CHRISTIE: “THE PARTY’S OVER”

chris-christie2Governor Chris Christie was unapologetic for his approach to running the state during a town hall in Middletown Wednesday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Chris Christie is sorry.

If you don’t like him, don’t like his actions, don’t think he’s being fair, then you can get rid of him in three years, he said. He’s fine with that.

But, as he pointed out to a large crowd in Middletown Wednesday, “I got sent here to fix some awful, ugly problems.”

So when a police officer griped about having to contribute more from his paycheck into his benefits and asked Christie how he was supposed to afford to live, he answered in typical, blunt Chris Christie fashion.

“You won’t afford it. You’re going to have to make choices like everyone else makes choices,” he said. “Here’s the difference: you’re getting a paycheck.”

The ever-traveling governor held back nothing in his town hall meeting in Middletown Wednesday as he pushed his agenda and outlined a better future for New Jersey, which he said will become a model for other states.

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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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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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FORMER R-FH TEACH FILLS SCHUNDLER’S SPOT

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A veteran educator with local roots will fill Bret Schundler’s spot as head of the state education department, a post he commanded less than a year before being fired Friday.

Rochelle Hendricks, who got her start teaching in the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional School District, got the nod from Governor Chris Christie to replace Schundler, who was ousted from the administration after failing to secure federal funds for education. Schundler and his cabinet lost out on coveted Race To The Top money because of a budget error, the Star-Ledger reported.

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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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SKATING, PUTT-PUTT OUT IN MIDDLETOWN

skate-park1A skateboarder uses the township’s closed skate park despite the padlocks on the gates. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Shawn Sharkey is trying to balance his dejection and confusion these days.

Last summer, he and his friends would head to Middletown’s municipal skate park, in the Port Monmouth section of town, and skateboard all day, almost every day, he said. It was their place, where they’d be free of hassle from the police that they’d normally face skateboarding through town.

This summer, though, their safe haven is beyond at risk of becoming a vacant, useless patch of asphalt decorated with ramps and rails. The padlocks on the park’s gates haven’t even come off since they were strapped on last winter, Sharkey says.

“I think it’s stupid. Public places, we can’t go,” says Sharkey, 16. “Cops say this what skate parks are for, but when the skate park is closed, that leaves us with nothing.”

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BUDGET INCREASES, BUT BY HOW MUCH?

mtown-budgetMiddletown resident Tom Stokes offers input on the 2010 budget in Middletown Monday night as committeeman Sean Byrnes looks on. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

As it appears now, the total tax bill for Middletown Township property owners for the current year will be 2.8 percent larger than last year’s.

But that hardly matters to those keeping an eye on municipal spending, according to committeeman Sean Byrnes.

As the township committee Monday night introduced a $65 million spending plan that will raise the average tax bill by $211 annually, the body’s lone Democrat pressed chief financial officer Nick Trasente on details to make a point: That the presentation Trasente gave was more smoke and mirrors than government transparency, and something needs to change with how the budget is put together.

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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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M’TOWN LOOKS TO TRENTON FOR BUDGET HELP

middletown-town-hall

Middletown officials are hoping to introduce its 2010 budget next week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A CFO has been hired. The school budget is back in the hands of the board of ed. What else could possibly snarl Middletown officials from introducing a budget for 2010?

A quorum.

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SCHUNDLER MUM ON TRIP TO WOODSHED

stringsPre-K students playing string instruments greeted Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, in red tie, during his visit to the Red Bank Primary School this morning. (Click to enlarge)

He came, he listened, and he got choked up on his own words about “the vision of a beloved society” that quality education promises.

But one thing New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler did not do on a visit to Red Bank this morning was talk about a report that he’d gotten a dressing-down over the phone by Governor Chris Christie last Friday.

“It’s a great day to visit Red Bank Primary School,” Schundler said with a smile, when asked if a Star-Ledger report that Christie “tore into” him over a deal with the state teachers’ union was accurate.

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CHRISTIE: NO TO LNG & DRILLING PROJECTS

sb-christie-2-042210Governor Chris Christie at Surfrider Beach Club in Sea Bright Thursday, flanked by his daughter Brigit, former Gov. Tom Kean and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. (Photo by Tim Larsen; click to enlarge)

There will be no oil rigs visible from New Jersey’s beaches, and no man-made islands or floating pipelines to transfer liquefied natural gas from ship to shore under his watch, Governor Chris Christie vowed Thursday.

At an oceanfront beach club in Sea Bright to mark the fortieth Earth Day, Christie said that while natural gas is a critical piece of the state’s energy future, “for as long as I am governor, this administration will oppose any application for liquefied natural gas,” according to the Asbury Park Press.

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UNION TAKES FREEZE, AND GUV HAS PRAISE

hot-topic right[Update: This article replaces an earlier version, which cited contract terms that Superintendent Laura Morana says were reported incorrectly in both the Asbury Park Press and the Star-Ledger.]

Gov. Chris Christie has offered pointed praise for a pact, finalized late last week, under which Red Bank teachers agreed to a three-year wage freeze.

Christie’s called out the deal was in an opinion piece under his byline in the Star-Ledger Sunday. That followed Thursday night’s ratification by both the teachers’ union and the Red Bank Board of Ed of a contract that will bump each of the district’s 130 teachers up to the next pay grade in two of the three years, Superintendent Laura Morana tells redbankgreen.

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SCHOOL BOARD SAYS ‘NO’ TO PAY INCREASES

holcombe-hurdRed Bank Middle School music teacher Holcombe Hurd addressed the school board Tuesday in response to its decision not to approve union pay raises for 132 teachers. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After a year of contract negotiations, the Red Bank Board of Education, citing an “unprecedented” reduction in state aid and a difficult budget season, voted 6 -2 against a pay increase for the district’s unionized employees Tuesday night.

Board members described the vote as one of many difficult decisions in an economic climate in which Gov. Chris Christie has slashed state aid and forced school districts to use budget surpluses to make up for a loss in revenue.

“All of this takes place in the context of the worst economic period in the United States since the Great Depression,” board member Ben Forest told an audience of about 125 residents and teachers.

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EDUCATION FORUM TACKLES CHRISTIE CUTS

hot-topic rightIt’s official: Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey and, more than likely, education funding changes are afoot. You want an idea of what to expect? The Shrewsbury Parent-Teacher Group has you covered.

The group will host a presentation on changes that are expected under the Christie regime at 7p, January 27, at the Shrewsbury Boro School. Lynne Strickland, the executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, will be the speaker. The public is invited to the forum, said Meg Gerth, a parent.

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