OFFICIALS TOUT BAMM HOLLOW OPEN SPACE

bamm-hollow-gspA view of Bamm Hollow from the Garden State Parkway. Middetown officials say the view won’t change. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

If and when developers ever get to work on building 190 homes on the sprawling property of Bamm Hollow Country Club, its impact on the Lincroft area of Middletown, would be minimal, says township Attorney Brian Nelson.

Traffic would increase from present levels, and the local school system would take on new students. But when driving by the property, it’d be hard to notice any major impact, Nelson said.

That would not be the case had the township pursued, and lost, a two-year-old lawsuit opposing plans for up to 1,200 units on the site, Nelson maintains. Instead, the municipality reached a deal with the property owners.

“You can drive down West Front Street, and you won’t even know this development is there,” Nelson said in an interview shortly after the township committee announced an end to the lawsuit. “You won’t even see it from the Parkway. It’ll look the same as it is now.”

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ARREST LEADS DEMS TO REPLACE CANDIDATE

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The Middletown Democratic Committee named a replacement for former township committee candidate Alex DeSevo Friday, just hours after he tendered his resignation from the race under a cloud of scandal.

Taking DeSevo’s spot is Carol Fowler, of Lincroft, said Joe Caliendo, the party’s chairman.

“We were after her for quite a while,” Caliendo said. “She’s a good-speaking woman, good personality. She sounds like she’s laid back but she’s not.”

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MIDDLETOWN SEEKS KABOOM COMPENSATION

cooper-bridgeA view of the Navesink River from Cooper’s Bridge, where Middletown officials are concerned more people will gather this year to see the fireworks. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

While the sky lights up and music blasts across the Navesink River Sunday, and Red Bank’s north end is bursting with crowds and pre- and post-show traffic, Middletown, too, will have its share of it all.

But unlike Red Bank, the neighboring township is footing the bill for the police overtime the event necessitates.

Not fair, say Middletown’s leaders, who share concerns that, with a new fee this year to watch the Kaboom fireworks show at Riverside Gardens Park in Red Bank, more people are apt to catch the view from the north side of the river, making more work for its police force.

“It’s gotten worse every year,” said Middletown Committeeman Gerry Scharfenberger, who called Middletown the fireworks’ “incidental victims.” “It’s not an event that we sanction, but we’re left having to deal with the police and crowd control.”

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CANDIDATE TO RESIGN AFTER DRUG BUST

just_in1By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A Middletown Township Committee candidate in this year’s election will resign after being charged with possession of crack cocaine in a Holmdel motel last weekend, the town’s Democrat committee chairman said.

A replacement on the Democrat ticket to take Alex DeSevo‘s slot could be named as soon as Monday night, Joe Caliendo told redbankgreen.

DeSevo, 43, was charged with possession of crack and drug paraphernalia on June 18 after he rented two rooms at the Holmdel Motor Inn and was accused of chasing one of two women with him at the motel, according to the Asbury Park Press.

“Alex is going to resign,” Caliendo said. “Actually, he was going to resign before this took place. I don’t know what his problems were.”

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M’TOWN SOLAR PROJECTED TO SAVE MILLIONS

By DUSTIN RACIOPPIhot-topic right

Middletown has wrapped up a months-long town-wide study pinpointing locations ideal for solar panels, and may soon bring on a contractor to start the process of getting off the grid.

If it does, the town could save taxpayers $6.6 million over the next 15 years — and perhaps double that, if the town board of education gets on board, officials said.

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CLINIC STRIKES FEAR IN NEIGHBORHOOD

methadone-crowdA crowd packed Middletown’s meeting room Monday night rallying against a recently opened medical center that dispenses methadone. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The tiny community near Apple Farm Road, off Route 35, was a place where kids could roam free, homeowners could decide not to lock their front doors without worry and every face you saw was somebody you knew.

That was until Middletown Medical opened up and changed everything, neighbors say.

Because at the only entrance and exit to that community sits the medical center, which is not the place to go for a check-up or to look into a nagging cough. Middletown Medical is a methadone clinic, dispensing the synthetic pill just a stone’s throw from a bundle of homes and school bus stops. Methadone, in addition to treating chronic pain, is a popular and controversial drug used to treat opiate addicts to help wean them off drugs like heroin and morphine.

And nobody’s happy about the new dispensary opening its doors — to the town’s surprise — so close to the residential neighborhood. Neighbors share fears that the business will open up the neighborhood to a seedy cohort prone to stealing, robbing or getting a fix or drug money by any means necessary. One woman who said she goes walking through the neighborhood each morning fears she could be mugged, thrown in a ditch and left unnoticed for hours.

Within the law, though, there nothing anybody can do about the clinic, town officials maintain.

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DEAL ALLOWS 190 UNITS AT BAMM HOLLOW

bamm-hollow-signMiddletown reached a settlement with Bamm Hollow Country Club last week, effectively ending years of litigation. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Nearly 200 homes may be built on the property of Bamm Hollow Country Club as a result of an affordable housing lawsuit settlement between the town and the country club.

Officials say the deal was the best option for the town. Neighbors say it will crush the area’s quality of life.

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MIDDLETOWN MULLING TRAFFIC CAMS

mtown-red-lightThe town intends to install three to five red light cameras. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Drivers in Middletown might start thinking twice before speeding up to catch the yellow light before it goes red.

