SCHARFENBERGER: CARS HAMPERED PLOWING

alexander-drAlexander Drive in Middletown before the snowplows arrived. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The snow removal efforts after last week’s snow-pounding could have been better, but given the conditions, were the best the town could do, says Middletown Committeman Gerry Scharfenberger.

Scharfenberger, who until Sunday’s reorganization meeting was the township’s mayor, delivered a communique over the weekend explaining problems associated with the cleanup.

Read More »

BYRNES STILL PUSHING THE TV BUTTONS

mtowntv3_ir

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

When the New Year rolls in, Sean Byrnes will no longer sit behind the dais of Middletown’s governing body. So if he wants to know in detail what happens at its meetings, he’s got one option: to sit in the audience.

But while the Democrat’s days as a township committee member are winding down, Byrnes continues to push to have meetings televised, despite resistance.

At the committee’s next meeting, in December, Byrnes — who lost his bid for re-election earlier this month — said he intends to introduce a resolution to videorecord the meetings and put them online.

And if the past is any indicator, his will be the only vote in favor of it.

Read More »

SCHARFENBERGER BLASTED FOR PAY CLAIM

scharfenbergerBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger, already on the griddle for not disclosing before this month’s election that he took a state job in August, is getting additional heat for claiming last month that he had foregone his township salary this year.

In an acerbic dressing down of the Republican mayor at Monday night’s township committee meeting, residents — some  of whom have long been critical of Scharfenberger — suggested that he lied about a recent claim that he’d forfeited the stipend that elected officials receive.

Read More »

MIDDLETOWN: FULLY REPUBLICAN AGAIN

mtown-elexAt Democratic headquarters tonight, the mood went from hopeful to somber as the Republicans won the township committee election. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Middletown Township Committee will be all-Republican come January 1, as incumbent mayor Gerard Scharfenberger and running mate Kevin Settembrino beat out Sean Byrnes, who was the committee’s only Democrat, and his running mate, Mary Mahoney, in Tuesday’s election.

By 9p, Scharfenberger was confident he and Settembrino had a safe enough lead to declare victory. That was about the same time Byrnes, who had gathered with fellow Dems at the American Legion post in Leonardo, said “it’s over.”

“Naturally I’m very pleased. I thought we ran a really strong campaign,” Scharfenberger said. “We worked very hard and we were rewarded for it.”

Read More »

SEEKING A SOLUTION FOR SHADOW LAKE

shadow-lakeMiddletown and DEP officials will meet today to discuss problems at Shadow Lake. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Middletown and state Department of Environmental Protection officials are expected to meet in Senator Joe Kyrilos‘s office today to try and work out an agreement to rectify the township’s longstanding problems at Shadow Lake.

Overgrowth and contamination have built up that last couple years while local and state officials have danced between possible solutions. But with the new state administration, Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger says he’s hopeful that, with the help of Kyrillos, the two sides can agree on one of two possible solutions that have, in the past, caused a stalemate.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

M’TOWN MAN CHARGED IN EXPLOSION

mtown-explosionThe home at 56 Twin Brooks Ave., where three people were injured in an explosion Tuesday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include information from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Middletown police.]

A Middletown man has been charged in connection with an explosion at his Twin Brooks Avenue home that injured two members of the State Police, the Asbury Park Press reports.

Frank Szmaja, 64, was charged with one count of third-degree possession of a destructive device, one count of second-degree causing or risking widespread injury or damage, plus the disorderly persons offenses of persons possessing explosives or destructive devices to notify police, maintaining a nuisance and violation of a law intended to protect public health and safety, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said in a release.

Read More »

FRUSTRATION SURROUNDS M’TOWN BUDGET

mtown-trioThree of the five Middletown committee members Tuesday night at town hall. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After months of delays and near misses, Middletown officials finally passed a budget for 2010 Tuesday night that will result in an increase to property taxes.

Talk of the difficult budget season for 2011 began immediately afterward.

Read More »

POLITICAL “SOUNDBITES” FROM MIDDLETOWN

fiore-byrnesDeputy Mayor Anthony Fiore, left, and Committeeman Sean Byrnes talk before Monday night’s meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The finale to each Middletown committee meeting the last couple months has, by Deputy Mayor Anthony Fiore’s account, become a forum for politicking and an opportunity to make for great soundbites.

Terms like “consolidation,” “planning” and “committees” tend to top the list of buzzwords, he said.

Monday night didn’t disappoint, when discussion related to a resolution to remove school spending from property tax bills widened a political divide among the committee, particularly between Fiore and his Democrat counterpart Sean Byrnes.

Read More »

M’TWON BUDGET HITS ANOTHER DELAY

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI hot-topic right

Middletown’s 2010 spending plan will not be adopted next week, as it was planned, because of a lack of a quorum. Again.

This time, though, the blame falls on Trenton, not Middletown.

The Local Finance Board, which must grant approval before municipalities can exceed the 4-percent budget cap, abruptly canceled Middletown’s budget hearing date, scheduled for today, because it couldn’t guarantee a quorum, Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said.

“This is certainly throwing a curveball,” he said.

Read More »

MAKE ALL PAY FOR SCHOOL, MAYOR SAYS

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

scharfenberger

Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger really wants to bring those tax bills down. So much so that he’s urging his governing body to vote in favor of a resolution that would erase the largest item on the quarterly statements: school spending.

Scharfenberger, right, wants to absolve residents from paying for education through local or regional property taxes, a system that he says is inequitable, and instead fund schools through the state sales tax.

“Right now, two-thirds of bills goes to education. If you take that two-thirds off of property taxes, you’d be able to cut people’s taxes,” he said.

He’s asked township attorney Brian Nelson to draft a resolution in support of the idea, and anticipates it will be ready for a vote at the committee’s next regular meeting on August 16.

