Belleville resident and community advocate Frank Fleischman III has submitted a “letter to the editor” to the Essex Watch.
Errrr….would that be a “letter to the blogger”? “Letter to the dude with the camera at public meetings”? “Letter to the guy with the excessively high wordcount on all these crazy political shenanigans”?
Whatever you call it, here it is (thanks Frank).
To The Editor,
Four council seats, one for each ward of Belleville, are up for election on May 10th. I wish to encourage all Belleville residents of voting age to vote in this election. If any Belleville resident of voting age is not registered to vote, I encourage them to do so. The registration form is available through the Essex County Clerk’s website (http://www.essexclerk.com/election_registration.html) and must be received in good order by the Clerk’s Office by April 19th to be eligible to vote on May 10th.
Today, it is easy to be cynical and apathetic about politics. On all levels of government, it seems as if everyone except the individual voter is able to influence public policy, affect political campaigns and essentially get positive things done. The old jokes and cliches — “Don’t vote, it only encourages them” and “Elections replace one group of bums with another group of bums” all seem to have a ring of truth.
However, the municipal level of government is where citizens have the best opportunity to engage their leaders and make a positive, lasting impact. Think about what local government — be it the Town Council or the Board of Education — does. These governing bodies determine the level and quality of local services, such as police, fire, public health and public works, recreation or, in the case of the school board, the education of our town’s children. Its appointed boards — particularly zoning and planning — determine who can build what type of building, and where in town it can be built. Most importantly, the Town Council and now the Board of Education approve yearly budgets, and these budgets essentially determine property tax increases for residents.
Attending or viewing public meetings of the Town Council and Board of Education and reading the news in local newspapers and websites, it’s plain to see that Belleville faces many challenges. Residential overdevelopment threatens to increase our already high population density — 36000 people in a town of 3.3 square miles – and to further stress our infrastructure and increase our school-age population. There are more than 500 properties in Belleville in foreclosure — most likely owing to the township’s property taxation rate, ranked sixth highest in Essex County. The township’s level of fire protection is in question, especially regarding having adequate manpower to operate all apparatus. The Board of Education is estimating a total cost of $65 – $85 million to make necessary upgrades to all of the schools. This, after a previous Board sank the district into a multimillion-dollar deficit from which it is slowly recovering with the help of a state monitor.
These issues impact Belleville residents’ in many ways. Property owners most likely wonder if they are getting the best value for their municipal tax dollar in the form of services. Renters suffer rent increases, often due to property tax increases on their landlords, who must get the money from somewhere.
I have lived in Belleville with my wife – a Belleville High School graduate — for almost 20 years. Having had grown up in another small Essex County town, some of my neighbors had friends from Belleville whom I met. What struck me then – and what strikes me now as an adult – is how proud Belleville residents are of their town – its suburban character, its history and its “neighborhood” feel. Because we are proud of our town, we must take seriously our roles as stewards of it. We all have an ownership stake in Belleville and its future, so we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues and vote for those whom we believe will best represent Belleville residents and their interests.
Please vote on May 10th.
Frank Fleischman III