Category Archives: municipal tax rates

Taxpayers First ??? Not in “Your Middletown”

by guest blogger Linda Baum

If you’ve been driving anywhere in Middletown, you can’t miss the big red and white signs that claim Mayor Fiore puts “taxpayers first”. That’s been the line for years now. That the Republican majority continues to use it shows their arrogance. Sadly, they have managed to keep so many of us in the dark.

I suppose they should feel confident. Remember last year when our Republican-controlled Town Committee left you with the impression that a 13.4% municipal tax increase was just 2.8%? They had at their disposal all sources of communication coming out of Town Hall – the town’s own newspaper, press releases, robocalls, and a tax information sheet all delivered straight to your home and paid for with your tax dollars. You were probably scratching your head back then. And I bet, like me, for a while you were uncertain of your own basic math skills. And that was the idea – not to inform, but to mislead. That is not how you serve taxpayers. What they did was deliberate and dishonest, and completely self-serving.

The Republican party’s control over information in Middletown has gone on for years. If you have ever asked a question at a Town Committee meeting, you may have experienced that first hand, and it has never been more true than it is now that an all-Republican committee sits on the dais.

Residents have just two opportunities each month – the first and third Monday — to connect with our representatives, but they don’t seem to want to talk to us. If you’ve been brave enough to stand at the microphone and ask nearly anything, you’ve most likely been made to feel like an annoyance. You’ve got just five minutes – that’s the rule. Use it or lose it, and no second chances after you sit down. If you aren’t satisfied with the answer you get, they may invite you to stay after the meeting when no one else is there to hear them. Or you can always try again at the next town meeting, if you don’t mind being scolded for being repetitive. I was, and my question went unanswered to boot.

It would be downright comical if it weren’t true. If you don’t believe me, then grab your popcorn and come down to Town Hall. You’ll have to catch the live show because town meetings aren’t televised in Middletown like they are in so many other towns. That’s for lack of funds, supposedly, but let’s see what the story is in 2014 when $200,000 in grant money becomes available from Comcast specifically for that purpose. What excuse will our Republican majority give then for continuing to keep us in the dark?

You won’t find much information about what was discussed at meetings in the Town’s meeting minutes, either. If you really want to know what happened, read “It’s Your Town Hall”, newsletter that are written by town resident Don Watson, who took it upon himself to attend town meetings and to keep others informed about what’s going on. If you want to be included in his distribution, send an email to

If taxpayers were really first, governmental proceedings would be accessible to all residents no matter what their schedule or ability to attend meetings, including those who are disabled or have limited mobility. And by the way, those folks are still waiting for the Township to fully comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Money is lacking, town officials say, among other reasons given for delays. However, since that law was enacted, our republican-controlled town committee has poured money into a host of costly unnecessary projects when better less-costly alternatives existed – the Pool Club and Arts Center are examples. Taxpayers are not only paying the debt for these purchases, but hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual upkeep as well.

And did you know that the town’s appointed engineer – the same firm now for 40 years –pockets about $1 million dollars a year in taxpayer funds awarded to them as no-bid contracts? Think how much tax relief could have been provided by putting those engineering contracts out to competitive bid. That’s money that could have been returned to you or used for other purposes. If taxpayers were really first, our republican majority would have done just that. Instead, members of that same engineering firm can be seen celebrating with republican candidates every year on election night. If it sounds like pay to play, that’s because it is. And you’re paying for it.

Somebody is first in Middletown, but not taxpayers. Not in a very long time. On November 8th, you can change that.

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Filed under americas with disabilities act, Arts Center, Middletown NJ, municipal tax rates, Robo-calls, Swim Club, tax increase, tax payers first

>It’s Good To Know That Middletown’s Redistribution Of Wealth Is Underway

>I read today in the Asbury Park Press that Middletown has finally started the process of redistributing the wealth around town, by launching the long sort after property tax reassessments.

This is something that the Township has been fighting against doing, tooth and nail, since the property tax revaluations went through a few a couple of years ago. The only reason why this reassessment is happening is to stop people and businesses in Middletown from filing tax appeal that have cost the town a few million dollars since, no other reason.
So when Middletown’s Municipal Attorney Brian Nelson is quoted as saying, “First and foremost, we’re doing this out of fairness to taxpayers, but the tax appeal costs were proving to be exponential.”, he was only being half honest. The township never does anything out of fairness to the taxpayers, they only do what is first and foremost fair for itself.
So with this reassessment that should be done before March of next year, there will be some winners and losers just as before. Some home and business owners will see their property taxes reduced, while others will see them increase based on their newly reassessed values.
This reassessment will not be the great panacea that people think it will be due to the fact that unless the Township cuts spending significantly next year they will not see a very big decrease in their property taxes. Middletown will still need to raise close to $42M through taxation to balance the FY’11 budget regardless. So instead of the tax rate being 39.85 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, that number may skyrocket upwards over .45 0r .50 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Make no mistake, this reassessment was not ordered out of goodness or fairness towards the average taxpayer in town, it was made in order to put a halt to all the tax appeal judgements that have been and continue to be lost by the town in court which have cost the township $millions.
I, like many others, just hope that the new reassessment of our homes will be low enough to make a difference. The town will be paying for it for a long time, but that is a post for another time.


