Monthly Archives: October 2015

“People Don’t Want Their Taxes to Go Up”

Councilwoman Sara King explained at the May 11, 2015 SLH Council meeting that people in the Borough do not want to see their municipal taxes go up. The school district had just announced a 2 cent increase and the County was still working on their budget. Those two entities count for approximately 75% of the tax rate overall, and King felt families were stressed enough, particularly families and seniors on fixed incomes. She pointed out that creating a special fund would take some planning and that this was not the time to raise the budget.

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Why Raise Taxes When There is Unspent Money in the Budget?

At the May 11, 2015 SLH Council meeting, the Council held a lengthy debate over the 2015 Budget. Finance Chair Tom O’Brien, back by council members Tom Vorbach and Chris Tienken, supported a budget with a proposed tax increase. Councilwoman Sara King proposed a budget with no tax increase; this proposal was backed by council members Jim Shuler and Chris Campion.

Councilman Campion voiced his objection to a tax increase by raising a very good point: there was already unspent money in the budget.

Through careful examination, Campion discovered that a $400,000 bonding issue from several years ago had an unspent balance of approximately $100,000 in it. “I think that is grossly irresponsible,” he said, “We’re paying interest on money with taxpayer’s money that we didn’t need at the time because, clearly, we didn’t spend it.”

“I have a real hard time increasing taxes for anything when I know there is $400,000 with another $100,000 left that is not used.”

You can watch the complete meeting recording on the YouTube channel.

2003: Herner, Borough Sued for Harrassment by Whistleblower in the Ciallella Incident

In researching the old Spring Lake Heights meeting minutes, Heightsonline was reminded of an incident that occurred in the late 1990s. A harassment lawsuit brought against the Borough and against Art Herner, the Borough’s Superintendent of Public Works and Utilities, dragged on for years in mediation and had its basis in a whistleblowing incident.

James Costigan was the public works employee named as manager in 1988. When Art Herner suddenly catapulted into the job of Superintendent in 1993 without any discernable job interview or council discussion, it was questioned by members of the public why have two managers? It was explained that Costigan’s position was a lower level in the Salary & Wage Ordinance that year.

Costigan stayed with public works, despite being passed over for a promotion. Reviewing the old records, there does not appear to be any difficulties until 1999. At that time, Costigan reported that the then-water department manager, Phillip Ciallella, was engaging in illegal activities. The allegation was reported up the management chain to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

Costigan complained that Ciallella had submitted overtime hours for workers, even though the workers hadn’t worked any overtime. Once the worker was paid, Ciallella took back a portion of the paid overtime. The complaint also alleged that Ciallella had borough employees do work at his home while they were on the Borough’s clock, and used Borough supplies, among other misusage of Borough property.

The complaint resulted in Ciallella’s suspension from the water department. In July 1999, Ciallella agreed to enter the Pre-Trial Intervention Program and was returned to his job in the water department, although with a $15,000 reduction in salary and a demotion from manager.

After Ciallella was suspended, Costigan’s complaint said that he began to experience hostility in the workplace. Files were broken into and Costigan said that Superintendent Herner expressed “anger and hostility” at Costigan’s whistleblowing. Costigan went out of work on a medical disability and returned on October 10, 1999 to face what he considered a “longstanding, vicious and pervasive campaign of harassment and retaliation.”

Superintendent Herner put Costigan to work on a garbage truck, although this was not within the manager’s duties. A lower level worker was taken off the truck and promoted to foreman, so that Costigan had to then report to that employee. Even though Costigan had some seniority, he said he was routinely denied overtime assignments such as for snow removal. Ultimately, the Borough Council voted to remove the manager title from the Public Works organization, stripping Costigan of the title and the salary that went with it.

The harassment continued into 2000 and 2001, with Costigan claiming he was “humiliated, demeaned, and ostracized.” His desk was taken from the office and placed in the garage, where he was then forced to conduct business. The desk was vandalized on different occasions. A co-worker came to Costigan’s home and dumped garbage on his lawn. The list of affronts is lengthy.

The suit remains an interesting illustration of how things used to be done in the Borough. The Council and Mayor at the time either didn’t take the suit seriously or didn’t understand their position in it. In fact, then-Mayor Frank Adams stated to the local newspaper at the time that he was “unsure as to why the mayor and council were involved in this matter,” with Adam’s stating, “I don’t even know why we were brought into this thing at all.” Did the Mayor and Council not understand that they are responsible for the actions of their employees? Where was Superintendent Herner in all this? Did he not understand that as Costigan’s supervisor, and as Ciallella’s, that he had a legal responsibility to oversee and follow up with his employees? Not engage in the harassment of them?

