Down to the wire in Middle Committee race

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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — One candidate is a teacher, the other is a banker.

Republican Melanie Collins and Democrat candidate Michael Clark are seeking one spot on the Middle Township Committee during the General Election on Tuesday. Polls are open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m.

Township Committeewoman Susan DeLanzo decided to not seek re-election.

Voters will also have their say on the governor and the legislative representation for the 1st District, as well as on two seats on the county freeholder board, where the Republican incumbents are running unopposed.

The candidates in Middle Township are:

Melanie Collins

Melanie Collins says she would bring a new perspective to Township Committee because she’s an educator, an African American and a woman.

She said she believes in the Republican mission that includes stabilizing and then cutting spending.

 “After a decade of annual municipal levy increases averaging almost 11 percent per year, Tim Donohue and Dan Lockwood have put the brakes on spending,” Collins said, speaking of the two Republicans on the committee. “Both the 2012 and 2013 levies were less than the 2011, all-time-high Democrat levy.”

This year, the levy had to be increased, from “out of necessity” the tax levy had to be increased, from 39 cents to 45.4 cents, she said. She said that the levy still falls below the “all-time-high,” which was under the Democrats.

Collins said the levy has been reduced by more than $700,000 during the last two years. The levy is the portion of the township budget property owners cover in municipal taxes.

“At the same time, I believe a unified consensus on committee will allow us to move forward with the bold and innovative measures needed to provide the right-sized, open and transparent government that our taxpayers deserve,” Collins said. “By achieving these goals, we create the atmosphere for responsible development and business expansion.”

If elected, Collins said she would like to work with other taxing agencies, like the school district, in rooting out duplication in services to save the taxpayers money.

A township that is run well will mean quality job growth; lower taxes; a streamlined process to promote small businesses and entrepreneurs; and increased transparency and openness, Collins said.

She also said she wants to see Township Committee meetings be streamed on the Internet, calling that one of the “best practices for transparent local government.”

Collins said local government impacts people more than state and federal government.

“So it is important that people get involved,” she said.

Collins said after working on campaigns to re-elect Mayor Lockwood and to elect Committeeman Donohue, she felt called to run for Township Committee.

“I’ve always had a passion for governing,” she said.

Collins said she is involved with the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, the Advisory Commission on the Status of Women and the Middle Township Zoning Board. In June, Gov. Chris Christie appointed Collins to the Cape May County Taxation Board.

Collins, 43, is a Middle Township High School graduate and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Marist College. She is a teacher, but she did not want to say for what school district.

She is married to Mark and they live in Cape May Court House.

Michael Clark

Michael Clark of Swainton works in banking, volunteers as a firefighter and has a degree in sports management.

He also wants to be elected to a 3-year term on Township Committee.

If chosen, he said he knows he would only have a voice and not a “final say.” He would be the only Democrat on committee with two Republicans, Mayor Dan Lockwood and Tim Donohue.

“I work for the people and that’s the way I am going to approach it,” he said in an interview Monday at the county main library in Cape May Court House.

Clark said he promises to be transparent in governing the township.

He said that the current Township Committee has not been honest when it comes to taxes. Clark said that taxes have not been lowered.

In 2012, the tax rate was 39 cents per $100 of assessed value and this year it is 45.4 cents. The assessments have been lowered but the rate has increased, he said.

“As the overall housing economy improves, the township will be raising your assessment, which will automatically raise your taxes,” he said in a prepared statement. “Since they were raised drastically on lowered assessments this will be a real double whammy. At this rate, future years will have a costly impact on tall taxpayers’ wallets.”

Clark said he would make his own decisions and isn’t accountable to the Republicans or Democrats but the residents.

What’s more, he said, if elected he would use his experience in banking to craft the township budget. Clark is an assistant vice president and branch manager at Sturdy Savings Bank of Cape May.

Money isn’t the only issue in the municipality, however. Affordable housing is still a concern.

Clark isn’t sure that much can be changed but he would make best of the situation.

Plans call for affordable housing developments to be constructed on Rio Grande Avenue in Rio Grande and Railroad Avenue in Cape May Court House. The developments would be built by Conifer, headquartered in New York. The township is supporting the projects with money that came from developer fees.

 “The state still doesn’t know what to do with the affordable housing issue,” Clark said.

Township Committee should have listened to the residents, which could have meant fighting against having affordable housing in the community, he said.

Another problem he sees in the township is Rio Grande, which Clark said sees too many illegal drugs. The township is trying to clean up the community, he indicated, with Police Chief Chris Leusner putting more officers in Rio Grande.

Clark said that one of his main points as a Township Committeeman would be public safety. People must know that where they live they will be safe, he said.

Also, an issue the township faced earlier this year was in the recreation department. Officials fired a Canadian native who was hired at a replacement rec director about a month after he began.

Township Committee has since promoted two employees to head two rec centers in the township, in Whitesboro and Goshen.

“I am a firm believer of promoting from within,” Clark said.

In an interview Monday, Clark said that Township Committee has done some good things. One of them is the planned recreation site in Rio Grande, the Robert “Ockie” Wisting Recreation Complex.

Township officials plan to turn the Fort Apache campground on Fulling Mill Road into a site that has athletic fields, a gazebo, trails and more.

Clark, 48, earned a bachelor of arts degree in sports management from Harding University in Arkansas.

Clark has been a volunteer with the Cape May Court House Volunteer Fire Co. since 1994 and he has been the president since 1996. He has been the president of the Cape May County Firemen’s Association for three years.

Clark said being a Township Committeeman would be in addition to being a volunteer fireman.

“I just want to give back more to the community I live in,” he said.

Clark is also a member of the Cape May Kiwanis Club, Cape May Rotary and the Cape May Chamber of Commerce. He attends Cape May Court House Church of Christ; he is the song leader and teaches a teen Sunday school class.

Clark was also a member of the Republican party in Middle Township but one of the reasons he left two years ago was the direction the township was moving, he said.

Although he is running as a Democrat, he said he has no allegiance to either party.

A native of Vermont, Clark moved to New Jersey in 1990. He is married to Victoria, and they have two daughters.

Dennis Township

In Dennis Township, Republican incumbent Mayor Eugene Glembocki and newcomer and school board member Jennifer Hand are running against current Committeeman John Murphy and former Committeeman Brian O’ Connor.

O ‘Connor lost a re-election bid in 2011, to Republicans Brian Teefy and Frank Germanio Jr.

In a statement emailed by Murphy’s daughter, Allison, the two Democrats promised to keep taxes steady. She is the spokeswoman for their campaign.

“People can't afford tax increases every year,” she said. “They are fiscal conservatives who when faced with a choice to raise taxes every year or not the choice is always not to raise taxes and do whatever is necessary.”

Murphy and O’ Connor wants to address quality of life issues, ensuring there is proper zoning and code enforcement in Dennis Township.

“Regardless of what their opponents may say when John and Brian were in control they did more with less,” she said. “They held the line on taxes and figured out how to balance the budget every year. They didn't blame anyone for the difficult choices they had to make they just did what true leaders do and figured it out.”

Murphy, 55, is a lifelong Dennis Township resident, married to Maryanne Kehner and has three children.

O’Connor, 51, is married to Maureen Barr, and they have two children.

“I have owned a home in Dennis Township for a little over five years,” said Allison Murphy in a prepared statement. “The three years my dad was mayor my taxes stayed flat, for the past two years with the new administration they have gone up,” Murphy said. “People like to talk a lot but my dad and Brian actually made the hard decisions needed to avoid raising taxes. They have a proven record of it. Now we just have no code enforcement and higher taxes. If you want a town you can be proud to live in and afford to stay, I think the choice on Election Day is pretty clear.”

Glembocki did not respond to several requests for an interview by presstime. Hand said she would be in touch for an interview, but then was not available.

Glembocki is seeking a second term on Township Committee. In an interview with another publication, he was quoted as blaming tax increases on democratic overspending.

There’s also a race in Woodbine for two three-year seats on Borough Council.

Julia Hankerson is on the ballot as a Democrat, and Republican incumbent Eduardo Ortiz is seeking re-election. Others running are incumbent Mary Helen Perez and newcomers Manuel (Manny) Gonzalez and Efrain Rodriguez Sr.

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