By JOHN T. WARD
A new council member, a call for budget cuts, a planned reopening of borough hall and a pandemic ponytail were among the topics at what might have been the last Fair Haven council meeting of the pandemic Monday night.
Among the highlights of the session, conducted via Zoom:
• The council appointed Lewis Point Road resident Suzanne McCabe to replace Councilman Jim Banahan, who resigned in April.
McCabe was one of three residents recommended for the post by the local Republican organization, which had dibs by virtue of Banahan’s affiliation; the others were Tracy Cole and Sheri D’Angelo.
Without comment, Councilwoman Betsy Koch voted with the majority to approve McCabe. Earlier in the day, Koch announced her intention to seek re-election, with Cole, a former executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, as her running mate.
Councilwoman Meghan Chrisner-Keefe cast the only ‘no’ vote, also without comment.
McCabe is expected to be sworn in at the next council session, scheduled for June 14.
• Koch called for budget cuts to offset what she called an “unacceptable” tax hike in the proposed spending plan.
While recent budgets have held tax increases to about 2.5 percent, this year’s calls for a 5-percent increase, she said. That equates to about $15 per month more for a home assessed at the borough average $885,000.
“It doesn’t seem like a great deal of money,” Koch said, but the municipal tax represents only about 22 percent of the overall property tax bill. Still to come are budgets for the borough schools, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High and Monmouth County, she noted.
“I think our tax bill is going to be more than just a $15 a month increase,” she said.
In anticipation of the borough taking on debt to finance two large capital projects – a police station and public works facility – she proposed several cuts. They include trimming salaries and wages by $60,000 to $70,000; reducing spending on information technology by about $10,000; asking every committee to spend $2,000 less; and tapping into reserves.
“This could generate, while it’s not a great deal of money, about $150,000 in savings for our residents,” she said.
She also proposed the creation of a capital review committee.
• Business Administrator Theresa Casagrande announced that borough hall and the public library would reopen June 7, following a 15-month COVID-19 pandemic closure to the public.
“The entire central office staff has been vaccinated,” and safety protocols will continue to be observed, she said.
Town hall will operate on summer hours, she said: Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 8 to 8; and closed Friday.
• Councilman Mike McCue said the borough’s active COVID-19 case count stood at 11 residents.
“Going in the right direction,” he said. “I’ll keep saying that, just for the historical record, until we get down to zero, hopefully soon.”
Monmouth County reported that as of Monday, 510 Fair Haven residents had tested positive since the start of the pandemic in March, 2020.
• McCue also reported the fire department will decide next month whether to go ahead with its highly popular summer-ending fair.
• A Memorial Day ceremony will be livestreamed on the borough’s Facebook page at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Borough officials ask that only military veterans and their families attend the ceremony to limit attendance, said Koch.
• Councilman Chris Rodriguez was shorn of his pandemic ponytail earlier in the day.
His two daughters did the honors, and now all three of them have donated hair, his containing “strands of gray,” to benefit people dealing with health conditions, he said.
“I was trying to take something positive from a dreadful and painful quarantine situation,” he said.