LACEY – Six candidates are competing for three seats for township Committee. They are two incumbent Republicans, two Democrats, an independent and a Green Party challenger.
There are two, three-year seats and a single, one-year term on the ballot. For the three-year seats, Republican incumbents Steven Kennis and Peter Curatolo are being challenged by Democrats Edward Kownacki and Erik Mazur, independent candidate and former Board of Education member Regina C. Discenza and Green Party member Barry Bendar.
Seeking a one-year unexpired term are Republican Peggy Sue Juliano who was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat of her late husband, Nicholas Juliano. She is being challenged by Democrat Shawn Judson.
GOP incumbent Steven Kennis has lived in the township for 50 years and is a builder/developer.
He is running for reelection this year because “as a longtime resident and a local businessman, I will continue to make Lacey a desirable place to live and to maintain the quality of life our residents have come to expect.”
As to what he feels is the township’s most pressing issue at the current time he responded, “affordability is the most pressing issue. With nine years of experience on the township budget, I will continue to maintain a budget that is fair to its taxpayers, employees and other stakeholders.”
As to his thoughts on future development in the township he said, “I will continue to promote the reconstruction of our commercial corridors in order to attract businesses. It has a positive economic impact on our budget, our tax base and makes the township more desirable.”
Kennis noted the need for the township’s master plan to be reviewed and updated during a committee meeting in June. “It’s overdue. Due to changes in people’s lifestyle, building and environmental mandates from both the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and the state, and changes in our own ordinances shows a need to update our master plan.”
Related to this was a concern regarding traffic congestion within Lacey and methods to address this issue. “Both Route 9 and Lacey Road are not owned by the township. Any property owners along those roads cannot be denied access to them. We have contacted the state multiple times in order to address multiple issues along Route 9 to no avail. The county has made a number of improvements to roads in Lacey including the Railroad Avenue light and the Adams Street light in addition to installing multiple pedestrian walks. A new light will be installed at the Lake Barnegat Drive and Haines Street intersection sometime over the next year. I would encourage residents to use alternate routes when possible and vary their work schedule, if able,” Kennis said.
The candidate added, “I had a great time growing up in Lacey and still enjoy it. The town has changed a lot since I’ve been here but it still has a small town, family-oriented spirit that still persists and I will do my best to maintain it.”
Independent candidate Regina Discenza isn’t a new face at Committee meetings. She often brings up questions and concerns at those sessions during the public comment period and has lived in Lacey Township for nearly 24 years.
Discenza is running for a committee seat after “I saw an article that said the incumbents were running unopposed. I do not believe any slate anywhere should run unopposed in a Democratic society – people need choices.”
She feels the township’s most pressing issue is overdevelopment and the safe decommissioning of the power plant.
As to what experience she would bring to the table she said, “I have building experience, a degree in Criminal Justice and I have travelled to 45 states so I have seen many other communities and how they function.”
Regarding her thoughts on the township’s master plan she said, “it needs some revisions by like-minded people- not bobble heads that say yes to everything. This is usually done every 10 years or so and its 10 years are up.”
Discenza added, “revisions to the Master Plan should improve our quality of life, not take away from it like the multifamily housing is doing – meet the legal COAH State requirements for affordable housing and be done with it.”
Concerning traffic congestion in Lacey “I have been attempting to address traffic issues in this town for over 20 years. One of the cries of the powers that be is that Route 9 is a state highway – so scream louder in Trenton – which I am not afraid to do,” Discenza said.
Discenza has served two terms on the Lacey Township Board of Education (2015-2017) and (2019-2021) and attended school board association meetings outside the Township of Lacey during both terms to attain New Jersey School Board Association Boards Member Academy complete certification.
She was the Lacey Delegate to the Ocean County School Boards Association and the New Jersey School Board Association State Delegate or Alternate for Lacey Township School District for several years as well. Discenza has also been attending recent meetings of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
“My campaign is not accepting any contributions whatsoever thus the slogan, ‘No Strings Attached.’ I am using my own funds 100%,” Discenza said.
Republican PeggySue Juliano was appointed to the Committee earlier this year. She is filling the vacancy of her late husband Nicholas Juliano who was serving as mayor this year before he died of cancer. She’s lived in Lacey for 31 years and was a summer visitor to the community in the 1970s.
She is employed by the Lacey Township School District. “I have been there for 12 years and before that I owned and operated our Auto Parts Store with my husband for 30 years.”
She added that she is running for a full term on the Township committee to “finish some of the work that Nick started but now I realize it is my job to keep this town with my fellow committee members moving forward. Our job is to secure this town for the next generation.”
Juliano said she was brought up in a political family “so the decision to run is to let people know I am here for them. Growth has to happen in this town, I know we all would like to go back to an easier time but that’s not really possible.
“The Master Plan is a priority but it will not be done in one session. I know traffic is a problem but like everyone else, I learn when to be out on the road, and also, we all need to stop rushing around,” she added.
