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Candidates Agree United Water Property is the No. 1 Issue

Philosophically aligned on most of the hot-button issues, 'Candidates Night' saw little controversy and much agreement.

The residents of New Milford face an interesting challenge when they go to the polls on November 6. On the hot-button issues of the United Water property and flood mitigation, all four council candidates are philosophically aligned.

Nearly 100 people filled the cafeteria of the David E. Owens Middle School Wednesday to attend SOD's (Stop Over Development) first "Candidates Night," moderated by the League of Women Voters.

Although the audience asked the candidates a variety of questions, the United Water property and flood mitigation dominated the evening and seeped into almost every answer to every question. At a disadvantage was former councilman, and current candidate, Peter Rebsch who could not state his position regarding the United Water property because he sits on the Zoning Board and is currently hearing Hekemian's site plan application.

The recusal of Council President Howard Berner and Councilman Austin Ashley from discussing the topic of the United Water property prompted SOD member John DeSantis to question whether Berner and Ashley can "unrecuse" themselves since the entire mayor and council have subsequently made statements about the property.

Former councilman and candidate Michael Putrino, also the only New Milford native on the ticket, is the only candidate who could freely speak to the issue. He said that if elected he would pursue the purchase of the property.

In talking about Hekemian's proposed development of a 70,500 sq. ft. supermarket, 4300 sq. ft bank, 221 unit townhouse and four-story parking garage, Putrino said, "It doesn't belong here."

Regarding the issue of flood mitigation, Berner proposed purchasing the United Water property and model the mitigation of that property on Garfield. Garfield, a city adjacent to the Passaic River, received grants to install nine underground retention basins, capable of holding 2.25 million gallons of water, to divert water away from the Passaic River during flooding situations and release it back at low tide. Berner informed the audience that the grants writer who secured the grants for Garfield, Marlene Casey, is also New Milford's grants writer. Ashley and Putrino also supported this plan, as well as Rebsch.

With the exception of Rebsch, the candidates agreed that the application before the Zoning Board should run its course. Berner, Ashley and Putrino do not support rezoning.

Breaking party lines by stressing his anti-rezoning position, Berner said, "I work for you people. I don't work for the Republican Party."

"There can be no compromise," he added.

Ashley said that he does not support rezoning and has been opposed to every Hekemian plan. Reiterating his position, he said, "The lesser of two evils is still evil."

Should the United Water property become available for the town to purchase, the borough would have to bond to purchase the property before any grants could be applied for. However, when bonding, the town would have to put forth 10 percent of the purchase price before it could begin the process of applying for grants.

Berner explained that property acquisition is not part of the Open Public Meetings Act and, therefore, all discussion takes place in closed session. Upon the recent release of the January 2011 closed session minutes, Berner said he is on record as supporting the purchase of that property, but could not garner a majority of support. 

Putrino challenged Berner on this issue by asking why he did not propose a motion to purchase. Although not on the council at the time that the purchase of the United Water property was before the council, Ashley said that the town should have bought the property and the fact that they didn't "goes to the issue that they have no plan."

The candidates were also in agreement that New Milford's COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) obligation could be allocated to other areas in town. COAH is the crux of Hekemian's argument before the Zoning Board based on the fact that the property was designated by the 2004 master plan as the location where New Milford will satisfy it's affordable housing obligations.

New Milford's current Round 2 COAH obligation is 11 units. The town's Round 3 obligation, which is currently in limbo, brings the number of units to 40.

Ashley and Putrino suggested Brookchester as a viable location for fulfilling the town's COAH obligation while Berner suggested looking at rehabilitating foreclosed properties and satisfy the town's COAH obligation by utilizing them as group homes.

Regarding the town's need to have a viable field that will not flood, all four candidates agreed with Berner who said that the United Water property is the ideal place for a multi-purpose field as long as the Garfield model is followed--retention tanks that can retain over 2 million gallons of water and release it back to the Hackensack River.

Putrino added that a joint agreement between the town and the Board of Education (BOE) to rehabilitate other fields would serve the town.

"We have an obligation to upkeep and maintain our fields and build a field outside of a flood zone," he said.

Since all four candidates are either on the council, or have previously served, Lori Barton, SOD Communication Chair, asked each if they do, or did they ever, accept taxpayer health benefits. Berner said that he does receive town health benefits and plans to continue his participation if re-elected.

Rebsch said he did not accept tax payer health benefits when he served and does not support it. Ashley does not  receive health benefits from the borough of New Milford, nor does he support it. Both Rebsch and Ashley support a resolution to end councilmembers from receiving health care benefits at the expense of the taxpayer.

Putrino said that he did receive benefits when he served as a councilman and agrees that if elected he would look into it.

