Money Magazine recently came out with its annual list of the “Top 100 places to live in United States” for 2010; kudos goes to Middletown for once again making the list at #89 and being the fourth town from New Jersey to make the list this year. With this honor, Middletown has now found itself on this prestigious list for the third time in the last five years; previously Middletown made the list in 2006(#50) and 2008(#86).

In determining Middletown’s spot on the list, MONEY Magazine sighted a strong sense of community, its low crime rate, great school system and the abundance of cultural and leisure activities available to residents, which makes Middletown a really wonderful place to raise a family and for that reason, I consider myself truly blessed to call Middletown home.

In a press release announcing Middletown’s third appearance on MONEY’s Top 100 List, Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger is quoted as saying “The designation speaks volumes about our success in maintaining the highest quality of life possible”.

But does it?

What does this ranking really mean? Does it really merit the praise when NJ Monthly Magazine ranked Middletown as only the 134th (down 20 places from its 2008 survey) best place to live in New Jersey and only the 10th best place to live in Monmouth County back in February?

Both magazines used crime rate, school performance and proximity to services as leading indicators for their rankings. MONEY seems to have placed more emphasis on the superficial like “air quality” and leisurely activities, whereas NJ Monthly used more tangible criteria such as population growth, home values, property taxes, land development and unemployment rates to determine its ranking, which I believe leads to a more honest assessment of Middletown. It’s no wonder then, that there was no press release in February praising NJ Monthly for its brutally honest appraisal of Middletown’s standing.

Like good politicians do, Scharfenberger wasted little time attempting to take credit for the news from MONEY Magazine even though he had little to with its findings, unless of course if you consider Middletown’s decline in the survey.

Since Scharfenberger has been in office, Middletown’s ranking in MONEY Magazine “Top 100 Best Places To Live” went from #50 to #86 to #89 -- a 39 point decline. During his first term we saw a 36-point decline.

It seems that Mayor Scharfenberger and the Republican majority are eroding the quality of life in Middletown. If he and his friends were doing a good job we should have been ranked #31 by now. The Township is trending out of the Top 100.

Seeing that the quality of the school system was a leading indicator in the survey and that the mayor’s much publicized battle with the teacher’s union and the Middletown Board of Education over the school budget this past May, may have had an effect on the Township’s place on the list, let me put it another way. Scharfenberger’s municipal 'Best Places' report card shows a grade point average declining over three marking periods with 11 other cities having a lower GPA and 88 with a higher GPA. He has essentially moved Middletown to the bottom half of the last quarter, of the best places to live.

Since Gerry Scharfenberger and his Republican majority have been in office, our municipal taxes are up over 25% and moving upwards, to over 30% if the currently proposed budget is adopted on July 19th.

Here’s a question that should be asked of the people at MONEY Magazine: What does it cost in individual tax dollars to be ranked 89; do the better ranked cities get more bang for the taxpayer buck than lesser ranked cities? It seems that the Middletown residents as a whole were paying less in taxes when we were ranked at 50 than we do now; what happened?

Whatever happened to the dedicated and disciplined pursuit of excellence? I guess it wasn’t part of the survey.

Michael Morris
Middletown,  NJ