Four open seats on the seven-member Morris County Board of Freeholders produced a primary season that at times seemed more like musical chairs.
Nine Republicans and four Democrats are on the ballot Tuesday, seeking party nominations that will place them on the November general election ballot.
The open seats are three regular three-year terms and one unexpired two-year term created last year when incumbent when a state Appellate Court disallowed her narrow special convention victory.
The court ruling placed Nordstrom’s opponent Hank Lyon in the seat. He was sworn into office in March and is unopposed in seeking election to the remainder of his term in November.
In addition, incumbent John Murphy, of Morris Township, chose not to run for his three-year seat, and a second incumbent, Gene Feyl, of Denville, when he was appointed as executive director of the Highlands Council, a state office.
Feyl had filed a petition to run for re-election, but dropped out of the race when his Highlands Council appointment became official. His name will appear on the primary ballot.
Those changes left Freeholder Director William Chegwidden as the lone incumbent seeking a three-year seat.
He faces eight challengers: Florham Park Councilman Charles Germershausen; Morristown Councilwoman Alison Deeb; Parsippany Councilman John Cesaro; former Mount Olive Mayor David Scapicchio; former Washington Township Councilman John Krickus; Jeremy Jedynak, of Rockaway Township; Edward France, of Morristown; and former Denville Mayor Ted Hussa.
Three Democrats filed for the three open three-year seats: Wasim Kahn, of Parsippany; Toshiba Foster, of Morristown; and Joy Singh, of Morris Plains.
Kahn has previously run for New Jersey Senate and Assembly in the 26th District and Parsippany Township Council. Singh is a first-time candidate, and Foster lost in the June 2011 Morristown Democratic primary to incumbent Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid.
All are running unopposed for the nomination to appear on the November ballot.
A fourth Democrat, Truscha Quattrone, of Montville, who lost in November’s general election to Nordstrom, had originally filed a petition that would have created a contested primary among the Democrats for the three-year seats.
However, Quattrone withdrew that petition and is seeking enough write-in votes Tuesday to enable her to contest Lyon’s unexpired two-year seat.
Chegwidden seeks third term
Chegwidden is seeking his third term as freeholder. He has been board director for the past two years. He is also mayor of Wharton and teaches at Morris Knolls High School in Denville.
“While my opponents talk about cutting the size of government, sharing services and cutting taxes, I have done it,” Chegwidden said at recent candidates’ events in Hanover and Morristown.
As Wharton’s mayor, he said, he led the effort to combine the borough’s police department with Mine Hill, and with four other mayors, created a regional municipal court centered in Dover.
As a freeholder, Chegwidden said, he was instrumental in the creation of the county’s solar energy project which places bidding through a private company for the county contract, solar panels on schools and public buildings.
The use of solar reduces the costs for the public entity and is estimated to save $3.8 million in energy costs over 15 years, he said.
The county, after surveying municipal interest in shared services several years ago, began to expand the county’s communication center, he said. So far, 23 of the county’s 39 municipalities have switched their emergency dispatch services to the county.
While that switch increases the county budget somewhat, Chegwidden said, the towns save money in their police budgets because they reduce the number of local employees.
Chegwidden said the county budget has increased in the past six years, but cited $23 million in additional pension and health care costs, $4.5 million in fees passed to the county by state government and a drop in real estate income at the county clerk’s office as among the reasons.
But in that period, he said, the county’s tax levy, the amount charged to taxpayers, dropped by $417,000.
“We managed our budget during the worst economic times in 80 years when the county‘s unemployment rate jumped from 3.5 percent to 8.5 percent,” Chegwidden said.
Among the cost cuts are a 17 percent reduction in the number of county employees, a reduction to $3 million last year of the county contribution to operating the Morris View Healthcare Center, the county’s nursing home, a drop from $20 million a decade ago; cutting the county’s open space tax to 1.25 cents per $100, which saves a county homeowner $150 a year, the addition of shared services at the county youth shelter and medical examiner’s office, which adds income to the county budget and the continuation of critical health and human services during the economic downturn, he said.
The freeholders’ effort to manage their $317 million budget has preserved the county AAA bond rating, which lowers the cost of county borrowing. Morris is one of 65 U.S. counties to maintain a AAA bond rating, Chegwidden said.
'Conservative Republicans' trio
Cesaro, Scappicchio and Krickus are running as the “Conservative Republicans for Morris County Freeholder.”
