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Archive for January, 2010

News updates Jan. 28

Posted by edison1205 on January 28, 2010

Just a few quick updates tonight:

  • The aftermath of the school referendum rejection is covered in articles in the Sentinel, Home News and the Ledger.
  • Edison taxpayers square off against a commercial landlord in the Supreme Court on Monday.  Read more in Edison & the Law.
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SCHOOL REFERENDUM RESULTS

Posted by edison1205 on January 26, 2010

As reported by the Home News:

QUESTION 1 (Various additions and renovations at 13 schools, $137,068,139)

YES     2,460

NO       4,987   √

QUESTION 2 (Approve new elementary school, $29,775,888)

YES     2,111

NO       5,317   √

TURNOUT ESTIMATES:

Approximately 7,450 out of 53,358 registered voters cast ballots today (14%)


UPDATE: According to this article, only 2 of the 14 bond referendums up for a vote around New Jersey passed during the voting on January 26.

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Township council meetings, summary of new material

Posted by edison1205 on January 23, 2010

There’s lots of new content today: we have posted our long-awaited opinion on the school referendum and we also have a writeup on the county budget in another post below.

Also, the agenda for Monday’s council worksession is here for your review.

It looks fairly routine: a new member of the Planning Board is joining.  But look for questions about Generated Materials, an open environmental matter that has gone undiscussed in public since December.

And of course, look for people giving their last-minute spin on the school referendum at the Monday worksession, and for cheers and jeers about the result of the referendum at the Wednesday regular meeting.  Along with the usual discussion of personnel decisions.

We would like to see some questions asked about timelines on the annual budget, and get word on labor negotiations, which were discussed at the last meeting in closed session.  With the fear and trembling caused by Trenton’s recent statements about the State budget, we’re anxious to know what the impact here will be.

We are grateful to the bloggers at edisongrassroots.com for their kind words for our new site.  Their summary of recent Edison news from multiple sources certainly makes it easier for people interested in the township to follow along without visits to different web-based and paper sites and we encourage our readers to take a look.

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Why to vote no on the school referenda

Posted by edison1205 on January 23, 2010

I am going to be voting against both school referenda that are up for a vote on January 26, and urge my fellow Edison voters to do the same.  In their analysis of the matter available here, I do not believe that the Board of Education has made a good enough, or believable enough case, for either referendum to pass, so I will choose no.

First: a few facts. Edison Township as a general rule delivers higher student outcomes at a lower per-student cost than other districts.  The statewide average cost per pupil in districts of Edison’s size is $13,539, while Edison’s cost per pupil is $11,576.  See here at page 483.

Despite this lower spending, we have better outcomes.  Our students’ graduation rate is higher than statewide averages, they consistently outperform statewide averages on proficiency tests, and the high school students do better on SAT scores.

Of course, there are areas for improvement.  We are slightly worse off, especially in SAT scores, when weighed against other districts of comparable wealth as Edison.  And four of our schools did not pass at least one of the 41 indicators in the No Child Left Behind reviews.  Edison High, John Marshall Elementary and Washington Elementary each missed one of 41 and John Adams Middle School missed three of 41.

Despite reasonable returns for our money, there are several decisions of the board of education that are worthy of criticism.

One has to do with paying two superintendents while only receiving services from one and the resulting litigation.

Another is the recent fiasco involving the school employees arrested for the abuse and resale of drugs, purchased apparently with a taxpayer-funded prescription drug plan that did not control the number of pills that beneficiaries could get.  And the squabble over who gets credit for the arrests.  [Also see DEA press release].

Even if you disagree with these administrator actions, as we do, that’s not a valid reason to punish the school students by denying them educational services they need.  But they do call into question the judgment and believability of claims made by the board of education members and administrators who want you to vote for this referendum, as to whether our students need everything that is proposed in Tuesday’s vote.

While some schools clearly need some improvements, and some need expansion, the claim to all $166.8 million in funding is not supported.

The estimates of an increasing student population are unsupported.  Edison’s government allowed crazy amounts of new construction in the 80s but all the factions on the council are united in opposing any new residential construction.  See here at page 40.

More disturbingly, the BOE cannot substantiate its claim that state aid will be available over the life of these bonds to help pay them off.  The way it works is this: Edison BOE issues the bonds and promises to pay the bondholders in full.  There is collateral for this promise, like a mortgage.

Next, the State promises to pay the BOE the stated share for these payments.  But for this, there is no collateral, no binding and secured promise that the state will own up to its obligations, or maintain existing funding levels.  It’s up to the Legislature every year.  The BOE’s failure to get an ironclad funding promise binding future state budget years was irresponsible.

Finally, in December 2008, a $57 million bond – about a third of the size of this one –  failed by a vote of 3,620 to 1,876 and the same bond had been rejected in April 2008 by a vote of 3,983-3,644.

As we understand it, under state regulations, if the Board was dissatisfied with the rejection of 2 identical school facilities projects within a 3 year period, they had 90 days to file an appeal with the State to override the voters’ decision.  If the Board felt the rejection threatened thorough and efficient education in the district, we feel the Board was duty-bound to pursue the appeal.