You can read the newspaper coverage of the lawsuit here: Costigan story 01.23.03(1).

Need to Find the Borough’s Zoning Ordinances Online?

The Democratic Candidates are promising to put them online and make them searchable. Do they not know this already exists?

Simply go to to www.springlakehts.com and scroll down the left-hand navigation links to find the button labeled “Borough Code and Ordinances.” Click the button and on the next page, click the header labeled “Borough of Spring Lake Heights Code.” This will take you to the site of Coded Systems, the company that hosts the online version of the Borough’s Code Book.

Chapter XXII is the Municipal Land Use Laws, the formal name for the zoning ordinances. You can click that chapter heading to open the individual laws, or use the handy search box. Click on the photo below to see an enlargement.

Heightsonline is happy to be able to provide this handy user guide!

link to zoning ordinances

Heightsonline Looks at the Candidates and Their Records: The Democratic Slate

With Election Day around the corner, Heightsonline takes a look at the candidates and some of their accomplishments: Today we look at the Democrats.

Mayoral candidate Tom O’Brien is no stranger to local politics; it is a “family affair.” His uncle, John E. “Jack” Tully, served as a SLH Council member for almost 20 years, in addition to serving as the Democrat’s elected committee representative for the 1st Voting District. That mantle was passed to O’Brien in 2014, when Tully decided to not run for Committee re-election. O’Brien previously served a term on Council, from 2006 through 2008. In 2008, he ran for re-election but was unseated in a contested Democratic primary by John Brennan. He returned to Council in January 2014.

O’Brien, who chairs the Council’s Finance Committee, most recently became embroiled in a debate over raising municipal taxes. O’Brien supported the increase and initially proposed a budget that include a 1.3 cent tax rate increase. It was O’Brien’s desire to create a fund that could be set aside for future Capital expenditures. A counter-argument was put forth that any such fund should include an actual list of needed equipment along with some sort of proviso to prevent it from becoming just a slush fund for future Councils (see Heightsonline’s previous post, “Councilman Campion Suggests Cautious, Planned Approach to Future Spending”).

The argument over the creation of the fund triggered another budget proposal, this time put forth by Councilwoman Sara King. King’s budget contained a zero-cent tax rate increase but did not cut any services. The Council voted along party lines, with Republicans supporting the zero increase and the Democrats and one Independent supporting the tax increase. When it came time to vote, O’Brien again outlined his argument for an increase and ended by saying, “You know, now you have me on record as saying I want to raise taxes, so that’s cool.”

His other accomplishments on Council include:

Voted “yes” on Ordinance #2-2000, a bond issue appropriating $750,000 for the purchase and installation of new water meters. In support of a request by Public Works Superintendent Art Herner, the Council agreed to purchase approximately 3,000 new electronic-read water meters. The water meter project became fraught with problems, including the initial installation of defective meters which were discovered to have been rejected from a project in another town. The project lagged for years until Councilwoman King reorganized and completed it when she joined the council in 2010.

Voted for the 2007 Borough-wide Tax Reassessment, granting the contract jointly to Realty Appraisal Systems and to Value Consultants, the firm owned by the Borough’s tax assessor, Mitch Elias. Elias received $75,000 for the work.

O’Brien served as the Council’s Finance Chair when former Borough Clerk Theresa Casagrande took on the additional job of CFO. In the role of Finance Chair, O’Brien has the responsibility to oversee all financial transactions, sign the payment vouchers, and other related tasks. Either he was aware that Mrs. Casagrande had been approved for overtime, or he was not aware – which is worse, because as Finance Chair, he had an obligation and a duty to know that. In either scenario, Mrs. Casagrande’s approval of overtime happened on his watch and the refusal of a later Council to pay said overtime led to legal proceedings.

Council candidate Art Herner is another familiar face in local politics, having previously served on Council from 1984 to 1993. Herner, who served as the Council’s chair of the Public Works Committee, was appointed in 1993 as Public Works Superintendent and resigned his Council seat to accept the then-$42,072 a year position (see related story: Art Herner: From Councilman to Public Works Superintendent in the Blink of an Eye).

In 1984, his first year on Council, Herner voted to support an 18.87% increase to the budget cap, at a time when the cap was 5%. Municipal tax that year was .35 cents per $100 of valuation.

The same year, Herner supported a 4-year police contact that granted a “5% across the board salary increase for all PBA members and full time dispatchers,” in addition to expanding paid sick days from 6 to 10.

This contract, which caused a 20% raise to police salaries in 4 years, caused such an imbalance that at the 1987 budget hearings, the Police Chief and the Police Captain came before the Council to say there was now an inequity in salaries between them and the union members and requested and received a 15% pay raise for 1987 to “compensate them for the approximate 10% of extra benefits gained by their staff and 5% to keep them in line with increases given to union members.”

