SEA BRIGHT: TAXES, FIREHOUSE PACK COUNCIL

sb council 080514 1Mayor Dina Long, center above, helped move tables to accommodate an overflow crowd Tuesday night. John Lamia, below, was sworn to fill the unexpired term of Read Murphy. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

john lamia 080514A boatload of critical issues came crashing ashore in Sea Bright Tuesday night, as officials and residents wrestled with soaring taxes, where to put a Sandy-wrecked firehouse and more.

Dozens of residents packed a bimonthly borough council with their concerns: a bulkhead ordinance that would require some property owners to raise the level of protection adjoining their homes along the Shrewsbury River; a plan to build a 150-foot tall cell tower just feet from the ocean beach behind borough hall; the timing of repairs to the seawall.

Two matters in particular drew concerted heat: a proposal to rent land for use as a temporary fire station from a former mayor in arrears on taxes, and a 10-percent increase in tax bills, reflecting a whopping 17-percent increase to cover the cost of sending borough kids to Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch.

That one, and other issues, reflected longstanding frustrations.

“Twenty-five years ago, when I first came on the council – it was a subject then,” said Councilman Jack Keeler. “It hasn’t changed.”

Among the matters discussed:

• A nearly $800,000 increase in the town’s share of costs at Shore Regional came in only after Monmouth County certified tax rolls and was wholly unanticipated, Mayor Dina Long told the audience.

“It was a shock to us,” she said, calling the town’s burden relative to other towns “absolutely unacceptable.”

“There’s a flaw in the T&E formula,” said Keeler, referring to the state’s Thorough & Efficient education law used to apportion regional costs. The upshot is that Sea Brighters pay almost $90,000 per student each year, more than seven times paid by the other sending towns of Monmouth Beach, Oceanport and West Long Branch.

Taxes on a borough home assessed at the average $360,000 are up $702 overall this year, with $111 of that increase reflecting a higher municipal levy and $378 going to the regional school district, according to a council handout.

Long said the governing body was working with Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon to try for relief from Trenton. Several residents volunteered to by lobbying legislators to change the formula, while others endorsed a call for a referendum – which, if pursued, would be put before voters in the district’s sending towns – to allow the town to withdraw from the district and seek alternative schooling.

•  Though it was not on the agenda, a proposal to rent land on Peninsula Avenue from former Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka Adams, for $4,500 per month – and to make an estimated $150,000 worth of improvements there to accommodate a temporary firehouse – outraged several speakers. Kalaka-Adams was recently reported to be $40,000 in arrears on property taxes; a more current figure was not immediately available.

Several residents scorched the idea, which they said would unfairly favor a property owner over those who struggle to stay current with taxes, even those owed on homes still uninhabitable because of Hurricane Sandy.

“I just don’t like the whole idea,” said former Councilman Tom Scriven. “There needs to be competitive bidding.”

The council took no formal action on the matter, which was slated for a closed-door discussion after the regular meeting, though Councilman Marc Leckstein proposed a resolution requiring the governing body to explore other options.

The volunteer fire company has been housed in a former industrial building on the riverfront since its longtime Ocean Avenue home was condemned in March because of the pounding it took from waves during the October, 2012 hurricane.

• Several residents asked the council to think more creatively about what a cell tower might look like. One, Bob Malone, took to the microphone twice to suggest that the question of location be studied more closely, and that the council consider design options that would make the tower aesthetically attractive.

“What do you think a 150-foot tower is going to do to this town,” he asked, after Councilman Brian Kelly said that dressing up the tower could turn it from a moneymaker to a losing proposition. “Don’t tell me you can’t do it,” Malone said. “Find a way to do it.”

• The bulkhead ordinance, scheduled for an adoption vote, was tabled to allow the council to consider some suggested changes, Long said at the outset of the meeting.

John Lamia, took his seat as a councilman, after being sworn to complete the unexpired term of Read Murphy, who resigned last month. The term runs through December. Lamia, a Republican, is on the November ballot.

 

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