Filed under Asbury Park Press, Middletown, municipal tax rates, property tax reassessment

>Anger Level Rises As Tax Bills Arrive Throughout Middletown

>I’ve been hearing a lot from Middletown residents over the past few days, it seems as though the new property tax bills are starting to show up in their mail boxes and they are not happy.

They are angry over the huge increase in the municipal tax rate that for many seems to be a 14% increase over last years bill.They are also angry at the deception that mayor Gerry Scharfenbegrer and those that are in the majority and have held power in Middletown for 3 generations are trying pull over on them.

To continually insist to residents that their tax TOTAL bill only increased by 2.67%, while true, is extremely misleading and downright dishonest. It is nothing more than a ploy to distract the less sophisticated residents around town that live their lives in a bubble from questioning what is really happening. For those people who are living in the bubble and for those who are not take a good look at your tax bill and the letter that accompanied it.

As I stated, yes the overall TOTAL tax increase to OUR tax bill is 2.67% but the total tax bill (Municipal, Schools and County combined) has risen by a total 4.00%.

That’s 2.67% for Middletown and 1.33% for school,county,open spaces, garbage…. Middletown’s municipal tax increase makes up 2/3’s of the total tax that is reflected in the tax bill.

You will notice that the letter of explanation that was enclosed with the tax bills does not state that a 13.99% increase in the municipal rate has occurred no matter how it is twisted, but it is clear to see that Middletown’s increase is easily twice that of the school increase while the County and Garbage taxes declined.

The only thing included in the letter that was clear and honest was the table that divided up the total $.07 cents per $100 increase to the total tax rate which showed that Middletown’s portion of that increase was $.048, which tells it all.

Middletown is fully responsible for nearly 69% of this years TOTAL tax increase to residents property tax bills.

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Filed under Middletown, municipal tax rates, property taxes, tax rate

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain: Scharfenberger "The Tax Man" Issues Middletown Tax Update

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain I say, it is simply a man who is desperate to save himself from the bitter truth and who has earned the title of the “Tax Man” by overseeing the rise in the municipal tax rate of 41.9% over the past 5 years(once the currently proposed Township budget is approved).

Over the past couple of days an email has been making its way through cyber-space, written by non other than Middletown’s appointed mayor, Gerry Scharfenberger. He is so desperate to inform the voting public that the pending municipal budget (which includes a 13.87% municipal tax increase) is the result of circumstances beyond his control, that some residents have received it 3 or 4 times.

In the email Scharfy states that “Some of the information I have heard from folks around town is based on very false and misleading data”, and that he has “…put together a fact sheet to give people the reality of all things associated with the 2010 budget…”

After reading his email, I found it somewhat lacking in true facts and misleading in it’s own right. So, what I have done is to post Gerry Scharfenberger’s email below, broken down with comments in blue, to counter some of what he attempts to “clear up” and to show that the reason for Middletown’s massive tax increases over the past 5 years is due to his poor leadership and overall mismanagement:

By Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger

The Middletown budget has been the subject of quite a bit of discussion lately. Some of the information I have heard from folks around town is based on very false and misleading data. To try and clear things up, I thought I would put together a fact sheet to give people the reality of all things associated with the 2010 budget, as well as the situation at the state level. As always, if you have any further questions or need additional information, don’t hesitate to contact me. Also, please look over the attached FAQs – they are quite sobering.
Here are the facts:

– the proposed municipal tax increase is 2.8% which means the municipal increase on a $5000 tax bill will be $140 per year, a $10,000 tax bill will be $280 per year and so on. This will go down prior to adoption, thanks to legislation the governor has signed that will allow us to make additional cuts.

The OVERALL tax increase is 2.8%. This includes the BOE and County taxes. The Township tax rate has increased 13.87% over last year. The amount raised from property taxes is depicted in the following chart. These numbers came from Township budgets or were reported in Middletown Matters.

If the Governor has allowed the Township to make additional cuts, why are they not made NOW so the budget could be reduced further?

– 98% of all of the municipalities in the state had to do estimated tax bills this year. This is due to the state budget and the uncertainty of state aid to the municipalities.

There is no uncertainty of State aid to the municipalities. The Mayor specifically lists the amount of State aid that was cut this year below at $1,564,911. The Township knows the amount of State aid it will receive. How can a budget be proposed is there is uncertainty in the amount of aid to be received?