Other accomplishments include:

Voting for a $95,000 bonding issue to clean up a fuel spill at the Borough Yard on Atlantic Avenue. Although groundwells for testing were installed and some remediation done, the work was never completed and the Yard remains on the DEP’s list of Known Contaminated Sites, 30 years later.

Voted “yes” in 1988 to support a budget that exceeded the 4.5% budget cap by 11.4%.
Voted “yes” on May 9, 1988 for an ordinance that included granting medical benefits for part-time Councilpersons – but no other part-time Borough employees.

1n 1990, voted for a Salary & Wage Ordinance that put the Borough Attorney Robert Blasi on the payroll as “this would allow him to purchase health insurance through the borough group.” Coincidentally, it also provided that the Borough contribute towards Blasi’s inclusion in the pension system, social security, and Unemployment/Disability benefits. The attorney would receive an annual salary of $4,200, plus legal fees.

Voted for these tax increases in these years: 1984, .35 cent per $100 valuation; 1985, .47 cent per $100 valuation, 1987, .62 cent per $100 valuation, and .08 cent per $100 valuation. There was one year where there was a zero tax rate increase, 1992
Voted for the following salary increases:*

raise table

*Source: SLH Borough Council Meeting Minutes
**Retroactive to January 1, 1993 from April 23, 1993.

The percentage is not available for all years, but at minimum, these raises saw salaries increase by approximately 60% over the 10 years Mr. Herner was on Council, or an average of 6% annually. This gives an effective raise of 73% over 10 years as this year’s raise is added to next year’s base salary. Plus, employees enjoy periodic “step increases” in addition to these annual raises.

Council Candidate Nathanial “Nate” Novak: Mr. Novak’s resume includes community involvement, but no municipal involvement such as a volunteer on one of the many boards, commissions, and committees that are continually seeking members.

If you have any questions on the candidates or if you are interested in becoming involved with the SLH Democratic Party, please contact your elected committee representatives for your voting district:

District 1, Thomas O’Brien & Lisa O’Brien
District 2, Thomas Vorbach & Eileen Eilenberger
District 3, John Scanlon & Elizabeth Stader
District 4, Fredric Manger & Ellen Manger
District 5, Maeve E. O’Malley and no male representative elected

 

Art Herner: From Councilman to Public Works Superintendent in the Blink of an Eye

On September 13, 1993, the Spring Lake Heights Borough Council convened their regularly scheduled meeting at 8 PM. Council members present were Frank Russo-Alesi, Jack Tully, George Bruton, Michael Clark, Art Herner, and Elwood Malick, with Mayor Frank Adams presiding.

The meeting proceeded uneventfully; the Voice of the Public was closed at 8:25 PM on a motion by Herner and seconded by Bruton.

The Council moved on with the agenda, coming to New Business. Although at no previous meeting had the issue of Public Works management been publicly discussed, Mayor Adams announced that Councilman Herner was resigning his position as councilman in order to be hired as the Superintendent of Public Works and Utilities with a start date of Sept. 21, 1993. On a motion by Councilman Malick and seconded by Councilman Clark, the minutes show:

Roll Call: Ayes: ALL Nays: None

No “roll call” vote was taken and the minutes do not report that Mr. Herner stepped down from the dais prior to the vote. The minutes do not show that he ever left the meeting that night prior to the adjournment. The meeting minutes, which stand as the official record of a meeting, seem to show that Mr. Herner remained on the dais and voted for his own appointment to the $42,072 a year position.

At the next Council meeting, a resident got up and asked why the Borough needed another manager for the Public Works department, since James Costigan had already held that position for a number of years.

PART 2 Tomorrow: Legal Woes for the Public Works Department

Heightsonline Looks at the Candidates and Their Records: The Republican Slate

With Election Day around the corner, Heightsonline takes a look at the candidates and some of their accomplishments: Today we look at the Republicans, tomorrow the Democrats.

Mayoral candidate Chris Campion has been proactive in his first year on Council and has a displayed a clear head for the issues under discussion. During budget talks, Campion expressed a concern that he was not in favor of increasing taxes when there was money left from a bond; he stated the Borough was paying interest on a bond but hasn’t used all the funds yet. This attention to detail is illustrative of how this Councilman works. Campion’s accomplishments include:

•Being instrumental in overseeing the closure of leaking, aged well that had become an environmental hazard.

•Jump-starting the stalled Municipal Energy Audit project which had been let lapse by a previous administration.

