Mayor Dina Long, center above, helped move tables to accommodate an overflow crowd Tuesday night. John Lamia, below, was sworn to fill the unexpired term of Read Murphy. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A boatload of critical issues came crashing ashore in Sea Bright Tuesday night, as officials and residents wrestled with soaring taxes, where to put a Sandy-wrecked firehouse and more.
Dozens of residents packed a bimonthly borough council with their concerns: a bulkhead ordinance that would require some property owners to raise the level of protection adjoining their homes along the Shrewsbury River; a plan to build a 150-foot tall cell tower just feet from the ocean beach behind borough hall; the timing of repairs to the seawall.
Two matters in particular drew concerted heat: a proposal to rent land for use as a temporary fire station from a former mayor in arrears on taxes, and a 10-percent increase in tax bills, reflecting a whopping 17-percent increase to cover the cost of sending borough kids to Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch.
That one, and other issues, reflected longstanding frustrations.
“Twenty-five years ago, when I first came on the council – it was a subject then,” said Councilman Jack Keeler. “It hasn’t changed.”
Last month, Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long called a school-tax formula that would sock struggling residents with a 13-percent hike for sending their high schoolers to Shore Regional High School painful before, but after Sandy, unbearable.
Now, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, right, has stepped up to bat for the storm-shattered borough, offering to find a legislative solution to ease such shocks in the future.
Post-Sandy challenges continue to pile up for the ravaged beach community of Sea Bright, this time in the form of a school tax hike via the Shore Regional High School district.
Borough property owners can expect a 13-percent increase, to 54 cents per $100 of assessed value, meaning that the average home, assessed at $344,696, would pay $1,861 for high school alone.
The rate perpetuates the dramatic disparities in the amounts paid by each of the district’s three sending towns. Sea Bright would pay some $90,000 per borough student at the school, whereas Monmouth Beach, Oceanport and West Long Branch would pay just $12,000 to $13,000, said Mayor Dina Long.
As in the past, the figures are the result of a disputed regional school tax formula about which Sea Bright officials and residents have long complained. Moreover, said Long, they reflect pre-Sandy property assessments, and not the post-Sandy reality.
The regional school tax formula has been a problem before, Long told redbankgreen. “It was painful before, but now after Sandy, its unbearable.
If voters approve school budgets next week, Sea Bright, which sends students to two different districts and has no schools of its own, will see both increases and decreases to the education portions of tax bills.
But borough property owners will still be saddled with an outsized tab for the 17 students it sends to Shore Regional High in West Long Branch: $90,000 per kid, almost three times as much as any other sending district pays.
With the tuition tab for each of about 27 students that Sea Bright sends to the Shore Regional High School District coming in at $81,000 for the 2008-09 academic year, borough officials say they will keep pushing for the same education for a lot less money.
Its would-be pulpit: the voting booths in all four municipalities that send to Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch. Their vehicle: a referendum question that would ask district voters to modify the formula used by the multi-jurisdictional Shore Regional Board of Education in crafting its budgets in the coming academic years.
That referendum question, asking voters if Shore Regionals school taxes ought to be based on community wealth rather than assessed property values as is done now, would appear on the school board election ballots in Aprilthat is, if Sea Bright officials persuade school board member to post it.
“Regionalization does not work for small communities. Period.”
That’s how an op-ed piece by Sea Bright Mayor Maria Fernandes, writing in today’s Asbury Park Press, begins.
Her target: state-mandated formulas for apportioning costs among towns joined in regional school districts. And the immediate cause of her outrage is the latest calculation from the Shore Regional High School district, which bills Sea Bright $81,000 per high school student, even though the overall average cost of educating a student at the school is just hair over $18,000, she writes.
At 27 students, that’ll cost tiny Sea Bright close to $2.2 million this year.
From the article:
Any level-headed individual would say that is crazy, and everyone in Sea Bright agrees.
Shore Regional is doing nothing wrong. This amount is based on a complicated formula that takes into consideration the number of students in the grammar school, as well as Shore Regional, and the equalized value of the municipality, among other factors. This formula was enacted by the Legislature and was supposed to guarantee every child a “thorough and efficient” education.
Sea Bright taxpayers paid $75,000 for each of the 24 students who attended Shore Regional High School last year. The school’s cost to educate them was only $13,000.
In running for mayor last year, Maria Fernandes promised that the first thing she’d do if elected would be to work on changing the T&E (thorough and efficient funding) formula in Trenton. And in her first speech as mayor on January 5, she announced a new School Funding Advisory Committee.
As chair of the new committee, Councilwoman Dina Long outlined four possible objectives Monday night for its first year that Fernandes praised as comprehensive.
Sea Brights mayoral race remained too close to call early today, and officials dont expect to know who won before Friday.
The latest vote count has Democratic challenger Maria Fernandes up five votes on incumbent Republican Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams, 272-267.
But nine provisional votes had yet to be certified as of late this morning, municipal clerk MaryAnn Smeltzer told redbankgreen this morning. A vote is labeled ‘provisional’ when a question or dispute exists over a voter’s registration, polling place or eligibility to cast a ballot.
Five Forty-one absentee ballots have already been counted.
At the top of the fight card in Sea Bright this year, Republican Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams faces a challenge from Democratic Councilwoman Maria Fernandes, a member of the governing body since 1997.
Kalaka-Adams was a political neophyte when she won election to her four-year term in 2003. Among the issues that she and Fernandes have disagreed upon recently were whether to purchase the oceanfront Donovans Reef property for the town and bulkhead regulation.
Republicans Brian Kelly and Peggy Bills are trying to keep their council seats against a challenge by Democrat Susana Markson, Fernandes only running mate and a member of the Recreation Committee. Markson won nearly a fourth of the vote in the 2004 election, when Bills also ran unsuccessfully (she was appointed to her three-year term in December, 2004, after Clark Craig resigned).
Whoa, flashback: John Easdale of Dramarama headlines the bill at the annual Dunesday event this Saturday at Donovan’s Reef.
By TOM CHESEK
Less than a year ago, the mood around Donovan’s Reef had a touch of doomsday about it.
The landmark Sea Bright oceanside bar one of the last remaining sources for old-school Shore kicks in a region increasingly defined by champagne wishes and caviar dreams had announced that the summer of 2007 was to be its last stand on the sand. Two of the three owners expressed a desire to put the property’s no-nonsense building, generous parking lot and private beach up for sale, and the club even hosted a “farewell forever” bash for its generations of loyal patrons.
As reported here on redbankgreen over the past several months, the rip-currents of the real estate market apparently provided a stay of execution for the place where summer never seems to go out of style. The upshot? Co-owner Bob Philips and his partners Chris Bowler and Robert Carducci declared that Donovan’s would live again for summer 2008 with “the only piece of [oceanfront] property open 365 days a year between Sandy Hook and Cape May” resuming a full seven-days-a-week schedule that climaxes this Saturday with the annual day-long celebration that is Dunesday.