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Borough Will Utilize Resident Survey to Help Decide Service Cuts

The borough will mail out a four-page survey to all property owners on Sept. 1 asking residents what services they need and what services they can live without.

Whether you love or want to see it permanently drained, visit the daily or haven’t checked out a book in years, receive email updates about town events or don’t even have internet access – Fair Lawn’s mayor and council want to know.

On Sept. 1, the borough will mail all Fair Lawn property owners and tenants a four-page survey with questions about demographics, municipal engagement and social service preferences in an effort to gauge resident opinion.

The answers provided by residents will inform the council’s future budgetary decisions around what services the town may be forced to reduce or eliminate in wake of today’s harsh economic realities.

“Governing is about setting priorities,” Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski said at the July 17 council meeting. “I’ve heard so many different points of view from the people of Fair Lawn about what we should cut or how we should deal with it…My priority is to ask the people of Fair Lawn what they want to cut.”

Council unanimously agreed that getting input on future budget decisions from residents was vital, but disagreed on how best to accomplish doing so. Democrats Lisa Swain and Kurt Peluso were hung up on the nearly $7,000 price tag of mailing out more than 12,000 surveys to residents.

“I think it’s a lot more money than we first talked about,” Swain said, referring to the manager’s initial $4,000 cost estimate. “I’m hesitant at this point.”

Borough manager Tom Metzler, who initially proposed the survey and has been a strong advocate for conducting it, said he believed it was the best way to involve residents in the decisions that most affect them.

“Listen, every dollar is important,” he said. “But we’re doing this document so that the voters, the taxpayers, the residents can provide you, as a council, with input as to those amenities that they’re willing to give up in order to keep their taxes down. I don’t know how else to do that.”

As a free alternative, Swain proposed holding a series of town forums for residents to attend and share their thoughts on issues, but Trawinski countered by saying he didn’t think taking such a general approach would work.

“My experience on the council tells me that you’ll get the people whose ox is being gored by whatever the proposal is on the table and the rest won’t come out if there’s not something specific to their concerns,” he said. “If as a result of the survey we are headed in a particular direction for next year’s budget, we should absolutely have hearings on those issues and then on where we’re going, but to do it generally, I don’t think you’re going to get the kind of response that you’re looking for.”

Swain and Fair Lawn Democratic Organization member Joan Goldstein also raised concerns about the typical survey response rate, which Metzler said comes in at about 2 to 3 percent, if you’re lucky.

“So we’re talking about spending several thousand dollars to ask 300 people what they think?” Goldstein asked at the July 17 council meeting. “175 people fit in the rec center. If you hold three free things at the rec center you’re saving the taxpayers of Fair Lawn many thousands of dollars. There are many free opportunities to give your opinion in this town.” 

Based on the response the borough received to a Memorial Pool-related survey distributed in the 1990s, Trawinski said he’s expecting more like a 25 percent response rate, but noted that even if the borough receives just 500 responses out of some 12,000 households – a 4.1 percent response rate – he’d consider it a success.

“It’s more expensive than we thought and the odds are we’re going to get a low response,” he said, “but then, you know what…if you don’t exercise your right to respond to a survey, then don’t complain about your elected officials making the best judgment that they make.”

Goldstein also expressed concern over the validity of survey results, given the development of the survey in-house by non-experts, but again, Trawinski asserted that would not be an issue because the survey would be scientific.

He said he consulted with a professional pollster who looked over the survey pro bono and estimated the margin of error at about plus-or-minus 6 percent.

“The pollster said to me, 'For $50,000 I can do about a 20 percent better job, but who ever did this did a pretty gosh darn good job,'” Trawinski said.

The surveys, which must be completed and returned to the borough by Oct. 1 to be considered, were circulated between council and borough department heads for suggestions on numerous occasions. Property owners will receive slightly different survey questions than tenants, but all surveys will ask resident to provide their age, years spent living in Fair Lawn and number of children living in their household, in an attempt to separate what amenities are most important to individuals from various demographic groups in town. 

