West Milford — This is the first in a series of question and answers columns in the West Milford Messenger posed to candidates running in the General Election this fall for the two seats on the Township of West Milford Council.Question: Do you believe that the tax burden of the average West Milford household is unfairly high? Why? What should be done?Michael Chazukow is running for the office as a Libertarian.Chazukow's answer: No tax can ever be fair, simple, or neutral. The taxation of real property actually makes the state the owner of all lands and forces individuals to rent their homes and places of business from the state (from the NJ Libertarian Party Platform).Some may argue that West Milford’s tax burden is not as bad as in other towns.But since New Jersey is consistently one of the three most taxed states, that comparison is little comfort. Others may point to the council’s efforts to keep taxes near present levels while maintaining services. It may be good politics to pass a “0 percent increase,” but we can’t keep ignoring the mounting debt or avoid changing our spending habits. A 0 percent increase is also a 0 percent decrease.Less than 25 percent of property taxes go to the municipality, so sizable cuts to the local budget will have only a modest impact on property tax relief. Therefore, I advocate cutting spending and using the savings to pay off debt. Eliminating the debt long term will help West Milford onto a sustainable financial path. The amount of debt serviced in the West Milford annual municipal budget has doubled in the last eight years and is now over $4 million! That’s almost $1 million a year in interest payments alone. We must reduce spending and pay off the debt. If youve ever paid off a car loan, you know it makes a drastic difference in your budget. Maybe you worked hard and paid off your mortgage or student loan. Sometimes it requires sacrifice, but when you pay off any large debt, it improves your quality of life. If elected, I would make eliminating the town’s long term debt my top priority.Chazukow, 40, has lived in West Milford for about 30 years."Liberty for West Milford" is his slogan.Republican candidate Marilyn Lichtenberg and Republican candidate Ada Erik are presenting themselves as a team, though they are each up for individual election. They responded together with one answer.Lichtenberg and Erik's answer:West Milford homeowners pay a disproportionately higher share of property taxes as compared to most New Jersey towns for three reasons. First, approximately 30 percent of the town is state-owned land that’s exempt from taxation. The largest nonstate land owner in our township, the Newark Watershed (30 percent), does not pay its proportional share of the tax burden despite generating tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue from their property. As a result, the property tax burden falls disproportionately to the remaining 40 percent of property owners.The second reason is that West Milford falls completely within the Highlands Preservation Zone. The state and watershed lands run the length of the Route 23 corridor, the only major highway through our township. Businesses seek high volume traffic areas to establish a presence, yet our nearest commercial properties to Route 23 are eight miles off the highway. As such, the lack of adequate commercial real estate adversely impacts our tax base. It is also noteworthy that despite the development restrictions imposed by the Highland’s Act, the township is still required to develop affordable housing. Finally, the tax relief West Milford was promised when the Highlands Act was passed has never materialized. In a classic case of bait and switch, taxpayers were promised the state would provide funding to communities adversely affected by the building restrictions imposed by the Highlands Act. Instead, the only funding provided was to buy-out large property owners, who could mount legal challenges, while shifting the adverse consequences of these buy-outs to the every day homeowner.What can be done? We intend to continue 1). Lobbying legislators to provide the promised Highland’s Preservation area funding. 2). Seeking fair tax revenue from the Newark Watershed based on the revenue generated from their West Milford properties. 3). Work to enhance our tourism and seek to amend our zoning to allow for bed and breakfasts in our town so visitors can enjoy our trails, stores, historical sites and restaurants. Marilyn Lichtenberg, 70, is a lifelong New Jersey resident and has lived in West Milford for the last 56 years.Ada Erik, 65, is a lifelong resident of West Milford.Kristin Reeves is running as a Democrat for the seat.Reeves' answer: Death and Taxes. We know it and I’m sure no one likes this fact of life any more than I do. Are our taxes high? Yes. Did the last tax assessment make it more difficult for residents to make ends meet? I’m sure it did. I also think that most would agree that, historically, a reduction in taxes is never significant enough to make a real difference in people’s lives. In West Milford, we lack the ratables that will insure, at the very least, that our taxes don’t go up radically each year. And, cutting services and salaries is not going to address the problem. Where we have the ability to influence outcome is in the ratables. We need more businesses in West Milford. We need people to come here, spend their money at those businesses and not necessarily live here. To be realistic, this is not an easy solution to accomplish but is the only one that would make a positive, long-term impact.How do we accomplish this? We can look to Lancaster, Pa. for a model. A city that was all but dead is now on the mend and is fast rising to become a thriving city again. First, we leave party politics out of it and focus on what’s really important – West Milford. Groups of local business people and those with great ideas and creativity that are not on the Council meet to brainstorm ideas and conduct initial research. The ideas are presented to the Council and both the group and Council work to reach those goals. Being clearly goal-oriented and specific, without egos, is critical for success.I would also suggest that we need to work on making West Milford “attractive” for businesses. Streamlining the processes for opening a business. And rather than the town putting up road-blocks, assist businesses in reaching their goals. Incentives, such as a progressive tax where there is a reduction of a certain percentage of tax owed for the first, say four years; where the taxes would go up incrementally each year, would attract businesses. This opportunity could even be advertised. We have to do things differently and creatively in order to do anything about making the taxes we pay work for us.Kristin Reeves, 63, has lived in West Milford for the last 23 years.