Cranbury candidates speak on the issues prior to general election on Nov. 3

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ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
Cranbury's Town Hall on 23 N Main St. during the afternoon on March 17.

Firefighter Joseph Buonavolonta (R) and Mayor Matt Scott (D) are on the ballot for when Cranbury residents vote in the general election for an open seat on the township committee come Nov. 3.

The township committee seat carries a three-year term.

Buonavolonta seeks a first term to the township committee. He has been a Cranbury resident for 12 years and a volunteer firefighter for 10 of those years at the Cranbury Volunteer Fire Company. Buonavolonta has worked for the Public Works Department of Woodbridge Township for about 28 years and grew up in the Port Reading section of Woodbridge. He also is a township zoning board member and a member of the Clock Winding Committee.

Scott is running for a second consecutive three-year term on the committee. He first earned his seat in 2017 as a candidate seeking public office for the first time. Scott was born in Princeton and raised in West Windsor and Plainsboro. He has been a Cranbury resident for more than 10 years and serves as liaison to the planning board and office of emergency management. Scott practices neurosurgery at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and is an assistant professor in the Physician Assistant Program at the Rutgers School of Health Professions.

In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the township committee, both candidates were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.

Why are you running for a seat on the township committee?

Buonavolonta: I love our town and community and feel the committee has stopped representing the whole community and focused on individuals and personal agendas. I don’t see party, I see friends and families.

I don’t want to see pot shops open on Main Street by the school, as Mayor Scott recommended. I don’t want to see taxpayer funds used for individual needs. We need to make decisions that consider everyone.

I am concerned that our leaders are not studying the issues and sufficiently preparing to guide us. At one meeting we hear the chief can’t be OEM head so the Democratic chair must be appointed. The very next meeting, we hear that the chief can be the OEM head, as has been the case for 30 years. There are many similar issues where a bit of homework would have prevented the situation.

Scott: In short, I am running for a second term because there is much work yet to be done. This past year has been a strange and unprecedented season of lockdowns, Zoom meetings, cancelled events, home schooling and social distancing. It has been a year that has unexpectedly tested my skills in crisis management. Luckily, as a former paramedic, and current neurosurgery physician’s assistant, those instincts never leave you.

Although it has been an honor serving as mayor in this past year there are still many things that I want to see happen for our town. Exciting and hopeful things like: getting our library built, revitalizing our downtown, bringing new voices into our civic conversation, increasing walkability and bikeability, improving how the town government communicates with its citizenry.

I ran for office three years ago because I wanted to help our town become an even greater place than it already was. I have only just started down that path. I am asking the voters of Cranbury for the chance to continue the work I have started to make our town a stronger, more vibrant and more welcoming place to visit and to live and work in.

Other than taxes, what are the two most pressing issues currently facing Cranbury Township? How would you address those issues as a committee member?

Buonavolonta: We need to be sure we continue to preserve farmland and our history. Together they help keep affordable housing needs low, residential growth in check and our preserve our heritage.

The other issue is our debt. We have taken on over $4 million for the lake and there are pending capital improvements and affordable housing coming in the next few years. We must focus on the wants and not the needs or we’ll risk our AAA bond rating increasing our costs.

Scott: Getting a freestanding public library built in Cranbury. A public library is more than a building filled with books. A free library is a foundational part of any and all free democratic societies. Our library will also function as a sorely needed community center and economic engine as it will draw pedestrians through our downtown area. We have been delayed long enough. We must find a way to get the Cranbury Public Library built.

Continuing the work of revitalizing and reimagining our downtown and small businesses. We need to help existing businesses stay and thrive while also luring new ones in. This past year, I have created the Economic Development Advisory Committee with the goal to help Cranbury figure out what kind of businesses we want to have in our town, how to attract them and how to keep them.

We have all seen over the past year how local and small businesses have been devastated by the pandemic and the often inept response from the federal government. It is therefore incumbent on us on the local level to help out our local businesses in any way that we can. The EDAC is a good first step in this effort. The EDAC will also serve as a booster and organizer of new and exciting cultural and recreational events in town.

What in your experience or background makes you prepared to face the challenges and issues of Cranbury Township?

Buonavolonta: I’m a member of the Cranbury Fire Company, Zoning Board, and clock winding committee, while also volunteering at school functions. I owned my own business, so I understand the impact of a dollar in spending. I don’t seek to represent one group, but everyone, and understand not everyone in town can afford to simply pay more in taxes.

Scott: My experience of having been on the township committee for the past two-and-a-half years and having been mayor for the past year, I believe are a testament to my preparation and readiness to serve Cranbury township for another three years on the Township Committee.

But allow me also to comment on the past year.

As the pandemic peaked here in New jersey in April, I found myself working in a hastily created COVID ICU in my hospital in Newark. I spent 12-14 hours a day treating the most critically ill COVID patients. I know firsthand what this disease can do to the human body and how deadly serious it is. Simultaneously, I served as mayor of Cranbury during the crisis. I, of course, did not do this singlehandedly.

I was aided and ably assisted by the emergency services of Cranbury (especially the Cranbury Police Department led by Chief Rickey Varga), Denise Marabello our township administrator, the township committee and of course our state and county OEM partners. Together we as a whole helped steward Cranbury through the worst of the pandemic.

In the era of COVID-19, as a member of the Township Committee, how would you help businesses affected by the pandemic, as well as bring new business into Cranbury? 

Buonavolonta: I ran my own business. I understand what it takes to attract businesses and what the small owners are thinking when they assess their new location. I understand the need to work with the Business Association, not take away from them, and partner with regional chambers of commerce. I am also looking forward to hearing the recommendations from the Economic Development Committee.

Scott: Please see my comments above on the EDAC and our need to help local, small and new businesses find their way forward in these unprecedented and trying times.

As the new normal with COVID-19 continues on, do you see warehousing truck traffic growth as an issue still facing Cranbury? If so, what would be your initial steps to finding solutions as a member of the township committee? If not, why?

Buonavolonta: We need to continue to press for Liberty Way and improvements to the Circle. We need to work to take trucks away from the neighborhoods.

If you look at our land, most lots available for warehousing are already developed or have at least gone before the Development Review Committee. Our increase in truck traffic will be negligible.

The bigger issue is avoiding residential growth. If we change zoning away from warehousing, then you are left with residential growth like Monroe. That would kill our school, tax structure and sense of community. I have friends in Montgomery who went through growth. For a house valued at $700,000, they pay over $20,000 in taxes. We can’t afford that in Cranbury.

Scott: Truck traffic is an issue that I will continue to work on with our neighboring municipalities. As residents of Central New Jersey, we all need to understand that increasing traffic, be it automobile or truck, is an issue that is not going to go away easily or quickly. I am a firm believer in organizing and dialoging with our neighboring municipalities with the goal of asking county, state and even federal stakeholders to assist us in finding a regional solution to these problems.