Read More »

M’TOWNERS STILL STEAMING OVER BUDGET

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Getting a budget in place is going to have to wait another month in Middletown.

A pending review of the 2010 spending plan at the state level pushed back the adoption date to mid-August. Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said the Local Finance Board, which reviews municipal budgets for compliance with state laws and regulations, is backlogged, and Middletown is set to have its done by August 11.

Meantime, the township committee held a public hearing on the $65 million proposal, which would increase average tax bills by $211 annually.

As usual of late, the governing body took a beating from the public.

Read More »

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.”

Read More »

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.

Read More »

SCHARFENBERGER HOLDS OFF CHALLENGER

tony-avalloneTony Avallone, last-place finisher in the the Middletown GOP race, says he’ll be back.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The attempt by a Republican upstart to wrest a seat from a Middletown incumbent in November failed in Tuesday’s primary.

Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger defended his seat on the township committee with 1,914 votes over newcomer Tony Avallone, who came away with 1,211 votes. Scharfenberger’s Republican running mate, Kevin Settembrino, garnered the most votes, with 2,023.

That leaves a November race in which Settembrino and Scharfenberger will vie for two open seats on the committee — one being Scharfenberger’s, and the other held by the committee’s only Democrat, Sean Byrnes, who is seeking re-election. Also in the race is Democrat Mary Mahoney.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

M’TOWN SEEKS $400K MORE IN CUTS

scharfenberger-hed1By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After agreeing with the board of education to cut $1.6 million from the district’s failed school budget, Middletown’s township committee Monday night unanimously approved an additional $400,000 in reductions, bringing the total trim job to $2.09 million, says Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger (right).

The recommended cuts include eliminating a vice principal at each of the two high schools, a business administrator and a director position, as well as reductions to health insurance costs. No teacher positions are included in the resolution, Scharfenberger says.

However, the school board, even if it accepts the recommended expense reduction, can make the cuts where it chooses.

Read More »

M’TOWN GOES ONLINE FOR BOE BUDGET INPUT

mtwon-screenshotMiddletown’s website offers a link to submit comments and suggestions on cuts to the schools budget. (click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

So you’ve got an idea how to trim the Middletown schools budget, but can’t make a municipal meeting. Or you’re nervous about putting your ideas out there in public. Maybe you just don’t want to get out of your pajamas and make a trip to town hall.

The good news is that you can sit tight at the computer desk and still be productive.

Middletown officials, who are in the midst of working with the board of ed on trimming the district’s  voter-rejected budget, are now taking suggestions and ideas online from residents to get a sense how the bottom line can be reduced.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

M’TOWN SCHOOLS IN ‘INVESTIGATION’ MODE

mtown-boeTwo of the three newly-elected board of ed members, Vincent Brand, left, and Chris Aveta, at Wednesday night’s meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Middletown Board of Education could staff a detective bureau with all the investigating it’s doing and has ahead.

Investigating was the buzzword from the district Superintendent Karen Bilbao Wednesday night when pushed for details on where and how cuts would be made to the district’s $140.3 million budget, which was rejected by voters last week.

As in, will more teachers have to be laid off? She’s investigating.

Or, will there be redistricting, or school closings, as Bilbao has hinted at before?

“Closing a school or more than one school is one of the areas we said needed to be investigated,” Bilbao said.

“We are investigating a lot of things at this point.”

Read More »

M’TOWN MAYOR WANTS TEACHER PAY FREEZE

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

With a voter-rejected schools budget now landing in the lap of the Middletown Township Committee for recommended cuts, Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger is calling for township teachers to accept a one-year pay freeze, a move he estimates will save the district $3 million.

“That’s pretty significant,” he said. “That would go a long way with saving jobs, with very little effort.”

Scharfenberger, echoing Governor Chris Christie, put out the request on Friday, just days after the school board’s $140.3 million budget was handily defeated and three board incumbents were voted out. Scharfenberger said that was the voters showing support for such action.

Read More »

WHO’S RUNNING, AND WHO ISN’T

menna-052609-2The path to a second term appears unobstructed for Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Mayors Pasquale Menna and Mike Halfacre, of Red Bank and Fair Haven, respectively, don’t appear to have any competition in their re-election bids this year.

Both men filed petition paperwork on Monday, the state deadline, to run for re-election. No one else filed for their seats.

But they could face competition if independents write-in for the June 8 primary and November 2 general election ballots.

Menna told redbankgreen that the absence of an opponent “doesn’t mean anything. ” He said he’s only concerned with his role the next four years as the borough’s top executive.

“I can only keep on doing what I’ve been doing and do it the best I can,” he said.

Read More »

M’TOWN BUDGET TO GET ‘DECISIVE ACTION’

taxesBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

In the wake of what Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger calls a “perfect storm” of financial woes, he’s proposing 12, and maybe more, “decisive actions” to make up for the town’s large revenue shortfall.

After checking to see if the ideas were feasible and legal, Scharfenberger delivered a communique Monday afternoon outlining his plan to mitigate a heavy burden on taxpayers.

Although “everything’s on the table,” his 12-step program calls for outsourcing, salary freezes, mandatory furloughs and a 10- to 15-percent decrease in operations and expenditures for all departments, including layoffs, he said.

Read More »

MTOWN BUDGET OUTLOOK: ‘UG-LY’

scharfenbergerMiddletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger talks to several dozen residents  who turned out Thursday night for the year’s first public informational meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The state aid numbers are in to Middletown, and Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger likely couldn’t put it more blunt.

“It is ug-ly,” he said.

Schargenberger was speaking to about two dozen residents, who may have showed up to the Middletown Arts Center with other topics in mind, for the first of three neighborhood meetings scheduled for the year.

But the budget seemed to dominate.

Read More »