Daily Archives: July 11, 2010

Byrnes: Televise Township Committee Meetings

…I think televising our meetings is an important step toward engaging our citizens in their Government...” – Middletown Committeeman Sean Byrnes – Middletown Township Committee

Many residents around town have been advocating for the Middletown Township Committee to broadcast their monthly meetings on the townships 2 public access channels, Comcast channel 20 and Verizon channel 26, their numerous request and letters to the editor have gone unheeded thus far.

The excuses of those in the majority on the Township Committee give for not broadcasting these meetings have included cost, lack of equipment and manpower to not wanting to create a circus type atmosphere at meetings, which is just plain silly.
Those in favor of broadcasting meeting say “if you can video concerts in the park or beach parties then broadcast them over the cable channels than you can certainly record township meetings for broadcast”, which I happen to agree with and evidently so does Committeeman Sean Byrnes !
The following is another blog post from Sean Byrnes’s blog Mobilize Middletown:
On Tuesday night at our Workshop Committee Meeting here in Middletown, I asked the Township Administrator to provide the Committee with an assessment of the costs to televise Township Committee meetings. My preference would be televise them live, but even a taped, televised meeting is better than no televised meetings. I think televising our meetings is an important step toward engaging our citizens in their Government. If we can play tapes of concerts in the park, we surely can play tapes of our elected officials at work. If we are to put our financial house in order, we need a citizenry that pays attention, expresses opinions and has transparent access to all of our budget and spending records. Indeed, our system of government anticipates an informed electorate that cares about how its local government spends its precious tax dollars.

In recent years that type of involvement has been limited to a small segment of our residents. When good times prevailed, many members of our community lost interest in the activities of our elected officials. I do not exclude myself from that criticism. Escalating real estate values and a booming economy lessened the burden of real estate taxes on the average resident. As a result, the actions of our elected officials became less important.

But those times are gone for the foreseeable future, and we now must manage our public resources during a time of financial crisis. This means mobilizing our citizens to participate in the governing process and to volunteer to perform services that may have been previously paid for with tax dollars. As an example, we budget a significant amount of money every year toward the maintenance of parks and fields. We should explore organizing the local neighborhoods adjacent to our parks to participate in regular cleanups, grass-cutting and upkeep of these assets. I believe that Middletown residents would welcome the opportunity to come together as a community to take care of their “jointly-owned” assets and save tax dollars at the same time. To set ourselves on this path, we need to connect to our residents. Televising our meetings would allow citizens to observe their government at work and to weigh in on decisions that impact them or that involve matters where they may have expertise.

Corruption and mismanagement arise when Government is conducted in the shadows. Two years ago we took an important step toward opening up our government when Committeeman Short and I introduced a resolution to place all township meeting agendas, resolutions and ordinances on our website in advance of meetings. This resolution was passed unanimously by the Township Meeting. (It was also an excellent example of bipartisanship). This allowed residents to see what was being voted on at meetings. Prior to this, residents who attended meetings would frequently have little idea what was being discussed, because they had never seen, and had no meaningful access to, the documents being voted upon. Bringing our meetings to television would further open a door to local government that until recently remained shut to all but a chosen few.

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Filed under beach parties, Comcast, Concerts, Middletown Township, Mobilize Middletown, Sean F. Byrnes, televised meetings, Verizon

Letter: Middletown budget raises taxes again

The following letter written by a Mr. Warren Houck, appeared in the printed version of the Asbury Park Press last week but for some strange and unknown reason it failed to make the online addition, which has forced me to painstakingly reproduce it here for all to read an comment on:

After the school budget was defeated in Middletown, the budget went to the Township Committee, which ordered more than $2 million in additional cuts.

Now the Township Committee has proposed its budget. Guess how much that budget went up? A little over $2 million. Basically the Township Committee gobbled up the cuts it forced upon the Middletown schools.

The Township is proposing a 13% increase in the tax rate. This increase is on top of a 6% increase last year and a 7% increase the year before. This comes to a three-year average of around 9% per year – all during a time of little or no inflation.

By the way, besides the township rate, the open-space tax has stealthily been increased by more 100%. How? When the entire town was reassessed and the average property value more than doubled, other tax rates were adjusted lower to reflect the reassessment, but the open-space tax stayed at the same rate.

The tax before the reassessment was 0.02 cents per 100 dollars of property value. The tax is still 0.02 cents, but this is after reassessment and after doubling of the typical property value, which causes the typical homeowner now to pay twice the amount towards open-space.

While an open-space tax may be desirable, no one voted to double it. Adjusting this tax back to the level before the town reassessment would save Middletown taxpayers more than $1 million per year.

It is interesting that Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger complains that the Middletown teachers would not agree to a pay freeze, yet the township is not even close to being able to freeze its own budget.

Understandably, the terrible recession we have been through is putting towns in this state into a bind, but the Middletown Township Committee’s members do not seem capable of making the same tough decisions that they dictated to the Board of Education.

Also, with three straight years of huge tax hikes, the committee seems to be in denial about adopting a budget that reflects the current reality.

Warren Houck

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, budget cuts, Gerry Scharfenberger, letter to the editor, Middletown Board of Education, open-space tax, pay freeze, tax increase