By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank residents brought concerns about property taxes, water costs, downtown development, parks and more to a forum that featured all five contenders for two borough council seats Tuesday night.
In a wide-ranging, two-hour question-and-answer session marked by minimal friction among candidates, incumbent Cindy Burnham, a former Republican now running as an independent, touted her “no” votes on a long series of spending bills while three-term Democratic incumbent Kathy Horgan defended tax increases.
Meanwhile, a trio of first-time candidates — Brian Hanlon, Kellie O’Bosky-Colwell and Erik Yngstrom — staked out positions on the arts, parks and schools at an event that drew about 100 to the River Street Commons senior housing facility.
One year after Republicans narrowly displaced Democrats as the controlling party in Red Bank government, ending a 25-year reign, voters return to the polls on November 8 with five candidates to choose from for two three-year council terms.
Burnham called for the elimination of Red Bank RiverCenter, and reiterated her past calls for an operational study of the water utility, an idea O’Bosky-Colwell also touted.
Hanlon said he would propose selling the water system, and lashed out against the Red Bank Charter School for what he termed it’s “disingenuous” attempt to expand a year ago.
Horgan, who headed an ad hoc committee that was sharply critical of the expansion effort, wondered aloud if “we need three public schools in Red Bank — the primary school, the middle school and the charter school.”
Yngstrom, too, put the charter school in his sights, saying “we really have to re-examine whether we need it.” Meanwhile, he said his “top priority” would be parks, including maintenance and creating a new one on the West Side, where there are none west of Shrewsbury Avenue.
O’Bosky-Colwell, who said she sends her children to Catholic school as an exercise in choice, said she supports them all. “Each school offers something for the individual parent and child,” she said.
The event was the 20th in a series hosted by the West Side Community Group and moderated by its president, Amy Goldsmith. And it elicited questions familiar to attendees of past editions.
Ray Mass of Buena Place wanted to know why new, large-scale developments such as the Station Place and West Side Lofts apartment complexes had not delivered tax relief. Laura Young of Highland Avenue wanted to know why her taxes and water bills keep going up. George Fehr of River Road demanded action on speeding cars and motorcycles on his street. Kate Okeson sounded out the candidates on low-income and affordable housing: all said they were for it.
Burnham returned several times to the issue of matching grants, under which the borough gets an infusion of cash for a targeted use but has to come up with an equal amount from local taxpayers.
“What’s really killing Red Bank is these huge, massive grants,” she said, citing the council’s acceptance this summer of a Monmouth County Open Space grant to cover half the anticipated $425,000 of installing canopy-covered benches, dugout covers and freestanding “four-posts-and-a-roof huts” at Basie Fields, Mohawk Pond and Eastside Park.
Horgan suggested that the town might ban plastic bags. Burnham floated a suggestion for “tennis and food-truck Tuesdays” at the clay courts in Marine Park. Hanlon said he wanted to explore selling naming rights on borough parks to landlords.
Some ire was directed at two absent parties: rookie councilmembers Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan, for approving bonds for new water meters and a new well after having campaigned on a campaign to rein in spending.
“We’ve had people blatantly lie to us,” said Wallace Street resident Paul Balanikas, referring to Taylor and Whelan.