Alex Torpey, as a candidate for Village President, believes that public safety and property taxes are the biggest issues facing South Orange.
“We have a really high residential property tax burden versus commercial tax burden. Unless we can get businesses to come here we can’t improve taxes,” Torpey said. “We need to do more to incentivize them to come here, and we can’t do that until we improve our public safety and make South Orange more attractive.”
Torpey, a 23-year-old South Orange resident with a background in public safety serves on the Citizen’s Public Safety Committee, as a volunteer EMT with the South Orange Rescue Squad and volunteers Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator with the South Orange Police Department.
Based on his experiences going out on calls with the members of South Orange’s police and fire Departments, Torpey said he believes the Village needs a “greater direction” to tackle crime in South Orange’s border areas.
“The first thing we need to realize is the uniqueness of our police department,” Torpey said. “We are a small town environment with a small town police department that has to deal with the fallout of neighbors. We need to figure out what our community needs and make sure our police have the support they need.”
In particular, Torpey would like to improve lighting and focus SOPD resources on high crime and wants to see Seton Hall students partner with resident organized neighborhood watch organizations. If South Orange can improve the safety of the community, he believes it will be able to attract more businesses to the village’s vacant retail spaces and ease the residential property tax burden with the help of a little market research.
“We need to look at our market.” Torpey said. “We have thousands of students who want to go downtown. We need to look into the place that will attract them, such as a café with WiFi where they can work on a paper while residents can stop in and get a sandwich.”
Retail space, however, is not the only thing Torpey sees demand for in South Orange.
“We need affordable housing focused on the younger generation. We are losing business for Columbia High School graduates and Seton Hall students who just find South Orange to be too expensive to live here.”
As village president, Torpey said he would “think outside of the box” to come up with solutions to bring people into downtown South Orange in more “revenue positive, environmentally friendly” ways, including talking to the Seton Hall administration about finding a way to combine the SHUFLY shuttle with the village’s commuter jitney.
For Torpey, the biggest problem with last year’s proposed student fee was that the decision-making process pursued by the village excluded students and did not take into account the already expensive cost of higher education.
“I never would have done it in such a non-inclusive process,” he said. “If we were to crunch the numbers and somehow discover Seton Hall is costing the community more that it benefits it, which I do not believe is true, then I think we would have to come up with a specific amount to ask the University for to meet the difference.”
Torpey also expressed misgivings with what has become known as the village’s “animal house” ordinance, pointing out that it is the first time he is aware of a New Jersey “tenants’ rights” law making it easier to evict someone.
“I think it over-solved the problem; it might have accomplished what they wanted it too, but it lumps everyone together into one category even if they are not the primary troublemakers,” he said. “We shouldn’t criminalize every student to do that.”
Brenden Higashi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org