HAZLET – In Tuesday’s election for Township Committee, Republican incumbents Scott Aagre and Mike Glackin are being challenged by two newcomers to local government, Democrats Lucille Lo Sapio and Ryan O’Steen, for two full term seats in the Nov. 5, 2019 election.
There is a separate election for a one year unexpired term, currently held by incumbent Republican Committeeman Michael Sachs. He is being challenged by former township committeewoman, Democrat Barbara Ronchetti, who served on the governing body through 2018.
The Hazlet Democrats are running together with the slogan “Change Begins with You.” In interviews, the candidates expressed criticism of the governing body’s response to the creation of a state-mandated affordable housing plan, saying they would have fought it out in the courts. If elected by voters, their ideas are to start municipal garbage collection in lieu of privately contracted service, pull out of the county-run annual property reassessment program, consolidate the mailing of tax and sewer bills to save money and establish a parks commissioner.
The Hazlet Republican Party incumbents, whose motto in this campaign is “Getting Things Done,” counter that they are using fiscal responsibility in all of their decisions, which resulted in a zero-increase municipal budget for residents in 2018. Their platform includes capitalizing on shared service agreements like the property assessment program to save money, continuing the long term road improvement program, bringing safety enhancements for the police station, schools and lifesaving equipment for First Aid, the development of an enhanced township website, and encouragement of commercial development.
Here are the 4 candidates for the 2 full terms:
Democrat Ryan O’Steen, 34, is the lead maintenance technician for Middlesex County Utility Authority, an HYAL coach and father of two young daughters. He moved to Hazlet about 6 years ago from Matawan, where he still coaches wrestling at the high school. “I figure since I bought my house here that I should do what I can to make the township better,” he said. In 2018, he ran for Township Committee with John Bird on the Democratic Party ticket, but lost.
O’Steen believes he has valuable insight into public utilities. Though he is working with the Hazlet Democratic Club and feels like he is on the right side of the issues, he also believes that political party doesn’t matter that much on the local level. “I like making the right choice on each individual decision,” he said. He favors a municipal garbage plan for cost-savings like in some neighboring towns, and wants to see more enhancements in the road improvement plan, like more curbs for sections of West Keansburg section. “In addition to the roads being done, we also want them to finish entire neighborhoods at a time before moving on to another, instead of just select roads.”
He said he hopes people consider him a representative of the everyday homeowner trying to raise kids in Hazlet.
“People should vote for me because I am like everyone else,” he said. “Of course, I would like the taxes to be lower. I pay the same as everyone else.”
Republican Mike Glackin, 46, an accountant and father of two, is finishing his first term on the governing body. The deputy mayor, Glackin also serves on the Land Use Board and Open Space committees.
“There’s a lot of things I need to keep going,” he said, about his desire to run again. The Township Committee passed a redevelopment plan to allow gas stations and drive through restaurants, which has attracted companies like Panera Bread, Popeye’s and Chick-fil-A to come to Hazlet and hopefully more, he said. He also is proud of the zero-increase budget and the rollout of the road program.
Municipal garbage pickup in Hazlet is possible, said Glackin, but voters will have approve adding it to their property tax bill in a referendum vote. “We’ve been thinking about this for a while –if we would have different prices for subgroups, utilities, maybe garbage districts,” he said. Regarding the status of township parks, Glackin said whether or not the township wins a matching grant from the county Open Space fund, it plans to proceed with making improvements at the 8th Street Park. It is also taking steps for improving Natco Park.
Glackin said the township committee was forced to approve the affordable housing plan or face uncertain and costly consequences. He believes that the Democrats believed it was the best thing to do under the circumstances too, saying they could have “shut it down” when Democrats DiNardo and Ronchetti served on the board in recent years.
LUCILLE LO SAPIO
Lucille Lo Sapio, 67, is a communication skills trainer, actress and the host of Coffee Talk, a new podcast about Hazlet that highlights interesting people in town. She grew up in Keyport and moved to Hazlet later in life to where her grandfather once ran a farm. She has been active in the county Democratic club, volunteering on campaigns in recent years. Previously a candidate for the school board, this is her first run for township government office. “I’m going to have an independent voice,” she said. She said she likes the idea of more diversity on the governing body.
