STATEHOUSE: GOPAL, O’SCANLON SCORE WINS


 Vin Gopal and his 11th-district running mates staked out an island of Democratic blue in a sea of GOP red. (Map by NJSpotlight.com.)

By JOHN T. WARD

Middletown resident Phil Murphy was the clear winner in the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial race Tuesday, in spite of a chilly reception from his home county.

Meanwhile, Republican state Senator Jen Beck of Red Bank lost her 11th-district statehouse seat to Democrat Vin Gopal, and first-term Red Bank Councilman Mike Whelan came up short in his bid for an Assembly seat on Beck’s ticket.

Former Little Silver Councilman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican, held off a challenge to his 13th-district state Senate seat by Middletown Democrat Sean Byrnes, according to results posted by the Monmouth County Clerk.

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RED BANK COUNCIL CANS PRINGLE FIRM

Pringle_and_hall_2_72307Former borough attorney Ken Pringle, left, and partner Tom Hall at a Red Bank council meeting in July, 2007. Below, new attorney Dan O’Hern at Saturday’s reorganization meeting. (Click to enlarge)

ohern-010111Red Bank has a new lawyer with a familiar name.

Out is the law firm headed by Belmar Mayor Ken Pringle. In is Daniel O’Hern Jr., a Little Silver councilman and son of late Red Bank mayor and state Supreme Court Justice Daniel O’Hern.

Council members cited economic reasons for the change.

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NO VIDEO AS BYRNES BOWS OUT

byrnes-exit1Middletown Committeeman Sean Byrnes says he doesn’t anticipate a return to politics any time soon, if ever. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Sean Byrnes, the Middletown Township Committee‘s lone Democrat, made his final appearance behind the dais Monday night in an hour-long meeting of “mixed emotions” during which the committee recognized him with a proclamation commending his service.

But the governing body also tabled a measure on one of Byrnes’ pet projects: getting the meetings videotaped.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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BYRNES: FORM A FINANCE TASK FORCE

mt_byrnes

NAME: Sean F. Byrnes (Democrat, incumbent)

AGE: 47

OCCUPATION: Attorney

LENGTH OF RESIDENCE IN TOWN:
10 years

General Questions:

1. What do you see as the top three issues
in town?

a. Constantly Increasing Taxes.

b. Poor Governance Structure

c. Marginal Transparency

2. What specifically are you planning to do to address those issues?

The Township’s steady tax increases are the product of poor planning and a refusal to make difficult decisions. We had an increase in our municipal tax levy in 2010 that exceeded 13%. By my calculation, our municipal tax levy has jumped approximately 45% in the last 5 or 6 years. We have no published, agreed upon plan for attacking the categories of spending that drive these increases. We need to create the Finance Task Force I have been calling for since my election 2007, include some of our extremely competent residents who have financial backgrounds and develop a written plan to bring our spending in line with our available revenue. This will mean a reduction in services, but so be it. We can do this without cutting the core services that our citizens need. Non-essential services will be reduced. I have recommended the following measures for the last two years, and I will continue to advocate for their implementation:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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M’TOWN SWIM CLUB MAY GET OVERHAUL

mtown-pool-080310Township officials are considering options for the aging Middletown Swim & Tennis Club. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Dropping revenues and increasing maintenance needs, combined with local budget woes, have Middletown officials seriously considering making a splash with its swim club.

The question is this: will it be a cannonball or a doggy paddle that the township committee decides upon?

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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.

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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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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.

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