Council also considered the possibility of offering the survey online, but deemed it too expensive at the quoted price of $3 per survey response. 

Metzler said that in the end the survey may only complicate the council’s budget decisions, but that it'll never know unless it sends out the survey.

“I believe we’re gonna get through the survey process and we’re going to find out that it’s pretty evenly broke out,” he said.  “If you use it, you’re going to fight to keep it. And it’s only going to further complicate it, but we have to wait for that to happen.”

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@TP August 02, 2012 at 03:42 PM
@TP- you keep acting like radburn residents have a choice to pay for the pools or not so prove it. Im an individual who does not want to keep paying extra dues for pools i dont use. so please tell me how i can stop paying these eaxtra dues 'as soon as tomorrow" without moving from radburn? since according to you the pools arent forced on to residents please explain to me in much detail as possible the steps i need to take to stop paying for the pools and still live in radburn... there is no difference in how fair lawn taxes go towards memorial and how radburn dues finance the radburn pools. the only difference is one benefits you because you use the pools and yoy dont use memorial. all three pools are funded by some residents who do not use any of the facilities.
Chris Antonelli August 02, 2012 at 04:13 PM
No you can't. The Trustees can, not the members. Members can't even choose who they vote for. So let me see if I have this right: You pay association dues on top of property taxes with a smile, although you can choose to live somewhere else. But you balk at property taxes. And no, you can't end Fair Lawn. It's a municipal government. That's kinda how things are done in this country. You own property, you pay taxes. In return, you get services. If you don't like the services, you move. Not very complicated.
Tommy P August 02, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Chris, I am not going to pretend I like every aspect of our PRIVATE organization. Frankly what we do really isn't much of your business. Our bylaws are very clear, a majority petition ends the organization. It's not likely to happen, but it could. What you advocate is democracy, I prefer the Republic our founding fathers gave us. Let me see if I can explain it two. Two wolves and a sheep for a democracy, the majority votes sheep for lunch, you now have two members of that democracy. A republics limits the power of government. Two wolves can't vote sheep for lunch. Government has a role, providing police, maintaining streets, ensure education is available to all children come to mind. Providing entertainment or running business are not the proper role of government. You are free to disagree, but if we keep following people who think like you, bankruptcy is in our future.
Radburngal August 02, 2012 at 08:53 PM
ummmmm you are both quite mistaken. Members have to be former trustees. Residents, unless they have been trustees do not have a vote so Tommy P unless you are a former trustee, you have no vote except to elect your trustees who are nominated by trustees and members.
Tommy P August 02, 2012 at 08:55 PM
I am one of the residents of Radburn, we are diverse group with different opinions. I am not a trustee, nor an elected official, just a person with an opinion. I am glad that you happily pay for Senior Center, please be the first to open your checkbook and send a donation so the rest of us aren't force to pay for it. We have an okay library, but do we really need our own? Bergen County has hundreds of library, why? Do all 66 high schools, 68 towns, and every grammar and middle school need a library? Our could we consolidate them? The Maurice Pine library alone costs over $2,100,000 a year to run. Every dollar government spends is money taken out of OUR pockets, OUR budget. This is something lost on our leaders and an area of confusion for many. People get up in arms about taxes, but forget where the money goes, "services". There is a proper role for government, I am just not sure social club organizer is one of them.
Tommy P August 02, 2012 at 09:21 PM
@TP/CA All you need is 336 owners to sign a petition called an Affirmative Action to Terminate. Maybe you can't get it done in a day, but that is all it takes. See Article 7 Section 1 in combination with case law, we could end the association fairly easily.
@TP August 03, 2012 at 12:26 PM
and all you need to do to stop funding memorial pool and the library is get people who share your views to run for town council, get the majority of the residents to vote for these candidates and then have them close or sell off the pool and library. you could end the funding of memorial and the library fairly easily.
Radburngal August 03, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Tommy P you have it all wrong. If that were the case, would the Daly Field issue have happened? I'm not sure where you are getting your facts, but they are fiction. Radburn cannot simply dissolve itself. That is poppycock.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Radburngal, My mistake. I was referring to the CA members or residents.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Or........ You could just get some Lexipro. You may be depressed. Such gloom and doom.
