Republican Candidates Outline Plan to ‘Move Stafford Ahead’
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora characterizes his leadership style as “dogged determination” to get to work and achieve his goals.
“When I focus on something, I’m going to keep going at it until I get it done,” he said.
If he is reelected in November, Spodofora’s three main priority objectives are clearly defined for the year ahead: maintaining the fiscal health of the town, resolving the flooding problems in Ocean Acres and ramping up shared-services arrangements with like-minded neighboring communities.
Along with his Republican team, running under the campaign slogan “Moving Stafford Ahead,” Spodofora hopes to continue down the ambitious path he laid out in January, cultivating the seeds of progress in the areas of taxes, debt reduction, environmental stewardship and residential quality of life for residents.
“I don’t believe in problems; I only believe in solutions,” he said. “My belief is as long as you maintain open communications, you can get the word out to the people properly.”
The team faces challengers in the Independent ticket “We Are Stafford,” led by mayoral candidate Paul Marchal. But, in contrast to what Spodofora sees as his political opponents’ lack of a well-defined plan, he and his running mates have specific tasks lined up and ready to tackle.
“We’re not saying what we could do; we’re saying vote for us based on what we’ve already proven we have done,” Spodofora said.
The Republican ticket includes Spodofora for mayor, incumbent council president Steve Fessler, incumbent councilmen Robert Kusznikow and Henry Mancini, and newcomers Sharon McKenna, Paul Krier and Lori Wyrsch. Spodofora has been a member of town council since 1988; Fessler and Kusznikow came aboard at the start of the last term, 3½ years ago; McKenna, while active in many volunteer capacities throughout the town, is hoping to make her council debut. For reasons that no one has definitively revealed, Mancini, Krier and Wyrsch have separated themselves from the other four and taken their campaign strategy in a different direction, citing only “philosophical differences.”
Still, the seven candidates see themselves as unified in their vision for the town.
Moving Stafford Ahead campaign manager Pete Slomkowski sees the split ticket as an indicator of dynamic viewpoints and diverse strengths – as evidence that reasonable people can disagree, and that differences of opinion (regarding the ways in which appointments are made and township business is handled), when discussed respectfully, can help the council reach conclusions that are best for the taxpayers.
“Different ideas are good,” Fessler said. “We’re still all Republicans,” he said, with the same principles, rooted in the idea of smaller government.
As McKenna pointed out, campaigning and governing are two different strategies.
“I am confident that we’ll all be able to work together,” Spodofora said. “When it comes down to getting things done, whether it’s the budget or a major decision for the town, we all get into the same room; we come to a consensus. It’s going to work. Because I have confidence in all the people on the Moving Stafford Ahead ticket.”
Plan the Work, Work the Plan
From a fiscal standpoint, “we have never been better,” Spodofora said. To illustrate, he said, the last two annual state audits have yielded zero recommendations, which translates to no room for improvement, as far as how the town handles its money. Stafford also boasts a AAA municipal bond credit rating – the highest rating given, based on the criteria of economy, debt structure, financial condition, town-wide demographics and management practices of the governing body and administration – which puts the town in prime position for loans to finance capital projects.
While the Independent team has publicly questioned the administration’s budgetary practices and use of tax dollars, those who currently hold office insist their opponents are disseminating inaccurate information.
“The Independents aren’t telling the public the whole story,” Fessler said. “We have been reducing (debt and costs) since the day we took office; we have been in there scrutinizing every line item and reducing our indebtedness for our taxpayers. I believe our candidates … are the best qualified for Stafford Township. We’ve done the job that they asked us to do.”
The municipal debt figure is a combined total of municipal and water-sewer indebtedness, officials explained, the latter of which is self-liquidating and therefore not subject to the same kind of analysis. Since 2009, Stafford’s water-sewer debt has decreased from $84 million to $69 million in 2012. The municipal debt is also trending down, from $156 million in 2009 to $139 million this year.
The town has paid down $13.5 million in bonded indebtedness in the last three years.
At the regular council meeting of Oct. 2, Spodofora explained the township has managed a net debt reduction of $24,256,389 since 1998, in spite of the town’s population having more than doubled since 1995 (with 25 percent of that growth having taken place in 2000). During the town’s growth spurt, bonding was necessary in order to expand infrastructure and services, he said.
