On Saturday I received a flyer from the Cavise team which is running for office in Atlantic Highlands on the Democratic ticket. It contained a vision and list of planned accomplishments that for the most part looked well and good. There were several ideas that I think most residents, as well as the current Mayor and bipartisan council, would like to see come to fruition. But alas, the devil is in the details, both economically and legally.
For example, weekend ferry service would be nice to have. But parking is a problem. The launching ramp is a major revenue source for the harbor. On weekends for the better part of the year, every available space in the harbor is needed to park boat trailers. Does the Cavise team have an economically feasible plan to purchase land and/or construct a parking garage to resolve this?
The taxpayers should also know that two of the planned accomplishments are projects that the current bipartisan council is already working on. Progress is being made on dissolution of the Sewerage Authority. It has been painfully slow because of the dysfunctional political scene in Highlands, our authority partner, and a law suit with the Middletown authority. But it wouldn't be happening at all if the present council had not pushed for it. And the Harbor Commission is moving forward with a plan to replace one of the fixed docks with two floating docks. This should increase revenues, but requires significant work to obtain DEP approval.
But the real question is: How much of this flyer is feasible and is the Cavise team actually capable of accomplishing it? Let's look at three ideas that Paul Cavise has proposed in recent weeks, where the facts and background are readily available. I think you will find that his analysis, conclusions and proposed solutions are lacking.
Gift shop in the Harbor - Mr. Cavise proposed that we should have a gift shop in the Harbor instead of a bait and tackle shop. Recreational fishing drives the economic success of our harbor. One hundred percent of the party boat and charter boat customers are fisherman. Over 90% of the launch customers and well more than half of the slip customers are fisherman. The Harbor Commission recognized that it must do everything possible to make our harbor attractive and convenient for fisherman. Having a bait and tackle shop in the harbor is not an option, it's a necessity.
Deductible sewer charges - IRS regulations prohibit the deduction of sewer charges if they are on a separate bill or if they are listed as a separate item on the real estate tax bill. The only way to make sewer charges deductible is to include them in the general budget and spread the charges over the entire assessed tax base along with all of the other costs in the budget. But a good part of Atlantic Highlands has septic systems and does not use the sewer system. Those taxpayers would be subsidizing the taxpayers connected to the sewer system. Is that fair? I don't think so. (As a side note, it's a safe bet that many residents are in the alternative minimum tax and would not benefit from increased deductions for real estate taxes.)
Long term bonding for water system improvements - At a recent mayor and council meeting Mr. Cavise proposed that the improvements to the water system be funded by a long term bond instead of a six year assessment. Although this would decrease the quarterly charge, the result would be to stretch the payments over a much longer period. Over time, this would cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more in interest charges. This is the kind of thinking that got the state of New Jersey into its present fiscal mess and increased our national debt to enormous proportions.
I have no doubt that Mr. Cavise and his team are sincere in their desire to improve our town. But based on what I have seen, I don’t think they have done their homework, and I seriously doubt that they have the ability and capacity to accomplish many of their campaign promises.
I'm voting for the Rast-Archibald-Doyle team and the continuance of our current bipartisan council. Overall, I think they are doing a fine job.
James Krauss, CPA