– it is a mistake to multiply the third quarter estimated tax bill by four – THAT IS NOT THE PROPERTY TAXES FOR THE YEAR! When people get their fourth quarter bill, that will be accurate and will also be much lower than the third quarter bill.

The 4th quarter tax bill (just before the election) will be more accurate because the Township is meeting with the Local Finance Board, in Trenton today (8-10-2010) to find out just how much the Township can exceed the State cap of 4%.

– Middletown has one of the lowest tax rates in the region. While we are currently at 35 cents, Fair Haven, for example, is almost 49 cents and Little Silver is over 50 cents.

The tax rate is one of lowest in the area, but other towns’ tax rate has no bearing on what the tax rate in Middletown should be. A big reason why the tax rate has increased almost 14% this year is because the Township came up short $5.5M last year and it had to borrow money from the 2010 budget to make up the difference. This is shown in the chart above as the difference in the amount of money raised by taxes between 2010 and 2009.

– Middletown has one of the lowest worker per capita in the state (305 for 70,000 residents and 41.4 square miles) and one of the lowest spending per capita (around $880 per person).

Middletown might have the lowest worker per capita, but how other towns manage there resources are different from town to town. Plus, what other towns do with these resources should have no bearing on how Middletown uses the resources that are employed.

Below are some of the drivers of the budget and how we’ve addressed them. Get rid of binding arbitration, civil service and unions and we could really do some cutting. For now, we are legally prohibited from doing what is really needed to make deep, significant cuts.

If Middletown can’t legally make the cuts it wants to, they should plan to manage the resources on hand better. You just don’t throw up your hands and say we can’t legally do something.

While there were many factors that contributed to this year’s budget problems, the main ones were:

$1,564,911 loss in 2010 state aid. This loss comes after a $640,000 reduction in 2008, $184,000 in 2009.

Why rely on State aid to begin with? The Township should budget for no State aid and if the State should provide some type of aid, then it should be used in the following years’ budget. Notice the amount of State aid for this year compared to last 2 years. Last year the loss of State aid was touted, by Mr. Scharfenberger, as the worst thing that could happen. This year the Mr. Scharfenberger says that the Governor is doing the right thing.

$1.4 million for prior year’s salary increases from resolved labor contracts;

When a municipality goes into labor negotiations, it should anticipate an increase an budget accordingly. This was not done, obviously. What was management thinking, that the unions were not going to demand some type of increase?

$1 million increase in health care costs,

CFO, Nick Trasente, increased theses costs because the Township came up short the past 2 years. He is just doing some PLANNING to avoid future shortfalls.

$900,000 for snow and rain storms clean up,

This is a legitimate and unexpected expense.

$900,000 for unexpected retirements. Cost includes payments for unused sick and vacation time.

When the new Governor was elected, he said that there would be changes in the retirement rules. It might have been a little late in the year, but some planning could have been done to ease the shortfall. There will be many more retirements to come this year.

$1.8 million increase in pension payments mandated by the state.

Middletown knew that pension payments would have to be made this year. Middletown was told to defer last years’ payment in order to exceed the 4% State cap.

$400,000 loss in recycling revenues

The Green Initiative, started years ago by Mr. Scharfenberger, should have planned for additional recycling efforts. This has only come to pass because the State and County have implemented plans to include all paper and cardboard as part of the recycling plans. Middletown should have been a leader in this since there was a “Green Initiative” in place.

To address these, the Township Committee instituted:

40 staff/position reductions since January 1, 2010.

A total of 16 employees were layed off this year. The other 24 are people retiring because of the change in the Governors’ policy.

A 15% reduction in 2010 department funding requests.

Each department submits a “wish list” budget every year. This is reviewed the day after the election, in November. The Township Committee told the departments to cut it 15%. At that point they should have reviewed the requests and made real cuts.

Purchasing natural gas and electricity as part of a collective of 119 government entities known as the New Jersey Sustainable Energy Joint Meeting (NJSEM) instead of from the utility company. The move is slated to save approximately $160,000 this year.

This is a good measure and should be encouraged every year. Buying in bulk is almost always less expensive.

Funding the 2010 Summer Concert Series with community and business sponsors.

Sponsors for all events should be sought after. Even our Library Conservancy sponsored a concert. Do these sponsors fund the police, stage rentals, shuttle buses, etc…?

Canceling Middletown Day unless sufficient private sponsorship is found.

The concerts were going to be cancelled if sponsors were not found, too. Sponsors have funded much of Middletown Day in the past.

Closing the township’s skateboard park and mini-golf course.

The skateboard park is closed and the supervision that was on site removed. The children are still skateboarding, though.

Closing the Police Department’s Community Relations Bureau and suspending the DARE program.

This is just what the community needs; less police relations. This will only lead to an increase in crime, thus increasing the relations that the police will have with the community only in a negative manner.

