HIGHLANDS, NJ – A group of local residents, concerned by the impact of a $10 million bond issue on the municipal tax rate, is distributing an informational flyer to residents of the borough today, urging residents to attend Wednesday’s council meeting for the second public hearing on the $10 million borough hall planned for Route 36 and Miller St.
Melissa Pederson, former councilwoman Claudette D’Arrigo, Kim Skorka and several other residents earlier formed a nonprofit organization, Citizens for a Better Highlands which is in the process of sending out a regularly issued newsletter urging residents to be aware of actions and governmental decisions that impact their taxes.
This flyer highlights the variation in costs and impacts on taxes for municipal buildings already under construction or completed in other local municipalities compared with the building planned for this borough and is the first in a series of newsletters from the new organization. Although future newsletters will be e-mailed, this has already been distributed to local homes by several volunteers to ensure awareness about tomorrow night’s meeting and intended action.
The borough purchased the highway tract from Our Lady of Perpetual Help St. Agnes parish several years ago, and demolished both the former convent, a residence where nuns live, and the church’s thrift store, in order to build a municipal building to replace the borough hall severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy and demolished. The site of the former building, on Bay Ave. near MiIler St., is now a municipal parking lot.
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Designs for the new building have been presented and modified since then, and the $10 million bond ordinance was anticipated to cover costs of new construction as determined three years ago. Residents at public meetings have challenged what actual costs would be today, given the sharp rise in costs for construction materials. Residents have also questioned why the borough is not investigating shared services with other municipalities or Monmouth County to lower the construction cost, and have questioned the need for what some term extravagant architectural designs. The estimated $10 million cost was explained by council members to be financed in part by a grant from FEMA. However, local residents also challenged the guarantee the $4,500,000 anticipated from FEMA would actually be a grant, as opposed to a loan, and have demanded, without success, for a written guarantee of the grant from FEMA.
At the public hearing on the $10 million grant at the May Council meeting, Mayor Carolyn Broullon and councilmembers Donald Melnyk and Joann Olszewski voted in favor of the $10 million issue, with councilmembers Linda Mazzola and Kevin Martin opposed. Mazzola frequently opposes the rest of the governing body on issues; however, this was the first time since he became a councilman in January that Martin has gone against the majority. Since a bond ordinance requires four votes for approval, the $10 million bond ordinance failed, drawing applause from the audience in attendance at the public meeting.
However, Mayor Broullon re-introduced the ordinance again at the June meeting, in Martin’s absence, saying he did not understand his negative vote would negate the $10 million ordinance. Martin was not present at that meeting, the first meeting he has missed since January. It is that public hearing on the re-introduced $10 million bond issue that is set for Wednesday night’s meeting. Architect for the building is the Settembrino Architectural firm which is also constructing another office for the firm in Atlantic Highlands. Owner of the firm, Kevin Settembrino, is a township committeeman in Middletown.
Since the Mayor has discontinued public meeting ZOOM presentations, the meeting is only available on site at 8 p.m. at the Robert Wilson Community Center.
The agenda for the meeting can be found on the borough’s website at Highlandsborough.org.
[CORRECTION] The amount of money anticipated to come from FEMA was incorrect in an earlier post. The correct figure is $4,500,000.