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RED BANK: A YEAR LATER, STRINGS RESOUND

rb strings 061814 4Student musicians preparing to rehearse at the middle school last June, above, and performing at the borough sidewalk sale a month later. (Photo above by John T. Ward, below by Wayne Woolley. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

rb strings 072614A year after budget cuts appeared to doom the strings program at the Red Bank primary and middle schools, the band is back.

As part of the the borough-based Monmouth Conservatory of Music’s 50th Anniversary Gala Concert, strings players from the two-school district will take the stage of the vaunted Count Basie Theatre for a song Saturday.

But the appearance signals more than mere survival of a music program that was on the verge of disappearing when $80,000 was cut from the district 2014-’15 budget, advocates said. Rather, it marks the culmination of a community-wide effort to restore the program and position it for the future.

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FAIR HAVEN CRIME & ARREST REPORTS

Crime and arrest reports, unedited, as provided by the Fair Haven Police Department for the month of February, 2015.

AUTHORITIES_FH202/06-Garry Vandemark 2nd, 32, Atlantic Highlands, was placed under arrest following a traffic stop. Mr. Vandemark was charged for driving while suspended, Unlawful Possession of a Weapon and Obstruction. Subject was processed and released pending a Fair Haven Court Appearance. S/O Brooks Robinson was the arresting Officer.

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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.”

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RED BANK: HELP KEEP THE STRINGS SINGING

rb strings 061814 4HOT-TOPIC_03As reported by redbankgreen last month, the strings program in the Red Bank school district is facing extinction because of budget cuts. The school board and parents are looking for ways to keep it alive. Meantime, a handful of students from the program plan to play a selection of folk tunes, including “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” at 2 p.m. this Saturday in front of Toad Hollow, at 9 Monmouth Street, in an effort to call attention to the effort. The video below, made by parent Wayne Woolley, is another part of that effort.

Wouldn’t it be nice to give them a big, curbside audience to encourage them? You might also bring your checkbook or cash, in case you feel inspired to help in that way. For more info, contact Cathy Costa at ccosta273@yahoo.com. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

RED BANK: SCHOOL STRINGS TO GO SILENT

rb strings 061814 2rb strings 061814 1Getting ready to tackle Beethoven, Bartok and Bach, Red Bank primary and middle school students tuned up for their annual concert at the middle school Wednesday night. The strings program, however, was cut from the 2014-’15 budget, shaving $80,000, even as the local tax levy soared by nearly 10 percent. “It was all bad choices,” said school board President Ben Forest, whose daughter was among the kids playing their final concert at the school. “It’s horrible, but sometimes we’re charged with making horrible decisions.” Pressure to save the program is great, he added, and “we are looking at ways of restoring it.” Here’s a letter about the options sent to parents on Wednesday: Strings Letter 06-2014 (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

rb strings 061814 3

RED BANK: TAXMAN SEIZES THAI RESTAURANT

Muang Thai 3Muang Thai owner Jack Pongnoo, seated, with Muang Thai staffers last August. Below, the sticker slapped on the restaurant door by state tax officials Thursday. (Photo above by Robert Kern, below by Boris Kofman. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Fans of Red Bank’s well-regarded Muang Thai appear to have lost a dining option.

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RED BANK: BULKHEAD, BELLHAVEN DEBATED

rb bulkhead 041314The council approved a bond to pay for a bulkhead to halt erosion at North Prospect Avenue, above. A change to another bond, for a possible spray park at Bellhaven Natural Area, below, drew criticism. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

bellhaven-parkNot for the first time and almost certainly not for the last, Red Bankers picked over a pair of big-ticket projects at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

One was a bond ordinance council members were in a hurry to approve in order to save two Navesink River yards from severe erosion.

The other: A possible spray park at Bellhaven Natural Area that has pitted environmental activists against West Siders desperate for a playground.

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RED BANK: BUDGET IN SPOTLIGHT

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bankers with an interest in how much their local government costs them can find out where the money goes at a presentation Thursday night.

That’s when borough hall department heads explain their 2014 funding requests to the public at an annual event inaugurated by Councilman Mike DuPont in 2007.

On the table is the 2014 proposed $21 million spending plan, which town officials said is $218,000 smaller than 2013’s. About $12.6 million of that is to be covered by the local property tax.