Limiting lifeguards on municipal beaches to weekends only.

A lifeguard should be present if the beach is open. We wouldn’t want someone to get swept out to sea from one of those rip currents.

Continued limitation of overtime for non-essential personnel without approval of the Township Administrator.

All non-essential overtime should be eliminated. If it is not essential why is it needed? This should be a part of good management.


Filed under budget planning, Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown, municipal tax rates, Nick Trasente, tax increase

Scharfenberger Videos Are Just Another Example Of His Ignorance Of Facts.

Have you seen the two videos of Middletown’s acting mayor Gerry Scharfenberger being interviewed by another local blogger? The videos were made a number of weeks ago, just before the 4th of July holiday, so if you have not you can seem them, you can do so >>> here and here .
These videos are a classic examples of how Gerry Scharfenberger ignores the truth to promote his own agenda.
Scharfenbeger stated in the first video that the 13% increase in the municipal tax rate stated by Committeeman Sean Byrnes at the budget introduction meeting was not accurate, which is untrue.
In 2009 there was $40,001,112.58 raised by property taxes and this year (2010) there will be $45,549,733.91, the difference being $5,548,621.33. If you divide this difference by the 2009 amount and multiply it by 100 you will get the percentage increase for 2010, which is 13.87%. Byrnes was rounding down to 13%.

Scharfenbeger mentioned about how the lack of state aid was a factor behind the increase in the municipal tax rate. In 2009 Middletown lost, I believe $800K in state aid and Scharfenberger stated that then Gov. Jon Corzine was strangling the municipalities. In 2010 Gov. Christie has shorted Middletown twice that much,$1.6M. Now, Scharfenberger has stated that Gov. Christie is doing what is necessary to set the State on the right course, but he had no plan to deal with the loss of aid. The mayor had to have seen this coming just by the shear climate of the economy and planned appropriately for it.

This brings up a point that I am surprised others haven’t talked about much; why should Middletown rely on State aid to begin with? Middletown is larger enough and should be supporting itself, not looking for handouts from the State or Federal Governments. If aid comes down from the State it should be applied to the town’s surplus and the following years’ budget.

When asked about the adoption of the township budget and why after 6 months into the year a budget had not been adopted yet, our acting mayor stated that each month thus far Middletown has been operating with a temporary budget that has been kept to within 75% of what was expected to spent each month.

If that’s the case, why not make a yearly budget to do the same? A budget could have been made in January to include 90% of what was expected to be spent. That would leave 10% to go toward surplus. Why put off the enevitable? Given this statement Gerry expected a 13% increase, therefore he saw it coming.

In the second video, the mayor talks about unfunded mandates like COAH and opting out of the civil service system. Scharfenberger stated that millions have been spent over the years on lawyers fees to to fight lawsuits on COAH, but the reality is, if the Middletown was COAH compliant for all of those years then most of the lawsuits would not have taken place. As a matter of fact, if Middletown was compliant in many other areas of the law, then lawsuits would not have had to be fought. Many times Middletown has enabled the lawsuits to continue only to have the lawyers profit.

In wishing to opt-out of the Civil Service system, Scharfenberger stated that shared service agreements can’t be reached with other towns that do not have civil service employees. He says that because of civil service requirements agreements between Middletown and other towns are nearly impossible. Now I might be wrong in presuming this but, if an agreement can be made between two municipalities whether they are civil service or not, that complies with the civil service contracts, it should be acceptable to the non-civil service employees from another towns.
Finally, the mayor claims that he had no idea of what the Governor was going to do, which has to be the furthest thing from the truth. After all, Scharfenberger was on the Governors’ Transition Team writing policy for what the new Governor was going to do and he loves to tell everyone that he is in constant contact with him or Lieutenant Gov. Guadagno.
So to be taken by surprise or caught off guard by anything coming from Trenton has to be taken with a grain of salt and chalked up as nothing more than the continued issuance of half-truths an blubbery from him, in order to promote his own self interests.


Filed under civil service, COAH, Gerry Scharfenberger, Gov. Chris Christie, Kim Guadagono, Middletown, municipal tax rates, video, YouTube

The Gloom of a 13.9% Municipal Spending Increase for Property Taxpayers

By Virginia Amend – Lincroft Village News

There is no way to put a good face on a 13.9% increase on the $64,979,576 municipal budget.

As one citizen said to Mayor Scharfenberger and the Republican majority of Pamela Brightbill, Anthony Fiore and Steve Massell, “The Republican majority owns this budget.”

That may be only partly true. Governor Christie’s actions at the State level heavily contributed to the 13.9% increase in municipal spending. First, there was the loss of $1,564,911 state aid. The anticipated pain for 2011 is that loss is then built in for future budgets.

