Sea Bright Begins New Year With Full Agenda

January 14, 2018
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Mayor Dina Long addresses residents at the first meeting of the 2018 Sea Bright Council.

By Chris Rotolo |

SEA BRIGHT – The Schwartz is with Sea Bright.

While being sworn in as a new councilman at Sea Bright’s annual reorganization meeting on Saturday morning, Jon Schwartz was far from the zany, boxer shorts-wearing car dealer we’ve come to know from his popular Schwartz Mazda commercials.

Like his fellow council members and Mayor Dina Long, who is in her seventh year at the helm, the newly elected independent candidate possessed a sober demeanor during the borough’s first official session of 2018, where several focal points emerged as priorities for the council, like sea wall reconstruction, the rebuilding of the storm-damaged beach pavilion, a new borough library, and the forthcoming borough hall complex with space for administration, fire and police departments and first aid.

However, no topic drew more attention than Sea Bright’s ongoing battle to reduce the amount it pays to send borough students to Shore Regional High School.

“My daughter Becky was the first of us to move to Sea Bright and our family has a lot of history in and around the area,” said Schwartz, an Independent who defeated Republican incumbent John Lamia and his running mate, Pamela Ross, in November. “I’m looking forward to serving the people of Sea Bright and doing my best to help the tax payers save money, and one of the ways we hope to do that is by working together on the issue with Shore Regional.”

Charles Rooney III, a Democrat, was also sworn in for another full term. He was the first to broach the subject of Shore Regional and the $2.1 million it cost the borough to have just 18 students from the municipality attend the West Long Branch high school in 2017.

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According to Rooney that price tag is expected to near $3 million in 2018, with 26 students enrolled at the high school this year at a cost of $115,384.62 per pupil, which falls directly on Sea Bright tax payers.

“We pay an awful lot to Shore Regional and most of us in Sea Bright don’t think it’s fair,” said Rooney, who is leading the charge as the borough’s Education Committee leader. “I have worked very hard since I’ve been on this council to help correct this situation and we’ll continue to fight.”

In March, the borough petitioned the state Commissioner of Education, David Hespe, to make the school’s Board of Education agree to a referendum vote on the matter, which would allow local voters to decide the issue.

Without any action yet taken the controversy has continued into the new calendar year, and Rooney is impassioned to find a proper resolution to the borough’s current tax levy.

“This formula has been in place since the ‘70s, and I don’t know if there’s anything any of us are using anymore in our everyday lives from that era. So obviously there needs to be an understanding that a formula that has been in place for 40 years probably needs to be tweaked,” said Rooney of the current school funding formula, which was instituted in 1975 and requires that regional district tax levies be allocated based upon property values.

Councilman William J. Keeler — who served as borough council president for the past the three years, but saw Marc Leckstein voted into that role on Saturday — was also outspoken on the robust tax levy, but was quick to point out that this is not a condemnation of Shore Regional itself, but rather the flawed funding formula.

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“It’s virtually impossible, with 550-some odd municipalities in the state of New Jersey to put together a perfect formula,” he said. “And a few towns were badly hurt by it. A few of them were able to correct it, but Sea Bright has not been able to. We came out on the distinct negative end of this formula since 1975, and it’s been an effort to change it ever since.”

“Right now we’re subsidizing over a million dollars, and that’s beyond our initial costs,” Keeler said, “and this is not a criticism of Shore Regional and its school board. The school is wonderful and the school board works hard to improve it each year. The school is not in question, it’s just the formula.”

According to Keeler, only 47 percent of Sea Bright property taxes are used for local purposes, with approximately 25 percent going to Shore Regional and another 10 percent going to Oceanport K-8 schools.

This article was first published in the Jan. 11-18, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.

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