When voters take to the polls next Tuesday in Hillsborough Township, they will cast their ballots in a number of important races, ranging from local school board to the governor.
This year, they will also have a say in the make up of the municipality’s five-person township committee, as incumbent Republicans Gloria McCauley and Doug Tomson aim to retain their seats for another three years against Democratic challengers Jane Staats and Harrison Burke.
At 24 years old, Harrison “Harry” Burke (D) is a life-long Hillsborough resident who’s looking to earn his first publicly elected office. Over the years, Burke has served as a volunteer in various sports and recreation programs, including organizations that benefit individuals with special needs like Camp Heart. He also helped coach the very in-town youth lacrosse program that he participated in as a youth.
In addition to his volunteerism, Burke works as a job coach for people with disabilities in Somerset County. According to the candidate, he spends his days helping his clients find steady work to help them live independent lives. Prior to that, he worked as a community action organizer and worked on campaigns for other political candidates.
Gloria McCauley (R) is currently serving as the township’s deputy mayor, though she has served on the governing body since 2009. During her time in public office, she has previously held the position of deputy mayor in 2010 and 2012. She was also selected to serve as the township’s mayor for 2011 and has served as a liaison to a number of municipal board and committees.
Having lived in Hillsborough for the last 28 years, the 51 year-old candidate previously served on both the township’s Charter Study Commission and the Somerset County Planning Board. In 2009, McCauley was named the Somerset County Woman of the Year for Public Service.
Jane Staats (D) has called Hillsborough her home for the last 31 years. After more than 30 years working as a public high school mathematics teacher, of which 18 years were spent at Hillsborough High School, the 59 year-old is trying her hand at public service.
Having spent a majority of her life as a school teacher, Staats points to those years as an example of being able to collaborate with colleagues, communicate with parents and students, and setting plans in motion to help reach a wide range of students. Today, she now works with the Children’s Liturgy and Art and Environment committees at Mary Mother of God Parish. She has also volunteered with the municipal alliance and as a scenic artist for both HHS Theatre and the Somerset Valley Players.
Doug Tomson (R) is 36 years old and like his Burke, a life-long resident of Hillsborough. He lives with his wife Rachel and their three daughters, Hailey, Hannah and Sara.
Tomson has served on the township committee since 2012, during which time he has been the governing body’s liaison to a number of township boards and committees. Since joining the committee, he has held the positions of deputy mayor in 2013 and mayor in 2014 and 2015. He has also served on the Planning Board and Capital Planning Committee since 2008.
In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the school district, all four were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.
Why are you running for a spot on the committee? What drives you to public service?
Burke: Public service has been a driving force all my life. I grew up in a household of social service workers who exemplified putting others first. As a public servant, I will work hard to assure that everyone in town has a true advocate who cares about their needs. I will strive to achieve that every day. The current committee has become complacent and does not recognize that their lack of interest is creating problems for our residents.
Municipal taxes have gone up over 100 percent in the 15 years of single party majorities, other (non-tax) revenues which could have provided tax relief are less than they were in 2002, roads and infrastructure have been neglected, many storefronts remain vacant in the center of town and our local nonprofit EMS was replaced by a for-profit conglomerate. My running-mate Jane Staats and I will be problem-solvers and we will tackle these issues.
McCauley: With many high rankings, recognition and disciplined approaches to spending, Hillsborough has never been in better shape than right now. I’m proud to be a part of a committee that has helped steer us to where we are today and I am driven to build upon these successes.
While providing the best services possible, we maintain a strong financial status. This is the direct result of disciplined spending. As a Realtor, I know people are moving here because of what this town has to offer. The number one thing people look for when purchasing a home is taxes.
Hillsborough has the lowest per capita spending in the surrounding area. We continue to preserve hundreds of acres of open space, we will continue to fight affordable housing obligations that are grossly over calculated and I will continue to work so Hillsborough stays one of the greatest and safest places to live.
Staats: Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I have lived that quote throughout my life.
I have always been motivated to serve and lead others. My 32 years as a teacher speak to that, and I continue to serve and lead others through several volunteer activities.
