MONTGOMERY: Two incumbents in three-way race for two Township Committee seats

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By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY — A three-way race for two Township Committee seats is pitting incumbent Mayor Patricia Graham and Deputy Mayor Ed Trzaska, both Republicans, against Libertarian Party challenger Patrick Joseph McKnight in the Nov. 8 general election.
Mayor Graham and Mr. Trzaka are both seeking their third terms on Township Committee.
Mayor Graham has lived in Montgomery for 23 years, and Mr. Trzaska has lived in the township for 13 years. She is an attorney, and he is the director of Customer Insights at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Inc.
Mr. McKnight is a fourth-generation Montgomery Township farmer and business owner. He is the president of USAF Tree Service. He is also chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party.
The candidates may not agree on much else, but they do acknowledge that property taxes and fiscal constraints top the list of challenges facing Montgomery Township — at least, according to one of the questions asked of the candidates by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
Mayor Graham and Mr. McKnight agree that property taxes are too high, but then they part company.
Mayor Graham said that “fiscal constraints” remain as Township Committee’s primary challenge, and the township cannot add to that burden with unreasonable municipal taxes. The governing body must continue to budget responsibly and operate in a lean manner, she said, pointing to the refinancing of the township’s debt and keeping spending below 2005 levels.
“If I am re-elected, I will continue to work hard to accomplish those goals,” Mayor Graham said. “Montgomery must also manage its development wisely, balancing the need for tax ratables with the preservation of our town’s beautiful open spaces and farmlands.”
Mr. McKnight said that he is the only candidate who opposes more property tax hikes. While he noted that the school funding formula “is broken and must be fixed in Trenton,” the lack of fiscal responsibility at the municipal level “has made the situation worse.” He said he also wants to end one-party rule in Montgomery. The Republican Party holds all five seats on Township Committee.
For Mr. Trzaska, “the biggest challenge facing Montgomery is getting the most out of our limited financial resources.” The municipal budget continues to experience pressure because of unfunded state mandates and diminishing state aid, he said. “We need to protect taxpayers and ensure we stay below the 2-percent property cap.”
Another important issue is managing the township’s state-mandated obligation to provide affordable housing, he said. Most of the recent housing development in town has been due to the need to provide affordable housing, as required by the state, he said, adding that “we need to protect Montgomery and make sure any future development is modest and does not negatively impact our quality of life.”
Asked about changes in the goals or priorities to the municipal and capital budgets, Mayor Graham replied municipal budgeting should try to limit increases in municipal taxes “as much as possible,” while not sacrificing essential services — which Township Committee has accomplished.
“We should continue with that approach,” she said. “Our future budgets will also have to address our aging municipal facilities as we make decisions as to how to responsibly lead the township into the next few years.”
Mr. Trzaska said he did not believe any changes are necessary, because “our three governing principles continue to be doing more with less, protecting public health and safety services, and preserving Montgomery’s rural character.”
“Managing our operating and capital budgets is about using our limited resources wisely and investing in what matters most — our Police Department and roads. I believe we have found the right balance,” Mr. Trzaska said.
Mr. McKnight said that as a business owner, he understands the importance of a well-balanced operating budget. He said he would oppose any increase in discretionary spending, because that is the only way to help control property taxes at the municipal level.
“Montgomery should be more than just a place for people to live while their children are in school,” Mr. McKnight said. “It should be a place where people can afford to retire or start a family without paying $150,000 in property taxes over 10 years.”
For more information on the candidates and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey’s questionnaires, visit www.vote411.org. 