No appeal was filed.  So the claims that all the projects up for a vote represent a true “need” instead of something else, ring hollow.

We look forward to the Board formulating a more responsible plan, along the lines of what had been proposed twice in 2008, and making a proposal that’s clear about true current and future need, has guarantees about state support, and hopefully is held during the annual school election.

Additional resources:

http://ems.gmnews.com/news/2010-01-20/Front_Page/Edison_BOE_to_try_again_with_bond_referendum.html

http://myetea.org/ETEA_Update_Nov_Dec_2009.pdf

Whether you agree with our views our not, please turn out and have your say.  Here’s how:

Find your election district using this election district map and then go to the right polls.

Polling places will be open from 12:00 noon to 9:00 PM, on Tuesday, January 26, 2010.

District No.                 Polling Place Location

1, 43, 68                      Martin Luther King School 285 Tingley Lane

2, 72                            J. Madison Intermediate School 838 New Dover Rd.

3, 5, 30, 71                  Woodbrook School 15 Robin Road

6, 41                            Clara Barton First Aid Squad 1079 Amboy Ave.

4, 35, 40, 45, 50          Menlo Park School 155 Monroe Ave.

8, 11, 46                      H. Hoover Middle School 175 Jackson Ave.

9, 10, 51                      St. Stephen’s Church 120 Pleasant Ave.

7, 53                            James Monroe School 7 Sharp Road

13, 57                          Julius C. Engel Apartments Willard Dunham Drive

14, 15                          Lincoln School 53 Brookville Road

16, 17, 24                    Edison High School 50 Blvd. of the Eagles

18, 25, 52, 55              Washington School 153 Winthrop Road

19, 20, 47                    Benjamin Franklin School 2485 Woodbridge Ave.

21, 22, 37                    Edison First Aid #1 30 Lakeview Blvd.

23, 26, 38, 60              Lindeneau School 50 Blossom St.

27, 48, 49                    John Marshall School 15 Cornell Street

31, 56                          T. Jefferson Middle School 450 Division Street

32, 44, 54, 69, 78        J.P. Stevens High School 855 Grove Ave.

36, 42                          NJ Home for Disabled Vets 132 Evergreen Road

33, 65, 70                    J. Adams Middle School 1081 New Dover Road

34, 58, 62, 68 , 73              W. Wilson Middle School 50 W. Wilson Drive

64, 66, 67                    Minnie Veal Comm. Center 1070 Grove Ave.

12, 61, 74                    Grace Reformed Church 2815 Woodbridge Ave.

28, 59, 75                    Dorothy Dwral Comm. Center 328 Plainfield Ave.

63                                Middlesex County College West Hall, Mill Road

29, 39                          Municipal Complex 100 Municipal Blvd.

76, 77                          Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 418 Talmage Road

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Middlesex county budget

Posted by edison1205 on January 23, 2010

Earlier this week, the Middlesex County board of freeholders introduced its 2010 budget.  According to Freeholder Director Chris Rafano, the county is looking to have a $408 million budget, up from $392 million last year.  Of the 2009 amount, $297.5 million comes from taxes and the remainder comes from federal and state grants, fees, contracts, interest, and the like.

Apparently, the county has not exactly caught the fever of transparency in government, as we cannot find the actual 2010 budget proposal.  We do, however, have a copy of the 2009 county budget for your review.

In the 2009 budget, we see that the 2 biggest items were debt service / capital expenses / payments on county office buildings ($85.3 million) and “employee fringe benefits” ($57.4 million).  Other large cost centers were the county jail ($23.9 million), the vocational school system ($22.8 million), the sheriff ($17.6 million), the prosecutor’s office ($16.6 million), and the county college ($15.9 million).

The reason debt service is so high is that, well, there is a lot of debt.  At the end of 2008, the county owed various bondholders some $384 million, and was the guarantor for another $220 million.

The cost of employee fringe benefits is also of some concern.  In 2007, employee fringe benefits cost $45.7 million but that figure rose in 2009 to $57.4 million.  That is a 26 percent increase in two years.

Another thing we see is that the total value of unused sick and leave time for county employees was $19.4 million.  As the Edison Township budget comes under review later in the year, keep in mind that for Edison alone — one of 25 municipalities in the county — the amount is $14.5 million.

The freeholder meetings on February 4 and February 25, both at 7 pm in New Brunswick, will be a worthwhile forum to ask questions about these and other matters you may find in the county budget.

Other relevant documents:

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Coming tomorrow: why we recommend NO votes on the school referenda

Posted by edison1205 on January 18, 2010

By tomorrow evening we will post our analysis of why we oppose the two school referendums up for a vote on the 26th.  We will review the fiscal achievements of the Edison Board of Education, and the scholastic achievements of its students.  We will then examine the arguments offered by the BOE in support of the referendum, comparing them to the arguments offered in April 2008 and December 2008, when much smaller referendums failed.  We will also study whether the State’s claim that it will help with debt service funding is believable.  Finally, we will have links to voting information for the January 26 vote.

