Borough Hall, Construction Starts, but at Whose Expense

Construction of what was originally the $10 million borough hall moved another step further this week as initial groundwork got underway, in spite of the fact the long awaited construction is now starting at $10.599 million, Kappa Construction of Ocean was the low bidder on construction at that amount.

And borough administrator Michael Muscillo is in communications with FEMA weekly pinning that agency down to a date when the borough will receive the anticipated $5 million included in the original bond ordinance last June.

“I can’t wait for this to be completed!” said a joyous Muscillo, adding, “I think the residents of Highlands will be very happy when it’s done

The former parking lot for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church was filled to capacity Easter Sunday for morning mass, and filled again early Monday morning, this time with pre-construction equipment signifying work has officially begun on the new $10 million, now $10.599 million boro hall.

Although KAPPA Construction’s low bid was higher than anticipated and bonded for was awarded by the governing body and the new building will house municipal court, all municipal offices, and the police department.

Currently, the site on Route 36 between Valley Avenue and Miller St., which also had included the location of both the convent for the teaching sisters when Our Lady of Perpetual Help School was active, and a private residence on the corner of Miller St. is being cleared and prepared for base work for the new construction.

Muscillo said the time frame for total construction is 18-months, and the borough is anticipating a completion date by October, 2023. “Provided there aren’t any supply chain issues,” the administrator added, in light of long delays in materials and equipment impeding numerous construction projects throughout the country.

The work is partially funded with a grant the borough received in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed the former borough hall on Bay avenue. To date, the borough has received approximately $2 million from the Sandy disaster, and is waiting to hear on an additional $5 million.

Muscillo is confident of receiving the additional $5 million, but pointed out the other options should it not be received, including raising additional funds through taxation, or issuing notes or bonds, which would also mean a tax increase. Other options are raising funds from redevelopment projects, reclassifying other projects already set up and applying those funds to the borough hall project, or a combination of any of the possibilities.

Council also had passed a resolution requesting approval of the Director of the Division of Local Government Services to pay the expenditure to set up a “Donations for Borough Hall” fund so interested persons could contribute to offsetting the total cost.

Muscillo added that while the higher than anticipated low bid could increase taxes as one option, there are numerous other factors that also increase municipal taxes, including a decrease in state aid, high health care, pension costs for employees, and more, none of which can be anticipated. Without knowing if and when the borough would get the $5 million, he added, “We’ll cross that bridge IF we come to it.”

Obviously happy that construction is finally underway on a project that has been discussed by three different mayors, several different councils and has met with numerous hurdles, Muscillo said, “We’re moving forward.”

The administrator, who came into his position long after Sandy and the first attempts at constructing a new borough, well knows the long history of meetings, discussions, land acquisition from the Catholic Diocese of Trenton, and more, including the unusual way in which the $10 million bond ordinance was approved.

That began last May, when Council was comprised of Linda Mazzola and KL Martin, along with Mayor Carolyn Broullon, Donald Melnyk and Joann Olszewski. The $10 million bond resolution was introduced by Mayor Broullon, with Martin and Mazzola dissenting.

At that time Martin said he was listening to the people and the cost was too much, and also felt FEMA could not always be trusted to follow through with the funds. Mazzola predicted the final cost would be even higher than that and was too much to expect taxpayers to fund. Both council members said it was not a wise business decision and the resolution failed since four of five votes is necessary for a bond issue.

The following meeting, the same ordinance was introduced once again, this time with Martin absent; with only four members present, it only required three votes to introduce it. Martin was present for the June meeting and the public hearing on the same ordinance he had opposed. This time he voted in favor of the $10 million issue, explaining he was a “complicated person,” and saying it was nobody’s business why he had missed the previous meeting.

With his vote in favor of the issue, along with Broullon, Melnyk and Olszewski, the bond issue passed. Mazzola, once again opposing it, added that the previous December the governing body received notice the cost would most likely be over $12.5 million. No one on Council gave any explanation why the bond ordinance they introduced twice since then did not indicate the additional $2.5 million, nor did any member of council indicate from whence those additional funds would come. Nor was there any response to Mazzola’s recommendation the bond issue be put on a referendum to be voted on by residents. The meeting was held in person, with no access for residents to attend virtually.

With KAPPA's bid of 10.6 million, acquisition and design cost, it appears Mazzola may be spot on with her estimate, and very likely, she may even have cited a conservative dollar amount.


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