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Several lawyers have looked at this, case law exists. What is missing is the will and organization to end the association. The consequences of ending the association are not fully clear. The biggest question being what happens to the common areas.
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Chris aka @TP, there are limits to what the government is supposed to be able to do. In reading the NJ and US Constitutions, using tax money to fund entertainment seems to be missing. May be you can help me find it. Aside from voting in responsible council members, I can think of at least one other way to end welfare pool, but I will keep it to myself for the time being. As for the LexApro, I would never use a mind altering drug like that. I'm not sure what doom and gloom you are referring to.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Are you sure Tommy? This community predates most existing case law. Don't apply case law to homeowner associations formed after say 1950 or 1960. It's grandfathered in under most old statutes. That's why it continues to exist in its current form. The courts shot down democratic elections. I doubt they'll allow anything else. Did you follow any of the Daly Field stuff? And if it were to cease to exist as an association, all common areas would probably revert to boro property since they would be no longer owned by anyone. Radburn may continue to exist as a shell entity, but without income (dues), there would be no way of paying for the upkeep and taxes.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Zak, Survey fraud? If they're afraid someone else might drop 7K on a survey, please post it! Ha ha...
@TP August 03, 2012 at 04:44 PM
to put it bluntly tommy: no one forced anyone to move to radburn or fair lawn, everyone lives here by choice. if you moved to radburn you chose to live in a place that pays extra dues for private pools, camps, etc. if you moved to fair lawn you chose to live in a place that uses tax money to support pool, library, senior center, etc if you moved to radburn or fair lawn and expected these things to change all of a sudden then you are an idiot.... and i refuse to debate with idiots
es August 03, 2012 at 05:23 PM
This "love it or leave it" attitude has been shoved about for years. The fact remains that Radburn has not routinely made its by-laws available before or at the time a homeowner closes on a property. By withholding this document, a prospective homeowner is not informed of the limited manner in which they may participate in the Association, unless learned from another resident. It is simply not a matter of moving elsewhere, unless you are moving to a trailer park.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Tommy, First, I post as me, and only me. I don't have time for garbage. I like taking credit for what I post. As far as what went on last night, it is considered something of a community outreach. That is allowed. Not everything is set in stone. Oh please, do tell. How do we end the pool? Lexipro is an antidepressant. And yes, your outlook on life and society is all doom and gloom. Do you ever take time to go back and read what you post?
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 06:53 PM
In this nation we have rights, owning property is one of them. The governments are limited by the "supreme law" of the country and of the state. At least that is what the Constitutions claim. Things change, what was once considered unthinkable sometimes becomes accepted. I'll highlight some big examples, slavery and marriage. I have been discussing with anyone who will listen the lack of merit of funding entertainment with tax dollars. Some people are okay with using violence to fund entertainment, in our society they are entitled to hold that opinion. The tide is shifting, economic realities are convincing more people that people who have my view on government entertainment are increasing in number. Want to call me an idiot, sure have it. Of course I didn't expect when I moved here that things would change overnight, and our issues are not unique either. Fair Lawn is great place to live despite some of the relatively minor complaints I have, but that doesn't mean it can't be made better. Ending government entertainment and returning the money to the tax payers of Fair Lawn would make this a better place.
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Those sellers who have not disclosed the rules have violated the law. Besides, check out radburn.org, our rules are not exactly a well kept secret. Radburn is a dysfunctional organization in some ways, the threat of ending it, may actually get some reform. The reality is the momentum of the status quo is likely to keep it this way until the state changes the law.
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Chris, I followed the cases very closely. The common areas would be subject to litigation and the outcome is not very predictable since no case law exists AFAIK on how to deal with it since it will surely be contested.
