SEA BRIGHT FACES ‘UNBEARABLE’ TAX HIT

By WIL FULTON

Post-Sandy challenges continue to pile up for the ravaged beach community of Sea Bright, this time in the form of a school tax hike via the Shore Regional High School district.

Borough property owners can expect a 13-percent increase, to 54 cents per $100 of assessed value, meaning that the average home, assessed at $344,696, would pay $1,861 for high school alone.

The rate perpetuates the dramatic disparities in the amounts paid by each of the district’s three sending towns. Sea Bright would pay some $90,000 per borough student at the school, whereas Monmouth Beach, Oceanport and West Long Branch would pay just $12,000 to $13,000, said Mayor Dina Long.

As in the past, the figures are the result of a disputed regional school tax formula about which Sea Bright officials and residents have long complained. Moreover, said Long, they reflect pre-Sandy property assessments, and not the post-Sandy reality.

“The regional school tax formula has been a problem before,” Long told redbankgreen. “It was painful before, but now after Sandy, it’s unbearable.”

The increase, if adopted, would have Sea Bright paying 15 percent of the school’s $15.7 million budget, with West Long Branch paying 32.3 percent, Monmouth Beach 25.1, and Oceanport paying 15.8. However, each town face a differing rate change, with West Long Branch’s taxes increasing 5 percent, Monmouth Beach’s less than 1 percent, and Oceanport’s going down nearly 2 percent 1.9 percent.

 “This isn’t the school’s fault,” said Long. “The tax formula is created by the Department of Education, and then approved by the district. The major problem this year is the fact that the numbers represent pre-Sandy numbers, and don’t reflect the devastation our properties have seen across the board. We’ve lost 20 percent of our taxable base.”

According to Long, there are three possible solutions to the problem:  the state Education Commissioner could step in, legislation could be introduced to change the formula, or the school board itself could decide to change it.

Long said she made multiple efforts to change the formula as a member of the borough council, and has had no more success this go-around than in her past efforts.

Applying for a Community Disaster Loan, one potential measure that Long said has been brought to her attention by several sources, would provide an offset, but wouldn’t be the solution to the problem, she said.

“The only solution, as we see it right now, is to change the formula,” she added. “I don’t consider it fair that residents of Oceanport and West Long Branch are paying $12,000 to $13,000 a head, while we have to pay $90,000, especially now.”

In an effort to change the situation, Long said she has been working the phones, connecting with the Governor Chris Christie’s office and other state and county legislators, trying to hold a meeting as soon as this week to bring attention to the problem.

Though Long acknowledged that the other towns in the school system are sympathetic to Sea Bright’s cause, she said they are accepting of the formula and believe it to be something that just can’t be changed.

“It’s just another week in Sea Bright,” Long said. “We’re just rolling with the punches.”