BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN – Two Democratic candidates are vying for the part-time mayor position.
On June 5, residents will head to the polls and either choose Timothy Dacey, 44, or Thomas Vahalla, 58, who are looking to replace longtime Mayor Edmund O’Brien, who cited personal reasons for deciding not to seek a fourth term.
Both candidates said they want what is best for the residents of Metuchen and cited property taxes, traffic and redevelopment as top concerns.
Dacey, who in March, was given the borough Democratic Party’s endorsement to run for mayor in November and has been on the council since 2005, said the future of Metuchen is important to him and feels that he is the best qualified candidate to tackle the important issues facing the borough right now and the future.
“With the new state guidelines and caps put on spending, it’s important to have hands on management to deal with the budget,” he said. “When I was Bergen County administrator, I oversaw a $450 million budget and dealt with a lot of the local budget laws.”
Dacey said he would fight for the school district to get a higher percentage of state aid.
“Unfortunately, school taxes makes up 70 percent of our property tax bills,” said Dacey.
Vahalla, who announced his candidacy for mayor April 14, said he would continue the borough’s fiscal responsibility.
“As a member of the council, we have run a tight ship; however, there needs to be spending involved to save money,” he said.
Vahalla cited examples where spending money over the years saved money for the borough in the long run.
As council liaison to the senior citizens commission, Vahalla said he helped the seniors purchase a high-powered Xerox machine, which is not only used by the senior citizen commission, but the administration as well.
Vahalla said as liaison to the senior citizens commission and the youth services board, both commissions have raised funds separately that have allowed both groups to put money back into the senior citizen building and the Little League and Pop Warner fields without any cost to the borough.
“You have to think outside the box,” said Vahalla. “You have to do more
with less and make sure you maintain the services.”
Vahalla, a 33-year resident of the borough with 14 years on the council, said knowing the borough and the different issues around the neighborhood are key for him.
“I believe the next mayor in Metuchen must know and understand this community, history, and people in order to make not only the tough choices, but the right ones as well,” he said.
During Vahalla’s 14-year tenure on the council, he has served on and worked with various community organizations with adults, children and senior citizens.
“My service as council liaison to both the Youth Services Board and the Senior Citizens Commission has given me invaluable insight into the needs of all generations of Metuchen,” said Vahalla. “I understand and respect our community’s historic past and will be actively engaged in protecting Metuchen’s futures.”
Dacey said although he has only been on council since 2005 and respects the time that Vahalla has served on the board, he believes voters are looking for someone who works hard and delivers results, not longevity.
“I have accomplished more in my two years on the board than his 14 years on the board,” said Dacey.
Dacey said his work as liaison to the recreation commission has brought significant improvements made to Myrtle Park with the turf fields and his work with the mayor has implemented the single person one-armed garbage trucks and the co-mingled recycling program.
Vahalla said he would like to see a more open government.
“We need to have a better dialogue with the public,” he said. “There’s not a lot of public input and we need to work on that because public input makes better and more acceptable solutions.”
Dacey said he agreed with Vahalla about open government and public input.
“I insisted to the mayor that the open meetings for the former Stop & Shop development was the best for the community and we did get the best input,” said Dacey.
Vahalla said it was important to look at the proposed redevelopment concept for the former Stop & Shop site on Middlesex and Central avenues and work with the planner to make the necessary changes.
“What is on paper doesn’t mean that it will fit in reality when built,” he said. “I’m concerned with how many residential units that are proposed. This development does not fit in the town and it’s not an extension of town, it’s competing with the existing downtown.”
Dacey said he felt in general the proposed concept is “a pretty good mixed-use project for the site and it’s attractive, but it was important to get public input.
“It’s also important to understand COAH [Council on Affordable Housing] and land use laws and know how to fight a developer like the developers who proposed to put residential units on the old Gulton site,” said Dacey.
“They sued the borough and it’s important for someone to understand the laws, and I believe I have the knowledge to carry the fight on for the borough,” he said.
Dacey also said he would like to see the borough “go green” similar to what Mayor Meryl Frank has done with Highland Park.
“I would like to see us purchase more hybrid vehicles, apply solar panels to some buildings and replace current lighting with fluorescent light bulbs,” said Dacey.
Dacey, 44, Wadsworth Avenue, is the vice president of administrative services at Bergen Community College in Paramus. He was the former chief of staff to former Gov. James E. McGreevey when he was mayor of Woodbridge. He received his bachelor’s degree in marine transportation at the U.S. Marine Merchant Academy and a master’s degree in transportation at the Maritime College of the State University of New York. He has lived in the borough since 1999. He is married with one child.
Vahalla, 58, University Avenue, is a teacher at Metuchen High School and teaches drafting, mechanical and architectural drawing and computer repair. He received his bachelor’s degree in industrial art and technology at Newark State College, and a master’s degree in industrial technology and education at Trenton State College. He has lived in the borough for 33 years. He is married with three children.