Middletown is engaged in a controversy over the installation of artificial turf fields, but the debate is indicative of a much larger issue with how our Township spends taxpayer dollars.
The Township took out a bond in 2006 to fund the turf fields, but the money has sat idle, accruing interest on repayment, because Middletown failed to reach consensus on where to locate the fields. During a number of Township Committee meetings, the Mayor, Administrator, and Township Attorney all emphatically stated that the bond could only be used for the rehabilitation of fields at Middletown parks. However, objections to this usage have recently intensified, prompting Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger to announce he would call off the field construction and divert the bond funds to pay for shortfalls in the Township budget. I have serious concerns about the Mayor’s new course of action.
First, the Mayor appears to be acting independently of the Township Committee. Our committee consists of five members, one of whom is selected as Mayor to lead public meetings and sign local legislation. Nowhere in Chapter 4, Article II of our Township Code, which outlines the duties of Mayor, does it give that person authority to make solitary decisions on funding. A vote of the full Committee is required.
My second concern is that the Mayor, Administrator, and Township Attorney have been lying to residents about the potential uses for the bond money. First, they insisted the money could only be used for the turf fields. Now, the Mayor wants to try and amend the ordinance so it can be used for other projects. If Mayor Scharfenberger has not been deliberately misleading us, he, at best, does not care enough to understand the rules on spending taxpayer dollars; at worst, he is incompetent.
Finally, I am concerned about using bond money to patch holes in Middletown’s budget due to shortfalls in state aid. A single bond will not fix the fiscal reality our township must face as a result of the national economic downturn. The Mayor must stop looking for quick, politically convenient, fixes and present to township residents a fiscally sound plan that does not place us further in debt. Perhaps it is time to stand up that Finance Committee that Committeeman Sean Byrnes keeps calling for. When will Middletown’s Mayor start to listen to the Committee, which represents all taxpayers, and stop acting alone?