Proud Of My Strong Fiscal Management Over Past 4 Years Serving on Westfield’s Finance Committee
During my reelection campaign, I've received a lot of questions about the town’s financial management. This is a topic I'm more than happy to talk about. I serve on the town’s Finance Committee and I am proud of our fiscal management during the past four years. Here are some highlights:
1) Reduced municipal tax increases by 44% during 2018-2021 vs the prior four years under the previous administration. The average tax increase for the past four years was only 1.1% vs 2.0% between 2014-2017 and our track record included the town’s first-ever 0% tax increase in 2019.
2) Reduced municipal spending nearly five-fold from 2018-2021. Our average annual appropriations increase was only 0.7%, compared to 3.5%, which occurred during the previous administration. This is remarkable considering the pandemic's impact on revenues and that more than half of the town’s expenditures are non-discretionary.
3) Maintained the town’s AAA bond rating.
4) Maintained a robust surplus that is appropriately sized for our town’s budget.
I helped achieve these results as Finance Committee Vice Chair and member alongside Committee Chair and Ward 1 Councilwoman Linda Habgood. We scrutinized every line item in the budget every year. The committee spent dozens of hours meeting with every Department Head, challenging every spending request, pushing for additional cost savings and exploring new revenue opportunities.
As a result of this detailed approach, we uncovered an “off the books,” $1 million account the police department accumulated under the previous administration. We closed this account and moved the revenue moved back into the budget to help defray the tax burden on residents. We also moved the town’s cash from an online savings account earning a paltry 0.25% to money market accounts earning more than 1%, a move that generated more than $100,000 in incremental interest income in the first year.
Additionally, we right-sized the town’s surplus or rainy-day fund, based on advice from the town’s independent auditor and bond counsel. They recommended maintaining a surplus that that was equal to 15-20% of the town’s budget, or between $7 million-$9 million instead of the bloated $14 million surplus we inherited, an amount equal to a whopping 31% of the town’s budget. We put these excess surplus funds to work, investing in much needed equipment, infrastructure, technology and town-wide events while lowering municipal taxes, all the while
maintaining a healthy surplus of $9.6 million at the end of 2020.
Now, you may hear from our opponents and their supporters that the surplus level at the end of April was "only" $5.8 million. While this is true, it is also highly, and probably, intentionally misleading. The town generates incremental surplus throughout the year via higher tax collections, lower costs, and/or higher miscellaneous revenues than budgeted. In fact, since 2014, the Town has generated an average of $3.3 million in incremental surplus including $2.5mm during 2020 and we project that by the end of 2021, the surplus will be $9.8 million (for those who like math, this is calculated by starting with $5.8mm, adding $2.5mm plus another $1.5mm which is the town’s first tranche of the federal CARES act funding). This $9.8mm projected surplus level is robust and above the level recommended by our town’s independent financial experts.
In short, Westfield's finances are in great shape and we look forward to maintaining our record of strong fiscal management -- lower taxes, an AAA bond rating, continued investment in equipment and infrastructure, and a right-sized budget surplus. This is a record I am proud to run on.
David Contract, Ward 3 Councilman
How I Used Proactive Leadership To Overhaul Paving, Save Millions
I know I’ve written previously about how I helped overhaul road paving in Westfield. I decided to write again about this topic because it’s a great example of the kind of proactive leadership I bring to the Council as I work with Mayor Brindle and my Westfield Together Council-and-running mates on behalf of Ward 3 residents.
The primary reason I ran for Council four years ago was my concern about the conditions of Westfield’s roads. Grove Street is a great example. I live around the corner from Grove. It troubled me that, like many other streets in town, it remained in poor condition while other roads in much better shape were being paved.
When I took over as Chair of the Public Works Committee, it became clear why. To determine its paving program, the town was using anecdotal input from employees as well as suggestions from Council members. And residents could also petition the Council to have their streets paved, a process with too much opportunity for political influence.
I also learned why so many roads resembled lumpy, patchworks of new, old, and really old asphalt. Utilities doing street openings for necessary work only did patchwork street repairs. As many of you know, these patches quickly crack, potholes ensue, more patches are added and the next thing you know, your street is an uneven, bumpy mess.