In the “unanticipated outcomes” category Governor Christie’s threats to future pension rules, caused 23 Middletown Township employees to choose retirement in 2010 in order to be covered by the existing, more favorable pension benefits.

Another “unanticipated outcome” is the $760,000 needed to pay retiring employees sick leave and vacation day payouts. Ouch!

Not too many people remember when the Republican majority couldn’t find the funds to pay 2009 pension contribution. The temporary CFO Roth negotiated a settlement with the local Finance Board in Trenton whereby Middletown would pay 1/12 of the pension contribution in 2009 and the remaining 11 payments to be paid over the next eleven years @ 4% interest.

The budget introduced on Monday, June 23, — halfway through the fiscal year – indicated the pension increase in this budget required $1,800,000 to fund the pension increase. Healthcare costs, and two borrowings from prior year’s salary increase. The current freeze on salaries is too little, too late to pay last year’s unpaid medical bills caused. CFO Anthony Trasente to budget another $1 million to cover this year’s health costs.

All the signs were there of an out-of-control fiscal plan in the late 2008 and in full bloom in 2009. The Republican majority should have clamped down on negotiated settlements with the several unions. In this 2010 budget the township committee is faced with an increase of $1,400,000 for the As Everett Dirkson once said, “A million here, a million there pretty soon we’re talking real money.”

The only legitimate cost was the $900,000 for this post winter’s unanticipated heavy snows and and rainstorm costs which amounted to almost a million – $900,000.

But what about the massive amounts of brush and tree limbs still littering Middletown streets? As a retiring Public Works employee, a 40 year employee said, “We used to have all the brush cleaned up by March. But they laid off one public works employee and eliminated all over time. So the public works employees come in at 6:00 AM and leave by 3:30 PM.” He said the situation is made worse as residents add their own tree and shrubbery trimming adding volumes to the existing mess of brush and tree limbs.

The reserve for uncollected taxes is at a perilous low of $500,000.

Mayor Sharfenberger prides himself on being on Governor Christie’s transition team, but it must be embarrassing to them both that Middletown with 22 square miles, and 60,000 residents has the highest municipal tax rate of 13.9%. How does that fit with Christie’s proposed 2 1/2% cap? If the cap is passed by the 2010 legislature how will Middletown face a 2011 budget?

The only “big ticket” reduction would be layoffs of personnel. To date layoffs have been limited to low-salaried secretaries and aides. No voluntary freeze of higher level salaries were made this year.

As someone once said, “One time budget solutions are just a hole in your next years’ budget.”

Currently, salaries cost $25,572,304 each year. Health benefits and insurance add another $9,292,880. A serious reduction in force would reduce both these categories.

Remember, Middletown provides lifetime health benefits to retiring employees. That means double the health benefits for each position in which a person retires. No town can afford that. Freehold Township passed a resolution in December 2009 stating there would be no lifetime health benefits for all new hires. Middletown needs to do the same.

The formula for funding the libraries is dictated by State Law and costs Middletown taxpayers $3,986,437 per year. Only legislative action can modify this formula.

To add final insult to the injury of a 13.9% increase in the municipal tax spending is the proposal of CFO Nick Trasente to accelerate tax sales against homeowners which could generate a one-time solution of $2,750,000. Again, a hole in the 2011 budget.

A one-time transfer of $365,000 from the sewerage authority may indicate they are over charging and that rate could be lowered in the future. Also health benefits for this authority needs to be examined.

Mr. Trasente said there are a number of one-time revenue sources; approximately:

  1. $500,000 serial bonds
  2. $200,000 from payment of a capital bond
  3. $202,000 increase from the revaluation
  4. $365,000 sewer authority surplus

Total – $1,267,000

However these funds will not be available for the 2011. It avoids the reality that this approximate $1,267,000 will cause the 2011 budget to increase by this amount unless spending is cut, (and there is the specter of a 2 1/2 % constitutional cap.)

Mayor Sharfenberger at this budge introduction attempted to deflect the deadening reality of a 13.9% increase in the municipal budget and the financial pain being delivered to Middletown’s homeowners, by pointing to the Board of Education budget which consumes 62% of the overall budget, a common percent in many towns. In Middletown there are 17 schools and approximately 10,000 students the percent increase of the Board of Education’s budget was a tight 2.6 per cent increase in school taxes. A quality education for all of Middletown’s children is reflected in that percent.

CFO Nick Trasente, in his report, said this budget maintains all current programs and township events.

The question becomes what programs would you, the taxpayer, eliminate to lower the 13.9% increase.

Public Information Officer Cindy Herrschaft announced the introduced budget would be on the township website the next morning. Several suggestions from the audience asked whether citizens could add their remarks and suggestions.

