RED BANK: REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY ON TABLE

Seen here at a council meeting in April, Ken DeRoberts, left, and Joe Hartnett of Government Strategy Group managed borough operations on an interim basis earlier this year. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

The authors of a report that called for the creation of a redevelopment agency for downtown Red Bank appear to be on their way to getting a contract to make it happen.

Government Strategy Group would lead the way toward the creation of the agency, chief executive officer Ken DeRoberts said in a presentation at the borough council’s first-ever workshop-only meeting Wednesday night.

GSG was hired by the council last October to conduct a comprehensive management review, and in June issued its Management Enhancement Report, which proved unsparing in its criticism of municipal operations.

Among its recommendations was the establishment of a redevelopment agency, or alternately, the appointment of a redevelopment director.

“We believe that one of the reasons that Red Bank seems to have become paralyzed in addressing its redevelopment issues is that the community has no person, office, or entity to provide leadership, focus, and drive to get things done,” GSG says in the document.

At Wednesday’s meeting, DeRoberts told the council that GSG was proposing to “put everything together for you” in the establishment of a redevelopment agency, including oversight of a Master Plan update and the drafting of design standards downtown to “make sure this doesn’t go the way of Hoboken,” he said.

GSG managing director Joe Hartnett told the council that such an agency could help businesses and residents achieve the widely-sought goal of a Navesink River waterfront that is more fully integrated into the downtown.

“You don’t give up any of your power or authority,” Hartnett told the council. “We can’t go around making deals” with developers without council authorization, he said. “We’re your tractor out there in the field.”

But the suggestion that a contractor be given the job seemed to surprise Councilman Michael Ballard, who heads the finance committee and has been an expense hawk throughout his first year on the council. Ballard said he thought Business Administrator Ziad Shehady‘s responsibilities included overseeing redevelopment.

“Isn’t that why we hired Z,?” asked Ballard.

Menna replied that the administrator’s position doesn’t allow time for the nuts-and-bolts management of a redevelopment agency.

The borough, he said, has been “chugging along” short of its economic potential for decades, in part because “we haven’t had the human power overseeing it. You still need the coordination on a day-to-day basis.

“We made the mistake 30 years ago of thinking we could get away with having one person doing 15 different things,” Menna said, in an apparent reference to Shehady’s predecessor, Stanley Sickels, who retired in December after a 38-year career in borough government, the last 21 as administrator.

Shehady added that “time is of the essence with redevelopment. It’s happening at such an aggressive pace” in towns surrounding Red Bank. “They’re going after this capital,” he said.

“Explain to me how this won’t cost the borough,” Ballard said.

DeRoberts said that initially it will, but that the longterm economic benefits would include taxes from new development as well as the possibility of reduced costs for the replacement of municipal facilities that are badly in need of rehabilitation. In the interim, he said, bonding is allowed under state law to help cover the agency’s costs, but it’s not available to towns without redevelopment agencies.

“I think this is a complete home run,” said Councilman Mike Whelan, adding that a single development project could cover the costs.

“I think we have to cross the Rubicon,” Menna said. “It will put us into the next century.”

GSG’s fee was not discussed, and Shehady did not respond Thursday to a redbankgreen request for a copy of the GSG proposal. The matter is expected to be on the agenda at the council’s next regular meeting, slated for September 12.

Separately, DeRoberts touted a “shared services summit” that GSG plans to host for officials from more than two dozen Monmouth County towns at the Red Bank Middle School on September 15.