BALLEW JEWELERS TO END 124-YEAR RUN

ballew-111610The ‘lollipop’ clock outside Ballew Jewelers has been a Broad Street fixture since 1902, when the store was known as Reussille Jewelers. (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Ballew Jewelers, a Red Bank staple since 1886, when it began as Reussille Jewelers, is pulling out of town, leaving a gaping hole, both symbolic and tangible, in a downtown struggling to tread water in a difficult economy.

News of the closing hit some of the nearby merchants like a sucker punch.

“It’s horrible. Horrible,” said Zebu Forno owner Andrew Gennusa. “For a business that’s more than a hundred years old to close here, it’s like a death.”

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McCARTHY ON CRIME: 2010 NOT SO GOOD

mccarthy-chief-steve-2Red Bank Police Chief Steve McCarthy, commenting on Thursday’s report of a drop in crime in the borough in 2009, says next year’s report will show the opposite.

“Obviously, they’re encouraging,” McCarthy says of the 2009 results, which showed precipitous declines in the number of both violent and nonviolent crimes. “But I have to say, it’s one year, and I can tell you that comparing last year to this year, we’re up.”

Through October of this year, there have already been 21 robberies, up from the full-year 2009 total of 10, McCarthy says. The number of reported burglaries, too, is up, to 29 through October, from 22 in all of last year, he says.

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RETIREMENTS TO COST RED BANK $750K

rb-borough-hall-500x375Red Bank Borough Hall. (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Since Governor Chris Christie enacted sweeping pension reforms this summer, two-week notices have filed into Red Bank Borough Hall. Now — as is the case in many municipalities across the state —  it’s time for town officials to figure out a payment plan.

Red Bank is on the hook for $750,000 in payouts for unused sick days and other perks as a result of 11 employee retirements, officials say. And on Monday night the council passed the first reading of an ordinance to borrow over the next five years to pay them.

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A ROOM FULL OF GARBAGE IDEAS

rumson-dpwA public works employee picks up recycling in Rumson last week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

If you ask the residents who filled borough hall Tuesday night, there are plenty of ways to keep Rumson’s half-dozen trash collectors employed in the face of tight budgets.

Make cuts across every department, hold annual fundraisers, reduce collections to once a week, work out a deal to pick up trash in Fair Haven, which plans to outsource its collection.

Or, instead of soliciting bids to demolish the old police headquarters, sell the property as-is and use the money to bankroll public works, said “Uncle” Bob Fazzone.

“Then you get the $200,000 for the boys,” he said.

The input residents gave the council will be part of the borough’s research on whether to privatize its garbage collection, a move that’s anticipated to save between $200,00 and $350,000 a year, Council President Shaun Broderick said.

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LOCALS TRASH RUMSON GARBAGE PLAN

rumson-garbageMore than 30 people turned out at borough hall Tuesday to speak out against an idea to privatize garbage pickup in Rumson. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The guys who pick up trash on Mondays and Thursdays in Rumson aren’t your average garbagemen, apparently. In fact, the term ‘garbageman’ is one that Lennox Avenue resident Teresa Connor finds unfit for the group of “smart young men” assigned cleanup duty of the borough’s 2,500 or so properties.

They provide security, they know most people by their first name, she said. One woman said they give her dog biscuits in the morning.

After hearing that the six-man crew was on the employment chopping block, about three dozen residents filed into borough hall Tuesday afternoon to give an earful to the council.

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DAL PRA: I’M STAYING

Del Pra2Louis Dal Pra won’t be leaving his job as RBR’s athletic director after all.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

When redbankgreen called Louis ‘Del’ Dal Pra‘s office late Friday morning, he didn’t have to wait for the question to be asked. He knew the reason for the call, and got right to it.

“I’m back,” he said, confirming the rumors that he decided to stay put as Red Bank Regional‘s athletic director. “It’s official.”

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LOOKING FOR SAVINGS IN GARBAGE

fh-trash-canFair Haven and Rumson are looking into privatizing its garbage pickup. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Fair Haven and Rumson are looking at ways to save money, starting with the trash.

And in one town, the savings would cost jobs.

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MORE LICENSES, HIGHER FARES IN TAXI LAW

black-taxiRed Bank is expected to adopt changes made to its taxi licensing ordinance. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After hashing out concerns with local cabbies over proposed changes to Red Bank’s taxi licensing ordinance, the borough council is poised to adopt a new version of regulations that features more licenses and “substantially reduces fees.”

But a person hopping into a cab will pay more.

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WAITING FOR RETIREMENTS, ROUND TWO

mtown-cruiserMiddletown is anticipating a second wave of retirements, especially among police officers. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

With more retirement pension reform pending in the state legislature, Middletown, already gouged by a flood of retirements this year, is anticipating a second wave of sayonaras to hit town hall.

