By JOHN T. WARD
At Wednesday night’s bimonthly meeting of the borough council, Red Bank officials authorized a new hire, passed a passel of bond ordinances and got an update on the public library’s finances a year after a mass resignation of board members.
Those agenda items and more get the bullet-point treatment below…
• Over objections from two audience members, the council approved the creation of a new job at borough hall: information technology director, a post that will pay at least $90,000 a year.
Elm Place resident Tom Labetti, who has spent two decades working in the IT field, argued that the town would be better off outsourcing the work as needed.
“I don’t believe the borough should be in the IT business,” Labetti said, adding that the town doesn’t hire a roofer as a full-time employee when it needs roofing work done.
Moreover, he said, town ordinances already require administrators to oversee information technology.
“I’m aware of how poor the public IT has gotten,” he said. “But if you’ve reached the point that you have to hire someone to clean up your mess, we should understand how we got here before we move ahead” with a hire.
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan responded that the borough had already tried outsourcing, and it “hasn’t been working. You need somebody here full-time to fix breaks. The staff here doesn’t know how to do that.”
“To simply say that we have screwed things up and we’re fixing it is not the case,” added Councilman Art Murphy. “Technology changes every day, every month, every year,” and a dedicated professional is needed to stay on top of the changes, he said.
Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer said earlier this month that she expected the town’s IT management costs to drop to about $77 an hour, before benefits, from the current $120 to $130 per hour rate paid to a contractor.
• Red Bank Public Library Director Elizabeth McDermott walked the audience through the organization’s 2015 budget, little more than a year after a mass resignation by trustees over budget issues that they said cast doubt on the future of the institution.
The $707,000 spending plan, down from $736,000 in 2014, includes revenue of $679,000 from borough taxpayers under a formula mandated by state law. More than 69 percent of the total – $491,000 – is earmarked for employee salaries and benefits, leaving the institution with little room to maneuver after maintenance and utilities expenses, McDermott said.
Still, in spite of dire forecasts made a year ago by departing trustees, the library ended last year with a small surplus, and is now in the process of adding three part-time employees, with an eye to boosting the total weekly hours of operation to 38 by July, after having been cut to just 20 a year ago, McDermott said.
In addition, the library board is preparing to hire consultants to assist with both fundraising and the development of a long-term strategic plan, one that will help avert future crises.
“Last year was not a natural disaster, but in some ways we were recovering last year,” McDermott said. “Something happened, and we were devastated.” The plan, she said, will help ensure that “we’re better than ever.”
• Continuing a tradition, an informal discussion of the proposed 2015 borough budget has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on May 6, said DuPont.
At its intrduction two weeks ago, the spending plan indicated that the owner of a home assessed at the borough average $365,405 would pay $93.28 more in municipal taxes this year. But Councilman Mike DuPont, who heads the finance committee, said he hopes to soften the impact in time for the formal public hearing and adoption vote slated for the regular bimonthly council meeting on May 13.
• As expected, the council approved a number of bond amendments introduced earlier this month. Also passed were a $300,000 bond for parking utility improvements; one for $1.53 million for this year’s road program; and another that would put $877,000 into water utility upgrades.
• The borough government’s contentious relationship with New Jersey Natural Gas flared up again. Councilman Art Murphy said that street-patching done by the utility following gas line replacement work on West Side of town in winter wouldn’t hold up for long.
“We were in agreement with the gas company that they were supposed to repave half the street whenever they laid in a new gas line,” Murphy said. “But they’re still not paving the streets.”
Administrator Stanley Sickels said he was scheduled to meet in coming days with borough Attorney Dan O’Hern to discuss the matter.
The borough last year won a key ruling in a lawsuit brought by the utility company over the relocation of gas regulators from underground vaults to storefronts downtown. The regulators, however, have not been put back where they were for decades, as the borough had insisted.
• What’s next for the three proposals received by the borough in response to a solicitation for ideas on what to do with the tennis court site in Marine Park?
Schwabenbauer said she and other members of the parks and rec committee would meet behind closed doors to score and evaluate the plans before making a recommendation to the council, at which point the matter would be open to public comment.
Meanwhile, Robert Ender, a spokesman for the Red Bank Clay Courts Foundation told the council that the organization had been unaware of the request for proposals and asked, in a letter, for an opportunity for “dialogue” with officials about restoring the courts, which have been closed since they were damaged by Hurricane Sandy more than two years ago.
O’Hern, though, told Ender that the group was “too late” and could not cut in on the proposal review process.
• The first-ever Red Bank Mayor’s Ball, scheduled for May 1 at the Oyster Point Hotel, is sold out, Menna said.
All 235 tickets to the black-tie event, at $125 a pop, have been purchased, more than twice as many as he’d expected, Menna said.
“I’m over the moon about it,” he told redbankgreen.
Proceeds from the event are to be donated to the library and the Parker Family Health Center.