Committeeman Sean Byrnes acknowledged the hard work under difficult pressures, that CFO Trasente had on compiling this budget. While Byrnes was the lone “no” vote on the passage of this budget, he iterated once more the need for a finance committee composed of members of the township committee and private citizens to advise the committee early in the process. He gave a 10 pt. list of ideas and times that he introduced them to anticipate the budget process earlier.

Two of the casualties of Middletown’s budget disaster is the bonding of $3 million to dredge Shadow Lake.

The other is the diverting of the bond funds to the West Front St. Park, and a further promise to turf the Ranger field instead. It almost seemed like a done deal until Middletown budget introduction painted a black – 13.9% — picture.

A reasonable question of CFO Trasente – is what has happened to those bonds.

The public budget hearing is scheduled for July 19, 2010 at town hall.

Only 16 or 17 people attended the introduction of the budget. That is sad. Each citizen is impacted by the actions of the township committee. Each homeowner will be financially impacted in 2010. The re-val is anticipated to generate 202,000 – that’s your money. 13.9% increase in spending will come from your pocket.

Inform yourself. Ask questions. Review the budget online. Suggest other cuts to bring down $64,979,576 of municipal spending.

And be prepared for reduced services too!!

Note – Since this article was first published in the Lincroft Village News, the NJ State Legislature passed a 2% property tax cap that has been signed into law by Governor Christie.

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Filed under Budget, Gerry Scharfenberger, Gov. Chris Christie, Lincroft Village News, Middletown, municipal tax rates, Nick Trasente, Pamela Brightbill, property tax cap, Steve Massell, Virginia Amend

Middletown’s Budget Introduction Was A Farce And Blatant Attempt to Mislead The Public

Last nights special meeting to introduce the FY 2010 municipal budget was, to put it mildly, a farce and a blatant attempt to mislead residents and those in attendance into believing that all was well.
Middletown’s CFO Nick Trasente, presented a powerpoint slide show that did more to highlight how great Middletown’s FY 2011 budget would be as apposed to how dire a situation the Township was in this year. The spin attempt was mind-boggling and for anyone that had actually read or saw the proposed budget it was mind-blowing!
Trasente tried hard to spin the numbers in a positive way, he presented slides that tried to explain what the budget wold do, what were the cost drivers behind it and items that would not be in the 2011 budget, but he neglected to add that many of these items were not going to be one shot budget increases like he was inferring. Somethings like the retro active pay increase of $1.4M for the police and the $1.8M payment to fulfill the town’s pension obligations would be ongoing.
The biggest snow-job of the whole presentation was when Trasente presented the slide that introduced the proposed tax increase.
The Middletown tax rate will rise from 35 cent per $100 of assessed value to 39.85 cents, for an increase of 4.85 cents. This increase will mean that the average township home that is assessed at $437K will have their property tax increase by $211 a year. In order to make this increase seem palatable to residents, Trasente stated that the percentage increase in the overall tax bill for 2010 would only be 2.8%. It wasn’t until Committeeman Sean Byrnes questioned Trasente that the true tax numbers came to light.
Byrnes asked for clarification on the 2.8% budget increase and whether or not this increase was reflective of only the municipal tax rate or did it include the County and school taxes as well, at which point Trasente sheepishly admitted that the rate included all three.
Byrnes then went on to state that the true municipal tax increase to residents was closer to 13% and pointed out that there was no reason to believe, despite Trasente’s rosie picture of next years budget, that it would be any better.
Nick Trasente did mention however that as of this point the budget was not finalized, there still could be changes to seeing that the budget will not be officially adopted until mid July giving Committee members plenty of time to solicit ideas from the public and make further cuts like the elimination of Middletown day as an example.
If you want to read a different take on last nights meeting then you can read about it HERE. Kevin Penton of the Asbury Park Press was the first to have an article posted on he subject and while it lacks a few details about what went on, I have to give him kudos for seeing through the attempt at sugarcoating the budget presentation while attempting to present the facts.


Filed under Asbury Park Press, budget introduction, Middletown Township, municipal tax rates, Nick Trasente, Sean F. Byrnes, tax increase

Middletown To Introduce Budget Wednesday; Is A 15% Tax Increase Possible?

According to Middletown Township’s website the Township Committee will hold a special meeting on June 2, 2010 at 7 p.m for the purpose of introducing the 2010 Municipal, Utility and Solid Waste Budgets. The meeting will be held at the Middletown Arts Center, 36 Church Street, Middletown.

I am not making this up, I hear that the Municipal Budget looks pretty ugly and could contain a possible tax increase of 15% or more. But don’t fret just yet, there is also a good possibility that the meeting will be postponed due to scheduling conflicts amongst committee members, a quorum may not be possible for Wednesday night.

