TOMS RIVER – Candidates on the November ballot discussed taxes and why they’d be the best choice to represent their ward.
The town is run by a mayor and a seven-member council. The town is broken up into four wards. Each ward has a council member. The other three (at-large) council members and the mayor can be from any area of town. Council seats are four years.
The make-up of the governing body is currently five Republicans and two Democrats with a Republican mayor. If the Republicans sweep the November election, it means that the entire governing body will be Republican. If Democrats sweep, then they win a majority on the council. During the GOP primary, the Ward 1 and 2 candidates were from a different group of Republicans than the Ward 3 and 4 candidates.
Toms River has been a Republican-led town for many years. Democrats, and the other slate of Republicans, have been questioning the taxes that have almost doubled in the last decade before plateauing in recent years.
In this article, the candidates were asked to talk about taxes in town. By way of comparison, in 2009, the town raised $47,985,468 from taxpayers. The average tax bill was $1,036. Ten years later, in 2019, the town raised $82,690,095 from taxpayers. The average home paid $1,739.81 a year in municipal taxes.
Democrat Michele Williams and Republican Justin Lamb are competing to represent Ward 1.
Williams has been a member of the Board of Education since 2018. She retired as the principal of St. Joseph Grade School in Toms River.
“We must stabilize our property taxes,” she said. “As principal of St. Joseph Grade School, I provided excellence in education and stayed within a budget! I can do the same with our township. My plan? Eliminate unnecessary patronage positions. As the Chairperson and member for four years of the Insurance Committee of the Toms River Regional Schools Board I have learned a great deal of the process in providing first rate benefits at the best price. We can obtain competitive pricing for employee insurance benefits instead of relying on politically connected firms. And finally, we can expand shared services with surrounding towns and with our school district to lower our taxes. What we cannot afford to do is keep on doing things the same old way and count on the taxpayer to bail out the politicians.”
During her time on the school board, she said they have successfully navigated through several difficult budget years, the COVID epidemic, and maintaining school buildings. She has served on various school board committees: personnel, curriculum, and insurance.
“I have served in various educational leadership positions in the Diocese of Trenton for over 20 years. My service began at St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River, as Director of Religious Education, 1992-1999. From there I moved onto my first position as principal in Jackson at St. Aloysius School. Being a new school, PreK – 5, my primary responsibility was to develop the middle school component, and to bring St. Al’s to our first 8th grade graduation which we celebrated in 2002. In 2003 I was appointed principal at St. Joseph Grade School. I enjoyed 14 wonderful years guiding our school in shared leadership with school directors, assistant administrators, support staff, and school board, and in collaboration with the best teachers, students, and parents in the world!”
She is a board member of the Central Ocean Rotary Club, Ocean’s Harbor House, and she volunteers with Habitat for Humanity
Communities that Care, RJW Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery.
Lamb is sergeant with the Lavallette Police Department, where he’s worked for 20 years. He is also a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Lavallette Volunteer Fire Company, Station 69. He is a practicing attorney, with Lamb Law Offices, LLC., located in downtown Toms River.
“Property taxes are out of control in Toms River, and the taxpayers of Ward 1 especially feel it. Reckless runaway spending is to blame and I intend to expose the waste and vote NO to any proposed spending that increases taxes,” he said.
He was appointed Commissioner to the Toms River Township Parking Authority, a post held from 2020 through 2021.
He is also a Life Member of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, New Jersey State Bar Association, Ocean County Bar Association, Knights of Columbus, Moose International, Ortley Beach, NJ, Toms River Elks, Lodge #1875, and the Gilford Park Yacht Club.
Republican incumbent Councilman Daniel Rodrick is being challenged by Democrat Jeff J. Horn in Ward 2.
Rodrick is a science teacher in a public school and is seeking re-election as the Ward 2 councilman.
“I continue to advocate shopping for health insurance,” Rodrick said. “Mayor Hill and the Council majority continue to overpay for health coverage. It’s costing taxpayers $40,000 a year per family plan. The township is responsible for 450 active employees and 250 retirees. Saving just $2,000 on a policy would save the township a million dollars.
“Additionally, we should be exploring shared services agreements with neighboring municipalities and the county. There are countless overlaps in services that can be explored, and residents know that I have the political courage to support these agreements. Since being elected, I have voted against every tax increase and exposed millions in waste. If re-elected, I will continue to fight the waste and unnecessary spending that is driving up property taxes,” he said.
Horn is an attorney whose primary focus is family and divorce law.
“Residents are worried that property taxes go up while services go down. As an outsider, I will get under the hood of Town Hall. As a Main Street businessman I know how to stretch a dollar. Toms River has an astonishing 22 Departments and 11 Boards.
Millions of dollars in savings can be achieved by eliminating excessive layers of government by deploying technology and automation. We all hold a super-computer in our hands. Government lags behind in utilizing automation. It is a question of mindset. I will bring a beginner’s and an outsider’s mindset to implementing 21st century efficiency at the local government level,” he said.
“I was honored to be nominated by Governor DiFrancesco to the Ocean County Board of Taxation. I served there for six years including service as president of the Board. We adjudicated thousands of property tax appeals, serving as an overseer of the tax assessing function. Following Board service, my firm and I represented thousands of taxpayers achieving tax savings in the millions of dollars,” he said.
