Township Council Candidate Profile: Sam Fusaro
Patch profiles of candidates for the Manchester Township Council
Manchester Patch asked each of the four candidates vying for three Township Council seats this November to complete a questionnaire addressing some of the issues affecting residents. One candidate will be featured each day this week.
The first candidate profile comes from Sam Fusaro, 59, a retired financial and project director for the U.S. Army who continues to provide consulting services to various Army offices. Fusaro, who lives in Holly Oaks, has called Manchester home for 27 years and served on the council for 17 years (1990-2006 and 2011-present). He is a running under the Continued Good Government banner.
Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing Manchester and what do you plan to do to address it? Taxes have steadily increased over the years — what plans, if any, do you have to reduced spending and stabilize tax rates?
A: I am going to combine my answers for the first two questions because I believe the basic responsibility of any government, and especially of local government, is to provide the services residents need, at a reasonable cost. Given the current economic climate and challenges many residents are facing making ends meet, I believe the major issue is decreasing, or at least maintaining low taxes. Every question and issue needs to be looked at from this perspective. Like any family, the quickest approach is to reduce discretionary expenses. Over the years the Council has done this with every budget. We have refinanced or paid off bonds and other debt, and have one of the lowest debt balance in the state. We have reduced the number of township employees to the lowest level in years, and delay major purchases and projects as long as possible.
We are also completing the township-wide reassessment in-house, which reduced the cost significantly. Equally important, the reassessment which will become effective in the coming tax-year, will establish assessments based on the current market and eliminate further revenue losses from tax appeals. I also plan to continue our efforts to increase external revenue sources. Each year, we off-set salaries and other expenses through various grants. We also need to look at the zoning across the entire township and approve a business development plan to increase our non-residential tax base. The council recently took the first step by modifying the approved uses in the Town-Center zone, which surrounds Colonial Drive and the municipal complex, but need to expand this effort.
Q: Safety on Route 70 through the township has been a big problem, with serious and sometimes deadly crashes becoming almost the norm. The Township Council has asked for state help with improving safety but hasn't received much response — how would you address the issue?
A: While Route 70 is a state highway and the town has limited authority, we have worked closely with State officials, and have a commitment from the state for the Department of Transportation to do a safety inspection of the stretch through Manchester. The township has asked for traffic dividers like those that exist on 70 east of the Route 9 intersection, and on Highway 37.
Additionally, we have joined with the county and actually offered to do a major portion of the work at the Beckerville Road intersection, and close off the cut through at Manchester Road in Whiting, addressing two of the more dangerous intersections. In the meantime Township police continue to patrol and enforce speed limits and other safety laws along Route 70.
Q: Township officials have said that it is difficult to draw new business into Manchester because of various environmental regulations. What ideas do you have that could help grow business in town?
A: The state continues to limit the amount of new water and sewer services that can be provided in Ocean County, especially the Pinelands and CAFRA areas which includes all of Manchester. Our Utilities and Engineering Departments have worked closely with the State on each proposed project, and are making slow but continuous progress. In the meantime, there is existing commercial property that is vacant and can be marketed for immediate occupancy. As mentioned above, the town needs to re-examine our current zoning and approve a Township Business Development Plan that would offer initial tax advantages to businesses that set up operations here.
Q: Is there a way to rehabilitate Pine Lake, and if so, could it be done in a way that would not be burdensome to taxpayers?
A: Pine Lake provides unique challenges considering the massive acreage that it drains in water run-off, but that does not mean it can’t be rehabilitated at a reasonable expense, as I led an effort in the late 90s that actually reopened the lake to swimmers. While the lake requires continuous attention, the bulk of this effort can be done with existing township employees.
The question again becomes one of balancing the budget. What services or other expenses do we eliminate in order to set aside funds and personnel to address the Lake, or do we add to the budget? I believe restoration of Pine Lake is an ideal project for state or federal environmental grants, as Pine Lake drains directly into the Toms River and Barnegat Bay which is also in environmental trouble and has multiple initiatives underway to improve its water quality. Even with continuous attention, because of storm water run-off from Jackson, Lakehurst and other upstream communities, heavy rains will cause temporary spikes in bacteria and sediment deposits.
Q: Though scheduled to be completed soon, construction on Route 530 in Whiting has been ongoing for longer than Ocean County officials anticipated and has become a nuisance to some residents. Going forward, how would you work with county officials to ensure other projects are completed on time and without much impact to residents?
A: State, County and even Federal agencies like Pinelands have a great influence in what happens in Manchester. The most important thing is building good relations with these agencies and keeping abreast of their activities so we can shape their efforts and work in our town, not simply react to it. Most of the delays in the Route 530 project were uncontrollable, to include unanticipated drainage issues and diverge of JCP&L employees working on the project, to other area of the country experiencing natural disasters. The Township worked closely with the County in planning this project, and insured township needs were address, to include handicap access and the safety of our residents.
Q: Manchester's police department, along with township officials, worked on a plan to bolster the force without greatly impacting the budget. Do you feel the township's police force is now staffed at an adequate level?
A: Thanks to the Police department's understanding of the township's desire to keep taxes low, they agreed to a new contract that has allowed restoring some of the prior reductions in their ranks. The numbers of calls the police respond to each month staggering, yet they are quick to arrive where needed and expertly handle all situations, whenever they are called.
The Council has had several outside evaluations of the police force size and workload over the years, and for now the size of the department seems to be correct, but we need to maintain a watchful eye on the ability to continue to meet the needs of our resident, as our police are almost always the first to respond to any emergency within the town, whether it is a fire, first aid or other call for service. It should be noted that our Police Department is about to receive national accreditation, one of the first Departments in the State to achieve this honor. In additional to validating the high professionalism, the accreditation should also reduce costs by lowering township insurance rates.
Q: Manchester is unique in that the township is home to a sizeable senior population as well as many younger families. How do you plan to address the needs of both of these groups?
A: Though our residents are very diverse in their age and life styles, I think all of them have the same basic need, namely keeping taxes low. I will continue to everything in my power to make this happen, but I also recognize the need for Township services. We have an excellent senior services office as well as an outstanding recreation department to address the needs of all our residents. Our public works department provides a wide breadth of services from snow removal to road paving to bulk trash removal, and do an excellent job in all these areas. Many of the employees are township residents and will go to extreme measures to meet the needs of our residents. We will do everything to continue to meet the needs of ALL of our residents.
Q: Please add any additional details you feel voters may need to know about you.
A: Over the years, I have worked on nearly every aspect of our Township government, from budget preparation to the Township Master Plan, to grant proposals and agreements with state and other external agencies. I have helped secure Green Acres funding that built or expanded multiple parks across the town, to include Harry Wright Lake, and purchased the property where our Pop Warner football complex is. I started our youth basketball program as well as Manchester Day and the township open space program. I have used my business expertise to reduce taxes and overall, believe I have made a difference for Manchester Residents. I ask for your support on Election Day so that I can continue to work for you and our town.