But if the meeting does go on as scheduled, how could Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger and Deputy Mayor Tony Fiore even consider voting to introduce a budget with such a tax increase?
After all of his posturing and grandstanding about Governor Christie and his “Tool Box” while attempting to follow the lead of the governor by demonizing Middeltown’s teachers and cutting the already defeated Board of Education budget by an additional $2 million dollars, after $11 million had already been stripped away from it by the governor, Scharfenberger would be foolish to think that residents would ever take him serious again on budget issues.
If this budget is introduced as is, the Middletown GOP will finally be seen as the tax and spenders that they really are. Remember last year Gerry and his friends raised the tax rate by 5.2% which pushed the tax rate up 16% over the past 4 years, can Middletown afford that kind of tax increase in just one year? I think not!
If this 15% figure is true (which it could be true due to the $5 million budget defect that exists) then Scharfenberger, Township Administrator Tony Mercantante and our new CFO Nick Transente will have some explaining to do and will have to come up with some very good answers as to why they weren’t able to keep the increase close to Christie’s proposed budget cap.

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Filed under Arts Center, budget deficit, budget meeting, Gerry Scharfenberger, Middletown Board of Education, Middletown Township Committee, municipal tax rates, Nick Transente, Tony Mercantante

Budget Woes in Middletown

From Sean Byrnes’s Moblize Middletown Blog:

For anyone interested, the budgetary challenges that Middletown faces this year are formidable. A perfect storm of events makes tax increases almost inevitable. But the cycle of tax increases need not continue indefinitely. Unfortunately, apathy toward what’s happening in local government guarantees continued increases.

Local government is broken. Taxes take somewhere between $6,000 and $7,000 on average from every household in Middletown, but few pay attention to how that happens. Sure, schools are expensive, but that’s a lame excuse for high taxes. Our locally elected officials continue to follow a governance model that will ensure financial deficits for the foreseeable future. It’s time to trash that model. It’s time to think outside the box. It’s time to view the tax money collected as a resource that must be spent wisely with an eye toward the entire Township, not just one public entity’s corner of it.

What I mean by that is we need to consolidate our operations and thinking. The Board of Education maintains property and the Township Committee maintains property. The Board of Education buys supplies, the Township Committee buys supplies. We provide benefits to employees and so does the Board of Education. We support artistic and cultural activities and so does the Board of Education. We hire lawyers, engineers and other professionals, and so does the Board of Education. Are you seeing a theme here? These two public entities operate in the same town completely separately from one another. Worse than that, they barely get along. And anyone who tells you that they cooperate on certain issues and work together is missing the point. The weak efforts to meet occasionally and discuss some common areas of interest produce almost no savings for the taxpayer. And, oh, we also have a Township Sewerage Authority that has its own lawyers, auditors, engineer, etc. Last year that the Sewerage Authority spent approximately $800,000 on one engineering firm. If that sounds like alot of money, it is.

To be fair, state statutes make consolidation efforts challenging. These distinct public entities are governed by different statutes. But that’s really no excuse. Locally, we have the ability to work together and share services. The Sewerage Authority, which also pays salaries, health benefits and pension benefits to its very part-time Commissioners (all seven of them) could be assimilated by the Township. In a Township with vacant land and lots of new construction, a Sewerage Authority might be necessary to deal with the activity associated with new neighborhoods all connecting to a sewer system in quick succession. We’re beyond that in Middletown. Our Public Works could take over the operations of the Sewerage Authority and save hundreds of thousands of dollars just in the costs associated with professionals. It’s time to do this.

That’s just one example of consolidation. Here’s another. We have an Arts Center that cost somewhere around $7.0 million to purchase and build. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to keep it open. (We also spent tens if not over a hundred thousand dollars to clean up the property because it was contaminated when we purchased it — and we knew it). Did we really need to take on this expensive capital project? Did the Township Committee look into leasing space at other local theaters, or working with the County, which already has arts programming taking place in close proximity to Middletown? Nope. A small group of influential elected officials wanted it, and they got it. Almost $7.0 million borrowed to get it done. It has been running at a deficit ever since, even when you don’t count the yearly payment on the bonded debt. Meanwhile, our Library, which reports to its own Board of Trustees, offers arts programming. Check out the calendar on their website. Performances, readings, movie discussion groups, teen art, cooking classes, “cartooning in clay”. Do we need two separate groups running two very expensive buildings who have nothing to do with each other? It is insane. Consolidate them. The Art Center is underutilized. How about offering some daycare there for all the commuters who jump on trains right next door every working day. You can still do Arts programming, but how about generating some revenue.

