>The power of the Internet and email is amazing to me. I don’t know who authored this letter but I have received it from nearly a dozen different individuals, some on my contact list and from others that I don’t even know. From what I happen to know about Sean Byrnes’s record and of Mary Mahoney, I would have to say that it is right on.
Dear Fellow Middletown Resident,
Someone you know has sent this to you as an effort to help make residents more aware of what has been happening behind the scenes of our local government, and why our property taxes are so high and continue to rise. Due to our Township Committee’s refusal to institute ways of making our local government more transparent, most residents really have no way of knowing the decisions the Committee has been making about how they spend our tax dollars. It has been that way for three decades and Mayor Scharfenberger and the Middletown Republican Party would like to keep it that way.
It is not only impossibly expensive, but it is just impossible to communicate the truth the traditional way- with signs, ads and direct mailings. There is simply too much important information that people need to know, and hopefully this email will serve that purpose. Thank you for taking a few minutes to read it. This election is pivotal for Middletown. Voters need to be able to make a truly informed decision, not just rely on distortions, misinformation and character assassinations.
Sean Byrnes is the only Democrat on the Township Committee. For those of you who don’t pay close attention to how our local governing body operates, Sean is widely recognized as the fiscal conservative on the Committee. This stems from his experience handling budgets for the U. S. Coast Guard during a time when the Coast Guard was repeatedly suffering reductions in funding. He has voted against the last 3 Middletown municipal budgets voicing frustration at the Township’s failure to shrink the size of local government and the absence of any Finance Committee to prepare a financial plan for the Township. Over his objection, each of the three years he has been in office, the majority has approved substantial increases in our municipal tax levy. The municipal tax levy in 2005 was $31,217,469, and it is $45,349,477 for 2010. That’s a 45% jump in the 6 years that Gerry Scharfenberger has been in office. There have been recent Township mailings going out to households (paid for with taxpayer dollars by the way) “spinning” the tax statistics to make them look better. The truth is that the numbers speak for themselves:
In 2010, a comparison of the 8 neighboring municipalities revealed that Middletown had the highest jump in the municipal tax levy.
Here are the numbers:
Although the Mayor has cited large snowplowing expenses and other factors as the cause for this substantial increase, the reality is that all of these towns faced the same financial pressures, but only Middletown has had to seek approval from the Local Finance Board for Emergency Appropriations in each of the last 3 years to allow Middletown to exceed its scheduled appropriations.
Committeeman Byrnes has recommended sweeping changes in how Middletown delivers its services, but as the lone Democrat, he cannot even get a second vote to allow discussion of his ideas. Here are some examples:
· He sought to force competitive bids for all engineering work related to roads and other larger projects in town, instead of hiring the same politically-connected engineering firm to do all Township engineering work over the last 35 years. This firm gets paid on average over $1,000,000 every year.
· He has recommended consolidating the maintenance personnel in the Parks & Recreation Department, Public Works Department and the maintenance personnel working for the Board of Education.
· He pushed for privatization of much of the Township’s leaf and brush pickup, which consumes a large portion of the Township’s workforce. The Committee reluctantly agreed to bid out a small portion of the Township and realized a savings of $100,000 when the bid was received.
· He has recommended partnering with local non-profits like the YMCA to provide non-essential services like cultural and recreational activities so as to eliminate excessive costs associated with full-time employees’ pay and benefits, including health benefits that extend into retirement years.
· He has asked his fellow Committee members for 3 years to create a Finance Committee like every other municipality and well-run organization, but they have refused. He suspects that his fellow Committee members fear bringing citizens into the financial planning for the Township, because it would reveal the dire shape of the Township’s finances and the poor decision making by the Committee which got the town into this situation in the first place. Also, those no-bid contracts, politically–appointed positions (with benefits) and other practices would finally be brought to light if the public became involved. He knows that Middletown is rich with talent and resources – very highly-qualified people who, regardless of party affiliation, would volunteer to examine the budget and make recommendations to the Committee on how to cut costs and save tax dollars. Numerous other towns, with budgets a fraction of the size of Middletown’s, utilize Finance Committees to help them make the best decisions. It is absurd that a township the size of Middletown does not. It is unnerving to think why that is so.
· He believes that the residents of Middletown need to be more engaged in the governing process and he has observed a disconnect between the residents and their elected officials. He has advocated for televising the Township meetings to allow broader access to the public, but the Mayor and majority refuse to do so. They don’t want anyone to really know what is going on. Why is that? Byrnes did however have some success with his request to have the resolutions posted on the town website. This means that residents are now able to see what is being discussed and voted on at the Committee meetings through the website. Prior to that, anyone who went to a meeting would have no clue what was being discussed. Televising or streamlining the meetings online would be a wonderful way for residents to be connected without having to leave home. Other nearby towns are doing it already at little or no cost and it has been very positively received.
