Story and Photo by John Burton
RED BANK – It was a meeting of the minds for both sides of the political aisle as the Borough Council came to terms on the embattled municipal budget.
The six-member council, at its June 8 meeting, voted unanimously to adopt the 2016 municipal budget in an amended form.
The council at its May 25 meeting became divided over the document, splitting its vote 3-3, forcing Mayor Pasquale Menna to cast the deciding vote—against the budget.
But what’s past is prologue as the council agreed with the changes in the budget that allowed the tax increase to go from the initial 1.98 percent hike to a now 1.68 percent increase.
That reduction was enough to sway those who had initially voted against it. “Thankfully, we’re at a point now where we can pass this budget,” said Kathy Horgan, a Democrat on the council who voted against the budget previously.
Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, a Republican, chairs the council’s Finance Committee, the committee largely responsible for drafting the municipal budget. At the June 8 meeting, Schwabenbauer announced a lease agreement with Count Basie theatre for a portion of the municipal complex parking lot. That agreement would result in the added money that allowed for the tax increase reduction she announced and allowed the amended budget to pass muster with the the former objectors.
The theater, located at 99 Monmouth St., directly across the street from the Municipal Complex, 90 Monmouth St., has entered into an arrangement to lease 35 parking spaces in the complex’s lot on evenings the theater has performances and as long as it doesn’t conflict with borough activities. That deal will translate into approximately $35,000 in revenue for the borough for the year, according to Schwabenbauer. While drafting the budget, local officials couldn’t factor in this money, given the deal hadn’t been finalized and state requirements prevented including it until the agreement moved along, she explained.
Hopefully, contributing to an additional financial buffer are a number of shared service agreements in the works with Tinton Falls and Middletown among others, Schwabenbauer said.
The 2016 municipal budget was the first one in 26 years drafted by Republicans, now that they’ve have have control of three council seats. This year’s budget, Schwabenbauer had explained, faced some additional challenges over last year’s, which held the tax rate flat. That led to the increase and Republicans advocating an increase on the parking fees for on-street metered spaces and in the municipal-owned parking lots to help offset the financial shortfall.
In response, Edward Zipprich voiced opposition accusing the Republicans of “chasing quarters to balance the budget” with the parking increases. Independent, and former Republican, Councilwoman Cindy Burnham also objected to the budget, joining Democrats Zipprich and Horgan in voting against the budget.
With a 3-3 split last month, Menna, a Democrat, cast the deciding vote. He said he has some basic questions about the budget, which he couldn’t get answered; and given he hadn’t been told it would be a divided council (which he blamed the finance committee for, calling it “damned reckless”), he was forced to vote against it. That, he said, would give parties the opportunity to reconsider their options.
The Democrats issued a press release over the June 4-5 weekend laying out opportunities for additional budget trimmings, to curb spending. Among the options the Democrats wanted to see incorporated was using some of the surplus account; the reserve in the unemployment insurance; and cutting the amount allocated for Planning Board expenditures, among others.
Schwabenbauer objected to these offerings, maintaining they weren’t sufficiently thought through.
Zipprich seemed to back off his proposals at the June 8 meeting, saying “I now have a little better understanding of the facts.”
Burnham, who is, by and large, critical of both the Democrats and Republicans’ actions said, “I think it’s a good compromise.”
The budget failing to meet with the council’s adoption was something that hadn’t happened previously during his tenure as mayor or during the former Democratic McKenna administration, which ran for 16 years, or the Republican Arnone Administration, also for 16 years, said Menna, who had served as a councilman for much of those two administrations.
The municipal budget is supposed to be submitted to the state Department of Community Affairs no later than March 18 or could be subject to penalties levied by the DCA director.
Municipalities can seek an extension, and the borough finance office had sought a state extension.
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