A proposal by Governor Chris Christie would increase the early-retirement age, and years of service requirement from 25 years to 30. That, town attorney Brian Nelson said, “precipitated a whole second wave of retirements we didn’t even expect.

“Anyone that’s close to their 25 years wants to get out now,” Nelson said.

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POLICE PAY IN SLEDGER SPOTLIGHT

hot-topic rightSunday’s Star-Ledger had an eye-opening article on police salaries in New Jersey.

Analyzing 2009 pay data from police departments throughout the state, the Sledger concluded that

the average municipal cop in New Jersey is paid 80 percent more than the average resident, and three of 10 made at least $100,000 last year. In addition, police tend to be paid the best in small towns with little crime.

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HOWELL RESIGNS AS ADMINISTRATOR

mary-howellMary Howell, foreground, and Clerk Allyson Cinquegrana at a council meeting in February (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

Fair Haven business administrator Mary Howell has resigned from her job as the borough’s top non-elected official, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

The borough council accepted Howell’s resignation, submitted last month, on Monday night after officials determined that the town needs a full-time administrator, the Press reports. Howell returned from maternity leave in January asking to go part-time, a move the council accommodated.

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FH COPS GET NEW CONTRACT, RAISES

fhpd-hqFair Haven’s police force will get 2.5-percent raises this year and next. (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After eight months of negotiations, Fair Haven’s police force, minus the chief, have come to an agreement with the borough council on a new two-year contract.

The August 9 finalization was more of a gap than usual between contracts — largely because of the state’s fluctuating discussions on new property tax, retirement and benefits contribution regulations — but both sides are content, Mayor Mike Halfacre tells redbankgreen.

The 12 members of the local Policeman’s Benevolent Association, which had been operating under a contract that expired at the end of 2009, will receive 2.5-percent pay raises for 2010 and ’11, Halfacre said.

“There was a lot of back-and-forth,” he said. “We had had a couple of tentative agreements throughout the year, and something always seemed to trip us up.”

Still, both sides could have been happier, he added.

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SEA BRIGHT TO DPW: YOU’RE SAFE, FOR NOW

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

hot-topic right

Officials in Sea Bright hope to quell a rumor that the borough intends to outsource its public works operations at the beginning of next year.

Yet members of the borough’s council — who approved a shared service agreement with Rumson to perform mechanical repairs for its DPW and police vehicles — don’t deny its validity.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, resident Cristine Sinnott confronted the governing body about a confidential email that she received — and, she says, has been seen by many others in town — saying that Rumson will take over the seaside town’s public works responsibilities on January 1. The source of the email is unclear.

It’s a move that, if it happens,  wouldn’t sit well with her. If she’s paying taxes in Sea Bright, she wants to keep the money flowing in Sea Bright, she told the council.

“I have an issue with that,” she said of the possible shared service. “The taxpayers should know.”

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RUMSON TO APPEAL ARBITRATION AWARD

rumson-pdRumson’s police union and the borough council have been at an impasse since December, 2006. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

For nearly four years, Rumson officials and its police union have been at loggerheads on a new contract. Earlier this week, a state arbitrator delivered a decision that has the council shocked and disappointed.

The governing body will appeal the decision given by arbitrator James Mastriani, said Mayor John Ekdahl. The terms Mastriani proposed, he said, create a “privileged class” of employees.

The award calls for 3.5-,  3.5- and 3.25-percent pay increases retroactive to when the union’s contract expired at the end of 2006. For 2010, officers would get increases of 3 percent, and 2.75-percent next year if Mastriani’s award holds up.

But given the state’s economic turmoil — plus a pending 2-percent tax cap — Ekdahl finds the terms of the police contract unfair to the borough and its taxpayers.

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GRIEVANCE FILED, AND OTHER COUNCIL NEWS

kevin-tauro-grievanceKevin Tauro, right, delivered a formal grievance to borough Administrator Stanley Sickels Monday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Upset with the unilateral implementation of a blanket furlough program, a representative from one of Red Bank’s two government employee unions delivered a formal grievance to the borough council Monday night, and vowed there’d be more to come.

Kevin Tauro, who represents the blue-collar Communications Workers of America union local, filed a policy grievance with the borough, saying that it violated terms of its collective bargaining agreement. He also said he’ll file an unfair labor practice lawsuit with the state.

“I’m very disappointed in the mayor and council. I thought you’d have a little bit more respect for your workers,” he said.

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TAXES DOWN, PAYCHECKS UP IN LITTLE SILVER

little-silver-boro-hallLittle Silver Borough Hall. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

In Little Silver, spending is down. Revenues are down. The workforce, too, is down.

Now the tax rate is following suit.

“Everything is down,” said Administrator Michael Biehl.

Everything, that is, except for paychecks.

