WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents will be casting their votes for one of two mayoral candidates on Tuesday, Nov. 6: incumbent Robert Parisi or challenger Joe Krakoviak. Parisi is running for this third term as mayor, and Krakoviak has served on the Township Council since 2010. Both candidates discussed what they would do to move West Orange forward in sit-down interviews with the West Orange Chronicle.
Redevelopment is a topic of much discussion in West Orange, with several projects currently in development around town. In discussing the Essex Green and Executive Drive redevelopment project and the possibility of a Payment in Lieu of Taxes for the redevelopment area, Parisi said a PILOT is certainly not guaranteed to be granted, though one legally could be granted under redevelopment law. The owner of the property, Clarion Partners, has already said it will not seek a PILOT for the Essex Green portion of the redevelopment.
“That was never part of the conversation,” Parisi said in an interview with the Chronicle on Oct. 18. “We have to try to communicate it differently. It doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. We wanted a say in the process so the township could weigh in. There’s no nefarious goals.”
In discussing the types of redevelopment projects he wants to see in West Orange in the future, Parisi said he thinks a mix of commercial and residential property would be the best option.
“Big commercial properties are not realistic,” he said. “We’re not going to see big manufacturers come here. But we never want too much residential, so a mix of residential and retail would be a good thing. Having that energy is good; it all goes hand in hand. I think the projects in the valley and on Main Street maintain that balance.”
Krakoviak said in an Oct. 25 interview with the Chronicle that he is not opposed to redevelopment, but wants to make sure the deals made between the township and the redevelopers are not too generous to the redevelopers.
“You have to use it wisely,” Krakoviak said of redevelopment law and the possibility for tax abatements. “Don’t make the deal so generous for the redeveloper. We have to drive a hard bargain and minimize the impact on the taxpayers. We have to get the types of developments that the township needs.”
Krakoviak has not been a supporter of either the Essex Green or the Main Street redevelopment projects. He is in favor of what has been done so far on Central Avenue, because he believes it qualifies as an area in need; he does not believe Essex Green qualifies under redevelopment law as an area in need of redevelopment. Nevertheless, he would like to see more commercial redevelopment projects going forward and wants to hire a full-time town planner to assist with seeking out those commercial projects.
“We don’t have that now and I think it shows,” Krakoviak said, adding that West Orange’s proximity to St. Barnabas Medical Center could bring in business in the medical industry. “I would rather focus on commercial, to take advantage of medical research space and offices. A planner with economic development experience could help with that. That doesn’t mean I’m against redevelopment, because I’m not.”
Both candidates also addressed public safety concerns present in West Orange. Parisi talked about the safety of the roads in town and what the administration and council can do to continue making drivers and pedestrians more aware.
“We’re right in the center of the county and a lot of these roads are dangerous,” he said. “We have to focus on and work with the school areas because traffic doesn’t shy away from that.”
Parisi wants to place more solar-powered blinking stop signs and speed signs around town that will make it easier for both drivers and pedestrians to see the speed limits and other traffic signs.
“It’s very easy to go 40 miles an hour,” he said, adding that blinking solar-powered signs are good for the town fiscally, environmentally and for safety. “If we can get more of those signs it would be easier and cheaper than hardwiring lights on signs all around town.”
Krakoviak wants to see the town settle the contract with the police union, which expired last December.
“The longer you push it off, the more financially detrimental it will be to the town,” he said. “It’ll gain interest that you have to go back and pay from the past, and that could be trouble. Just get it done. I know time is used as a bargaining chip, but the longer it goes the worse it gets. I know we know what the police need, so I hope to work it out.”
As residents age, services provided to seniors become more important. Town officials and council members have been debating the creation of a senior citizen advisory board for several years, and both candidates shared their thoughts about it with the Chronicle. Parisi is opposed to creating an advisory board, while Krakoviak is in favor of the move.
“Can we do more? Yes, we can,” Parisi said. “But I don’t think creating boards is productive. That’s the council’s job. Our senior services employees are in a paid department. I don’t know that a structured board is realistic. That’s not to say we don’t want your input. If you want to contribute, reach out and get involved. We welcome that.”
Parisi said that one of the reasons he doesn’t want to create a senior citizen advisory board is because he doesn’t think a board should be advising a department that has a full-time employee in charge of senior services. But Krakoviak countered that an advisory board is only there to advise — not to supervise.
“We have to fix the problems that we already know exist,” he said. “It would only be the start with a senior advisory board. It would be modeled on the other ordinances that we already have in town.”
Aside from the transportation and communication issues that many seniors already say exist, Krakoviak said an advisory board would help solve other problems of which the township might not even be aware.
“Once we fix that, then we’ll find out what other issues need to be fixed,” he said. “We’ll know more about what they want.”
As taxes continue to rise in West Orange and around much of New Jersey, both candidates shared their ideas for how to stabilize, or possibly lower, taxes in the township.
“We have to repair roads and plow snow. I think we’ve kept the raises modest considering the really large employee-benefit costs. We’ve also maintained services,” Parisi said. “Municipalities are not able to raise revenue without raising taxes, but we might be able to keep them flat.”
Krakoviak said that one key way to stabilize taxes is to competitively bid all municipal contracts and put an end to no-bid contracts.
“Not raising taxes is a priority,” Krakoviak said. “We have to keep the town affordable. We can save half a million dollars by doing this.”
Krakoviak also wants to offset taxes by charging a small amount for the jitney service and selling advertisements for the outside of its buses. He also wants to verify residency to make sure jitney riders live in West Orange.
“It’s a great service, people really like it,” Krakoviak said. “But we have to subsidize it. We could also generate more revenue from enforcing collecting from parking meters. If we collect that it will generate more revenue.”