look forward to continuing our successes and work on new initiatives. I am committed to always supporting our great first responders and jewels like our amazing library.

The State finally has a plan in place to redo the Route 73/Church Road/Ramblewood Parkway intersection. This long-time-coming project is critical for future traffic flow. I will work to keep that on track. We have developed an approvable plan with developer funding for the Union Mill Road flooding issues: I will make sure it gets done. I will also continue to pursue our county and state elected officials, including the state DOT, to maintain and upgrade all the state highways and county roads that run through Mt. Laurel, including the modernization of the Route 295/Route 38 interchange.

We will work to keep municipal taxes low while maintaining quality key services: Police, EMS, Public Works, garbage removal, Parks and Recreation, etc. In addition, continuing community events such as the Fall Festival, concerts, movies, free ice cream and fishing with a police officer, free rabies clinics for cats and dogs, and free paper shredding and hazardous waste drop-off.

We must continue to preserve open space in order to protect our environment, to prevent everything from getting developed and to provide for more recreational space for our residents. To date, we have acquired over 1,700 acres of open space.

We have earned an AA Bond rating for the township, which enables us to pay lower interest rates on our borrowings and we receive clean annual audit reports. I will ensure that we run Mt. Laurel efficiently and with good financial stewardship to maintain our high bond rating and keep local taxes in check.

How will you keep lines of communication open with residents?
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us uniquely aware of how important it is to have alternate forms of communication readily available for residents. I plan to further modernize the Mt. Laurel Township website to make it easier for our residents to get information and ask questions of Town Council or township departments. 

In addition, we will continue to hold Town Hall-style meetings over venues like Zoom where residents can attend and ask questions or comment on problematic issues within their neighborhoods.