Four candidates seek two seats on Middletown Township Committee

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MIDDLETOWN – Four candidates are seeking two three-year terms on the Middletown Township Committee in the Nov. 5 election. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The candidates are Republicans Kevin Settembrino and Rick Hibell, and Democrats Jeana Sager and Sean Byrnes.

Settembrino and Hibell are currently serving on the Township Committee. Settembrino could not be reached for comment.

Asked to cite accomplishments from his current term, Hibell said, “This Township Committee is very proud of all we have accomplished in 2019. As promised, we took a close look at our budget and were able to provide our taxpayers with more than a 2.5% decrease in the tax rate.

“We have worked to streamline different departments that will not only save taxpayers money, but provide them with a more efficient government without sacrificing our level of services.

“For the first time, the Township Committee was able to provide residents with ‘mobile town halls’ across town. We understand most residents are unable to visit Town Hall during normal business hours, so we brought Town Hall to them.

“We hosted our two summer Township Committee meetings in Ideal Beach and Lincroft, once again providing residents the ability to have an easier access to the committee and our great staff.

“One of the decisions I don’t doubt for a minute was the township’s withdrawal from the affordable housing debacle the state has left us in. After years of negotiating in good faith, special interests groups will no longer dictate to us on how best to provide affordable housing to those who most need it.

“As I have said many times, this does not mean we will turn our back on residents in need, but that we as a governing body, elected by the people, will make those decisions, not bureaucrats in Trenton,” Hibell said.

Asked what he would like to accomplish if re-elected, Hibell said, “For next year, we will continue to look through the lens of the taxpayer and ensure that we practice the fiscal discipline our residents expect.

“In an effort to keep Middletown one of the safest towns not just in New Jersey, but in the United States, we will work with our incredible first responders to provide them the resources they need to provide that excellence we all know them to possess. We are also working toward providing the first responders of our town with a preferential treatment to receive affordable housing.

“We have the world’s largest all-volunteer fire department, but we find that because of New Jersey’s high cost of living they are unable to volunteer as much as they wish. I’m incredibly excited for 2020 and look forward to continuing to serve the town I grew up in and decided to raise my children in,” Hibell said.

Asked why she is seeking a seat on the governing body, Sager said, “I am exhausted with the stale, cautious conversation by our current committee in Middletown. Our incumbents continue to raise taxes, ignore the huge division of our communities (i.e., north /south sides) and sterilize conversation about some of the most vulnerable populations in our township.

“My opponents’ campaign signs read ‘Vote Taxpayers First,’ but in the five years I have lived here my taxes have only increased. For families like mine, a single mother of three paying nearly $14,000 a year in property taxes, it has become cost-prohibitive to live here.

“We have over 4,000 residents who hail from different countries and our current leaders act like they don’t matter. These sentiments are welling up here as our own mayor recently came out (against) sanctuary cities.

“In the current climate of anti-immigrant and racist sentiment, I don’t want our children or our loved ones to experience this kind of hate. At minimal, we should be having these conversations.

“Middletown ranks No. 17 out of the top 30 heroin using communities in New Jersey, but our incumbents want to keep sterilizing that conversation. If we keep doing what we are doing, our youth will keep dying.

“I want to give fair voice to every resident. I want you to know I see you. I see our young, our old, those struggling and those who want and deserve a community that recognizes and values all of its residents,” Sager said.

Asked what she would like to accomplish as a member of the governing body, Sager said, “We have to address the cost-prohibitive tax increases that are crippling our residents. … We need a forensic audit, which would be my priority, and that way we have full transparency. … Despite repeated requests, (committee members) have refused to televise or live stream Township Committee meetings. We need to fix this. Middletown belongs to its residents, not to the Township Committee.

“Finally, we need to address overdevelopment in our township, specifically focused on the building and rebuilding of southern portions of Middletown.

“We have some huge projects moving forward that give developers sweetheart deals and leave taxpayers holding the bag that is filled with increased traffic, higher taxes and overcrowded schools. All this while corridors of Route 36 remain neglected and conversation about open space preservation is ignored,” Sager said.

Asked why he is seeking a seat on the Township Committee, Byrnes said, “For the last 10 years, one party has exercised complete control, with no representation from any other party. In fact, these ‘elected’ officials never exercise independent judgment.

“They all vote the same way on every single issue for 10 years. Under no circumstance, regardless of which party is in control, is that a recipe for good government. Inevitably, the interests of the party take priority over the interests of the people.

“I have served on this Township Committee and when I did, I brought a fresh perspective, which was rooted in fiscal accountability and not the needs of the dominant political party. I would welcome the opportunity to do that again. I would welcome the opportunity to make our meetings transparent by videotaping them and putting them on the town’s website, something the current ‘public servants’ refuse to do.

“I would welcome the opportunity to integrate services with our Board of Education and minimize the duplication of effort and expense that has occurred for years. The Township Committee relies upon a form of government that may have worked when this was a rural farming community, but is no longer responsive to the needs of a modern, 65,000-person municipality,” Byrnes said.

Asked what his goals would be as a member of the governing body, Byrnes said, “Transparency, make our meetings accessible by televising them. I introduced a resolution to do that in 2008 and the Township Committee refused to do so, and continues to refuse to make their decision-making accessible to the residents they serve.

“Stop overdevelopment. Our Township Committee has bypassed the normal planning processes by using the redevelopment laws of this state to declare certain properties in need of redevelopment, even though they clearly fall outside the definition of areas in need of redevelopment.

“Their close ties to developers has produced a never-ending stream of new construction, leaving us with crowded schools and less open space.

“Joint services. We have multiple public entities in this town; township government, the Board of Education and a township sewerage authority. Each entity has a heavy burden of administrative expense. Each entity controls property, buildings, vehicles and fields.

“Rather than combining these resources and sharing services, they continue to operate independent of one another, hiring expensive professionals and producing an ever-increasing tax burden. We need to consolidate their services where feasible,” Byrnes said.