@TP August 03, 2012 at 07:34 PM
"The tide is shifting, economic realities are convincing more people that people who have my view on government entertainment are increasing in number." tommy go talk to some of the struggling families in fair lawn. they are the ones who cant afford family vacations or to take there family to the movies often. these struggling families are the ones who benefit from these services and get to enjoy memorial pool during the summer, get free books movies and use computers at our library.
@TP August 03, 2012 at 07:40 PM
if the majority of the town did not support these services our elected officials wouldnt be the ones who support these programs. you think because a couple grumps post on this board that means many residents are opposed of these services. fact is majority of town understands the importance of these services and supports them even if they dont use them. heres the difference- we have a bunch of internet trolls complaining on message boards to end these sevices whereas if they took these services away thousands of residents would be at borough hall fighting to get them back. i think that shows where the majority lies on these issues
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 08:34 PM
You need to be a little more specific. Subject to litigation by who? Not the residents of the former Radburn. They no longer, nor do I believe ever, had a legal claim to any open areas. They voted to dissolve. Not the RA. They no longer exist as an entity although, Radburn may choose to sell the open areas (they've done it before) to pay off debt.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Tommy, The state has ruled on many counts that Radburn is grandfathered into old laws that are no longer on the books. You may want to read up on it.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Here's how it's going to go down. $1,000 to you Tommy if it doesn't: In November 2013, 4 people are going to run in an election for 2 open seats on the Council. 2 will win, 2 will lose. The Sun will also rise in the East on that very day. There is a 50% chance of cloud cover, so even though you may not directly see the Sun, it will be there. On this day a baby will be born and an adult will die. Somewhere, someone in NJ will pay a sales tax. In late June of 2014, Memorial Pool will open as usual for the summer.
Chris Antonelli August 03, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Tommy, How long have you lived here? Who, besides you, share your view on the entertainment? I haven't seen or heard a peep from anyone. Why don't you start a petition to get the question on the ballot. You say more people share your views, right? You should have enough people to circulate a petition. You have that right. Get a referendum on the ballot to close the pool and library. Next year will be a big turnout. We have 2 Council seats and a gubernatorial race. If you have the balls, do it. If not, stop complaining.
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Wow Chris, thank you for such an ineloquent non-sequitur. In the last election we had 5 candidates that ran for 2 seat. Its cloudy in Fair Lawn less than 50% of the time, and your right less often. I find it ironic that we are both Republicans yet I agree with Democrats more often then I do with you. Don't count on the pool opening year after next, but you maybe right. I would love to see open too, just not subsidized by the tax payers. We wouldn't have the first government pool like that, I would be proud to be the next. Wouldn't you? Or are you one of those "neo-con" progressive repukagains? I doubt your a mensch, and I am sure you won't pay up, but I wonder, should I print your comment and try to collect??
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 09:12 PM
I am sure if given the choice people struggling would prefer to keep their cash vs giving it to the government in hopes of getting some "perks". The average family is spending $850 on the pool, community center, senior center, library, fire works and other entertainment each year. That doesn't include the $175 to join the pool we already pay for.
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Most people don't pay attention, don't think they can change it and don't think the marginal saving is worth their time. The politicians know this, that is why they don't put these spending measures on the ballot. Its why we get misleadingly low numbers on the cost of the pool. It why they hide building maintenance of the library as capital improvements on the borough instead of the library's budget. I could go on. The corpses are starting to stink, the truth is getting out. Even if 2,000 people stormed borough hall as you suggest Chris, its still means the vast majority didn't, you know the other 29,000+. If your so sure they are so loved, why not support putting the question to the voters? What are you afraid of?
Tommy P August 03, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Read the opinions, your right about structure, but not about absolution.

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