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RED BANK BUDGET: TOO TIRED TO ARGUE?

Taxes

A year after Democrats predicted Red Bank taxes would go down in 2007, the Borough Council last night finalized this year’s budget.

Taxes went up.

As the Borough Council majority sees it, though, the local bite was made as painless as possible. The average homeowner’s local-purposes tax bill — the first installment of which is due today — is up $57 for the year. Last year, it was up $87, according to CFO Frank Mason.

To Republican Councilman John Curley, the $20.23 million spending plan, which includes $8.6 million to be raised locally, would have benefited from a tougher budgeting process, outsourcing of some services and other approaches he said the majority had rejected.

To River Street resident Gary Morris, the plan was tainted by a “shameful” continuation of free healthcare insurance coverage for elected officials.

All of those arguments, though, have been made many times this year by those same parties. So by last night, with the budget’s adoption a mere formality, the combatants went a it with all the vigor of football players in the fourth quarter of a pro-bowl rout.

Which is to say none.

Curley’s dissent included no new points. Morris sounded resigned in defeat, there only to score moral points. In contrast to the sense of outrage that brought a number of taxpayers out to the prior council meeting, only one stood last night to say that, as a senior citizen, he was looking to leave New Jersey because he couldn’t afford the property levy.

In the absence of rancor, there was even a sense of accommodation. Curley kept his cool, probably because his new foil in the post-McKenna era, Councilman Mike DuPont, remained largely silent. Mayor Pasquale Menna suggested, without bitterness, that Curley, as liaison to the Parks & Rec department, might try out his theories about zero-based budgeting there just to see how it goes.

Even Morris came away somewhat appeased. Having failed to persuade the council to repudiate healthcare benefits, he urged its members to at least begin contributing to the costs of the premiums, just as borough employees have done since 1994.

In fact, that’s exactly what the finance committee as recommended, DuPont replied. He said he expects the contributions to kick in next January 1.

Morris thanked him for that.

Afterward, redbankgreen asked Menna about the status of his own pledge, made in April via this website, to waive healthcare insurance coverage for himself.

Menna said he’d recently written to the state Public Employee Retirement system to inquire about his eligibility for a COBRA extension, under which he’d pay for his insurance at the statewide group rate for a specified period.

Once his COBRA coverage expires, Menna, a sole practitioner lawyer, will have to buy his own coverage in the open market.

“John Curley keeps saying we all have independent coverage,” Menna said. “I don’t.”

Among council members, only Curley and Grace Cangemi, the other Republican, don’t take the benefit. Cangemi was absent last night.

Menna also said he had inquired to make sure that withdrawing from the borough health plan would not imperil his PERS-guaranteed lifetime health benefits after he’d been in the system for 25 years.

“After 19 years, I just want to be sure if I opt out, I’m still vested,” he said.

* * *

Speaking of taxes, the 2007-08 fiscal year got a jump start from an organization with no obligation to pay any.

Two members of the non-profit Monmouth Boat Club came to the meeting in their navy blazers and khakis to donate $5,000 to the borough, a voluntary payment made in lieu of taxes.

“If all the other tax-exempts did the same, we’d be better off,” Menna said as he thanked Commodore Todd Edwards and made a bee line from the dais to get the check. “I’ll take it before you take it back.”

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