LAWRENCE: Campaign Corner

Editor’s note: The following are written by candidates for office in Lawrence. The Ledger is treating them as press releases and reserves the right to edit them for length and content.

Editor’s note: The following are written by candidates for office in Lawrence. The Ledger is treating them as press releases and reserves the right to edit them for length and content.
   I’d like to respond to Councilwoman Lewis’ comment: “Anybody who tells you this is about an election year, look at the calendar. It has nothing to do with the election. It was an election year when we set the $25 fee (earlier this year.)” (Source, Lawrence Ledger: “Council drops $25 fee for bulk items pickup” July 18.)
   Let’s agree off the bat that since we have elections for Town Council every 2 years, there is ample opportunity to try to politicize the decisions that are made by Town Council. So let’s purely look at the facts (and more importantly the Calendar as Ms. Lewis suggests) surrounding the bulk trash user fee.
   The last election for Town Council occurred in November 2011 in which councilmembers Lewis, Maffei, and Powers were elected. They took office in January 2012 and for the first time in more than two decades one party had a 5-0 majority.
   In January, council could not balance the budget without exceeding the cap so they decided to plan a referendum in which the only two alternatives were a 17 percent tax increase or a user fee for garbage collection which was equivalent to a 23 percent increase on the tax base.
   In March, Town Council set up three public meetings in addition to the regularly scheduled council meetings to convince town residents that if the referendum failed, they would proceed with the user fee.
   In April, the town manager sent a certified letter to all voting residents recommending the 17 percent tax increase. The 17 percent increase included salary increases for various township employees. Multiple township employees were involved in crafting the letter or preparing it for distribution.
   Later in April, the town manager and Mayor Kownacki both sent letters to the editor of local media advocating for the tax increase.
   On April 17, the referendum failed 2 to 1.
   In December, council voted unanimously to create a new bulk user fee, which could be anywhere from $0 to $55.
   All the above happened in a non-election year and the facts and timeline are backed by hard evidence.
   So far this year, sewer taxes are flat, council is within the cap, and they have created and since rescinded the $25 fee.
   Forgive me for being cynical, but the timeline is just too hard to dispute. It’s clear that council decided to take their lumps last year when they would not be facing re-election. In addition, why are multiple township employees working to advocate for salary increases using township resources? Is anyone else outraged by this?
   This is unethical and residents should be outraged and should be demanding a change in leadership.— Max Ramos
   The author is a candidate for Town Council.
   I write in response to a letter by Republican candidate for Lawrence Township Council Max Ramos, “Lawrence needs leadership: Vote for Collins, Ramos” (July 17). He would have readers believe the current council has not addressed salaries and benefits in recent budgets.
   Lawrence council has bilaterally and fairly negotiated employee contracts with seven unions that contained unprecedented give-backs in the various agreements, such as salary freezes, no medical benefits upon retirement for new employees and elimination of longevity pay for new employees.
   Mr. Ramos also associated the recent unfortunate news article “Ex-Lawrence Mayor linked to $75K theft in Monmouth” (July 13), about former Lawrence Mayor and councilman Mark Holmes with the current council. Mr. Holmes ran for office with former Republican Councilman and Mayor Rick Miller in 1997 and 2001. What Mark Holmes did in Monmouth has nothing to do with the current council members.
   In regard to suggesting that he is a candidate for leadership in Lawrence, Mr. Ramos failed his first test. He was one of three members of a 2012 ad hoc citizen budgetary committee. The committee attended numerous lengthy meetings and pored over volumes of documents. When it came time for the committee members to give their recommendations to council at the May 15, 2012, council meeting, Mr. Ramos did not take the opportunity to address the public. The other two members, however, gave their recommendations and comments. They did have some constructive recommendations, which were implemented, and one of the members also praised the township and its staff for being “candid, forthright and cooperative” in providing information during the budget meetings.
   So much for Lawrence residents pleading for more transparency as he asserted in his letter.
— Jim Kownacki
   The writer is mayor of Lawrence Township. A Democrat, he is running for re-election to the Township Council.