hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Just a few days before Middletown is set to introduce its budget, the phone lines are buzzing.

Who’s calling? That’s the mystery.

The callers identify themselves members of the Concerned Citizens of Middletown and slam the township committee for “excessive spending” and “engaging in an elaborate shell game” with tax dollars.

The robocalls have residents and township officials questioning the source — and legitimacy — of the messages. At least two rounds of calls have been reported.

“It appears to be just another desperate attempt by the Middletown Democrats to spread misinformation to the taxpayers,” Mayor Tony Fiore said.

Although there once was a formal group called the Concerned Citizens of Middletown, back when the fractious Town Center project was still still alive, Deputy Mayor Pamela Brightbill said the group hasn’t had much activity recently. She and Fiore say they’re told this isn’t the same group making the calls.

The first round of calls was made last week, in which a man claiming to be a township resident pans the committee for its move to reassess property values, a move, the caller says, that won’t reduce property taxes. Here’s the full message:

Hello, I am a concerned Middletown resident.

Have you heard that the township committee is engaging in an elaborate shell game with our tax dollars?

After spending millions on a re-evaluation and now a reassessment to fix faulty property values, our taxes will not be going down.

As a matter of fact they will be going up.

Regardless of how our homes are valued the township needs to collect $45 million to balance its budget.

Pay close attention to your next tax bill, then check with your neighbors. Were their taxes affected?

Paid for by the Concerned Citizens of Middletown.

The second wave of calls went out Tuesday morning, Fiore said. This time, the message, left by a woman, goes after the township’s spending, and that 20 percent of every tax dollar goes towards Middletown’s debt. The full message (which can be heard here):

Hello, I am a Middletown resident.

Have you heard that borrowing funds does not fall under the state’s new two-percent budget cap?

Middletown continually borrows to pay for excessive spending, and now the township is currently $73 million in debt from borrowing.

And the taxpayers must make principal and interest payments on this money.

Right now 20 percent of every tax dollar goes to pay off this debt.

Paid for by Concerned Citizens of Middletown.

Fiore says the calls, traced back to a number in Dunellen, in Middlesex County, are nothing more than a stirring of controversy, and when the township committee unveils its budget next week, “the real truth will come out.”

“The information they’re pointing out is just not accurate,” Fiore said.