· He has recommended placing the Township’s attorney on a fixed retainer to reduce expenses and add predictability to this line item. The majority has refused to limit the (politically connected) attorney’s expenses in this fashion.
· He has called for a Task Force to examine whether Middletown still needs a Sewerage Authority. There are seven Commissioners of the Sewerage Authority who are entitled to receive pay, pension and health benefits. (Remember, there are only 5 Committee members, who are responsible for the entire township). In addition, the Director earns a salary in excess of $100,000. The Sewerage Authority meets once a month for less than an hour. These members are all active Republicans, including a former Mayor, party Treasurer, party Vice Chair etc. Middletown has been substantially developed and Sean Byrnes believes folding the Authority into the Public Works Department would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead. Efforts by Byrnes to investigate the merger of the Sewage Authority and Township Government have been opposed and blocked by Mayor Scharfenberger.
Both Sean and his running mate, Mary Mahoney, believe these sensible initiatives, if adopted, might have helped to avoid the large-scale tax increases of recent years. Sean and Mary stand by these recommendations. Together they will bring a conservative perspective to the Committee by examining how operations can be improved, by introducing management practices proven to eliminate waste and by improving the depth of research and analysis done prior to making important decisions.
Electing Mary Mahoney will bring strong organizational and leadership skills, currently lacking on the Committee. Her 18 years of experience in the business world honed these skills enabling her to challenge the Committee last year when they were poised to make another poorly planned investment at a time when they were already $5.5M in the red. She helped form a citizens’ group, hired their own engineer, proved the folly of the Committee’s majority leadership and won. In addition, in the past 10 years while raising her two sons Mary has been an active member of her community serving on several local boards dedicated to maintaining and improving the quality of life for residents of Middletown. Mary’s experiences with our local government have shown her that Middletown’s majority leadership is not representing the residents’ needs and vows to change this.
The Asbury Park Press has had this to say about Sean Byrnes :
“Sean Byrnes’ passion for cutting government spending and increasing transparency separate him from the field” (APP 10/18/09)
(He) “is bright, articulate and has an uncommon grasp of the issues” (APP 10/18/09).
Part of the problem is that without a second vote, resolutions cannot be discussed at Township Committee meetings. Sean’s ideas die on the vine, because no one will second them to allow discussion. This is partisan politics at its worst, and the taxpayers end up paying for it. Electing both Sean and Mary will force discussion of these and their other ideas that will help Middletown reduce waste and manage our tax dollars more efficiently. Once there is a discussion, there is also a public record of those discussions. We will gain transparency in our local government and make our elected officials accountable for their actions.
From the beginning of his term three years ago, Sean Byrnes has been pleading to step up the recycling program in Middletown. Recycling is an issue both the Byrnes and Mahoney families have always felt very strongly about and have been putting into practice for a long time. As Sean has explained at many Committee meetings, it will not only reduce expenses, it will bring in revenue as well. He has described how his own household of 7 people produces less than one can of garbage a week simply by recycling mixed paper and newspaper. No one on the Committee would listen. Now it is election time and the Mayor is campaigning about “his” recycling program. Another request Sean had made months ago was to have a property reassessment for the township. The rest of the Committee would not discuss it. Then, Mayor Scharfenberger introduces a resolution for a reassessment, once again taking credit for Byrnes’ ideas. To make matters worse, he uses taxpayers’ dollars to campaign via Township publications and robocalls sent to every household. This again is partisan politics.
Regardless of their party, voters understand the importance of maintaining balance on the Township Committee. We have not had much of that in recent years. In the last two years, the four Republican Committee members have never disagreed with one another. Over the course of hundreds of votes on resolutions, ordinances, and other matters, they have voted together, never disagreeing with one another. Elected officials should feel comfortable to vote their conscience. They clearly are answering to someone other than the people that elected them; one might suspect it is their local party.
Let’s get some balance on the Township Committee. Let’s give Sean Byrnes and Mary Mahoney the ability to introduce some of these cost-cutting ideas by electing them. Even if both are successful, it still leaves them in a minority, but it gives them the all-important ability to force discussion on issues like those mentioned above. And because 4 votes are required to approve any bonding for the Township, their presence would curb any excessive reliance on this borrowing power. This is vital since the total bond debt in Middletown went from around $48M in 2001 to over $75M today. The numbers speak for themselves, in just 10 years we have borrowed and are paying interest on an additional $27,000,000.
Sean Byrnes and Mary Mahoney do not have to try to destroy anyone’s character, distort facts or take quotes out of context and put their own captions under them. They just need to get the truth out there for people to see and judge for themselves.
This election should not be about local politics, it should be about creating a governing body that can reduce spending and provide much needed tax relief for our residents.
You can make a difference by making an informed decision and voting for Sean Byrnes and Mary Mahoney. You can help make a balanced local government a reality by forwarding this message to every Middletown resident you know.
For more about Sean Byrnes, Mary Mahoney and very interesting information about what has been going on behind the scenes of our local government, and where your tax dollars have been going, visit: