Eight candidates filed to run in the November general election for three, three-year terms on the South Brunswick Township Council. The terms of incumbent Democratic Councilmen Joseph Camarota, Charles Carley, and Republican John O'Sullivan have expired. Both Camarota, of Kendall Park, and Carley, of Kendall Park, filed to run for reelection, along with Josephine "Jo" Hochman, on the Middlesex County Democratic Organization ticket. Also filing to run, under the Township Democrats ticket, were former South Brunswick Mayor Debra Johnson, of Monmouth Junction, and Shilpn Patel, of Monmouth Junction.
Voters will cast their ballots on June 5 in the Democratic primary to decide which three candidates will move on to the November general election.
On the GOP side, three candidates filed to run under the Middlesex County Republican Organization. In addition to incumbent O'Sullivan, of Monmouth Junction, are Michael Kushwara, of Kendall Park, and Paul Saltin, of Monmouth Junction.
Meet the Candidates: Joseph Camarota
Camarota has served on the South Brunswick Township Council since 2005. As co-owner of a company that designs entertainment centers, such as amusement parks and water parks, Camarota said he brings a strong business perspective, having helped run a successful one for nearly 40 years. He received a BA in Political Science and Psychology form Upsala College and a Masters in Education from Seton Hall University.
with no tax rate increase. Camarota said the council must continue to search for municipal inefficiencies to eliminate future tax increases.
"We're looking for ways to reorganize, along the lines with what the county is doing, and to streamline redundancy to make things more efficient," Camarota said. "We have several meetings upcoming with department heads and staff to try and come up with ways to streamline the operation."
Camarota said he believes the township will be aided with next year's budget by the legislation approved last year requiring public employees to contribute more towards their pension and health benefits.
Of issue for the upcoming year will be the In 2012, 391 tax appeals were filed in the township, up from about 180 appeals in 2011. In 2011, approximately 100 companies successfully sued the township for a tax reduction, which resulted in the loss of over $100 million in ratables. Of that total, $98.5 million came from commercial and industrial tax appeals.
The township ratable base dropped 4.3 percent to approximately $3.6 billion in 2010. South Brunswick experienced another decline in ratables of about $5.4 million (2.3 percent) last year. The Township Council has taken steps to try and reduce the impact of tax appeals by lowering the threshold for settlements on tax appeals. Previously, any settlement that was greater than $50,000 had to be brought by the South Brunswick Tax Assessor to the Township Council for approval. At a meeting in April, the council lowered the settlement limit from $50,000 to $25,000.
"We're taking a more aggressive approach on tax appeals," Camarota said. "When you lose $100 million in one year, that erodes your assessed value base and you have to do something about that. We're taking a much more proactive approach and not just settling, but fighting them. Out of the $100 million we lost, only $1.5 million was on the residential end. But we recently had someone with a house assessed at $780,000 who wanted it reassessed at $300,000, so we have to fight something like that.
"We want to do it as a group approach. Look at every property and discuss the most effective way to approach and minimize the decrease in value we're experiencing right now."
Camarota said to improve the township's ratable base, South Brunswick must continue to provide a business-friendly environment that works with prospective business owners looking to move their operation into town. He pointed to Coca-Cola's new warehouse in South Brunswick as an example of a successful collaboration that helped bring new jobs and ratables into the township.
"When I first got on the council South Brunswick had a negative reputation in terms of code enforcement. What hit me was that this wasn't treated like a business relationship," he said. "With larger corporations you need to treat them like a client. When a question is asked you can't just say no and walk away. We want a collaborative relationship with businesses and our reputation is now that we will work with them to help them come into town and adhere to guidelines.
"We encourage businesses to meet with our planner and look at properties that can satisfy their needs. We're doing a much better job of that and are seeing some bigger companies come into town now."
Camarota said the township must continue to lean on state representatives to make sure the project remains a priority.
"We realize that unless you have the governor or state representatives pushing for it then it's not going to get done," he said. "For a few years we were very close, we were next on the list, but then the priorities changed with the new governor. We've reached out to our state representatives and they've been very receptive, so we need to stay on top of them and continue to stress the importance of solving the bottleneck issue. I think everyone agrees there's a need, but it's a funding issue with it costing $350 million."
Camarota said the council must continue to push hard for intersection improvements along Route 1 as well. Camarota said transportation issues in town would continue to be one of his top priorities. He said the town must urge the state to improve Route 1, Route 27 and Route 130, while the township stays on top of local roads.
"We need to constantly be on the ground, attending events and listening to people's concerns," he said. "We live here, we eat here, everything we do is in South Brunswick, so we hear what's important to people. We've learned to do more with less by becoming more efficient. We have a guy like (Public Affairs Coordinator) Ron Schmalz who spends a large amount of time working on grant money and taking advantage of state, county and federal programs to bring grants in. We need to run this town like a business, but you have to be on the ground listening and hearing what people are saying."
Among the top priorities for the upcoming year, Camarota said improvements to Beekman Road and finding a new location for a proposed park and ride, lights for Reichler Park softball fields, the expansion of the South Brunswick Senior Center, and continuing to attract new ratables are at the top of his list.
Among the accomplishments he points to during his time on council, Camarota said the work he has done on the township Recreation Board to improve opportunities in town, his work on the Industry and Commerce Commission to attract new businesses, an overhaul of the apartment inspection process, the preservation of approximately 2,000 acres of open space, improvements to the Community Center and Rowland Park turf fields.
"This community has grown so much," he said. "The goal when I first ran was to slow down the development to allow the town's infrastructure to catch up and we've done that. We slowed things down, called time out, and saw what the needs were. This town grew so much during the 1990's that we're just getting to the point where we're catching up. What I'm most proud of is being able to address the needs of the community while still in the country."