Architectural rendering of proposed Highlands Borough Hall
Architectural rendering of proposed Highlands Borough Hall
Architectural rendering of proposed Highlands Borough Hall

HIGHLANDS – In the end, it was not being able to trust FEMA that defeated the proposed $10 million bonding order to build a new borough hall on the Navesink Avenue site between Miller Street and Valley Avenue, with Councilmembers KL Martin and Linda Mazzola heeding to residents at Thursday’s meeting of the Mayor and Council.

Although Mayor Carolyn Broullon, and councilmembers Joann Olszewski and Donald Melnyk continued to support a bonding issue in the hopes of receiving approximately $5 million from FEMA to offset the projected cost to taxpayers for future years, both Martin and Mazzola said it was not a wise business decision and said they could not in good conscience authorize the bond issue.  With four notes required for bond issues, the ordinance was killed and plans for the proposed building are still up in the air.

Martin, in his first vote in opposition to the mayor, said that as the son of a veteran and as a person who lost several family members in Hurricane Katrina, he distrusts FEMA, saying “they’re not always good about their word….I don’t trust FEMA.” The councilman added that when he first sought office last year, he did it “with the people in mind, not what I wanted,” indicating he listened to the people who spoke during the public hearing and the vast majority were opposed to the ordinance. He added that “ I want what is best for the town, I believe in something..” and said he could not approve a code that half the people in the borough appear to be against.

Mazzola, the only councilmember who consistently questions council actions before voting on any issue, said that while she is in favor of the building, and has supported it for three years, and while she recognizes the need for it and the need for the employees who provide “wonderful services” to residents to have better accommodations, “I don’t trust FEMA,” adding that the fact FEMA officials refuse to confirm in writing they indeed will grant $4.5 million to the borough for the building, “they put up a red flag” by not guaranteeing it in writing, or guaranteeing that if a grant now would be altered to become a loan that would have to be repaid sometimes in the future.


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Only Police Chief Robert Burton, speaking as both a taxpaying citizen and the chief of police, showed any support for the bond issue, citing primarily that he wants “a nice office, “ and “my employees deserve a building.” He invited residents to come down to the trailer that houses the police department and “smell the cat urine” from under the trailer and see the small and inadequate office space in which all employees work.

Burton praised the new building, describing it as “nothing lavish,” and containing no storage space. He pointed out further delays will mean higher building costs, saying a sheet of plywood purchased for the Middletown Township Hall under construction costs $110.

While several residents questioned the business sense of relying on FEMA’s grant without anything in writing, a fact confirmed by borough administrator Michael Muscillo, several asked the Council to pursue alternate options, including shared services with other municipalities for law enforcement facilities such as the court room and jail cells, to lessen the cost of state mandated facilities for new municipal construction.  One resident suggested investigating the possibility of both public and private partnerships to reduce costs, or adding a floor to the building for either county or other uses so building costs could be shared.

There was no indication following the vote that defeated the measure what actions the borough council may take or when they might introduce another ordinance more in keeping with the will of the people.

Council did unanimously approve an amendment to what Broullon termed an “antiquated ordinance that did not allow you to do anything on Sundays” to permit Bingo games on Sundays. However, no member of council made it clear whether there have been any applications for Sunday Bingo licenses or the need to amend it.

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Muriel J. Smith

Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, in...