Here’s a real crazy idea. How about we make engineering firms bid for the capital projects we do every year, like roads, flood remediation, etc.? What do we do? We appoint one engineering firm every January (it just so happens that the same firm gets appointed every year, if you like, you can see them every election night at Republican Headquarters celebrating another victory with local Republicans). For any of you that have been on this earth more than a few years, here’s a question. Do you think the Township will get its best price by guaranteeing one firm all the engineering work? Or do you think we might do a bit better by making 5 or 6 firms compete for every one of these projects? I proposed just that at our Reorganization Meeting in January, but could not get any of my four fellow Committee members to second my motion. (I also had the nerve to try and limit our Township attorney to $15,000 per month flat fee retainer [which is on top of the $50,000 he gets as a salary] and that too died for loss of a second to my motion — by the way, the $15,000 per month I proposed equates to almost 1800 hours of legal time per year, that’s our attorney working all year on nothing but Middletown’s work!).

But I’ve lost my way in this blizzard we’re having, we were discussing shared services and consolidation. If this State (and this Township) has any prayer of recovering from the budget disaster we are all facing, we need real change. In addition to the proposals outlined above, we should consider consolidating the police departments of Middletown, Keyport, Union Beach, Highlands, Atlantic Highlands and maybe even Keansburg. No good reason for all those separate departments, separate municipal courts, separate judges, prosecutors, public defenders, etc. Ditto on the school systems. Red Bank, Shrewsbury, Little Silver, Rumson, Fair Haven, Sea Bright should all be one school district. Ok, if that’s too radical, why not make the grade school districts match up with the high schools. The County should take control of all major parks. They have more resources, more people and a good track record for running parks.

These ideas are just for starters. We don’t really have a choice in my opinion. The wealthiest among us are changing residency or simply relocating, and they are taking the tax revenues with them. We have way too many public employees and all taxpayers are carrying their salaries, top of the line health care plans, both during their careers and during retirement. (Middletown currently owes approximately $106 million in accrued benefits to employees and retirees and we have no trust account or plan for how we pay for that — it’s pay as you go). In 2008, we should have set aside $10 million for these benefits, we paid $1.6 million. And that’s separate from our pension obligation. We only paid half of our required payment last year and face a staggering payment this year. Meanwhile large commercial tax appeals from prior years will drive down revenues as property values plummet.

It’s time to wake up. What has our Township Committee done in response to this? Layoffs? No. Shorter weeks? No. Forced professionals to take less money? No. Special meetings to discuss the looming financial crises? No. Consolidation? No. Reorganization? No. We haven’t even had a CFO for almost 8 months! Our 2008 audit found material problems. We ran out of money for health claims in 2008 to the tune of $1.4 million and had to push those payments into 2010. You can’t make this stuff up. We need to make hard choices and fast, or we will be facing substantial tax increases in 2010. I’ve proposed a finance committee at just about every meeting I’ve attended since my swearing in in January 2008. Large corporations have them, non-profits have them. It makes sense.

But I’m over that. I just want action. I don’t care what organizational structure produces that action. We need residents to swarm our meetings and demand change. I fully expect that the wave of conservative sentiment sweeping this Township and C0unty will escort me from my seat on the Township Committee this November. And my world will not end when that happens. But I will leave frustrated; frustrated that I could not effectively deliver my message to residents. Frustrated that I was unable to convince my fellow Committee members that our current system for delivering services is broken and that bold, courageous steps are necessary to protect our residents from additional taxes that they can ill afford.


Filed under budget deficit, consolidation of services, Cultural Arts Center, Middeltown Board of Education, Middletown, municipal tax rates, Sean F. Byrnes, Sewage Authority

Middletown’s Patrick Short Finds Solutions to Problems Where Other Have Failed (And He has Never Raised Your Taxes !)

Middletown’s Democratic Township Committeeman Patrick Short, in this video talks about issues that are effecting residents.

He states that the overall number#1 issue in town is taxes and that the Middletown GOP has consistently raised property taxes over the past 3 years by 16% while he has never supported or voted for any tax increases since being elected in 2006.

Flooding in the Port Monmouth/Bayshore area is also a major concern. Along with fellow Committeeman Sean Byrnes and residents from the area, Patrick Short has lead the way in finding a solution to this problem.

Patrick Short proposed a two part solution that would include a small pumping station be installed in the area, that would control flood waters by sending it back out into the creek nearby and to make improvements drainage pipes while also increasing the size of the berms an additional 16-18 inches, that run along the roadways.

Traffic in Lincroft has also been a major concerns to residents and while others talked about a solution or wished that the County would make road improvements, Patrick Short did something about.

Short fought for and gained approval to make the access road behind the Acme shopping center a two way street rather than a one way street. The street would then be routed behind the Luigi/Subways shopping center and opened to Middletown-Lincroft Rd.

By doing this, traffic congestion on Rt.520 and surrounding area will be alleviated and greater access to the shopping centers will be gained. It is a Win-Win for both the merchants and residents in the area.

Watch the video and hear for yourself What Patrick Short has to say on the subjects:

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Filed under Bayshore, flooding, municipal tax rates, Patrick Short, Sean F. Byrnes, traffic