Residents were also curious about the candidates views on lowering taxes. All agreed that should the proposed development of the United Water property be approved, taxes will rise based on the need to expand the schools, improve the infrastructure, increase police, and hire teachers.

Ashley broke discord in the area of taxes. It is his position that taxes are controlled at the local level and the budget should be gone through line item by line item to find cost savings for the taxpayer.

"You have to be able to afford to live in this town," he said.

In distinguishing his position, Putrino said, "I feel there is a void in leadership in the current governing body."

newmilford1967 October 18, 2012 at 12:22 PM
If Mr Berner works for the people of New Milford why is he running under TEAM SUBRIZI they are evil .You should of run independent.My trust is not in you.
Lori Barton October 18, 2012 at 12:28 PM
I did not get the chance to ask Mr. Berner my final question: I sent a letter on 4/19/12 & asked that the taxpayer funded health benefits for the M&C be discussed at the 4/23 meeting. It was listed on the agenda. But in his role as Council President, Berner sets the agenda & refused to even discuss this. My letter pointed out that NM could save approximately $100,000 per year by not giving our part time elected officials, who already receive stipends, a benefits package that costs $20,000 each. Mr. Berner, why would you not even discuss this? Why should I have to be in attendance at a meeting to have this addressed? Don't you consider saving the taxpayers $100,000 per year significant enough to discuss?
miriam pickett October 18, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Congratulations to all who gave up their evening to attend last night's meeting. The candidates were forthcoming and there was very little political posturing. The questions from the audience encompassed more than just questions about the UW property. The League of Women Voters moderator, Louise Williams, kept the answers from becoming monologues and we appreciate all her efforts. As election day is only a few weeks away, please take the time to do your research and vote. New Milford is a case study of how democracy works and that "all politics are local."
NewMilfDadMakinEndsMeet October 18, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Pardon me Mrs. Newmilford1967, but aren't you posturing here? And trying to mislead those of us who have not made a 100% choice on which candidate will get our votes on November 6? I may not be a long-time resident like many of you who comment here on the Patch, but I was here last year, and know the difference between the team that ran under the Mayor's name then and the two teams that are running now. How about folks like you keep political affectation off this useful news medium. Last year you and folks like you were pitiful on the NJForum site. Let's keep this one USEFUL. It's very obvious to SERIOUS New Milf citizens that there is NO team Subrizi anymore. And l am very glad I attended last night's SOD Candidate's Night to learn many of the truths where I was very much mislead in the past. SOD team - thank you for putting this together. And to my neighbors, I loved the Stop FOD signs! Let's vote to put the field where it belongs. Near the High School. And Mrs. NewMilf'67 - try your best to actually be appropriate on here. Those really seeking NEWS and INFORMATION will greatly appreciate it.
Ulises October 18, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I think last night was great and I look forward to next year's debate. My question to the candidates pertained to the police shooting range adjacent to our kid’s field and along the Hackensack River. I asked them if they’d support a resolution to enclose the shooting range since its wide open along the river and I found out last night it’s accessible via the town’s tree farm too. Please don’t think I’m trying to disparage our police force because I think they do a fantastic job but I’ve been trying all year to make this happen but the Chief is not on board. All four candidates agreed to follow up on this issue. Here’s a true story on why we need to enclose the shooting range. About two years ago my neighbors and I were on a boat ride and we found a dead snapping turtle. As we got closer there was a bullet hole in this turtle (I have a picture of this in an old cell phone of mine). A week later (btw, we’re always on the river), we found a dead deer, near the range, but no bullet hole spotted (the turtles had a field day eating it up as the week pasted). <continue>
Ulises October 18, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Here's where it gets crazy... and thank God I wasn't on this boat ride... my neighbor is on a boat ride by the shooting range and a police officer was shooting at the tall grass in the river and bullets whizzed through the other side of the tall grass and, almost hits him. He starting screaming and as he turned the bend the officer noticed him and the potential 'accident' he created... the officer was very apologetic and my neighbor left it at that... I tell him all the time can you imagine if I was on the boat that day - I think the range would be enclosed by now... This story was shared with our Mayor, she forward it to the Chief and an investigation was launched to confirm the story amongst my neighbors and me. After questioning us separately they realized we were telling the truth but the Chief refuses to enclose this range (their investigation started in Feb-12). I’m only trying to avoid an accident that can cost the town dearly.
Rick October 18, 2012 at 03:03 PM
In all fairness to the NMPD, the internal investigation regarding the reckless '10 shooting at the rifle range, determined that it could not verify that a police officer was involved in the incident, which is true. In fact, multiple keys were distributed to various agencies and anyone could have fired those shots. The locks have since been changed. Regardless, please view this video, 'Shootout At the New Milford Corral', which will validate the threat that does exist. Footnote: I sent this to Mayor Subrizi, asked if this was really necessary and did not receive a reply: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7kRkJH8Adg&feature=plcp
