In the last month, Fair Haven’s council, led by Mayor Mike Halfacre, has cut the town’s anticipated debt by $3 million by selling the former Masonic Temple and slicing its borrowing for 2007 by $2 million.

But that hasn’t stopped the public from criticizing its spending and the rumor mill from turning.

Word around town is that “we paid a lot more than we actually did” for the temple, the mayor acknowledged recently. And River Road resident Ruth Blaser, a council watchdog who contends the borough has been on a 15-year spending binge, asked the governing body, “As we go forward, can we cut up our credit cards and pay-as-we-go?”

Her question came as the council was preparing earlier this week to unanimously adopt an ordinance to bond $2 million less than originally planned for.

The borough bought the lodge property for $1.2 million, and the building, with reduced parking, was sold earlier this month to Paul K. Abrahamsen of Rumson for $955,000. Councilman Jon Peters pointed out that the sale netted the town a parking lot. That lot, to the west of the building, should yield the town 30 public spots, Halfacre said.

“It was a good deal, and we came out of this very well,” Halfacre said.

More broadly, “We are reducing our borrowing, and we’re going to continue to take a hard look at our what we’re bonding for and where,” said Halfacre. “In the last five years, we have spent a lot of money, but the projects had to be done.”

The mayor added, via email, “Many roads and sidewalks were in disrepair. We had a large sinkhole open up in one road. There was a lot of deferred maintenance that we had to catch up on.”

The projects bonded for have been emergencies, Peters and Councilman Tom Schissler told Blaser, and now that the town has caught up, it can now spread out the costs and fix things in a more orderly fashion.

“Other towns are in far more debt than we are,” Schissler said, adding that the spending has been on items that will last many years. “The roads and sidewalks are being done. The entire fleet’s been replaced.”

Blaser’s question about debt engendered much discussion on the council. “It’s hard to transition to a pay-as-you-go system,” Peters said, noting the town’s “history of bonding.”

But the temple sale and the ordinance just passed, Peters commented, had reversed $3 million in debt in one fell swoop, and now $7 million remains out of a $10 million bond debt.

Peters had suggested keeping the Hance Road pocket park and Batten Road boat ramp funding in this round of borrowing, but the mayor countered by saying those projects were “relatively modest” and could be separately bonded for next year, which Peters acceded to.

Blaser, a 40-year-resident, told redbankgreen that the recent spending has been “distressing.

“It was going down, and then they started spending again,” she said. And while some projects may be necessary, she said, they shouldn’t be paid for by borrowing. Asked for an example of unnecessary spending, she answered, “They bought too many fire trucks.”

Blaser also cited the McCarter Pond project, which she said was bonded for, but the money was never spent on dredging. Halfacre responded that the council had decided against that project during budget discussions.

“The money was never borrowed for that project,” he told redbankgreen. “There was money spent on a study of the project several years ago, but the actual dredging will cost over $1 million, which is why we are not doing it.”

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