Highlands Taj Mahal

HIGHLANDS - 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 milion borough hall planned for Route 36 and MIller St.

Melissa Pederson, former councilwoman Claudette D'Arrigo, KIm Skorka and several other residents who earlier formed a non profit 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 was 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.

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 milion cost was explained by council members to be financed in part by a grant from FEMA. However, local residents also challenged the guarantee the $450,000 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.

A 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. Archetect 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.

Sine 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.


Highlands Taj Mahal

June 2021

AT THE NEXT COUNCIL MEETING, WEDNESDAY JUNE 16 AT 8 PM, THIS ORDINANCE IS UP FOR PUBLIC HEARING. IT IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO EXPRESS YOUR OPINION ON THE $12 MILLION+ BOROUGH HALL PRIOR TO THE VOTE BY COUNCIL


FACT: HIGHLANDS MUNICIPAL BUILDING will cost the Borough 12 million + to build, including the prior cost of $500K for the land purchase and taxpayers will be responsible for a MINIMUM of 8 million dollars. Based on Datausa.io from 2018, the median income for Highlands residents is $59,624 with a median property value of $273,100. As stated at the council meeting on May 19th, based on these facts, if your house is valued at $273,100, your taxes could go up a MINIMUM of $183 per year. If your house is appraised higher than $273,100, your INCREASED taxes will be assessed higher.


FACT: OCEANPORT MUNICIPAL BUILDING cost $11 million to complete, with taxpayers being responsible for $3.5 million. The $11 million included the purchase of land on Fort Monmouth for $1.5 million. The median household income in Oceanport is $104,668, with a median home value of $453,200,* almost double Highlands residents’ income and home value, yet the Oceanport council found a way to assess taxpayers 2/3rd less than what Highlands residents are being asked to fund. (APP Gannett 1/27/2021 )


FACT: MIDDLETOWN MUNICIPAL BUILDING is costing $60 million to complete with NO NEW DEBT. This is due in part to the work of the council in securing a leaseback deal. The complex will house most of the township services. Middletown has also stated they wish to take on the shared services with its surrounding smaller municipalities such as court, jail, etc. They will also be serving as a satellite for County services (such as voter registration, passports etc.). The Middletown Mayor and council have publicly stated this will incur NO NEW DEBT to their taxpayers. The median household income is $74,263.* (middletownnj.org)


FACT: SEA BRIGHT MUNICIPAL BUILDING - TWO buildings (Firehouse/Water Safety building and Municipal Building) at a combined cost of $12. 7 million. After the Seabright council voted to approve, Seabright residents successfully pushed for the council to put this on the ballot as a referendum vote in November so residents could weigh in. The borough hall estimated cost was $7.5 million and was just recently completed. The same architects that designed the Seabright Municipal building for $7.5 million estimated cost are assessing the Highlands Municipal building cost at close to $12 million.


FACT: At the May 19th council meeting, the ordinance to saddle the taxpayers with a minimum $8 million tax debt was voted down 3-2 by council.


FACT: Councilwoman Jo Anne Olzsewski stated at that same meeting that she believes homeowners on a median income “can afford to spend $183 on dinner with friends so the increase in taxes for a new Borough hall should not be an issue for people.”


FACT: Mayor Carolyn Broullon, after the ordinance to saddle taxpayers with this astronomical debt for the next 20 years was DEFEATED, has brought back the VERY SAME ORDINANCE under another ordinance number, stating at the June 2 council meeting that her reason to re-introduce is because Councilmember Kevin Martin did NOT UNDERSTAND what he was voting for AND THAT HIS NO VOTE ON BEHALF AND FOR THE TAXPAYERS WAS A MISTAKE. Councilmember Martin was NOT in attendance at the June 2 meeting to comment or defend himself.


WE ASK:

IS THERE A REASON MAYOR BROULLON REFUSES TO PUT THIS TO REFERENDUM ON THE NOVEMBER BALLOT SO TAXPAYERS CAN WEIGH IN WITH THEIR VOTE? DO YOU FEEL THAT 4 MEMBERS OF THIS COUNCIL (Broullon, Olszewski, Melnyk and Martin) ARE TAKING YOUR TAX DOLLARS SERIOUSLY AND THAT THEY ARE TRUSTWORTHY TO VOTE ETHICALLY ON POTENTIAL COSTS TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?


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