After receiving proposals from several vendors, the township is considering installing traffic light cameras to nab drivers running red lights.

The cameras could be installed by the end of this year, Administrator Anthony Mercantante said. The question is where?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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BRIGHTBILL TAKES PASS ON RE-ELECTION BID

pam-brightbillDeputy Mayor Pamela Brightbill won’t seek re-election this year. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

After six years on the township committee, including a stint as mayor, Deputy Mayor Pamela Brightbill is “passing the baton” and will not run for re-election this year, she says.

Taking her place on the ballot, alongside Mayor Tony Fiore, is zoning board member Stephanie Murray.

Murray and Fiore will run on the Republican ticket against two Democrats who’ve each made unsuccessful runs for the committee.

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MIDDLETOWN BAR CRUSH RILES NEIGHBORS

mjsBrisk business at MJ’s Pizza Bar and Grill is causing traffic to jam up a nearby residential area, neighbors say. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Here’s a problem merchants these days might like to have: a business so hopping that the parking lot can’t keep up with demand.

Recently-opened MJ’s Pizza Bar and Grill, on Route 35 north in Middletown, is having such a containment issue. A lack of available real estate isn’t deterring customers, but the parking spaces they’re finding have got neighbors of MJ’s all riled up.

Neighbors say bar patrons are using the area of nearby Rosewood and Melrose terraces as an alternative parking area, making noise late at night and using private driveways as U-turns to get back out onto the highway.

“There’s a major problem with my privacy and my neighbors’ privacy and traffic. You can’t even pull your car out to Route 35,” said Vito Nigro, of Melrose Terrace. “Roseland Terrace is like a parking lot.”

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MYSTERY ROBOCALLS SLAM M’TOWN SPENDING

hot-topic rightBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Just a few days before Middletown is set to introduce its budget, the phone lines are buzzing.

Who’s calling? That’s the mystery.

The callers identify themselves members of the Concerned Citizens of Middletown and slam the township committee for “excessive spending” and “engaging in an elaborate shell game” with tax dollars.

The robocalls have residents and township officials questioning the source — and legitimacy — of the messages. At least two rounds of calls have been reported.

“It appears to be just another desperate attempt by the Middletown Democrats to spread misinformation to the taxpayers,” Mayor Tony Fiore said.

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FIORE: MIDDLETOWN BUDGET WILL MEET CAP

middletown-town-hallBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Now that the Middletown township committee’s gotten the cooperation it asked from the library board, in the way of a half-million dollar transfer to the budget, the pressure now rests on negotiations with six unions to come to an agreement that officials hope will save jobs.

In any case, the committee, unlike last year, will have its budget ready in a timely manner.

Also unlike last year, it won’t be going to Trenton for approval to exceed the tax cap, Mayor Tony Fiore said Monday.

“The budget will comply with the two-percent property tax cap,” he said, offering April 4 as the official date for the budget’s introduction.

Among the last hurdles to be cleared, he said, are concessions from unions.

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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.

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M’TOWN SEEKS SHADOW LAKE DREDGE MONEY

shadow-lakeMiddletown is hopeful it can get permission and funds to dredge Shadow Lake. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Austin Canade regularly swims in Shadow Lake, but since the lake is in desperate need of dredging, the experience has become more of a drag for him than anything else.

“When I swim, I feel the growth,” Canade said. “I feel like it’s going to take me under one of these days.”

Before he gets sucked under, the township has what it believes is its best chance in years to dredge the shrinking lake, which has also seen rising contamination levels, and bring it back to a healthier state.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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M’TOWN BUDGET: 10 COPS COULD LOSE JOBS

mtown-cruiserThe axe may fall if the PBA doesn’t make significant concessions, the township committee said. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Faced with the state’s new two-percent property tax cap and a drastic revenue shortfall, Middletown’s township committee has drafted what Mayor Tony Fiore calls a “doomsday scenario,” which includes laying off 10 police officers and effectively dismantling the town’s recreation department.

“It’s not news we like to share,” Fiore said of the plan, filed with the state Civil Service Commission on Friday, which anticipates the elimination of some 26 jobs.

Layoffs could take effect as soon as April, Fiore said, if the committee doesn’t get significant concessions from the library board and the handful of unions that represent township employees.

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M’TOWN: GET READY TO DIG NEAR SCHOOLS

alexander-drMiddletown is considering heavier enforcement to get sidewalks near schools cleared after a snowfall. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

This winter’s unprecedented snowfalls brought frustration to Middletown, but they also nudged the township to take another look at how it reacts to the weather.

Following a substandard response to the post-Christmas pounding, when streets went days without seeing a plow and cars got stranded all over town, leadership retooled its plan to clear both roadways and lines of communication.

Now they’re focusing on the sidewalks.

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FIORE IN AS NEW MIDDLETOWN MAYOR

Newly-elected Mayor Anthony Fiore delivers his first address at Middletown’s reorganization meeting Sunday.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Middletown’s mayoral hot seat now belongs to Anthony Fiore, who suggests that he’s ready to be unpopular.

Fiore, a Republican now in the third year of his first elected term to the township committee, succeeds two-time mayor Gerry Scharfenberger, who was sworn in as a committeeman at Sunday’s annual reorganization meeting.

In a steamy, overflowing meeting room, and bookended on the dais by his predecessor, Scharfenberger, and newcomer Kevin Settembrino, Fiore admitted that 2011 isn’t going to be easy.

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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.

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