Still unknown, however, is what property owners will pay, though preliminary estimates show the owner of a home assessed at the town average – currently estimated at $387,440 – paying $64.77 more this year.

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RED BANK: TRUSTEES PAN BOROUGH BUDGET

barbara withers 032714Barbara Withers, a resident of the Atrium at Navesink senior complex, implores the board to preserve a book-delivery service for its residents. Below, board president John Grandits, left, with Mayor Pasquale Menna outside the library meeting room. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

grandits menna 032714A plan by the Menna administration to rewrite the proposed Red Bank Public Library budget and undo the recent layoff of half its staff got a cold reception from the library trustees Thursday night.

One or two of the suggested changes, such as leaving the soon-to-be-vacated job of the library director unfunded, appear to be “illegal,” trustee Brigid McCarthy told a packed meeting of library supporters.

Still, Mayor Pasquale Menna, displaying obvious frustration with what he called “drama” surrounding the borough’s recommendations, said the standoff can and will be quickly resolved, even if he has to take unilateral action.

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RED BANK: LIBRARY LAYOFFS MAY BE REVERSED

rbpl sale 2 020213The fate of jobs for three full-time librarians is still up in the air. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03Red Bank officials said they are working toward a budget fix that might undo the layoff of half the staff at the borough library two weeks ago.

At Wednesday night’s borough council meeting, administrator Stanley Sickels said he and borough CFO Eugenia Poulos had developed an alternative to the library’s budget that might “maintain the full-time staff.”

Now, attention turns to the eight-member library board of trustees, which gathers Thursday night in what may be its best-attended meeting in history.

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RED BANK: BOARD DEFENDS LIBRARY LAYOFFS

rbpl board 022714 1The library board of the trustees at a meeting in February. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03Responding to “misinformation” and “half-truths… stretched beyond their limits” surrounding layoffs of half the staff at the Red Bank Public Library last week, the library’s board of trustees is pushing back.

In a question-and-answer document prepared by six of eight board members and obtained by redbankgreen, the trustees say that personnel costs accounted for 95 percent of the library budget before the layoffs, which affected six of the 11 staff members.

The layoffs were part of a library “reorganization” that “eliminates our deficit, allows us to right-size the Library for the budget, and sustains the Library for the future,” the trustees say in the Q&A. “The solution implemented [at a board meeting following the layoffs] on March 13 was just one step in a much larger process that began in 2013 when it became clear that even with stringent cuts in expenditures last year, the Library was living beyond its means.”

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RED BANK: ROBOCALLER DIALS UP TENSION

By JOHN T. WARD

A Red Bank man who tried to rally last-minute opposition to a bond vote engaged elected officials in a tense exchange over taxes and debt Wednesday night, but got no vocal backing from the audience.

Sean Di Somma, 31, of Morford Place, had robocalled an unspecified number of residents just hours before the bimonthly borough council meeting with a pre-recorded message warning that the governing body was about to “ram through” a $500,000 bond ordinance “to continue their own reckless and out-of-control spending.”

Di Somma did not speak during the public comment session prior to the vote on the bond, which won unanimous approval. Afterward, though, he engaged in an increasingly sharp exchange with Councilman Mike DuPont, each interrupting and telling the other to “hold on.”

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SEA BRIGHT: HANDLIN TARGETS TAX FORMULA

By WIL FULTON

Last month, Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long called a school-tax formula that would sock struggling residents with a 13-percent hike for sending their high schoolers to Shore Regional High School “painful before, but after Sandy, unbearable.”

Now, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, right, has stepped up to bat for the storm-shattered borough, offering to find a legislative solution to ease such shocks in the future.

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RED BANK: A QUIET NIGHT WITH THE BUDGETS

By WIL FULTON

It was a tale of two tax plans in Red Bank Wednesday night as the mayor and council advanced the 2013 budgets for both the municipality and RiverCenter on a relatively light agenda.

The borough budget – proposed at $21.2 million and containing a 7.7-percent tax increase, to 52.9 cents per $100 of valuation – was originally scheduled for an adoption vote at the session. An adoption vote is now anticipated at the May 8 meeting, said borough CFO Coleen Lapp.

Meantime, the spending plan, which would have the owner of a home assessed at the borough average $396,000 paying $2,054, is subject to possible changes, she said.

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