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FURLOUGH FRIDAYS IN RED BANK

furlough-signBorough hall visitors are being notified by a sign taped to the door that offices will be closed while workers are furloughed. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Now that the borough’s budget is in effect, Red Bank employees will, beginning Friday, find out the full meaning of the f-word.

That is to say, they’re getting their workweeks trimmed three times this summer, part of a borough-wide furlough program dictated by the $19.2 million budget, which was approved at a special meeting on Friday.

The temporary layoffs get started this Friday, and all borough offices, except for the police department, will be closed.

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METER RUNNING OUT ON CAB LICENSE RULES?

taxi1Red Bank brass is looking to level the playing field for local cab companies. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Peter Muller started up a taxi business, P&M Taxi, four months ago on West Front Street, but he’s been caught in a jam ever since.

He wanted to obtain licenses for two taxis from Red Bank, but only got one because there were no more available, he was told.

Muller said the larger cab companies have control over the licenses, and subsequently, the business. He believes there should  be more licenses given in town, or stricter controls on companies that pocket the ones not in use.

“I’m just trying to make a living,” said Muller, who is 68 and retired, but can’t make it on Social Security. “Just give me two. I’ll be happy with that.”

There’s a hording problem in Red Bank’s taxi world, some cabbies say, and local officials are again looking at ways to create more competition and make it much harder to pocket coveted hackie credentials.

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AMID BUDGET CONCERNS, AX FALLS IN M’TOWN

mtown-workshopMayor Gerard Scharfenberger listens to administrator Anthony Mercantante at Monday night’s workshop meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The budget ax has made its first swing through Middletown, claiming 16 employees last week as township officials continue to struggle with a plunge in revenues and a continual rise in expenses.

Layoff notices were sent out to 38 township employees earlier this year, Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said, as a result of a cut in state aid and purse-punishing weather that put the town nearly $1 million over budget, among other things.

Many of those employees either quit, retired, or were reassigned after receiving the notices. Sixteen people, however, involuntarily ended their employment with Middletown on Friday.

The layoffs are the first round this year, Scharfenberger said, though he doesn’t anticipate more.

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FINAL BUDGET HANGS ON CWA FURLOUGHS

art-murphy

Council President Art Murphy conferred with Attorney Tom Hall during Tuesday night’s special meeting on the budget. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Red Bank Council introduced amendments to its $19.2 million proposed budget at a special meeting Tuesday night that was over so quickly it was as if the six council members were double-parked out on Monmouth Street.

Of course, the meeting might have been prolonged by input from the public, but there wasn’t any.

Instead, the council will likely adopt the spending plan, which carries a 2.3 cent tax increase per $100 of assessed home value over last year’s rate, on June 14. That means for a property assessed at the average $405,522, tax bills will go up by $93, said Frank Mason, the borough’s financial officer.

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UNION FURLOUGHS, SATURDAY PARKING OK’D

tauroKevin Tauro, who represents borough employees, gives the Red Bank council an earful Monday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

[Editor’s note: This article was updated at 12:50p to include a comment from the PBA and a copy of the PBA press release, below]

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

On a night that the borough’s budget was to be adopted, Red Bank officials instead made other financial news by announcing that free Saturday parking will become a thing of the past and police will take furlough days in order to fill a wide budget gap.

And despite the borough’s other union refusing to accept furlough days, the council will impose them anyway in order to avoid laying workers off, said Mayor Pasquale Menna.

In all, the borough will see a savings of $33,000 a day by furloughing its 178 or so employees for three days each, said Councilman Michael DuPont.

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RED BANK GIVES LAST OK ON RBR CUTS

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A week after delaying a vote on reductions to Red Bank Regional‘s failed $24 million budget, the borough council gave the green light on $270,500 in recommended cuts at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Sports, clubs and programs are spared in the new spending plan, but eight positions will be eliminated, Superintendent Howard Lucks tells redbankgreen.

“It did include eliminating positions. It included a wage freeze [for Lucks]. It included a reduction in force,” Councilman Michael DuPont said.

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ACCIDENTAL PHOTOGRAPHER: WEED WHACKER

mohawkwayne_ir3

Just north of Point Road Elementary School on Seven Bridges Road in Little Silver, the weeds needed a trim. Enter Wayne Elsbree (aka Mohawk Wayne), who struck a pose for redbankgreen’s Accidental Photographer Friday morning as he tamed the roadside overgrowth.

Could Monmouth County have sent a more apt stylist for the job?

M’TOWN TEACHERS REJECT FREEZE REQUEST

mtown-workshopMiddletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger discusses the “jousting” between the town and district teachers’ union at Monday night’s committee workshop. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

At the eleventh hour, Middletown’s teachers’ union responded to Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger’s request that teachers accept a one-year wage freeze.

Nope.

Scharfenberger said the Middletown Township Education Association rebuffed his request for the freeze, which he estimates would save about $3 million in the failed $140.3 million education budget.

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