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Crime wave

Posted by edison1205 on January 16, 2010

Although the level of debate on the nj.com Edison forum can be biased, anti-intellectual, and downright bigoted at time, it’s not as if we never read it; it is, after all, the most active blog or forum in the town at the moment.  And it gives a good picture of what’s on people’s minds.  So we’ve been reading all this discussion about Mayor Choi’s police and fire promotions, and how they were reversed by Mayor Ricigliano.

It’s not news that the police and fire departments are very factionalized, and as our Edison & The Law page shows, these factions are making heavy use of our federal and state court system and our administrative agencies, apparently unable to work out their differences with discussion, mediation, or other forms of dispute resolution short of lawsuits.

While all this is going on, however, Edison’s crime statistics are not looking so hot.  In 2008 our crime rate was 2.4 violent crimes per 1000 residents and 22.1 nonviolent crimes per 1000 residents, for a total rate of 24.5/1000.  These included 6 rapes, 83 robberies and 147 aggravated assaults.

Only three towns in Middlesex County have higher crime rates – New Brunswick (58.4), Woodbridge (30.3) and Perth Amboy (27.7).  Twenty-one towns have lower rates.  You can go to our Statistics page and click on crime reports for the sourcing for this.

We think this just stinks and that we need a major reduction in the crime rates here, and we need it now.  And while these stats go back to 2008, the bloggers at www.edisongrassoots.com have done a great job discussing some of the muggings, robberies, and sexual assaults that have been reported since the beginning of the year.  As far as we know, none of those crimes have been solved as of yet.

We need improvements in public safety and we need it now.

I don’t know exactly what would produce lower crime.  Maybe it’s more officers on patrol, maybe it’s more detectives to solve crimes, and maybe it’s more supervisory officers to coordinate and lead.  And yes, maybe some of these steps will lead to more tax money going to pay police salaries and benefits.

But the discussion about whether the police department needs promotions and if so, who should have been promoted, is just self-centered squabbling for now.

“Me! Me! Me!  My buddy! My buddy! My buddy!  I was entitled!  He’s a friend of Choi! He dissed Spadoro!  He worked on the Ricigliano campaign!”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Until we get a reasoned explanation of how police hiring, promotions, and demotions will help the law-abiding residents of Edison and stop the crime wave now underway, we should ignore the squabbling.  It only diverts attention from the real issues.

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Elections and general update

Posted by edison1205 on January 13, 2010

The agenda for the Wednesday township council meeting is here.

Now, I know that we just finished a governor’s election and that we in Edison are facing two school referendums on Jan. 26.  But just in case you weren’t all election-ed out, the Ledger is reporting on the races for Middlesex County Clerk and Middlesex County Sheriff that will be fought out in November 2010.  [Updated version of story here].  So far, incumbent D Joe Spicuzzo and Keith Hackett, an R who is a retired trooper are the candidates for sheriff.  Incumbent D Elaine Flynn and Harold Kane, an R, are the Clerk candidates.

Don’t forget there will also be freeholder races and at least one township council seat on the ballot next November.  Also up for re-election (we assume) will be the members of Congress that represent Edison, Frank Pallone and Leonard Lance.

“But it’s many months away,” you might complain.  And rightly so.  But we mention this now only because if you want to run for these offices, you need to file petitions.  And anyone who wants to run in the primary needs to have those petitions filed by April 12.  To run for Congress you need 200 signatures; county offices require 100 signatures and local offices require 50.

We aren’t advertising this because we dislike any of the incumbents.  But we believe in spreading the word about how you run for office and the basic steps needed even months before the election.  So now you know.

[UPDATED 1/23/2010 to correct a factual error brought to our attention.]

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Council agenda posted

Posted by edison1205 on January 8, 2010

The agenda for next week’s council meetings is taking shape and is posted here.

We have one new planning board member coming (Bill Stephens), one returning (John Soltesz) and one new zoning board member proposed (Haresh Verma).  The interim business administrator is not mentioned.  An ordinance proposes expanding the speech limit at meetings from 4 minutes to 6.

We see that closed session will include talks about union contracts with the township lawyers.  The three fire and two police contracts have already expired, and maybe other unions’ agreements also.  The Edison Blog would love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting!

And we have heard nothing about whether Mayor Ricigliano plans to regularly attend council meetings.  Ex-mayors Choi and Spadoro handled that issue very differently.

With the 10 police demotions (or promotion cancellations) announced in the news today, UPDATE: and the fire/EMS demotions announced on January 11 and rumors of other demotions flying about, next Monday’s worksession and Wednesday’s regular meeting promise to be very interesting.  See the Civic Calendar page for info on times and places.

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Edison in the courts

Posted by edison1205 on January 7, 2010

As the Edison Blog continues our look into the township budget, we’ve made lots of progress on our Edison & the law page.  It’s a list of lawsuits from the past year that we could learn about from public records.  In the wake of news reports about the discrimination case filed by Adam Tietchen, we worked on this page so readers can get a sense of what Edison’s lawyers have been facing in the state and federal courts.  Click on the bar on the top to follow the link.

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