I immediately set about working with my fellow Westfield Together Council colleagues, especially Code Committee chair and Ward 4 Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, to establish and implement an entirely new approach to road paving. This included the following steps:
- Implement an analytical approach to paving decisions. The town hired a third-party engineering firm to assess every road in Westfield so the town could objectively build paving plans on a "worst-to-first" basis. The results of this assessment are on the town website at https://www.westfieldnj.gov/454/Road-Assessment-Program
- Better protect our roads with new road opening ordinances that require utilities that open up roads to repave them "curb-to-curb" for 50 feet in either direction of the opening.
- Significantly increase annual investment in road paving.
- Partner with utilities to coordinate their infrastructure upgrade plans for Westfield with the town so we can develop more efficient paving plans covering entire neighborhoods
The net results of this road paving overhaul represent a significant achievement. From 2018-2021, the town tripled road paving compared to the prior four years. A total of 47 miles of roads -- nearly half of the roads in town -- were paved. And because of the new ordinances, half of these roads were paved by utilities at no cost to taxpayers, saving the town and taxpayers millions of dollars -- a huge win/win for residents. And for the first time in town history, the town has published a three-year paving plan based on the analytical road assessment so residents know where their streets are in the paving schedule.
This is a great example of the kind of proactive leadership I bring to the Council: Gaining a full understanding of an issue and then working closely with town officials and Council colleagues to identify the right short- and long-term solutions that deliver real results. I'm asking for your support on Nov. 2 so I can continue doing this for the next four years!
Thanks. Let me know if you’d like to discuss further.
David Contract, Ward 3 Councilman
I Endorse Council Contract For Ward 3
I Endorse David Contract For Ward 3 Councilman, By Gesine Ehlers, Westfield Senior & Ward 3 Resident
I wanted to let everyone in Ward 3 know that I, along with my fellow Westfield Seniors, enthusiastically endorse Councilman David Contract for re-election to Ward 3 Council. I have lived in Westfield for 8 years and David Contract has definitely been my best Councilman ever!!
I first met David when he was campaigning for Ward 3 Councilman back in the summer of 2017. I was visiting with a good friend of mine then and when I told David that I lived in Westfield Senior Housing, he asked a series of questions about the senior housing. He wanted to find out about my experience living there since campaigning is not allowed on the property of the housing complex. He asked me if I would introduce him to some of my neighbors to become more familiar with issues facing seniors living in senior housing, which is located in Ward 3. I was happy that he showed so much sincere desire to understand the tenants in the senior housing and made sure that seniors would not be forgotten should he win. Not only has David followed through, but he's exceeded my expectations of him as a councilman.
Firstly, I would like to state he really has been the most communicative councilman I have known. His regular, almost daily email messages, have kept me informed about all happenings in Westfield. Moreover, during Covid I was looking forward to his continuous information on the latest science, health and safety news. I must say that his tone was always upbeat and hopeful and may even include something unexpected that would make me smile.
Also, I feel that David has done even more than I expected to help seniors. He created a Lifelong Westfield which is the town’s first-ever group focused on the needs of Westfield’s seniors. The group started in 2018 and has held countless events to inform seniors about the services and programs available to them in our area including educational seminars on protecting us all against scams, Covid vaccine safety and other health and wellness topics. Also , emails and newsletters were sent out regularly to ensure continuous information.
And lastly, I would like to mention David is very responsive. Whenever I have emailed him with a question or even a thank you, he answered me immediately. If there was a question he was unable to answer, he would find out and was back to me with his response.
I hope David wins the re-election because he’s done an incredible job for me, for Westfield's seniors, and all of the Ward 3 residents. No one could have been more effective for our town's council than David Contract.
Gesine Ehlers, Westfield
Letter to the Editor: Environmental Leadership in Westfield
Read this Letter to the Editor as it originally appeared Sept. 15, 2021 in TAPintoNewark.
