Regionalization, Taxes, Cops & Bernie Sweeney

Sitting at one of the rare Atlantic Highlands council meetings I can attend (although Jon Crowley promised me it won’t be too long before I’ll be able to view them all virtually), it was kind of surprising to see all the emotion, the rudeness of talking over each other, and the misinformation being bandied about….and that was only among the council members and mayor, even before the public got involved!

The subject was school regionalization, who it should be with, who should make the decision, why even laying any groundwork for continuing discussion can’t be done and basically what happens next for the students if nothing happens?

Didn’t get the speaker’s name, but she made a point that many local residents seem to be asking these days. She said she is concerned and thinks the powers that be are simply stalling. Then she questioned why anyone would be stalling over the question if everyone is truly interested in the children and their education. She said the question has been bandied about for more than 20 years, it isn’t anything new. And she wants it on the ballot so the people can decide.

The folks who don’t want the decision to be made by the school boards also have a point, although whether members are elected, appointed or win by a vote or two because nobody cared enough to run shouldn’t really make the difference. They are the official board members regardless.

What is more important to note is the mission statement they agree to when they sit on that board. They promise to provide an education that successfully meets the needs of the student population, effectively prepare each child for the future and they can do this with outstanding teachers, a safe environment, quality education with technology and critical thinking, and a sense of owners by all partners in the education process.

What it doesn't say is anything about any costs, financial burdens, overwhelming taxes or anything that indicates money is even a tiny consideration. It brought me back 30 years when I was first elected to the Highlands Board of Education. It was at my very first meeting….and several thereafter….that other board members reminded me I wasn’t to think about the cost of education, as a board member I was to think only of education, regardless.

The mission statement simply aims to “provide an education that successfully meets the needs of the student population….. nothing about costs, finances, or whether that education will be provided at the cost of others losing their homes or making extreme sacrifices to pay for it. In saying they want to create a sense of ownership, it’s community members who are listed last in a group that starts with students and parents, as well as staff before the individual taxpayer feels part of the ownership.

The councilwoman saying partisan politics isn’t involved is also probably right, since there was certainly a difference of opinion between former Mayor Randi LeGrice and Councilman Jon Crowley, both Democrats but definitely not in agreement with each other.

Mayor LeGrice wondered whether Mr. Crowley didn’t feel the pinch, so to speak, of so many taxpayers since he is not a taxpayer, but rather rents his residence in town. That brought a reaction from a few folks who said renter or owner doesn’t make a difference in this town, we’re all in it together. And renters feel the pinch of higher taxes anyway in the rent they pay.

So it should also follow through that since around 75 per cent of the taxpayers do not have children in the school but are the largest percentage paying the bill they should be considered in deciding the best way to pay for this education the school boards provide..

And while the school board member who spoke said she was speaking for the entire board, one wonders if there was a vote taken or authority actually given, or just a couple of board members thought it was a good idea for her to come to the meeting to tell the council “I’m disgusted” “the arguments have to stop.” Really? Now we have the board of education telling the folks who run the entire town and collect the taxes for that school that they can’t argue?

On the other hand, there were so many nice things that happened or were announced at the meeting, the swearing in of Lt. Michael Zudongi and new patrolman Joseph LaBella, and the fact the department is now up to its full complement of 15 members. Wonderful to see Officer LaBella’s dad do the honors for his son wearing his own uniform as a New York police Sergeant, now retired. You never hear any dispute over how terrific this police department is!. Same for the Public Works Department and no one can say enough nice things about their dedicated energy, their pride in a hard day’s work and always going above and beyond.

Even the municipal budget sounded really great and brought no questions from the public after a terrific presentation by the CFO. The municipal share of those taxes every property owner has to pay will actually mean a decrease in the rate of about 11 per cent, both because of a $117million increase in valuation assessments and department heads working so well and keeping costs down. Keep in mind, however, the borough’s costs in the overall tax bill is only a little less than one-third of the entire bill. Monmouth County accounts for another 14 per cent and the remaining 55 per cent? You guessed it, is for the education of the borough’s younger set.

Also terrific to see there will be a Bernie Sweeney Way at the Yacht Harbor where the late restaurateur at the Shore Casino was so will known, loved and admired. Knowing how he liked to get things done his way, it almost seems the sign, when it’s posted close to the bay front entrance of the road, shouldn’t read “Bernie Sweeney’s Way”. The ordinance will have a public hearing at the next meeting, and the road sign will most likely be posted, with great ceremony, I’m sure, in time for Bernie’s birthday on June 29.


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