SKATING, PUTT-PUTT OUT IN MIDDLETOWN

skate-park1A skateboarder uses the township’s closed skate park despite the padlocks on the gates. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Shawn Sharkey is trying to balance his dejection and confusion these days.

Last summer, he and his friends would head to Middletown’s municipal skate park, in the Port Monmouth section of town, and skateboard all day, almost every day, he said. It was their place, where they’d be free of hassle from the police that they’d normally face skateboarding through town.

This summer, though, their safe haven is beyond at risk of becoming a vacant, useless patch of asphalt decorated with ramps and rails. The padlocks on the park’s gates haven’t even come off since they were strapped on last winter, Sharkey says.

“I think it’s stupid. Public places, we can’t go,” says Sharkey, 16. “Cops say this what skate parks are for, but when the skate park is closed, that leaves us with nothing.”

mini-golfMiddletown’s mini-golf course has also been closed due to budget cuts. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

The skate park is victim of township belt-tightening, but its closure isn’t the only sign of dire times. Across the street from Middletown North High School, the town’s miniature golf course has been shut down. Both are part of cost-saving measures, of which there will be more, says Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger.

In true Z-Boys fashion, Sharkey and his friends find a way to skate, and have taken advantage of the park despite its padlocked gates, with the rationale that it wasn’t monitored before, and it isn’t monitored now.

But at the mini-golf course, one would have to come with a putter, balls and a weed wacker to properly buck the system. Grass and other plant life are sprouting and beginning to intrude upon the kelly green Astroturf that encases each hole.

A couple of weeks ago, when resident Ralph Rubino saw the shabby-looking course, he wondered if his family-time activity was at risk. He’s lived in town for 10 years, and said he’d come all the time to go putting.

“It was, like, two dollars. It was cheap,” he said. “Ever since we’ve been here we’d go. It was like a tradition.”

When Rubino found out about other cuts, particularly the police department’s D.A.R.E. program, he shook his head.

“Oh, wow,” he said. “I’m glad my daughter already finished that.”

Between now and July 19, when the township committee is expected to adopt its $65 million budget, Scharfenberger said the spending plan will probably look “radically different” than when it was introduced last week. In other words, more cuts.

On the table are the cancellation of the annual Middletown Day celebration, unless significant sponsorship comes through; eliminating or reducing an annual $25,000 contribution to the Poricy Park Conservancy; and six police officers who were expected to be hired may not.

Scharfenberger also anticipates there’ll be more costly government worker retirements, which has become a common occurrence in town this year ever since Governor Chris Christie announced changes to the state’s pension and retirement plan.

“There’s a lot of things we’re looking at to trim back the budget,” he said.