Newton Election: Meet the candidates
Six vying for three position
Name: Sandra Lee Diglio
Political history: Organized the Newton Taxpayer’s Association. Elected to Town Council in 2010 and has served as councilwoman, deputy mayor and mayor. Also served as town council liaison to the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission and two years on the Planning Board.
Occupation: Retired and current councilwoman.
Education: Attended Sussex County Community College and graduated Summa Cum Laude with an Associate of Arts Degree and an Associate of Science Degree. Graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design, Fine Arts and Photography from William Paterson University.
Family: Widow. Three children.
Name: E. Kevin Elvidge
Political history: Served 16 years on the town council
Education: Graduate of Upsala College of East Orange, NJ, received a BA in Business Administration and Accounting.
Family: Single. Two children.
Name: Helen LeFrois
Political history: Newton Town Council from 2008-2012 as a councilmember, deputy mayor, and mayor. Newton’s Planning Board, former chair of Newton’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, and a member of Main Street Newton and Newton’s Plan Endorsement Committee. Currently a member of the Newton Fire Department Auxiliary and Newton’s Citizen Emergency Response Team formation committee.
Occupation: Director of Development for Jersey Battered Women’s Service, Inc.
Education: Attended the University of Southern California majoring in Political Science. A graduate of the Dale Carnegie Management Training Program and the Cohen-Brown Management and Sales Training Program.
Name: Wayne Levante
Political history: Currently a member of the Economic Development Commission.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business management from Saint Peter’s College. Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Abilene Christian University.
Family: Married for 13 years. Two daughters.
Name: Anwar Qarmout
Political history: n/a
Occupation: Self-employed, businessman, investor and builder
Education: High school graduate, some college classes and graduated from two Bible colleges.
Family: Married with four children
Name: Michael Tumminelli
Political history: N/A
Education: MBA in Business Management, B.A. in Political Science and Homeland Security
Family: Married. One son.
NEWTON — Newton residents will head to the poles next Tuesday and vote for three town council positions in the non-partisan election.
Incumbent Sandra Lee Diglio is seeking a second term on the board, E. Kevin Elvidge is seeking his fifth term. He is currently the deputy mayor. The remaining candidates are Helen LeFrois, Wayne Levante, Michael Tumminelli and Anwar G. Qarmout.
The Township Journal asked each candidate to fill out a profile and answer questions about the township leading up to next week's election. Here are their responses:
Q: What are three issues you want to have addressed?
Diglio: The three issues which I would like to address are taxes, redevelopment, and regionalization.
Elvidge: First to be relentless in placing Newton in an excellent position for growth. The continued concentration on redevelopment and enticing new business to town. Concentration on the revival of our “Spring Street,” this cannot be abandoned as a vibrant downtown is vital to Newton’s success. Making sure that we are always fiscally mindful of maintaining the controllable portion of our municipal budget and increasing the value of both residential and commercial property values.
Le Frois: Ratables. Non-ratable properties in Newton account for nearly 40 percent of the total properties in town. The biggest opportunity for reducing taxes is increasing the number of ratable properties. Perception of public safety. There is a perception that certain areas in town are not safe. However, if you look at statistics over the past many years, crime rates are actually down in town. Over the past few years, we have increased police presence, installed surveillance cameras, and improved lighting and streetscape. Therefore, we need to change the perception and turn the conversation into a more positive one. Customer service and involvement within the town. Over the past few years, we have made improvements to providing good customer service to Newton residents. Going forward, we will continue to expand our efforts by proactively encouraging residents and business owners to get involved with the town, look for opportunities to increase communication about events, emergencies, and general announcements, and seek suggestions for improvements.
Levante: Decrease taxes through increased ratables and greater efficiency, aggressively combat the perception and reality of crime and bridge the gap between the municipality and board and education.
Qarmout: Lower taxes. Having more shared services, being more efficient and negotiating better contracts to benefit taxpayers; Smaller government. Reducing the government’s power and abilities to dictate the quality of life; Bring more business in town. By communicating with the landlords and existing businesses to attract more of what is needed and wanted to benefit the long-term success of Newton.
Tumminelli: We must address our growing narcotics problem within the town limits by creating a comprehensive plan that will enable our local law enforcement greater ability to stem the flow of drugs. Create a well-balanced plan of both enforcement and education to a greater degree, allowing residents more options through community support endeavors. Improve the outer lying areas of our town where homes and business are present by investing in what I refer to as the gateways to our town. By supporting these areas in conjunction with Spring Street, we show that all areas of our community matter. Lastly, improve our communications plan. We must use the latest technology such as streaming all of our meetings so our residents who cannot attend can watch from their homes. This also increases awareness and accountability.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Special Improvement District?
Diglio: There has been much research and investigation done on a Special Improvement District. I have attended the numerous meetings and listened to the suggestions of those who have attended. Many of the property owners in the T1 and T2 districts who have encouraged the SID realize they will have a tax increase in order to achieve the benefits which they feel are necessary to revitalize the downtown and surrounding areas. The hearing for the ordinance is May 28. Based on the present support of the SID, I am in favor of passing the ordinance, however, my final decision will be based on what the public demands.
Elvidge: I am supportive of an SID and many communities have turned the corner in terms of success with its implementation. The SID prior to its establishment must have a means to measure its success, be equitable to all that participate, guarantee a strong well-balanced board and finally require first hand visits to these successful communities to determine what worked and what did not.