The candidate said she has “a few concerns most importantly our Police Department needs our undivided support and attention. Second, we are a very extremely lucky town to have so many volunteers and respect to them is very much on my mind.”
Juliano has another concern. “If we ever had to pay a Fire Department, we would be in a serious need of raising our taxes.”
Fellow GOP incumbent Peter Curatolo has lived in Lacey Township for 22 years and is the Coordinator of Community Health Services at the Ocean County Health Department.
“I’m an advocate for the people. I know how to navigate bureaucracies to get the best possible outcome for our residents and I have done this successfully for nine years on Committee and 25 years in government.,” the candidate said.
Regarding his thoughts on the township’s most pressing issue he answered, “Safety! Support the police. The law is the guiderail of society. Without it, we have anarchy and plummeting home values. I know this to be true and that is why I support our police and first responders without reservation.”
He urged residents to “support businesses. Streamline the application process. Help an applicant through the process rather than push an application under two-inch thick glass and say, ‘here, fill this out.’ We steward our business through the process and that is how we will continue and grow.”
“Negotiate well. Lacey Township deserves a long-term tax benefit from entities doing business within our boarders. I have every confidence in my ability to continue to build inroads that are fair with both businesses and taxpayers,” he added.
Curatolo said he has experience in making and implementing policy. “I take a paternal approach to management. Instead of simply regulating businesses in oversight capacities that I have held in the past, I worked on educating them, outreaching them and helping them improve.”
“If a person is tasked with an enforcement action on a licensee, then there should be equal time given to partnership and education. In addition, I’ve built considerable inroads with our school system and Board of Education. I’ve spoken at our high school about the dangers of underage drinking and driving and I look at our schools as real partners in our community,” he added.
Regarding development in Lacey Curatolo said, “the town should move forward and create new business ratables and opportunities for employment. As to residential development, I am very cognizant of our quality of life. We do have a large portion of land that is protected Pinelands and that has kept sprawl and traffic in check compared to other municipalities all around New Jersey.”
“I don’t see anyone wanting to change that. People move here for our quality of life, our parks and our recreational opportunities. As long as I am on Committee, I will not vote to pave over all of it.”
Concerning the subject of updating the Township’s Master Plan, Curatolo said, “every Master Plan should be completed with our residents in mind and must include smart growth, traffic safety and open space.”
“When you look at our Route 9 corridor and see how it has developed over the past several years, there is a lot to be proud of and it is the envy of surrounding communities. Compared to other municipalities, our corridor is functional, aesthetically pleasing and inclusive of convenient access to stores that we all use every day. That will continue to be the case as we grow and I will ask for our resident’s input as well because I work for them.”
Regarding traffic congestion in the township and methods to address it the candidate responded, “the State Department of Transportation must eventually widen Route 9 as Ocean County continues to grow. With people comes congestion and that is why I am continuing to support open spaces in our town. Our Board of Commissioners continues to support this as well and our governing body has a great relationship with our commissioners.”
Bendar has lived in Lacey Township for 34 years and works as a database administrator.
“I feel that the voice of all the people of Lacey Township need to be heard. I don’t feel that is happening now, and I plan on being the voice for all the people, not just the “connected,” the candidate said.
As to what he feels the township’s most pressing issue is he said, “overdevelopment, and the traffic congestion that comes with it. Also, looking out for the residents who live near Barnegat Bay and the issues they have with the rising tides.
“Having lived in Lacey Township for 34 years and seen the changes that have taken place, I believe that the town is headed in the wrong direction, and there needs to be someone on the Committee who doesn’t just go along with the crowd. Also, I’ve been attending every Township Committee meeting possible for me since 2001, and have a good understanding of the history of how we’ve gotten to where we are.
“The political party that has been in power here since I initially moved in has had one thing on their mind the entire time. Development. Living on two lane Route 9, which will never be expanded, I believe we’ve reached a point where the infrastructure cannot handle any more development,” Bendar said.
“Updating the Master Plan is fine, but I believe the horse is already out of the barn. Uncontrolled and unplanned development via previous Master Plans and Zoning action has put us in the situation we are in today. Too many businesses, too many developments, and too many cars clogging Route 9,” the candidate said.
Bendar added, “the brakes must be put on before we have gridlock. The search for taxes and rateables has created this situation, and has done little to nothing in controlling property taxes. I am hoping that there is something that can be done in the Master Plan to salvage the own from overdevelopment.”
Regarding traffic concerns, the candidate said, “We do not have big highways like Route 37 in Toms River and Route 72 in Stafford. We do not have the infrastructure those two towns have, so to try to compete with them in drawing in retail businesses is patently crazy.”
“One of my opponents commented that we want to bring people from other towns to shop here. I don’t know why Lacey Township needs to be a shopping destination for other towns, when our roads won’t handle it,” he added.
As of press time for this article and following numerous e-mails and other efforts to reach them, the Democratic candidates for Lacey Committee have not responded to the candidate profile surveys that were sent multiple times by The Southern Ocean Times.