Robert Vander Ploeg, Jr. is among the five Republican candidates running for one of the two open seats on the Jefferson Town Council.

Voting will take place during the Republican primary on June 5, which will determine the one mayoral and two council candidates who move on to the general election in November. Only registered Republicans and independents who register as Republicans before, or on the day of, the election can vote in the primary.

The Jefferson Chronicle interviewed Vander Ploeg to get a closer look at why he is running and what his plans are if elected.

Inspiration and Bringing His Background to the Table

Vying for one of the two Town Council seats in the 2018 election, Robert Vander Ploeg, Jr. was motivated to run because of the passion he has for Jefferson Township. “I have lived in town for 33 years. My wife has lived here her entire life. We care about this town, and we want what’s best for its people,” Vander Ploeg told The Chronicle.

Year after year, he has seen his and many other residents’ taxes increase despite the town’s services and programs remaining relatively constant. Vander Ploeg thinks that more can be done to keep taxes down. He feels inspired to be a part of this process, bringing more prosperity to the community.

Vander Ploeg, who has worked in the financial industry for 34 years, has been in charge of multi-million dollar budgets. He believes this background could help the town balance the budget and keep taxes down while still providing necessary services and programs to its residents.

Beyond that, Vander Ploeg has volunteered for many organizations throughout the town for the sake of his children, including various recreational sports leagues. This has allowed him to meet numerous residents over the years. He has worked hard to improve schools through serving on the Board of Education, and has been on the Planning Board for years. Now, having recently retired from the financial industry, Vander Ploeg has moved on to running his own small local business, Uncle Bob’s BBQ. Since the eatery operates only during the summer months, he has plenty of time to dedicate to the town.

Transparency

As an active community member who attends many of the Town Council meetings, Vander Ploeg believes one of the biggest issues of the council, seen from the outside, is transparency. He has observed many instances where the council has failed to use seemingly simple ways to improve transparency at meetings, such as providing copies of information packets the council receives or talks about at the meetings, or displaying this information on the monitors mounted to the walls of the room.

His main concern regarding communication between the Town Council and the public is that ordinances the council is currently working on, or plans to discuss at an upcoming meeting, are not published on the town’s website. He believes that ordinances should be available for residents to see and critique in advance to avoid having them sneak up on the public just before or after they are passed.

Vander Ploeg told The Chronicle, “We should give the residents an opportunity to share their input, express their ideas, and ask questions. This can only be done if we have an easy and open line of communication between the town and its residents.”

Economic Development

Based on his experience on the Planning Board, Vander Ploeg understands firsthand many of the factors involved in developing the local economy. He believes the way to stimulate more growth in Jefferson will take different forms of action.

Vander Ploeg supports having more ratables (taxable commercial properties) to encourage additional businesses to come to the area while also reducing the tax burden on residents. “If we have more businesses paying taxes, that’s less the residents have to pay,” Vander Ploeg stated. “Even though the Highlands Act has limited where businesses can go, there are still plenty of options for economic growth. We should look into areas such as the former Pathmark, Route 15, Ridge Road, and many other places on both sides of town.”

Vander Ploeg encourages using redevelopment options that will slow the increase of taxes for developing businesses over a longer period of time. This will incentivize businesses to come into the area or expand what is already here.

Another issue Vander Ploeg thinks should be considered is how taxes are assessed. Jefferson Township does a rolling assessment that evaluates only a fraction of the town’s property each year. It is believed to minimize work and make gradual changes to taxes, but has hurt the town with state aid for education. Vander Ploeg believes it could be beneficial to look into different ways of conducting tax assessments and maximizing state aid, which will help reduce tax increases.

Standing Out

When Vander Ploeg was asked what made his campaign stand out from the other candidates running, he asked The Chronicle why the incumbents for council are running are separate tickets. “Is there contention there?” he inquired. “If there is, I am the candidate to bridge that gap. I can work with everyone, and even though I’m a registered Republican, I truly believe that, as an elected official, I have to be an advocate for the people first – all people.”

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Kalen Luciano is a senior at Jefferson Township High School. He's involved in many different activities from chorus and the musical to UNICEF and Stand Up to Cancer. In his free time, he enjoys going on hikes, reading, writing, and hanging out with friends.

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