After reading the September 13th statement from mayoral candidate JoAnn Neylan in TAPintoWestfield, I feel compelled to share my experience as a founding member of Westfield’s newly invigorated Green Team, revitalized in 2018 under Mayor Brindle’s administration and with the dedicated leadership of Councilman David Contract.
Keeping You Informed Is One Of My Most Important Priorities
One of the most important aspects of being Ward 3 Councilman is to keep you – the residents – informed. During the COVID pandemic, the need to do this became even more important. And I made this a priority, ultimately sending out hundreds of email updates and countless social media updates since the COVID pandemic started.
I began doing this by just resharing the Mayor’s daily COVID Updates to make sure Ward 3 was updated with the latest public health and safety information. Then I decided to supplement the Mayor’s updates with other information I discovered on my own that I felt would be useful for Ward 3 residents including additional COVID information and even light-hearted content about ways to successfully manage living under lockdown.
I kept sending out regular updates even after the virus started to ebb this spring because of the positive feedback I received from residents who really appreciated my ongoing updates. Here are a few examples of these comments:
- “I really appreciate and enjoy these updates. Thanks for keeping the third ward in the loop. You’re an amazing council member.”
- “You have been so amazing and of course you have done so much to keep Westfield informed about this awful virus.”
- “Thanks for the daily emails. They are wonderful while staying at home. You have gone above and beyond.”
- “Thanks for sending email daily. it's very helpful to see what's going on in the neighborhood.”
- Stay well too David and thank you for all your hard work and relentless commitment to the really super daily updatesyou send. Thanks for the updates. Really appreciate it.
- Thanks, David – I read your updates every day. I find them very useful.
- I appreciate your daily updates. Thank you, David
- Thank you for always keeping us informed!!!
- Just a little note with sentiments of a BIG thank you for your daily updates, David!
I am still sending out COVID and Town Updates (albeit a little less frequently than before) because keeping you informed remains one of my top priorities. I hope to continue emphasizing this over the next four years with your support on Nov. 2. And, if you’re not getting my updates whether you live in Ward 3 or not, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll add you to my list. Thanks.
Ward 3 Councilman Shares Major Concerns With Edison Fields Proposal But Fully Supports The Process
I would like to share my perspective on the Edison Fields Project which I have discussed many times with Ward 3 residents on a one-to-one basis including explaining the planning process being followed and ending some untrue speculation about this project.
First, the Edison Fields Concept Proposal is not a fait de accompli. Several residents who I have spoken with believe the concept plan that was originally presented in June has already been approved. This isn’t true. Hopefully you are aware that at the Aug. 10 Council Meeting, the Recreation Commission -- which is leading this process – announced it is scaling back the project as a result of extensive public input.
This announcement illustrates that the town is following the same planning process it has followed for other major initiatives like the revised Historic Preservation Ordinance that was passed in 2020. This process involves several steps including 1) introducing a proposal or concept plan based on a town priority or strategic planning process, 2) gathering public input, 3) revising the proposal or concept plan based on that input, 4) gathering public input on a revised proposal, and revising it further if necessary and 5) eventually presenting a final proposal to the Town Council for a vote or dropping the initiative altogether. The Edison Fields Proposal is now in the 3rd step in this process – which is revising the original concept plan based on extensive public input.
I share many of the concerns that have been raised thus far and which I heard directly from you at the three public meetings (two public input meetings and the Aug. 10 Council meeting), a resident meeting I held with Ward 4 Councilwoman Mackey on July 4th as well as in discussions/emails with many of you. These concerns -- which include issues around traffic, safety, parking, environmental impact, health, noise, lighting and cost – need to be addressed in the scaled back plan. Please note that I live two blocks from Edison and Kehler Stadium so I am very aware of these issues since I live in the immediate area.
Since I’m not directly involved in this planning process, however, I’ve focused my role on ensuring that your concerns are heard by those members of the government who are involved including members of the Recreation Commission, Town Officials and the Council Liaison to the Recreation Commission. I’ve summarized the issues that I’ve heard and shared them directly with this group to make sure your voices are heard by those leading the process.
