Cindy Matute-Brown has a
Vision for West Orange
Anyone who wishes to make the government work for residents in town must work with the Mayor. As a Councilmember, Cindy has been convincing, advocating, cajoling, arguing with, and occasionally agreeing to work with the Mayor on initiatives that help residents and move our town forward. That’s what an elected official should do on behalf of their constituents.
Cindy ran for Council in 2018 saying that the town needs a full time planner to create cohesive development in town. To-date, the administration has failed to establish the position in any credible way. They have promoted people who are unqualified for the position and to this day have failed to present a cohesive plan for development and redevelopment in our town. Cindy’s vision for West Orange goes beyond development, although that’s certainly part of it. In this campaign, Cindy is going to talk about detailed proposals and plans and ask each voter to decide if we want her experience, leadership, vision, and dedication in our town government. There are three critical components that our town needs to thrive, to remain reasonably affordable, and to continue to be the place where we all choose to have our families. Cindy will manage our tax burden, manage pollution and our environment, and will plan development so that every part of our town can experience growth and prosperity.
1. Managing Our Tax Burden
First, managing our tax burden is something that every single candidate will talk about. Cindy understands how much the municipality controls and that approximately 25% of our property tax burden originates from the Mayor’s budget. The majority of it (approximately 75%) comes from our school budgets and from Essex County.
a. Create Task Force Committees to Give Residents a Greater Voice
Residents in West Orange may feel helpless in the face of rising property tax rates. The Administration has effectively no working relationship with Essex County and does not effectively advocate for increased funding for our schools. To neglect those relationships and opportunities to attract resources for our residents is a dereliction of duty that our municipal officials have ignored for decades. We currently have an ineffective liaison between the town and the school board. We need a priority task force to identify potential savings and collaboration or futher partnership with all other governmental entites, including state offices, county government, and our local school board. This task force needs to be empowered to identify resources that the town and the school system could more efficiently use to greater benefit of town residents, needs to identify areas for advocacy with the county government, and needs to prioritize communication with state officials so that they will fully fund the school funding formula. These things can all happen, but neither the current administration, nor any other candidate is committed to this kind of work.
West Orange and other towns in Essex County have no role and provide no input into the county budget. That must change if our municipal government will ever effectively manage our property tax burden. Cindy will work to put together a group of mayors in Essex County, who can approach Essex County to identify savings and synergies in the county budget. That would be a powerful expression of many residents’ number one concern at the County level, in one place where it can actually make a difference. Similarly, and perhaps more promising, Cindy is already talking to neighboring towns' mayors to form a coalition to approach our New Jersey state legislature about the application and funding for the state's school funding formula. Increases to that forumla will inevitably result in reduced pressure on our over-reliance on property taxes. Our richly diverse town deserves increased state funding and the state should reexamine the way it applies the funding formula to our schools. The state is effectively shifting a burden onto town residents that should be distributed more widely throughout the state. We need a Mayor who will nurture relationships with mayors in nearby towns so that we can effectively advocate for our communities. Cindy digs in and can get this done for us. She has proven it during her 4 years on Council.
b. Debt Service Reduction
Another critical aspect of managing our tax burden is managing the town’s debt obligations. Neither the current administration, nor the other candidates for Mayor have any plan to manage our town’s debt. Cindy will implement a debt service reduction plan, modeled on similar efforts made by neighboring towns. In the last 12 years, the Mayor’s plan appears to have been: sell land to developers in order to create properties that the town can then tax. That plan can work for a while, but at the expense of green spaces, and it has no long term possibility of success. Eventually we will run out of development opportunities. Cindy will put us on a transparent plan to reduce the town’s debt while also generating additional revenue from the prime properties we have acquired and from the opportunities presented by downtown redevelopment.
2. Leading on Environment
Second, West Orange is ideally situated to be a leading community for the environment. The Mayor of West Orange has a duty to our residents to prepare for the impacts of climate change. West Orange can be a leader among municipalities as we work to preserve our environment and begin to limit and undo the damage that human activities are causing. On a municipal level, we need to do much more than just green space preservation and strengthening our tree ordinance and enforcement. We must look at our energy consumption and reconsider the sources for our energy. We need ultimately to phase out fossil fuel consumption. To start, we need to know how much energy we consume as a municipality. New Jersey will conduct an audit of all municipal and school buildings that we identify, will tell us how we can conserve energy, and how to achieve cost savings for our community in the process. We need a leader in our government who will engage on these issues. Right now and for at least the last two decades we have not had that type of vision in our municipal government. We need to think about investment in renewable energy and how that can pay us, either monetarily with reduced energy bills, or environmentally with reduced carbon emissions. West Orange has an opportunity to be a leader as we transition New Jersey toward a better future.
3. Smart, Cohesive Development
West Orange needs and deserves to have a full time, fully qualified town planner to create a holistic, realistic plan to improve unity and cohesiveness of our town. Many people in town have heard about the prospect of a film production studio coming to downtown, we all know about Rock Spring, and the town has also acquired Crestmont Country Club. We need a cohesive plan for these properties - to understand where we can best invest for revenue streams and quality of life here in town. The area around the zoo is seeing development and we will likely see an influx of new residents there on Northfield Avenue. We need to be ready for them with traffic flow, school space, and other services that help make our town the wonderful place that it is. All three of these things - downtown development, acquisition and operation of Rock Spring, and Crestmont - fit together, but we need a candidate with energy, dedication, experience in government and, most of all, leadership capacity to maximize the potential of our town.
a. Residents Deserve a Greater Voice
For downtown areas near the Edison Museum, areas near the Valley Arts district, and for Rock Spring, Green Acres applications, and opportunities for renewable power development, Cindy will host meetings, called Charrettes, for residents and the new administration to further discuss the incredible opportunities we have in our town. We have so much talent on our town and we all deserve to have a voice in the growth and development of West Orange. No more opaque, siloed decision making that currently plagues our town. We need coherent, open planning to manage our tax burden, to preserve and improve our environment, and to unify our community in preparation for our future.
Cindy has a vision for West Orange that, for the first time in decades, will make West Orange a leader in New Jersey. We need our municipal government to be outward-looking if it is to truly work on behalf of our residents. Cindy has a vision for smart development, for environmental preservation, and for fiscal discipline. Each of these things will improve the lives of every resident in our town. Cindy is the only candidate in this field who has the vision, the leadership ability, and the dedication to residents to achieve a better future in West Orange.