In an interview, she was critical of the township’s state-mandated affordable housing agreement, which has given the green light for a developer to build a 172-unit housing development –with 26 units set aside for affordable housing at the Holy Family site. Instead, she believes the township should have pursued utilizing open space funds to purchase the privately owned site from the Diocese of Trenton and develop it into a park for residents. “We could have made that Holy Family land open space, but we didn’t,” she said.
She likes the idea of a municipal trash pickup, even though she is a once-a-week customer and may potentially pay more.
“I think, overall, I would be willing to pay a little more if everyone in town would be paying a little less,” she said. “You have to look at the common good.”
Republican Scott Aagre, 60, works in the architectural field. A resident since 1984, Aagre has served nearly continuously since 2004. He has been here through the planning of the current municipal hall, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the controversial affordable housing plan. It is his fifth year serving as mayor.
This year has been productive, with the rollout of the extensive road program, the redevelopment of the Kmart shopping center, plans for the improved township website and a decision to invest in 8th street park and Natco park.
He doesn’t believe the property tax revaluation program is worth abandoning. The values relate to market demand, he said. Prior to signing up with the county program, the township paid $1 million or more to run a revaluation program every decade. Everyone had to accept the value at that moment in time. Since using the county system, municipal tax appeals have been reduced and the township can better predict tax revenue, he said.
Aagre is willing to look into municipal garbage pickup, if people are willing to pay for it in their taxes, he said.
As for the affordable housing situation, he said the township was facing a lawsuit. Middletown’s decision to fight the newest round of housing obligations exposes the township to legal battles Hazlet was not willing to sustain, he said. “If we said no to the courts, we’d potentially have 400 affordable units we’d be liable for,” he said. “Do you want that? I say no.”
The candidates for the one-year unexpired term:
Democrat Barbara Ronchetti, the township’s former recreation director, has lived in Hazlet since 1973 in a house that dates back to the 1890s. She served two terms, from 2013-2018, on the Township Committee. She is running again for the one-year unexpired term after receiving 173 write-in votes by supporters in the primary.
Ronchetti calls the road program inefficient because it doesn’t address entire neighborhoods at once.
Ronchetti would like to get out of the county’s property tax revaluation program, blaming it for raising taxes on homeowners who previously were assessed every decade or so by the township’s system. “It’s a false hope to the people. Yeah we have a flat tax rate, but the assessment automatically raises their taxes anyway.”
She thinks the township could save $10,000 a year by consolidating its sewer and tax mailers and eliminating reminders, and wants the township to designate a bank to take tax payments for convenience.
She wants to revisit the idea of re-establishing a volunteer Parks Commission with its own budget to oversee the town’s parks, which she says “are in disarray.” In a large-sized postcard mailed to residents, Ronchetti touted her ‘no’ vote on a resolution to endorse and authorize the mayor to execute its preliminary compliance plan for Highview Homes on November 8, 2018. At the time, she said Hazlet should “put up a fight” despite the costs and risks of exposure to further interveners in the builder’s remedy lawsuit.
Republican Michael Sachs, 60, is a painting contractor and has been employed as the chairman of the Monmouth County Bayshore Outfall Authority for nearly 20 years. He was born and raised in Hazlet and has two children, one of whom is a Hazlet police officer.
Sachs has served as an elected member of the governing body for 16 years, with some breaks. He is seeking to fill the final year of an unexpired term left when Freeholder Sue Kiley moved to the county board.
He is proud of the longterm road improvement program that aims to prioritize the 100 worst roads. By coordinating with the gas utility replacing mains, the township saved $1 million in the repaving of the Fleetwood section, he said.
Regarding the affordable housing decision, he said “This was not something we were extremely happy about,” but is satisfied that the township made the best decision, with legal advice, to reduce the number of units proposed and protect itself from further lawsuits. “I think it’s a win for the town as a whole so every little piece of property out there is not getting built on.”
Sachs is not opposed to looking into townwide trash pickup, if that’s what people want, he said. But he doesn’t think there is a compelling reason to stop participating property tax assessment program, because it is based on the fluctuations of the market value of all properties and can go up or down.