There were many running around the country last night claiming that Americans voted for “change”. Well perhaps they did in some spots, but here in Union County they voted for the same old thing by reelecting the incumbent freeholder candidates once again to the board.
I just cannot figure it out; the residents crab and complain about how their hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted and yet, just like a relationship with an abusive partner, they go running back for more of the same. Do they honestly believe that the so called “change” that they are seeking will trickle down from the top, or that by some miracle there will be a rebirth of conscience from the board members who by magic will be spurred to change their spending habits? Or is it that they are experiencing disbelief in what they are seeing on their tax bills and are buying into the belief that things will be different this time around. One can only speculate as to what is going on in their minds.
Over the past couple of weeks the Union County freeholders have made their annual pre-Election Day rounds bearing huge worthless cardboard checks representing grants or giant scissors for ribbon cuttings at new or renovated parks and recreational facilities around the county. I find myself smacking the side of my own head in amazement at the photo opportunity which took place at the official opening of the Esposito Farm Park on Madison Hill Road in Clark recently. Participating in cutting the yellow ribbon were four freeholders, three of whom were up for reelection, alongside the incumbent mayoral candidate and four Clark council persons, of which three were also seeking reelection. In total, eight of the ten in the photo were on this week's ballot. Is it a coincidence that the photo and accompanying press release were issued by the county information officer barely two weeks before Election Day? And what a coup for the Democratic freeholders to be seen getting cozy with Clark’s Republican council; from the freeholders' perspective it probably can’t get much better than that. A new $2.9 million park certainly can nail down a few bonus votes.
A few days later it was on to Scotch Plains for Chairman Estrada for a speaking engagement and photo opportunity to address parents and their young athletes during the opening ceremony for a new turf field in the Republican stronghold. The chairman was on hand to remind the folks there that a portion of the funding for the new turf field came to them through the Open Space, Historic Preservation and Recreation Trust Fund.
According to the county, this year nineteen of the twenty-one municipalities applied for and received (matching) grant awards from the Kids Recreation Trust Fund. A large-sized check for $103,000 was seen sitting in the council chamber in time for the regularly scheduled meeting in Garwood. However, residents should bear in mind that the actual money/check usually does not arrive until some time in the spring, and it will generate another press release, providing the freeholders with some additional PR bang for their buck. All of this is nothing but business as usual for our beloved board: announcing matching grants to municipalities, giving the residents back their own Open Space Tax money, getting their pictures taken sometimes twice for what is in essence the same check.
True to form, the chairperson of the Open Space Trust Fund is generally a freeholder who is up for reelection, and this year that is Freeholder Nancy Ward who hails from Linden. She is the one who is right there Johnny-on-the-spot to brag about the number of acres that have been preserved since the trust fund was created with voter approval in 2000 and which play grounds have been created and sporting sites refurbished with contributions from the fund. She is the one who this past year got to spout off all of the good news.
Recently during a pre-election interview with a local newspaper both she and fellow campaigner Board Chairman Angel Estrada were tripping over their words when a reporter innocently asked how much money has been borrowed by the trust fund to enable it to bestow its largess? With no answer coming his way the reporter took another path and reminded the duo that the projects are generally funded thru bonds repaid with the proceeds from the Open Space Tax, to which they affirmatively bobbled their heads smiling. Smiles quickly turned to frowns as he reminded them that bonds were debt and asked how much debt the fund has incurred so far. The next question was about the rate of the tax, and that went mostly answered by Ward with “I thinks” and “maybes” — disappointing because she proudly boasted about being the fund's current chair moments before, so surely she would know the rate of the tax levied on her constituents.
We can clearly see that “change” will not be coming to Union County. As long as the current cast of characters continues to get the nod from the voters, they will be subjecting themselves to escalating taxes and uninformed officials who use public resources to repeatedly get reelected.