I also advocated strongly for the inclusion of residents from the Edison School neighborhood to be part of the planning process going forward. And I am happy to report that 5 neighbors from both Wards 3 and 4 have agreed to be part of this Edison Neighborhood Advisory Council.
Going forward, I will continue to play this same role as a Ward 3 advocate. This includes ensuring you have the opportunity to share your feedback directly with the leaders of the process, making myself available to listen to your questions and concerns and ensure they are heard and lastly, and most importantly, making sure that any scaled back plan addresses your concerns and mine.
Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.
Ward 3 Councilman David Contract
Solving Challenging Resident Issues in Ward 3 With Proactive Leadership
I wanted to share some wonderful news about how my proactive leadership was able to resolve a persistent issue for Ward 3 residents involving the State of New Jersey.
This past May, during a neighborhood meeting on Myrtle Avenue, residents complained about the loud noise from construction trucks that left Sitescapes Construction and rumbled down Myrtle several mornings a week, waking them up. As I walked around the neighborhood thinking about how to resolve this issue, I noticed that Sitescapes sits right next to the little-used state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) parking lot on Myrtle. And realized that the most straightforward solution was allowing Sitescapes trucks to go through the MVC lot on their way to South Avenue via Windsor instead of going down Myrtle toward Central.
Though this solution was straightforward, making it happen was not since it involved a State agency (which I knew was preoccupied with many other, more significant priorities and challenges statewide worsened by the pandemic). Despite low odds of success, I pursued it anyway with 110% effort because this is how I approach being your Councilman and solving problems.
I immediately leveraged every contact I had -- both political and personal -- including local and county officials as well as former colleagues of mine who work at the MVC. Eventually, I was introduced to the right person at the MVC (their Director of Legislative Affairs). I set up a meeting with this person in late June, explained the problem and the proposed solution and the MVC official said he would explore it and get back to me.
After several follow-ups from me spanning one or two months, I finally heard back from this official this week confirming that "YES", the MVC would allow Sitescapes trucks to use their parking lot in the mornings to avoid Myrtle. And the official let me know the MVC had already contacted Sitescapes on my behalf and they had agreed to implement this approach.
I am thrilled that I was able to resolve this issue for Myrtle residents and wanted to thank publicly the State of New Jersey and the Motor Vehicle Commission for their partnership and flexibility.
Lastly, I wanted to share this with you so you are aware of my proactive and persistent efforts to advocate for Ward 3 residents and the town of Westfield to resolve issues and drive meaningful and long-lasting change that makes Westfield better. I look forward to your support n Nov. 2 so I can apply this same approach for the next four years. Thanks.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Helping Westfield Recycle 240 Tons Of Materials Last Year
I want to give a shout out to every Westfield resident who brought recycling materials to the Conservation Center in 2020. Because of your efforts, 240 tons of materials were recycled instead of being thrown away. This is an amazing accomplishment and a great example of putting the mantra of "Think Globally/Act Locally" into action.
Some may not realize this, but many of the recycling programs you now participate in didn’t exist four years ago. I'm proud to report that under my leadership as Chair of the Public Works Committee and Liaison to the Green Team, the town of Westfield launched 11 new recycling programs at the Conservation Center—at no cost to taxpayers—during the past three-plus years. These include the ability to now recycle Styrofoam/EPS, plastic bags, food waste, #5 plastics, plastic toys, fluorescent light bulbs, household batteries, books, cork, tennis balls, and even crayons. As a result, we helped Westfield families not only clean out their homes, but we also prevented all this material from being thrown out, a win-win for Westfield residents and the environment.
Launching and running these programs isn’t easy, especially given the volumes that are being collected. For example, 50 percent of all the Styrofoam that’s recycled in all of Union County is now collected at the Westfield Conservation Center.
