HIGHLANDS – On its second time around in three months, the Mayor and Council that had voted down the $!0 million bond ordinance for a new borough hall approved it after a public hearing last night, with only Councilwoman Linda Mazzola voted against it.
Councilman Kevin Martin, who had voted with Mazzola at the May meeting to oppose the $10 million ordinance because he was listening to the people, then was absent at the last meeting with the ordinance he had opposed was re-introduced, said last night it was nobody’s business why he was absent from the last meeting when it was reintroduced. In a rambling statement, Martin said he has spoken to a number of people from other communities, has heard comments in the borough and he is not intimidated by anyone. He described himself as “a complicated person.”
Approval of the ordinance means the borough will most likely now go out for bids for construction of the facility on the former Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church property at Miller St. and Route 36.
Prior to the public hearing, Mayor Carolyn Broullon gave a brief history of the plans and actions for construction of a building to replace the Borough Hall on Bay ave. which was demolished ten years ago due to severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. She noted how three mayors and several different councils approved the land purchase as well as the construction and cited some of the money which has already been approved and spent in addition to the $10 million being sought through bond and a FEMA contribution, including the $450,000 purchase of the property, architectural designs and other costs.
Although Councilwoman Mazzola said prior to casting her negative vote that in December the governing body received notice the cost is most likely now over $12.5 million, no one on Council gave any explanation why the bond ordinance they introduced twice since then does not indicate the additional $2.5 million, nor did any member of council indicate from where those additional funds would come. One local resident, who said he has been a contractor for 30 years, and borough resident said the total will jump to as much as $15 million, since final costs always go up another 50 percent from first estimated.
Many residents attending last night ‘s meeting, which was held in the Community Center without any access to Zoom presentations, spoke in favor of the ordinance, most citing the inconvenience and unfairness to a police department which has been working out of trailers, as have all municipal employees, including the borough clerk and administrator. Local resident Valerie Montecalvo, Portland Rd., who is president of Bayshore Recycling, a firm which itself reportedly received more than $1 million in stimulus funds after Covid, called for the town to come together, to volunteer and to be creative, in speaking in favor of the bond issue.
Melissa Pederson chided Martin if he changed his vote to approve last night what he opposed two months ago, terming his actions “disheartening” “if you vote the way the Mayor tells you to.” She and several others who had participated a fact sheet to borough residents this week citing the lower costs of construction of other Bayshore municipal buildings, continued to oppose construction on the basis of its high cost and the lack of a guarantee that the FEMA funds would be a grant.
While opponents to the bond issue made it clear they are not opposed to a new borough hall, many asked for compromise, looking at other options of working with Monmouth County or other municipalities and taking advantage of shared services to cut costs. Broullon said “shared services have not worked and they will not work.”
One resident asked for compromise to create a needed building at a lesser cost, citing at least ten older residents she has seen move out of town in the last year because they could no longer afford to live here. “You’re doing a lot of injustice to a lot of people,” an opinion that was reiterated by others who also pointed out businesses were additionally hit by Covid, construction costs are high but predictions are they will come down in the not distant future, and asking whether council had sought other avenues for assistance.
Councilwoman Mazzola urged the ordinance be delayed last night and the question of a borough hall be put on the ballot in November so all the residents could voice their opinion. She agreed with Broullon that as a councilwoman on a prior council, she was in favor of the building, and behind the curtain on a referendum she would vote for it again. She voted for the building, she said, because the council at that time listened to the people, but felt that while she could afford the large ticket item, “now I’m not sure everyone can and it is not fair. “ Everyone should have their say,” she said, in asking for the question to be put on the ballot. No action was taken on her recommendation.
Council did unanimously pass a resolution lager in the meeting 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.