The four candidates for West Deptford’s open township committee seats went before the public Tuesday night in a public forum moderated by West Deptford Patch Local Editor Matt Skoufalos and South Jersey Times reporter Jason Laday at the RiverWinds Community Center.
The moderators fielded prepared questions and those from audience members on everything from economic development to the transparency of the budget process to dealing with abandoned houses in the township.
Democratic candidates James Robinson Jr. and Adam Reid spoke about the negativity surrounding recent West Deptford politics; their Republican counterparts Jeff Hansen and Jerry Maher spoke about moving the township forward and “flat-out lies” they claimed their opponents were telling.
“I just want whoever gets into office to work together,” said Angela Derocini, a 30-year resident of the township. “The negativity has reached to the soccer fields and the playgrounds, and it’s even between kids. It’s very sad.”
Derocini said it was unnecessary for the sides to attack each other, and that she heard no solutions concerning Red Bank Estates, where she resides.
Although both parties saw eye to eye on matters like improving the township recreational infrastructure and the importance of adding new business, they had two completely different messages on the issue of taxes.
Although Hansen and Maher claimed West Deptford taxes increased in 2013 due to school taxes and county tax increases, Robinson and Reid claimed county taxes have gone down 27 cents and local taxes are up a net 6 cents.
The two sides couldn’t even agree on how much taxes have increased. Robinson and Reid claim taxes increased about $500 for the average home.
“I live in an average home, maybe slightly above average, and my taxes went up $268,” Maher said. “Jim lives in an average home and I know his taxes didn’t go up $550. That’s a flat-out lie.”
Derocini was going home to thoroughly analyze her tax bill following the debate.
George Austin, a 30-year West Deptford resident, knows what his taxes look like, although he didn’t want to accuse either side of lying.
“Someone would say one thing and the other person says the exact opposite,” Austin said. “They’re shading it the way they want. I think all four strongly believed in what they were saying. I just hope whoever wins realizes they didn’t get 100 percent of the vote and that they represent everyone, even the people who didn’t vote for them.
"Likewise, I hope the people who don’t win continue to help those who did run the township and make this a better community," he said. "Normally they don’t want to do that because it means the other people will probably win again. It’s very frustrating.”
Robinson and Reid’s three-point plan calls for the appointment of a Director of Economic Development via a shared services arrangement with Glassboro or Collingswood. Hansen and Maher prefer a committee of local business owners.
Regardless of how they’d like to jumpstart economic development, they also agree the township should be open to inviting all types of business in.
Hansen and Maher are also calling for an efficiency study of township government that Maher estimated could cost between $30,000 and $70,000.
“It might not be something we do the first year, but it’s something we have to do,” Maher said.
Robinson and Reid prefer to go straight to the employees.
“We can do it with the department heads. I’d meet with them and ask them their opinions,” Robinson said.
All four agreed that repairing infrastructure and maintaining parks and recreation are important issues to tackle.
The community room was almost completely full for the forum, which lasted an hour and a half. Each side received its share of applause.
At the end of the night, at least one resident’s choice was affirmed.
“I like the direction Jerry and Jeff want to go in,” said Joe Vallee, Jr., a 30-year West Deptford resident. “They are very real with everyone and conscientious of what the people want.”
West Deptford residents head to the polls on Tuesday to select the newest committee members to replace Deputy Mayor Sean Kilpatrick, a Republican, and Democratic Committeewoman Donna Szymborski, each of whom decided not to run for re-election.
Republicans currently hold a 3-2 majority on the committee.