“Members of my firm and I have been active in multiple civic groups. Most fulfilling to me has been my service as a supporter, former board member and pro bono legal counsel to Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity. Habitat addresses multiple housing needs in the community including building new homes for deserving families and repairing existing homes to keep seniors and veterans ‘safe at home.’ Habitat is the ultimate hand up, not a hand out,” he said.
Republican James J. Quinlisk and Democrat Karin Sage are competing for Ward 3.
Sage is an attorney with a law firm, specializing in business litigation.
“I am a volunteer with the Toms River soccer clubs. I am the endurance trainer for my oldest son’s travel soccer team and the assistant coach for my youngest son’s team,” she said.
“Why are taxes so high? Since 2007 Toms River municipal taxes have increased by 102%. They have more than doubled since 2007! Taxpayers are paying for more than 20 high-paying confidential political appointees. I would eliminate all unneeded political appointees. I also plan to conduct an operational audit to identify cost savings and explore shared services. We have been dropping the ball on shared services in our town, and our residents are suffering because of it. As the biggest town in Ocean County, we need to share our services with the other government entities right here in Toms River, including the Board of Education and the Municipal Utilities Authority, because the same tax dollars are paid to all three. I would work with the school board and the MUA on the things we all do on our own, like mapping services, bussing, snow plowing and recreation. Our residents want services done in the most cost effective manner. I intend to break down those walls because we need to work together to reduce our costs overall.”
Quinlisk and his wife own a small business in Toms River that sells, services, and installs home access products such as wheelchair lifts, stairlifts, and modular wheelchair ramps for people with mobility issues, as well as home elevators.
He is a volunteer firefighter with the Pleasant Plains Volunteer Fire Department. He has served as vice president and president, and currently serves as a fire commissioner.
Increasing commercial ratables is the key to handling taxes, he said.
“Allowing business to open and thrive in a community of about 100,000 is good for the businesses and good for the residents of our great town,” he said. “Our population has grown by about 10% in the last decade and as a community we need places to shop, places to dine, and places for recreation. We also need places to work. Making it possible for new business to open here and our existing businesses the ability to grow, will increase the tax revenue to the town without raising property taxes for our home owners.
“I am in no way suggesting that ‘build, build, build’ is the answer. Smart growth with strategic planning will allow for both new businesses to open without tearing down all of our green space,” he said.
Democrat incumbent Councilman Terrance Turnbach is being challenged by Republican David J. Ciccozzi for Ward 4.
Turnbach is an attorney in the Toms River Law Firm of Starkey, Kelly, Kenneally, Cunningham & Turnbach. He has been on council since 2018.
“Keeping taxes stable must always be a top priority of local government. In order to do this, we must stop entering into bad land deals such as the Downtown Redevelopment Project behind the old Red Carpet Inn. I voted no to this project for a reason. We bought this property at a premium (over 3 million dollars) in order to improve the quality of life in our Downtown. Let’s face it, the Red Carpet Inn was an opiate den for years. To sell this property to a wealthy developer for the purchase price of ONE DOLLAR for the construction of two ten-story apartment towers that a majority of local residents do not want is bad business. This bad business is only exacerbated by the Township’s agreement to enter into a PILOT program with the developer for thirty years – meaning that the developer will not pay taxes on the property and none of the money paid through the PILOT will go to our schools,” he said.
“We must continue to eliminate patronage or unnecessary municipal jobs. When the majority of the Township Council moved to create a Council Secretary position in 2019 and hire a Republican committee member from a neighboring municipality, I voted no and spotlighted the reasons why the residents of our municipality will not stand for this. Patronage positions on the public dime are unacceptable, no matter what political party you affiliate with,” he said.
“We must continue to explore shared service agreements with neighboring municipalities and continue to focus on ways to curb municipal spending,” he said. “With regard to municipal services, we need to continue to explore grant opportunities that continue to support our Police Department and Public Works.
“I am committed to serving our Toms River Community. For the past 80 weeks, I have run the Toms River Food Distribution to help feed our neighbors struggling with food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. I am the founder of the Toms River Education Foundation, a recognized 501 (c)(3) non-profit that raises money for the students of the Toms River Regional Schools to ensure that extra-curricular school activities do not get cut because of the drastic (state aid) cuts. This year alone we have raised over $25,000 for the students of Toms River Regional Schools. I am on the Board of Trustees of The Hope Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to address the needs of Toms River families in crisis by providing assistance with food, clothing, rental assistance, utility assistance and shelter. I am on the Board of Trustees with Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity, whose mission is to provide permanent housing to those in need in our community. I am a volunteer with Just Believe, Inc., a non-profit that runs our Code Blue Program in Toms River. I am also a volunteer soccer coach for both the St. Joseph’s Grade School girls team and the Toms River Futbol Club U8 Cheetahs girls team. I am also a volunteer baseball coach with the Toms River Titans based out of the Toms River Little League. I am a member of the Ocean County Bar Association, a past President of this Association, and I have been recognized as the Citizen of the Year in this Association in 2018 and 2021,” he said.
Ciccozzi is self employed, focused on property management. He is a member of the Planning Board.
He is the past director and player for the Seaside Heights Men’s Recreational Basketball, and a past coach of Toms River Boys Basketball.
“The last thing Toms River families need in the face of increasing inflation, thanks to the new federal administration, is a tax hike. As your Councilman, I’ll analyze every line of our budget to determine savings opportunities to keep our taxes down. It’s what I’ve done as a successful businessman and entrepreneur, and I’ll bring that same can-do attitude on budgeting to our Town Council,” he said.