But I have been feeling that wasn’t enough. I grew more concerned about overdevelopment, outsourcing EMS, and drug and alcohol abuse among our younger residents. I have become additionally aware of the lack of transparency and lack of open and complete communication on the part of our township committee. They are often quite disrespectful towards residents who speak at their meetings. As I have gone door to door, I have respectfully and enthusiastically welcomed all of the views and concerns of all Hillsborough residents, and I will continue doing so as a true leader on the township committee.
Tomson: There are several reasons why I am seeking re-election to the township committee but my passion for government started in the early 80’s.
When Hillsborough was first building the municipal building, then Mayor Pete Biondi invited myself and my cub scout troop to the municipal building when it was completed. During that visit, Mayor Biondi showed us everything in the new building, including a giant map of Hillsborough from 1860 that sits behind the mayor’s desk. He sat there and talked about Hillsborough with such passion and conviction that I said that day I wanted to be mayor of my hometown.
I am seeking re-election because that same passion and conviction that I saw that day drives me to make sure Hillsborough is the best town in America for my three daughters and everyone in this town.
What would you say are the most pressing issues facing the township? If elected, how do you plan to tackle those issues?
Burke: There are pressing issues, in addition to unnecessarily high municipal taxes, that our opponents have mishandled.
The recent replacement of our Hillsborough EMS/Rescue Squad is one. Our opponents’ reasons for choosing RWJ (ed. note: Robert Wood Johnson) over HEMS were wrong, irresponsible, costly, and deceptive. I want to re-establish our own local squad that served Hillsborough well for 60 years.
Another issue is overdevelopment. It’s time to find better ways to create housing than our opponents’ method of approving massive apartment complexes and blaming everyone else, instead of recognizing their own poor planning decisions. It’s been the same people on the township committee, and issues and problems demand leadership, not finger pointing.
Finally, communication with Hillsborough residents is one-directional. Our opponents have one mind, don’t listen, and are rude to the public. I will continue to visit residents door-to-door, establish live interactive broadcasts of meetings, and engage with residents in an open minded manner.
McCauley: We adopted a budget for the second consecutive year with a flat tax rate. Additionally, 2017 represents the seventh consecutive year we adopted a budget under the state mandated two percent tax levy cap. The fiscal responsibility we have maintained allows us the high standard bond rating of AA+. It’s uncommon for any municipality to adopt a budget with no tax increase. To do so for two years in a row reflects our commitment to the taxpayers. They are always our first priority.
I will continue to maintain ”pay as you go” practices for capital expenses to limit long-term debt burdens and continue to focus on our business like approach to municipal spending. Debt service payments will continue to be accelerated where possible to reduce interest carry costs. I will continue to seek out grant funding and state funding wherever possible while continuing to meet the States Best Practices requirements.
Staats: As mandated by the state, we will continue to stay under the budget cap.
I spoke out against the decision to outsource our EMS, a decision that was made in spite of HEMS’ proven excellence and public outcry. RWJ response times are already a concern. I will support the creation of a volunteer rescue squad, using HEMS members. And I will work towards re-creating our home-grown EMS.
Only 24 percent of the units in current and proposed developments are affordable housing. To fulfill Hillsborough’s affordable housing obligation while preventing unnecessary development, I would redevelop existing spaces, aggressively seek state assistance and grants, and work alongside non-profit organizations.
I want to provide services, such as claims clinics, for our veterans.
I also want to include non-athletic activities for our younger residents, and increase support for the efforts of the Municipal Alliance and the Hillsborough Police Department in combating drug and alcohol abuse.
Tomson: The biggest issue facing Hillsborough is mandated Affordable Housing. Unfortunately, this is an issue because of the inaction of the state legislature. Hillsborough, and every town in New Jersey, has a constitutional obligation to build affordable housing.
Recently a group of affordable housing advocates sued over the current affordable housing mandates and the court agreed, triggering the building of up to 200,000 new affordable housing units. In Hillsborough, they are advocating for thousands of more units.
The township committee has been working to lessen these mandates. For example, we have been very active in preserving land to prevent it from being available building. Currently over 33 percent of Hillsborough is off limits to developers.
The township has also been in negotiations with the courts to limit how many units are being forced on us and we have been using every tool provided to us to limit the effects of these rulings.
How would you say you differ from your opponents? Why should voters choose you?