Cesaro is an attorney and a member since 2006 of the Parsippany Township Council. Krickus is a public accountant and a former Washington Township commiteeman and mayor. Scappicchio is a partner in a residential construction company and a served as mayor of Mount Olive from 2006 to 2011.
The group’s official statement said, "Our ultimate goal is to reduce and reform county government so it's smarter, smaller and more responsive. Each of us will bring relevant business, legal and local government experience to the freeholder board. We have track records of capping taxes and shared service projects that resulted in millions of savings, and are anxious to provide active leadership in shared services for all levels of government."
Specifically, the three candidates said their goals are to: freeze county spending starting next year; merge the county sheriff’s office with the county park police, an idea currently under discussion by the freeholders; reducing the size of the $40 million county emergency management and communication center currently under construction; abolish unnecessary fees and regulations; end dual office holding by freeholders; eliminate taxpayer-funded health care benefits for freeholders and make county government more transparent.
Cesaro said the county should make available on its website a more detailed version of its annual budget and an account of all bills paid. He also asked why the freeholders do not record their work sessions and public meetings.
“If the budget line says ‘a dollar’ and you only spend 65 cents, that can be a savings,” he said.
As a Parsippany councilman, Cesaro said he helped trim $1.5 million from a failed school budget, established a traffic advisory committee and created anti-stacking regulations for the township, which addressed an important housing issue.
Krickus said that if elected the Conservative team would not raise county taxes, but would follow the model of Somerset County, which cut its budget for the past four years, which other candidates at the campaign events pointed out occurred primarily through reductions to human services.
He said as a committeeman and mayor in Washington Township, he helped produce the lowest municipal tax rate in the county. The township also joined in several shared services with neighboring towns.
Krickus, who ran unsuccessfully for freeholder two years ago, said the open space tax cut is less important when compared to an average 2.5 percent budget hike in each of the past six years.
“We will spend less,” he said.
Scapicchio said as Mount Olive mayor he was in charge of a $30 million annual budget that included shared service for animal control, health services and fire inspection that generated $250,000 in annual income.
Jedynak, Hussa, France, Germerhausen and Deeb
Jedynak, the technology manager for the state’s parole department, said he would refuse to take the $25,000 freeholder salary, the pension or health benefits. His benefits and salary are paid for by the state.
As a former division head for Morris County, Jedynak said, he was one of the only candidates in the race who had actually cut county spending each year he led the division.
In that county job, Jedynak said, he oversaw one of the largest county-municipal shared services, the county library system.
Hussa was Denville’s mayor from 2009 to 2011, and said he saved $4.4 million over four years through budget cuts, job attrition and better management practices. Last year, the township budget contained zero tax increase.
Hussa said his 18 years of municipal government experience are an asset as he seeks to join the freeholder board.
He said he will focus on creating shared services at the county level, reducing the open space tax, and continue efforts at flood control.
Denville, he said, is the only Morris County town rated under the Community Rating System for flood control established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
France, a past candidate for freeholder and Morristown Town Council, said he would focus on job creation, working with county and business leaders to develop programs to get workers and companies together.
He would work for property tax reform, and ensure the county budget is “lean, logical, prudent and utilized to deliver critical services.”
Germerhausen has served on the Florham Park Borough Council for 10 years, serving as president for three years. He is a former Chester police officer, and the owner of a small business.
As a local official, Germerhausen worked to minimize any annual tax increase. He said that while the goal is to generate a budget with no tax increase, risings costs affect that decision.
“I wouldn’t say that I’d never raise taxes,” he said.
Deeb is in her second term as a Morristown councilwoman.
While the other candidates talk about refusing to take public health benefits, Deeb said, she successfully produced an ordinance that eliminated that benefit for Morristown’s elected officials.
She said she was the deciding vote to install solar panels at the town’s sewer plant, and pushed the council to join the county’s emergency dispatch services, saving Morristown $800,000.
“Over the past five years since I have served on the council, we have seen a reduction in our tax rate and our debt service,” Deeb said.
If elected, Deeb said she would cut government costs by "not accepting small budget increases as a victory; apply professional management skill to achieve a less expensive and more efficient and effective operation; seek an annual audit of county operations and develop a long-term strategy for all county programs."
She said she would not take health benefits, would take a pay cut and serve only two terms.
“We have a desirable county but there is still much that we can improve,” Deeb said.
“This election is so important and we must elect committed representatives who have the best interest of the county while continue to help our economy grow, create jobs and maintain the quality life we are accustomed.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Jeremy Jedynak's last name.