Council Campaign Coverage | Democrat Derek Armstead: The Change Linden Needs

Council Campaign Coverage

October 26, 2010

Linden mayor hopes to lead difficult election sweep


During the past four years Mayor Richard Gerbounka, an independent, has complained about working with a hostile Democrat-controlled City Council.

Gerbounka is hoping to turn that tide in Tuesday’s election by winning re-election and sweeping one independent incumbent and three political newcomers in on his coat tails.

It won’t be easy.

Democratic Councilman Derek Armstead, who defeated council President Robert Bunk in the June Democratic mayoral primary, is battling Gerbounka for the mayor’s seat while also hoping to bring two Democratic incumbents and three newcomers with him.

Gerbounka and independent council president candidate John Miliano, the city’s former police chief for 22 years, are both seeking four-year terms. Also running with Gerbounka are City Council candidates Brian Krupski, 2nd Ward; Councilman Joe Harvanik, 3rd Ward; and Davin Russo, 5th Ward.

They will be challenged by Armstead, who is running with Democratic council president candidate James Moore. Also running on the Democratic line are Councilman Richard Koziol, 2nd Ward; Peter A. Brown Jr., 3rd Ward; Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling, 5th Ward; and Councilman Jack Sheehy, 7th Ward, who is unopposed.

Miliano said salaries are the biggest part of the city’s budget and that’s where cuts have to be made. An advocate for public safety, he said the fiscal pain has to be shared.

He said contracts may need to be reopened. If he were still on the force, Miliano said, he would prefer a salary cut to layoffs.

With businesses reluctant to invest, he said the city may have to foster deals between land owners and developers.

Moore, who recently retired, bought his two-bedroom ranch home 30 years ago and now pays $250 a week, or $12,000 a year, in taxes, which is higher than his mortgage.

He questions the council’s decision to build a new library and replace or renovate four firehouses at the same time when the projects could have been stretched out.

To stabilize taxes, Moore wants to review the city’s table of organization and seek assistance from the state Department of Community Affairs.

Koziol, who served on a city consolidation committee, recommended consolidating the recreation, public works and municipal garage, which all had similar functions, so that personnel could be cross-trained and services could be enhanced.

Koziol said every department is going to be affected. He said layoff plans should be structured so there is an incentive to consolidate and budgets have to be built from zero up, not based on what was spent the previous year.

Krupski said the city can’t spend money that it doesn’t have and he’d like to look at how city funds are spent. Krupski said he feels sorry for elderly residents on fixed incomes who can’t afford the increased property taxes.

He said people can’t afford to raise families in the city. He’s seen the taxes on his home increase from about $4,600 to $7,100 in just a few years.

Harvanik said Linden has too many employees. “We have to start cutting back,” said Harvanik, who supported the recent layoff of seven firefighters and elimination of five vacant firefighter positions. He said every department is being asked to reduce budgets by at least 10 percent.

The city may also have to consider charging for the disposal of appliances, he said.

Brown said the council should lead by example and take salary cuts. Council members get about $17,000 annually, with the council president getting about $19,000. They also get health benefits, which Brown said he wouldn’t take, adding that he also wouldn’t accept the $4,000 given to council members who don’t take health package.

He would like to see a cap on salaries, noting that many city employees make more than $100,000. He’s concerned about fire department promotions at a time when firefighters were being laid off. Employees should pay a share of health benefits, he said.

Cosby-Hurling has seen an increase in crime in her ward, especially daytime burglaries. She’d like to increase the police presence and expand the neighborhood watch program.

She also wants to review the city’s employee list because she believes it’s too top-heavy. She’d also like the state Civil Service Commission to look at some job descriptions.

Russo is concerned about how city employees spend their working hours. He said garbage truck start rolling at 6:30 a.m. and yet about a half-hour later he often sees workers at a deli, something he feels workers could have done before work or during their breaks. He said it doesn’t show gratitude when other workers are facing layoffs.

He thinks the city’s available industrial land might be redeveloped to reduce the tax burden and bring jobs.

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