West Deptford Republicans opened up the war of words Wednesday, firing back at state Senate President Stephen Sweeney over remarks the senator made to the Gloucester County Times this weekend about over property tax disputes at the .
In two separate statements, one from Mayor Ray Chintall and committeeman Sam Cianfarini, and the other from acting local party chair Denny Forte, the Republicans threw down the gauntlet, challenging Sweeney on his assertion the settlements were rushed.
“We were forced to act and act quickly in order to ensure the interests of all West Deptford Taxpayers were met,” Chintall and Cianfarini’s statement reads. "We negotiated in good faith with both companies and came to the current settlement agreement through hard work on the part of the new administration, recognizing that taking this appeal to court would be devastating to West Deptford Township."
Sweeney, in an article published in the Times' Sunday edition, said the Republicans on the committee, who approved the deals in a party-line vote last week, moved hastily, echoing the sentiments expressed by Democratic committeewomen Denice DiCarlo and Donna Szymborski, who voted against the settlements, citing insufficient information on the deals and a rush to finalize.
“They’re leaving millions of dollars on the table, and they’re saying they got the best deal,” Sweeney told the Times. “Prove it to me and to the taxpayers of West Deptford.”
But Forte accused Sweeney of being disengaged from the process and said the senator’s criticisms ring false.
“It is one thing for Steve Sweeney to play Monday morning quarterback after one Sunday, but after 24 years of Sundays, his comments are just political posturing,” Forte said in his statement.
Sweeney should get involved directly in the process if he wants a say, Chintall and Cianfarini said.
"We challenge Senator Sweeney to stop hiding behind his baseless press releases and statements to the press and actually attend a township committee meeting for once," they said in their statement.
And given the drawn-out length of time on the tax appeals—the settlements cover disputes dating back to the 1980s—it was well past the due date for the settlements to get done, the Republicans said.
"It has been going on for 24 years, and we are proud to be providing the leadership needed to move our town forward with the best deal possible for the taxpayers," Chintall and Cianfarini said in their statement.
The Republicans have previously said than either a likely court outcome, which could cost the township around $55 million, or a worst-case scenario, which could hit the township for up to $90 million.
Though the deals have passed initial muster, there are still steps in the process. The state Local Finance Board has to OK the up to $33 million in tax refunding bonds the committee approved as part of the settlements, which could come at that board’s May 9 meeting.
From there, the committee will have to vote final approval on the bond ordinance, either at a special meeting in late May or one of the June meetings, which would require a four-vote supermajority—something that, as of right now, isn’t there, given the two Democrats’ no votes.
And lurking behind all that is a potential trial date on June 4, should the settlements not come to fruition.