We have a great town council race going on in Moorestown. However, there are some interesting discussions, that could apply to many other towns. The Republicans perpetually run on one platform: taxes, taxes, taxes. Although they claim otherwise, years and years of Republican control have led to some growth problems, significant decline of the downtown retail area, strained services and overcrowding of the schools. Don’t get me wrong – Moorestown is a fantastic town, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Many of us just know that we can continue to improve.
Two years ago, the citizens finally got tired of a do-nothing council, and voted in three Democrats. This resulted in the first ever Democrat majority for Moorestown. This new majority actually came with a backbone, and felt obliged to deal with some poor fiscal management. Tax assessments were way overdue, pensions not properly funded, and continuous raiding of reserve funds as a general revenue source. The Democrats demonstrated bold leadership and raised the municipal tax by 15%, because they felt obliged to actually balance revenue and expenses. Of course there has been the predictable flak, but I really admire the courage of Kevin Aberant, Jon Eron, and Ann Segal. They did what they firmly believed was right, although very unpopular. The next year, when they had a chance to actually plan the budget, a very modest 2% increase in the municipal taxes was required. Meanwhile, during the Republican domination, overall property taxes skyrocketed, because of stress on the public schools. Asleep-at-the-wheel leadership did nothing while huge developments were built, stressing schools, roads, and services.
This year, the Democrats came across a very sharp candidate, and chose to only sponsor one candidate, despite having two council positions open. This candidate, Seth Broder, has gotten behind all the financial shell games, and is taking it right to the do-nothing Republican council incumbents, running for re-election. This is the big learning that can be extended elsewhere. Seth has continued to assert, with well-researched numbers that the taxes were kept low artifically by tricks, smoke and mirrors. The only thing that the Republicans could really claim as an accomplishment was low taxes, and now that seems to be an empty achievement. There has continuous revelation that the Republicans neglected and raided, just to avoid unpopular tax increases. It would have taken courage to go to the voters and make the case that the citizens needed to invest in their communities, but that would have required true leadership. Instead they annually raided municipal reserves, including the water-sewer reserve. So expenses continually exceeded revenue, but they could pull off the appearance of maintaining a tight ship. As a result, Moorestown now has a strained infrastructure from unchecked development, and a seriously depleted reserve to deal with those annoying, decaying water mains, pumping stations etc. Not sexy, exciting stuff, but it’s where real leadership comes in, and pretenders just talk.
The main message to those outside of Moorestown: don’t let the Republican dominate this tax and spend issue. As Seth Broder did, peeling off just a layer or two reveals poor fiscal management, and fiscal shell games that mislead voters. Take it to them. They love to paint Democrats as tax and spend, but Republicans nationally have proven that they love to cut taxes and spend even more than the Democrats, and finally, Republicans in Moorestown have been exposed as loving to raid “rainy-day” reserves, and continue to spend.
Part Two will be on the Republican history of no-bids services, and having no interest in finding competitive costs for municipal services (such as health care for municipal employees). Again, more lessons that can apply to many other New Jersey communities where the Republicans are better at rhetoric and smoke and mirrors, than real municipal management.