The incumbents touted cost-saving measures and corruption-fighting, while the challengers appealed for political diversity during a debate among the Monmouth County freeholder candidates.
The Monmouth County League of Women Voters hosted a forum at Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan on Wednesday featuring all four candidates seeking slots on the freeholder board.
Two seats on the all-Republican county board of five are up for grabs in the November election: a three-year, full term spot currently held by Freeholder Director John P. Curley and a one-year, unexpired term for a seat held by Freeholder Serena DiMaso. Democrat William Shea of Howell is challenging Curley, a former Red Bank councilman who currently resides in Middletown. Shea’s running mate is former Hazlet Mayor Kevin Lavan, who is looking to unseat DiMaso, a former Holmdel mayor.
Freeholder Director John P. Curley - Republican
In advocating for another term on the freeholder board, Curley pointed to his role in uncovering excessive spending by former Brookdale Community College President Peter Burnham. Burnham pleaded guilty to official misconduct charges in July.
“I put the president of Brookdale Community College in jail,” said Curley, who is completing his first term on the freeholder board.
Curley said he never voted for a tax increase as freeholder. During his tenure on the board, Curley said he has advocated for spending reductions and noted the $487.35-million 2012 county budget is lower than it was in 2009.
“We outsourced the youth detention center — saved thousands upon thousands of dollars per month. We went ahead with outsourcing our medical examiners office. We continue to cut between 5-10 percent from our departments,” he said.
William Shea - Democrat
Shea, a former New Jersey state trooper who made an unsuccessful bid for freeholder last year, said he is seeking office so he can continue to play a role in serving the public.
“I’m running on a platform of accountability, fiscal responsibility and infrastructure,” he said. “I want to streamline our government and make Monmouth County back on top where it was years ago.”
Shea said he advocates a 20 percent reduction in county spending and noted he and Lavan would forgo the freeholder salary and benefits if elected.
“We have to look under every nook and cranny and see what can go. There’s a lot of fat that still could be trimmed. Let’s look. Let’s see what we can do,” Shea said.
Freeholder Serena DiMaso – Republican
DiMaso, who joined the freeholder board in January after 11 years on the Holmdel Township Committee, said the county has implemented cost-saving measures and continues to lower staff headcount by attrition.
“I’m very proud of our county government. This year we cut $4.1 million out of the budget to deliver a zero tax increase to residents of Monmouth County. We did that without laying off one person,” DiMaso said. “Going forward we’re going to look at more shared services because in these economic times that’s the best way we can save dollars.”
She noted the county has maintained its AAA bond rating, enabling them to refinance existing at lower interest rates and offer municipal authorities savings because of that rate.
“We work very hard to keep that rating. And that allows our communities to share in bonding opportunities at really, really low rates,” DiMaso said. “We saved Brookdale Community College nearly $7 million and other municipalities upward of $10 million.”
Former Hazlet Mayor Kevin Lavan – Democrat
Lavan, a 47-year member of the International Longshoreman Association, called for a forensic audit of each county department to see where additional savings could be realized. He said he would look for opportunities to work with public employee unions to see if costs could be lowered during contract negotiations.
Lavan recounted his years in municipal office while describing his qualifications to serve on the freeholder board.
“I was a mayor in 2009 when we had the lowest tax rate in Hazlet in 20 years. I worked very closely with other towns around Hazlet with shared services,” Lavan said.
He noted that Monmouth County lost 22,000 jobs with the closure of Fort Monmouth and said job creation would be his primary concern if elected to a position on the freeholder board.
The freeholder candidates will appear at a county candidates’ night sponsored by the Lincroft Village Green Association on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Lincroft Elementary School.