Thanks to my leadership and the hard work and dedication of the Department of Public Works (especially Conservation Center manager Rich Eubanks) and the Westfield Green Team, we continue to proactively find ways to keep existing programs operating at no cost to you while launching new ones. Here are two examples:
Plastic Bags Establishing plastic bag recycling in Westfield required finding a willing partner at a local supermarket. This way, we could take bags collected at the Conservation Center to this local supermarket for consolidation and transport to a recycling vendor. I personally reached out to the store managers at Stop & Shop here in Westfield as well as Acme and Whole Foods in Clark and got Acme to agree to be our partner. And, after the program became a huge success and the volume of bags started to overwhelm Acme to the point that they wanted to stop Westfield’s drop-off altogether, I reconnected with Stop & Shop and arranged for Westfield to drop off bags at both stores, ensuring this program continued.
#5 Plastics In 2018, I heard from many residents who were disappointed when changes in global markets required that the Town of Westfield stop the curbside collection of #5 plastics (such as yogurt and takeout food containers). I too shared these same concerns and remained determined to bring back #5 plastics recycling. Late last year, I learned from a recycling expert and Westfield resident that a market for recycled #5 plastics was starting to reemerge in the US. I immediately requested that our town’s Recycling Coordinator follow up with Westfield’s recycling vendor. After several discussions, Westfield was able to reinstitute #5 plastics recycling at the Conservation Center in mid-April 2021. Since then, more than 3 tons of #5 plastics have been collected at the Conservation Center which otherwise would have been thrown away.
These are examples of the proactive leadership I have brought to the Council over the past three-plus years and hope to continue to bring to the Council over the next four. I'm asking for your vote on Nov. 2 to continue this work moving Westfield forward on behalf of our Town and residents of the Third Ward.
Please contact me at [email protected] or 917-589-1197 if you have any questions.
Ward 3 Councilman David Contract
How I Helped Overhaul Road Paving in Westfield
I ran for office four years ago to make Westfield better. One of my chief focus areas was improving the condition of our town roads, which far too many people likened to the “third world” when I was campaigning.
Over the past three and a half years, I’ve helped lead a complete overhaul of road paving in Westfield through my positions as Chair of the Public Works Committee and Vice Chair/Member of the Finance Committee. This has led to many significant accomplishments including:
- a tripling of road paving from 2018-2021 -- totaling 47 miles (nearly half of the town) -- versus the prior four years
- new ordinances that protect our roads from being opened and require utilities that open roads to repave them curb to curb
- a new analytical approach to paving decisions based on road condition to ensure the town paves the right roads first
- a unique partnership with utilities that has led them to pave 50% of our roads for FREE and at no cost to you
Here’s how I helped achieve these successes.
First, I figured out the issues. After talking to Town Officials and benchmarking other towns, the chief issues affecting Westfield’s roads were:
- Not enough funds were being budgeted for road paving
- Utilities were opening our streets and not fully repairing them, causing more patches and more uneven road surfaces
- The Town didn’t use an objective approach to determining which roads should be paved each year
Then, I worked with Town Officials and other members of the Town Council -- especially Code Committee Chair Dawn Mackey and Finance Committee Chair Linda Habgood -- to solve these issues.
First, we increased investment in road paving in the capital budget. By using some of the bloated surplus to invest in much needed town equipment and technology, this freed up capital spending for road paving.
Second, we changed how the town developed its paving plans. Previously, the town relied on qualitative feedback from the DPW, Police, residents and if you can believe this, elected officials. Not hard data. Instead, we hired a well-known engineering firm to objectively grade every town road and subbase, assigning each a PCI score – or Pavement Condition Index. That way, the town could focus on paving roads in the worst shape first. Note: You can see your road’s PCI score on the town website.
Third, we passed ordinances to protect our roads including an ordinance that mandates that any utility that opens a road must pave the entire affected area curb-to-curb. In other words, no more patching.
By taking all these steps, the town was able to accelerate paving in town and build a unique partnership with utilities who have fully paid for half of the town’s paving -- meaning this road paving was FREE to you as a taxpayer.
This proactive approach to road paving is the same approach I take along with my Westfield Together counterparts to address every other issue facing our town. If you want Council representatives who proactively address issues and implement solutions, please vote to re-elect me for Ward 3. Thanks. Let me know if you have any questions ([email protected] or 917-589-1197).
David Contract, Ward 3 Councilman