Development, Town Hall Schedule at Issue During Candidates Forum
Senior living on American Legion Drive, vacant storefronts also discussed.
Teaneck's six township council candidates took questions this week on issues ranging from commercial development, senior services and the much-debated four-day workweek for town employees.
Incumbents Monica Honis, Mohammed Hameeduddin and Barbara Toffler, along with council election newcomers Alexander Rashin, Mark Schwartz and Henry Pruitt, met Monday night at Teaneck High School for the League of Women Voters candidates forum.
The candidates did not directly engage each other, instead taking submitted questions.
A question on support for the town hall's current four-day schedule brought some of the more varied views from the six candidates.
Toffler, who has been vocal in her opposition to the building's four day schedule, said flexible scheduling could allow for the Municipal Building to be open five days a week.
"My position on this is well known. I believe the Municipal Building should be open five days a week," Toffler said.
Honis defended the four day schedule, noting she was on the council subcommittee which originally worked on the issue. Honis said although the schedule could be open to some tweaking, the later hours were a benefit to residents.
"I think it [the four day workweek] serves as many people as possible in the best way that it can be," she said.
A larger survey polling residents on their experiences with the four day schedule should be done, Schwartz said, pointing to his own positive experience with the town hall's late hours.
Residents have criticized the township for conducting an 11-person poll to measure the public's take on the hours. Proponents of the four day schedule have pointed to cost savings and increased employee morale, but acknowledged a specific dollar amount is hard to quantify.
Hameeduddin repeated his past position that any changes to the town hall schedule should be done through labor negotiations. A union representing some town hall workers has vowed to fight a change, and Hameeduddin said the town could face litigation if any change was made through unilateral action.
Pruitt said he saw some advantages to the four day week, but having the building closed for a Monday holiday and on Friday presented a problem.
The town manager should work on developing a plan to cover the town hall without violating the union's contract, Pruitt said.
Rashin, a telecommuting professor, questioned how technology was being used in township departments and said serving the residents must come first.
Teaneck's business climate and vacant commercial space also emerged as an election issue at the forum.
"One of the things that I hear repeatedly from far too many merchants or from people who sadly have had to close their stores is that Teaneck is very hostile to small business owners," Toffler said.
The councilwoman said merchants have had issues in getting permits and other township approvals required to open a store.
"You need a redevelopment agency. You can't have piecemeal development," he said, citing his experience working on the county's economic development corporation.
Both Pruitt and Rashin said national economic woes were impacting Teaneck.
"It's all over the country because the economy is bad and people don't have money so we have to find a way to make it profitable for them," Rashin said. He suggested offering lower taxes to new business in their first years.
Teaneck's four or five separate business districts presented a challenge, and the township should seek out experts on the issue, Pruitt said.
For Honis, economic development was rooted in the town's master plan and zoning.
"When we try to bring things to our neighborhood we have to make sure that we have a diverse collection of stores," the councilwoman said.
Schwartz, a real estate management consultant and planning board member, said increasing foot traffic would be a boon to local businesses. Abatements to build apartments above storefronts would help drive traffic, he said.
A question posed from a more than 40 year township resident asked what the council hopefuls would do to make the town livable for senior citizens.
Toffler and Hameeduddin both pointed to the possibility of developing a senior living complex on American Legion Drive, near the Stop & Shop store.
The dispute over a plan to build a federally subsidized senior living center on Bergen Avenue, near Bogota, also needed to be addressed, they said.
Schwartz said he too had worked on the American Legion Drive development concept, and other senior housing was needed.
Honis and Rashin pointed to cutting taxes.
"I don't want to see my parents move out, but I would also like to see some of my classmates and my brother's classmates come back," Honis said.
The six also offered their views on the future of the town's abandoned former police headquarters, and a proposal to move some township employees from the town hall basement into the former station house.
Toffler said employees could be moved from the town hall basement into the first floor of the former police station. She also suggested cleaning the basement and making it available to community groups for events.
The town hall and police station project remains only a concept, Hameeduddin stressed.
"There's no doubt that Teaneck's infrastructure needs upgrading and improvement, and this is the right time to do it," he said. Every dollar spent should be matched with debt servicing, he added.
Rashin, who has advocated digitizing township records, said the town should examine using technology before allocating office and storage space.
Residents will vote to fill the three council spots May 8.