M’TOWN COPS REACH DEAL TO SAVE JOBS

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Middletown’s police department will stay intact, after the second and last remaining police union in contract negotiations with the township came to an agreement on a four-year deal over the weekend.

Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 124, following the lead of the department’s other union, Superior Officers Association, struck a deal with the township that will save six jobs that were on the chopping block.

Read More »

PARKS AND REC JOBS LOST; TOP COPS SPARED

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

In a last-minute deal Friday, one of the Middletown’s two police unions came to an agreement that will save four department jobs, while the other got an extension through the weekend to decide whether to accept a deal to preserve six positions.

Meanwhile, a handful of parks and recreation employees retired and nine others were laid off after their bargaining unit failed to strike an agreement with the township, said Mayor Tony Fiore.

Read More »

M’TOWN MEETINGS SET TO KEEP JOBS, MAYBE

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

As the budget axe looms over 26 jobs in Middletown, the township has scheduled two public meetings in anticipation of coming to agreement with unions in contract negotiations.

That doesn’t mean the meetings will be held, however.

The meetings, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, are not so much a sign that contract resolutions are imminent as a routine legalities in case agreements are, in fact, reached and ready to be voted upon.

“If the unions don’t come back with an agreement we’re looking for, then the meetings will be canceled,” Mayor Tony Fiore told redbankgreen.

Read More »

LIBRARY OKS $500K TO TOWNSHIP

mtownThe library approved transferring nearly $500,000 to the township committee Wednesday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

In order to help the township balance its budget and avoid further layoffs, the Middletown Library Board of Trustees swallowed a “bitter pill” Wednesday night and agreed to release nearly $500,000 in surplus funds over to the municipal budget.

The resolution, by a vote of 5 to 2, also includes stipulations that the library will be part of the township’s alternative energy initiative, will get its much-needed parking lot expansion and won’t be considered for transfer to the county library system — an option that was never possible anyway, said board president Randall Gabrielan, who voted against the agreement that stemmed from weeks’ worth of negotiations, which he called “dictatoral.”

“I’m sad to say the result of the negotiations was extremely disappointing,” he said.

Yet, after more discussion among the board, and some tweaking to the agreement, Gabrielan, who earlier made a failed proposal to transfer just $250,000 to the town, was joined by only one other board member, vice president Greg Milne, in opposition to transferring $499,974 from the library’s $1.2 million surplus to the township.

Read More »

M’TOWN: ANOTHER TENSE ONE OVER SURPLUS

mtown-libLibrary officials will meet with the town today to try and hammer out an agreement to help balance Middletown’s budget. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Officials from both sides of Middletown’s Great Library Debate will get going on discussions today aimed at possibly allowing the township to balance its budget with a chunk of the library’s $1.2 million surplus.

Elected officials and library representatives, in somewhat clenched-teeth fashion, said Tuesday night they hope to come to an amicable solution to an impasse that last week descended into personal attacks.

Just a week removed from a painstaking public meeting at the library last week, where lines were drawn between the two entities with accusations and factual disputes, the topic was still bubbling Tuesday night, as residents took their turns at a township committee meeting to get their comments on the record and ask more questions about the committee’s request for the library board to hand over nearly $900,000 of its surplus to avert another wave of layoffs.

Read More »

M’TOWN LIBRARY DEBATE GETS PERSONAL

gabrielan-settembrinoKevin Settembrino, left, and Randall Gabrielan, far right, got into a tiff within the open minutes of Wednesday night’s library board meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The line of cars backing up in both directions on New Monmouth Road Wednesday night was the first sign that the Middletown library board meeting starting in a few minutes was going to be a departure from the humdrum of the trustees’ typical monthly session.

“Good evening, everybody, and welcome to the combat zone,” board president Randall Gabrielan quipped at the opening, and he wasn’t far off.  Before it was over, one citizen had invoked invoked the name of the world’s foremost terrorist in challenging an elected official’s suitability to even sit on the board, and Garbrielan himself had been accused of lying.

But after more than three hours of heated debate, finger-pointing, name-calling and innuendo, the issue of whether the library board would grant a request by the township committee for $898,000 of the library’s $1.2 million surplus to help balance the town budget moved toward a possible resolution.

Read More »

M’TOWN LIBRARY CENTER OF BUDGET BATTLE

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A plan by  Middletown’s governing body to raid the public library’s $1.2 million surplus in a bid to save police jobs  has set off an  imbroglio in which officials are taking hard-line stances on each side.

With the township committee well into its 2011-’12 budget process, the hunt for savings and more revenue is on, and officials have zeroed in on the library for much-needed dollars to save jobs, says Mayor Tony Fiore.

That has pitted elected officials against the library’s manager and some patrons.

On Wednesday night, the two sides will try to hash it out in a public meeting at the library.

Read More »

BUDGET STILL MIDDLETOWN’S HOT TOPIC

byrnes-fingerSean Byrnes prodded his fellow committee members to reassess its budget planning process Monday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Now that Middletown has a budget in place, tax bills are starting to arrive in mailboxes.

As is customary, there’s some literature along with the bills to explain how the taxes for the year break down. But this year’s fact sheet is rubbing some people the wrong way, including the committee’s lone Democrat, who says, well, it really isn’t all that factual.

Read More »

MIDDLETOWN DAY BOUNCES BACK

mtown-dayMoonbounces and other rubbery, bouncy things were heavily used by children for Saturday’s Middletown Day. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

To the casual observer, Middletown Day was another Middletown Day — music, firetrucks on display, bouncy houses that echo the joyous shrieks of children.

But for a while there, a tough budget season dictated there wasn’t going to be a Middletown Day this year.

A little rallying, though, resurrected the annual tradition before it had a chance to be completely scratched from the calendar.

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 »

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 »