In the face of an historic economic downturn, Red Bank is trimming pay for its planning and zoning board attorneys, looking at a five-percent, across-all-departments budget cut and trying to hold the line in contract talks with its two public employee unions, says Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna.
The borough will also soon unveil measures aimed at making it easier for small businesses to set up shop in town by eliminating red tape, he says.
But the local government will need a hand from the state and federal governments if it is to keep pace with necessary road, sewer and other capital projects, Menna told a packed-house audience at Thursday’s annual borough government reorganization.
In particular, he says the borough will be angling for a slice of the Obama administration’s stimulus program.
And a key piece of that would be a “transit village” designation and the construction of a commuter parking garage at the train station, Menna says. He told reporters after the meeting that he had reached out to NJ Transit officials and encouraged them to build a garage at the station, but that the idea so far has been a non-starter.
The transit village designation is one bestowed by the state Department of Transportation and NJ Transit, and would put the borough in the running for funds to develop housing and improve infrastructure in the vicinity of the station.
Menna had previously opposed Red Bank pursuing transit village status. He said his main objection had been that there weren’t enough incentives in the program to make it worth Red Bank’s while.
“The question is can we get funding for it?” Menna said afterward. “Originally, we weren’t offered much just streetscape improvements. But if we can get improvements to our roads, things to keep our retail district strong, then it’s worth it.”
Red Bank has a parking garage at Globe Court, most of which it leases to Riverview Medical Center. Two attempts earlier this decade to get a new garage built at the borough-owned White Street parking lot failed once when Menna himself, as a councilman, cast the decisive ‘no’ vote.
Menna says the borough will also need outside funding help to keep pace with expensive sewer and road projects. Much of the town’s underground infrastructure is a century old, and system failures have added millions of dollars to the town’s debt burden in recent years.
On the salary front, Menna said the borough appears close to deals with its police and public works unions, whose contracts expired Dec. 31.
Last year, all borough employees got 3.5-percent raises, following a custom under which non-union salaries and wages were boosted at the same rate as negotiated contracts. Menna has said that tradition will end this year.
Menna said that because development applications have resulted in canceled planning and zoning board meetings, the attorneys for those boards will now be paid per meeting attended, instead of getting an annual stipend.