CB October 18, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Mayor Subrizi did not send a reply???? I'm shocked! NOT!!
Darlene October 18, 2012 at 03:37 PM
I have always found it very disconcerting to be sitting in the stands on a lovely spring day watching my kids play their softball games to the tune of gun fire in the background. Thank you very much, Ulises for raising this issue.
Howard Berner October 18, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Lori...As the Council discovered this summer, the Borough Administrator sets the adenda, so I never blocking anything. Also, not all members of the Mayor & Council utilitze the coverage, so the savings would be well less than $100,000.
Anthony October 18, 2012 at 04:14 PM
To build on the theme of creative ways to pay for things and generate revenue for the town, other towns that have invested in enclosed shooting ranges, have opened up memberships to residents. The police of course get first priority, but there is no reason that with proper controls and liability issues addressed, the general shooting public could not help subsidize an enclosed range. I would gladly pay to shoot in New Milford, rather than going to Jersey City, Belleville, etc.
CB October 18, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Howard, let's be honest here. The minutes of 4/23/12 clearly show that you chose not to discuss this issue. The Borough Administrator included this on the agenda while you and Mayor Subrizi chose to not discuss it. You're right that not all members utilize the coverage or else we would be looking at a savings of $140,000 (as far as I know, the only 2 who are not utilizing these benefits are the Mayor and Councilman Ashley). But this is an issue that deserves to be discussed in an OPEN PUBLIC FORUM. If you are representing your constituents and not yourself, then why has this not been addressed?
Lori Barton October 18, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Thank you CB! So, Mr. Berner, how do you answer this?
AML October 18, 2012 at 06:52 PM
A big round of applause to all of NM residents who took the time out from their busy lives to hear the 4 candidtates running for town council. A great big thanks to Louise Williams and her assistant/timekeeper from The League of Women Voters. The event ran smoothly and all of the candidates were cordial and diplomatic. I would hope that each resident takes the time to perhaps do further research into the important issues facing our town before clicking the lever on election day.
AML October 18, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Uli....I remember that you did bring this up this year at a Mayor & Council meeting and Mayor Subrizi said that she would look into it. I guess you have to remind her again at the next M & C meeting. You mentioned that the Police Chief is not on board with the issue of enclosing the shooting range. Could you please advise us why he is not in support of your idea? Does he have any other proposal, or, has this subject been dismissed/placed on a back burner? Additionally, may I also ask who would be responsible in the event that a fatality occurs, since all appropriate parties have been notified in advance of the danger involoved, & no parties as of yet have taken any appropriate action?
Ulises October 18, 2012 at 07:32 PM
AML, the mayor did follow through after that M&C meeting back in January and he told the Mayor we have over 60 years of proven safety record, which I agreed and even mentioned that at the meeting. That's when I unleashed this story to her, that i posted here, she passed it on, and I received a call the next day from a Lt, etc... Money was the reason I believe, yet the town in a few months spend $5k for a perk test, $5k for FoD engineers, $5k to study rezoning the UW property, it's going to cost another $5k for the planner to issue his rezoning ordinance since they want to 'Gamble' on the making it 'commercial' and the M&C passed last month a motion to spend $8k to knock down a few trees in front of the high school....???????
Tomodachi San October 19, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Your words are not worth reading. If you must display your emotions, please try to keep up with the intelligence level. Or preferably, be quiet.
David Bednarcik October 19, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Sorry I missed the meeting last night. Is there a list of those councilmen / woman and their positions?
Tomodachi San October 19, 2012 at 01:38 AM
As in the picture and politically, the men on the left are Democratic councilman Austin Ashley and candidate Michael Putrino. The men on the right are Republican councilman Howard Berner and candidate (zoning board member also) Peter Rebsch. I do not know for a fact where they stand on FOD and SOD. We're talking FACTS - not hyperbole. Although I do see political opportunism here.
Tomodachi San October 19, 2012 at 01:44 AM
NewMilfDadMakeinEndsMeet: Please excuse my words at the bottom of your article. I most assuredly directed them to newmilford1967. But, I would hope you might have already realized that.
Lori Barton October 19, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Mr. Berner, I am still waiting for a reply. If you want people to vote for you, then you should be responsive to your constituents' questions. Why did you opt to not discuss this in a public session as I requested? Again, with a potential savings to the borough of $100,000, this is not a frivolous matter. The fiscally responsible decision would have been to explore this. Perhaps very valid reasons to continue this coverage would have been brought forth. Or, perhaps it would have been decided that government benefits should only be provided to full time employees, not part time elected officials who already receive stipends. Medical benefits being provided to our local elected officials are a luxury that a small town like New Milford can no longer afford.

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