Le Frois: I have talked to many business owners in the proposed district and many of them are in favor of the SID because they see the value and the return on investment that the SID promises. The purpose and intent of the SID is to promote the economic and general welfare of the district. Through a feasibility study that was commissioned by the town, it has been recommended that the SID be formed in order to aid in the development of and to support the business community within the district. The town council, the Town of Newton, and our residents all agree that the existence of a thriving business community is vitally important to the economic and social well-being of the town. I support these efforts and, if elected, will work hard to make sure that the promises and full potential of the district come to fruition.
Levante: I’m familiar with the SID concept from when I lived in Jersey City. It was just more bureaucracy at that time. For years here in Newton, homeowners outside the business district have had their hard earned tax dollars poorly invested in the downtown area. With an SID, businesses from the designated area will directly contribute a more fair share to the maintenance and operations of the area, lessening the burden for the rest of us. Overall, if managed properly, the SID can be a piece to the puzzle in strengthening our downtown area; I don’t however believe it is the final answer to our problems.
Qarmout: I believe it's a good program but they failed to mention [how we are] going to communicate with the existing landlords and working with them regarding the vacancies in getting the vacancies ready to rent, and I don't believe adding more taxes to already inflated taxes is going to solve anything.
Tumminelli: The Special Improvement District is a must at this point. I believe the town has tried over the years on their own by utilizing certain programs but without the results everyone hoped for. The SID is simply progression to rejuvenate Spring Street. As we are utilizing SID, we can also focus on the main corridors to the town along with the business in those areas by increasing improvement projects.
Q: What are your immediate/future goals as a Town Council member?
Diglio: Keeping taxes at an affordable increase each year. Revitalization of Spring Street and the surrounding areas. Redevelopment of numerous areas. Changing the perception of the Town.
Elvidge: Continued use of redevelopment zones, stopping the growth of non-retables and expanding the awareness of the town’s efforts to its residents.
Le Frois: My immediate and future goals as a member of the town council very much align with the three issues that I see as the priority issues listed above. My goals include helping to attract more ratables and fill vacancies, become a strong voice in changing the safety perceptions in town and work alongside our emergency responders to make the town even safer, and proactively search for opportunities to expand our customer service, find more volunteers who are also passionate and committed to Newton, and pair them with opportunities to serve their town and neighbors.
Levante: I have two overarching goals when elected: Decrease overall property taxes and increase property values. All of my decisions will be based on achieving these two objectives.
Qarmout: Building relationships with existing landlords and business owners and residents and bringing new businesses to Newton.
Tumminelli: My short term goals are to create an open communications plan, advocate for a two-term limit and engage in the comprehensive plan to address the increasing narcotics problem. Long term, I will work with all aspects of our local government to implement a strong cost sharing plan in order to reduce cost to the resident over the period of 10 years. As well, to look to creating a strategic plan for the town that will address future investments and attract such industries within research and development for future technologies as 3-D printing and nano-technology, agriculture development and medical research.
Q: How will the residents of Newton benefit from your service on the Town Council?
Diglio: During my past four years on council I have devoted a great deal of time and energy to my positions as mayor, deputy mayor and councilwoman attending meetings and events, researching, and listening to the residents of Newton. I have worked diligently with the town manager and the council to keep municipal taxes affordable while providing responsible government and services. Working as a team, much has been accomplished to improve services in our town and reduce costs: Just to name a few: shared service agreements have increased, consolidation of the Planning and Zoning Boards, and solar panels at two locations to reduce the cost of energy. Items of concern expressed to me by the residents have been brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities to be addressed. Questions asked of me have been researched and answered. If re-elected to the Town Council I will continue to use my time, education and financial training to keep our Town an affordable, strong, and viable community while listening to the concerns of the residents and acting on their behalf.
Elvidge: Experience. Having benefited by prior 16 years on council and 12 years on the Newton Zoning Board of Adjustment has exposed me to real issues, from the loss of our water transmission supply in Sparta and maintaining service to our community and securing our community following the Able explosion. Lifelong experience in finance and accounting provides the residents a councilman that truly understands what makes up a town budget review and how to control expenses. I have been involved with prior councils that instituted that town’s new Master Plan to map out and control what occurs in town with a strong Planning Board reviewing our applicants and that they fit the requirements of our community. A “vision plan” that was necessary to define actually where the town wants to see itself in the near, short and long term future.
Le Frois: I strongly believe in serving my community and am passionate about Newton. I'm an independent-minded candidate offering you a skill-set that has resulted in proven leadership, a capacity to bring forth good ideas, and the ability to make sound decisions. In electing me, the Newton residents and business owners will get an elected official working tirelessly on their behalf, not a politician with ulterior motives. I have proven that I am willing to roll up my sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done and hope for your support on Tuesday, May 13th.
Levante: There will be immediate tax savings for residents by electing me. All newly elected officials are ineligible for health benefits. This will mean a savings of about $40,000 over the course of my term. Since I am also not accepting the salary, residents will also save an additional $12,000 over the course of my term. I also favor moving the town election to November. That’s an additional savings of at least $38,000 every four years. Overall, with certain election results, there is a potential for an immediate $200,000 tax savings.
Qarmout: I for one will not be taken as salary and not eligible for benefits therefore saving the town and the taxpayers over $50,000 throughout the four years. I will also work hard to lower taxes to attract new residents so Newton can become an affordable place to live.
Tumminelli: The residents will have a town council member that understands leadership, accountability and responsiveness. Each individual will benefit differently, but it will be a positive change and in attitude. They will have a representative for their needs and a forum for their concerns.
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