By JOHN T. WARD
Sean Di Somma, 31, of Morford Place, had robocalled an unspecified number of residents just hours before the bimonthly borough council meeting with a pre-recorded message warning that the governing body was about to “ram through” a $500,000 bond ordinance “to continue their own reckless and out-of-control spending.”
Di Somma did not speak during the public comment session prior to the vote on the bond, which won unanimous approval. Afterward, though, he engaged in an increasingly sharp exchange with Councilman Mike DuPont, each interrupting and telling the other to “hold on.”
The bond, a 40-year note, will pay for replacement of an antiquated water line on Lake Avenue that serves Fair Haven residents who buy water from the borough utility, said Administrator Stanley Sickles. Water utility revenues, not taxes, are used to repay the debt, he said.
Di Somma began by asking about fees paid to attorneys and engineers for the bond, but quickly shifted to questioning why the borough maintains its own water utility rather than using a private supplier; why the town has a public works department to pick up trash, when Fair Haven and other towns have outsourced that work at big savings; and why the town outsources its engineering work out to T&M Associates, when Fair Haven has an in-house engineer, also at significant savings.
When DuPont replied that a study several years ago found that Red Bank’s water was cheaper than that offered by New Jersey-American Water and United Water, Di Somma said, “there is no way that is even possible.”
The exchange grew sharper when Di Somma, referring to the all-Democratic council, said “nobody here has ever cut a tax… nobody here has a demonstrated ability to cut a tax.
“Here’s my point,” he said. “Just tell everybody your taxes will go up every year.”
DuPont, who heads the council’s budget-shaping finance committee, said the council had consistently reduced debt and expenses over recent years, and that recent tax increases have been driven by “costs that are beyond our control,” such as insurance and labor agreements.
“You have failed to acknowledge that there are costs beyond our control,” DuPont said.
Mayor Pasquale Menna participated in the exchange, taking a conciliatory approach. He told Di Somma that he and the council may not have done a good job letting residents know about pending efforts to reduce costs by moving to private trash collection system and to in-house engineering.
“I think you’re going to see some discussion on outsourcing our garbage collection,” DuPont added.
When Di Somma continued his critique, Councilman Ed Zipprich noting that the town gets just a fraction of the taxes that local schools get asked him, “do you have the same conversation with the school board?”
“It’s on my list,” Di Somma replied.
Di Somma, who said he’s lived in town for about a year and a half, told redbankgreen afterward that the robocalls, which cost him $40, went to phone numbers he had acquired doing unspecified political work. He added that he was not running for office, but had been approached to do so and was mulling the idea.
Later, Di Somma said he got “another call asking me to run” following the meeting.
Council incumbents Sharon Lee and Kathy Horgan are running for re-election in November. At the moment, they have only one opponent, Republican Cindy Burnham. Last month, Burnham’s running mate, Suzanne Viscomi, bailed out of the race, citing conflicts with Burnham.