The Independent candidates call out “wasteful” expenditures such as road-striping equipment, a performance stage and a graffiti-removing machine, but Spodofora and his team view those purchases as investments that not only pay for themselves but also enhance the town’s desirability. “Guess why we don’t see that much graffiti in town?” he asked. “We get rid of it immediately. I look at a machine like that, with a 10- to 20-year lifespan, and I say it’s a quality-of-life issue; if I can keep the town looking nice, it’s worth it. Owning a road-striping machine is more cost-effective than outsourcing the job. The stage, while costly, is a focal point of the community events that define the town and make it a desirable place to live. Such items can also be leased out to other towns to recoup the money.
“It’s return on investment. It’s investing properly in equipment and people so that we get a good return from our citizens and, meanwhile, preserve our quality of life.”
The flooding issues that endanger the properties and lives of Ocean Acres residents may soon be resolved, with a plan to build a new bio-retention basin on the south side of Route 72 that would relieve the existing too-small basin near Neptune Drive.
“That’s a problem that’s been plaguing residents of Ocean Acres for probably over 20 years with no real solution,” Spodofora said. With the work of the town’s engineering firm, CME Associates, he said, “we have a solution that’s going to work.”
The proposed basin would also prevent stormwater runoff pollutants from entering the bay. As an added benefit, the earthen material removed from the new basin would be used as fill for new recreational athletic fields behind the Nautilus Park.
Historically, Ocean Acres’ flooding problems originate with the neighborhood’s ill-conceived development, which did not account for the drainage required to handle the stormwater runoff from so much impervious ground coverage (paving, buildings, driveways, etc.), which prohibits rain from filtering back into the groundwater.
“I have a fire in my belly, and I will not rest until I get Ocean Acres’ flooding problems fixed,” Spodofora declared.
On the shared-services front, Spodofora said he is forming a coalition of mayors from Long Beach Island and mainland towns from Little Egg Harbor to Lacey to discuss ways to cut costs by making better use of common resources. Initial meetings have been productive and promising, he said.
“The ideas that came out of it were just astounding – everything from sharing IT mandates and services to sharing equipment and people and licenses.”
By looking at the diversity among the existing skill base of the township workforce, Stafford has reduced the staff by 38 employees in the last three years and slashed overtime costs. Cross-training is one way to increase efficiency by having one person who can do multiple jobs.
“So when I step outside our town’s borders, and I say on a shared-service basis, what does this town have, what does that town have, what do we have? … I am so completely optimistic that that is the new direction we’re going to be going in, in all governments, but especially in our local governments. … Different towns are capable of different things, but if we all share in that, it’s going to be really good. It’s a new way of running government. It’s a very big thing.”
In line with the campaign slogan, Spodofora said, “We’re not worried about looking back; we’re worried about looking forward. Because if you’re looking back, you can’t see where you’re going.”
Looking forward, another high priority for the council will be Beach Haven West, where the lagoons regularly shoal up in several trouble spots. A committee, headed up by Kusznikow, has been assembled to study the silting up of the lagoons and is in talks with officials in Tuckerton, who have been successful in getting dredging done. But the difficult question is where to put the dredge material.
To obtain dredging permits for all of the lagoons is expensive and complex, Spodofora said, whereas smaller areas can be done more easily. But the important thing is to understand why shoaling is happening in order to prevent it from recurring. Meanwhile the search is on for funding to get the whole job done.
“It’s a long process, but hopefully we will get there,” Kusznikow said. “Because this is something that (Beach Haven West residents) have been concerned about for many, many years.”
The hallmarks of the “Moving Stafford Ahead” campaign are communication, transparency and honesty, the candidates say, all of which will advance the cause of the new “cross-pollination” approach to government. Spodofora said he does not validate any “Good Old Boy network” and instead hires professionals based only on their qualifications, credentials and costs, not their party affiliation.
“We are what the people want us to be,” Kusznikow said. “They are in charge of whatever it is that they want out of this government. We’re not here … to make things better for us. We’re doing it for them.”
In his view, the best advice he can give the voters is “Know your candidates.”