By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank property owners would pay 2.8 percent more in municipal taxes this year, under a budget advanced by the borough council Wednesday night.
The still-evolving $22.4 million spending plan was the centerpiece of a nearly three-hour online council meeting that left viewers with a lot to unpack.
But the impact on property owners would be limited to 2.8 percent, Business Administrator Ziad Shehady said during the session.
The owner of a residential property assessed at the 2019 town average of $366,231 would pay about $130 this year, he said.
• In prepared remarks delivered at the meeting, Councilman Michael Ballard, who chairs the finance committee, said that with the increase, the council was “inflicting even more of a financial burden on Red Bank residents during an economy-wrecking pandemic.”
• The session exposed tension between Shehady and Ballard, including disagreement over the borough’s use of a state-sanctioned “cap bank” to exceed a state-mandated 2.5-percent budget cap by an additional 1 percent, or nearly $180,000, putting the nominal increase at $629,000.
Shehady said the measure does not grow actual expenditures, but instead was an accounting category that creates a “cushion” should it be needed in the next two years.
Mayor Pasquale Menna called adoption of the measure “routine.”
But Ballard, who has headed the finance committee chairman for all three of his years on the governing body, suggested early in the discussion that the budget adoption vote be tabled, in part over concerns about the cap bank measure.
• The council debated three competing, and arcane, resolutions, none of which were listed on the agenda or provided in advance to the public.
They went with “B.”
• Ballard accepted blame for failing to hold a separate budget presentation for the public, unlike his predecessors as committee chairman, former council members Linda Schwabenbauer and Mike DuPont.
Ballard, a Democrat seeking his second term in the November election, has never held a budget presentation, and initially shifted focus to what he said was Shehady’s failure to deliver a budget presentation that he had requested. But he later said he would “fall on my sword for that” and would schedule a session for next week.
• Shehady later paged through a slideshow presentation, or a portion of it, that he had prepared, to Ballard’s surprise.
“This is the first I’m seeing it,” Ballard said.
• Included in the presentation was a spending table, shown above, that showed the top 10, mandatory expenditures rose 9 percent, whereas discretionary spending was cut 4 percent, Shehady said.
“Total expenditures were up just .81 percent,” Shehady said. “Less than 1 percent.”
• The session included a vow by Hudson Avenue resident Scott Broschart, during the public comments, to revive a push for nonpartisan elections.
• Branch Avenue resident Marybeth Maida, a lifelong Democrat, excoriated the governing body for having vested too much power in the office of administrator when it hired Shehady and reworked the role in 2018.
There is “so much lack of transparency when it comes to this council” and “too much power in one person’s hands,” Maida said.
• No date for a public presentation on the budget was announced. The council is expected to vote on the budget at its August 19 meeting. In the interim, it is scheduled to hold a workshop session August 5.
Here’s the budget as introduced: Red Bank budget 2020.
Here are Ballard’s prepared comments: Ballard budget remarks 072220