Burke: Voters should choose Jane Staats and me because we have new, fresh ideas for solving problems in our town and making residents’ lives better. We will listen to, and fight for, our residents every single day. We have exhibited our interest by knocking on over 5,000 doors here in town, and will continue to engage with residents every day after we are elected. Solving problems with valued input from the public is a crucial responsibility for a true public servant.
Our opponents do not acknowledge and will continue to ignore problems in Hillsborough because it fits their political purposes to do so. A local government is not supposed to be a social club with a constant barrage of photo-ops and press releases. It is supposed to be a group of individuals working hard to solve problems. We want to solve problems that the public cares about in Hillsborough.
McCauley: My opponents are clearly in line with the Democratic party to hike up taxes, to make Hillsborough and the state a sanctuary city/state, and while they claim they will protect from over-development, they publicly questioned why we would try to purchase another approximately 340 acres solely for the reason of halting housing development.
They are not informed if they think they can “meet” affordable housing obligations where they can pick and choose. My experience and knowledge of local government, along with relationships I have built in county and state government, is an advantage that will help Hillsborough get things done moving forward. I humbly ask voters for their support to keep Hillsborough moving forward.
Staats: I’m a doer. As a teacher, when I observed problems affecting my students, I took action to solve the problem. And now I am concerned for Hillsborough. I have seen overdevelopment, the decision to outsource our EMS, and the shabby treatment of our residents. I have seen young residents suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.
So, as a doer, my solution is to run for township committee.
As a teacher and volunteer in a variety of settings in Hillsborough, I have encountered many residents, and I have met thousands more as I’ve gone door to door. I have the empathy, integrity, intelligence, work ethic and awareness to address the concerns of Hillsborough’s varied population. I have educated myself on relevant laws, regulations, and ethics. I will provide new leadership and a fresh, alternative perspective that will broaden the current views of the township committee. I will challenge the status quo.
Tomson: I don’t know my opponents and on the few topics that they have addressed in public, it would seem they lack a basic understanding of state laws and how to work within the two percent property tax cap. While they have addressed the township committee seeking to see if we would become a sanctuary city, or pushing for millions in new spending at our budget meeting, they send out press releases asking why we do not negotiate lawsuits and discuss legal strategy in public. I would encourage voters to re-elect me based on my experience in always placing the public first and my deep understanding of local, state and federal law.
What, in your opinion, makes Hillsborough somewhere you want to serve?
Burke: I want to serve Hillsborough because it is my life-long hometown. Running for office has been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I have learned so much, and everything I learn generates thoughts and ideas for improving our town. Most importantly, I have learned that the people of Hillsborough care deeply about the serious problems we are seeking to tackle, and are receptive to the message we are bringing. Our residents have been pleasant, enthusiastic, and filled with suggestions and concerns that are important for every public official to hear if they want to call themselves public servants.
I look forward to staying in touch personally with our residents, and I ask for the support of our voters on Election Day, Tuesday, November 7, so that I can work every day to make our town a truly better place for all of our residents to live.
McCauley: I have served with unwavering passion with the greatest respect for all residents. I feel I can continue to provide the sense of trust and security our residents have in their local government. This is my home for almost 30 years. I want to serve to maintain what we have so children and families can feel they have a town to be proud of and happy to live in. I can’t imagine serving anywhere else. Let’s keep Hillsborough moving forward.
Staats: As I have walked throughout Hillsborough, meeting thousands of fellow residents, my love for Hillsborough has deepened. Hillsborough is made up of a diverse population in many different neighborhoods, each with its own personality – neighborhoods of long standing, newer developments, farmlands, and apartment and townhouse complexes. Like my running mate Harry Burke and myself, many residents are passionate about this town, and our conversations about the issues, families, and personal triumphs and dilemmas have been interesting and enlightening. Regardless of their political leanings, Hillsboroughites (Hillsboroughians?) have been very courteous and considerate, and they truly care about this town and each other. Many of them want to see change for the sake of others, not themselves. Their heartwarming selflessness deserves to be served.
Now living elsewhere, my son has often wistfully expressed his appreciation for growing up in Hillsborough. I want to help make Hillsborough even greater for all residents.
Tomson: This is my hometown. I was raised here and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Although Hillsborough is on the verge of 40,000 residents, we maintain a small town feel. The people I meet everyday literally make this the best town in America.