•As chair of the Utilities Committee, Campion reviewed the Borough’s water usage to determine that approximately 39,000 gallons of water were purchased each year and not used; this information was used in negotiating a new contract that saved the Borough money by reducing the amount of water purchased.

Campion has been a strong supporter of the environment, including the ongoing project to restore and replant the Allaire Road Park Grove and to restore the vegetative buffer around the Fletcher property.

Council candidate Sara King first joined the Council in 2010. In the past 6 years, she has 5 times helped deliver a zero rate municipal tax increase. In addition to cutting unnecessary spending and looking for ways to keep costs down, King straightened out and completed the botched roll-out of new water meters in her freshman year on Council. In 2015, her accomplishments include:

•Introducing and supporting a budget with a zero percent municipal tax rate increase, in opposition to the Democrat’s proposed raise in taxes.

•Leading an effort to address citizens’ complaints about the emergency sirens and spearheading an effort to have them replaced with state-of-the art technology that would be less disruptive to residents.

•Overseeing the replacement of Sandy-damaged signage at the Borough Hall, in response to residents’ complaints.

•Working with the Police Department and Borough Engineer to propose improvements to the Old Mill Road and Ocean Road intersection, and following up with the State Dept. of Transportation to request a traffic light be installed at Old Mill Road and Warren Avenue.

Her leadership roles on Council include past chair of the Utilities Committee, chair of the Public Safety Committee, and Council President.

Council candidate Robert Merriken has participated in municipal activities for many years. He was appointed to the Environmental Commission in 2009. He served as that Commission’s liaison to the Planning Board for 3 years, prior to being appointed as the Planning Board’s citizen member. His professional background in engineering and the environment makes him a valuable addition to both groups. Merriken’s municipal accomplishments include:

•Assisting in the planning and layout of the Fletcher Property, as well as helping with physical property maintenance.

•Assisting in the planning for the restoration and replanting of the Allaire Road Park Grove.

•Rolling up his sleeves and working at annual environmental clean-ups to cut brush and haul trash.

•Spearheading a project to update the Borough’s Natural Resource Inventory, an important part of the Master Plan process.

On the Planning Board side, Merriken consistently contributes his expertise to help guide the Board and applicants during site plan review.

If you have any questions on the candidates or if you are interested in becoming involved with the SLH Republican Party, please contact your elected committee representatives for your voting district:

Voting District #1 – Nancy Smith, Joseph Smith
Voting District #2 – Kathleen Donohue, Thomas DeFazio
Voting District #3 – Kathy Kelsey, Leonard Capristo
Voting District #4 – Sara King (Chairperson), Richard Diver
Voting District #5 – Patricia Van Ness, Robert Moore Jr.

Councilman Campion Suggests Cautious, Planned Approach to Future Spending

At the April 27, 2015, Council meeting, discussion centered around whether or not to raise taxes in order to form a special fund for Capital expenses. No specific items were named as being needed; the tax was suggested as a way to raise money to offset future purchases.

Councilman Chris Campion expressed his concerns about the Capital budget and formation of a fund without any information as to what would be funded. His concern was that when money is allocated for a certain project, how can the citizens make sure it stays for that purpose instead of being spent by a future Council for special interest projects?

Councilman Tom O’Brien who chairs the Finance Committee agreed this was a valid point but said ultimately expenses will come up. There is no assurance that money set aside for a specific purpose will be used for that purpose.

This being the case, Councilman Campion suggests that the Council not raise taxes in 2015, but take a careful, planned approach in determining future needs and expenditures.

Watch the exchange here:

Rent Review Board Kept Rents Unnecessarily High

One recent campaign flyer by the Democrats (we assume the candidates are Democrats, because while none of their literature states their party affiliation, they did file to run on the Democratic side of the ballot) states the effectiveness of the old rent review board. The flyer, which was distributed to apartment dwellers, claims that if elected, the Democrats will revive the rent review board.

How effective was the old rent review board? What purposed did it serve? And if it was important, why did no one complain when it was disbanded?

Most likely no one complained, tenants anyway, because the rent review board’s “Gentleman’s Agreement” was not universally liked by the tenants. A review of old meeting records show it was primarily an agreement between Democratic former Mayor Adams and the landlords, designed to keep rents at a level that would prevent the landlords from filing a tax appeal.

The “Gentleman’s Agreement” was rent control. While in and of itself, rent control can be useful, in this instance it was to hold the rents to a higher level, not reduce them for the benefit of the tenants. In 1984, the first year that current Democratic candidate Art Herner sat on Council, the rent review board and it’s Gentleman’s Agreement was an oft-discussed topic and not a happy one for tenants.

At the May 14, 1984 SLH Borough Council meeting, the meeting’s minutes contain a council discussion entitled “Gentleman’s Agreement.” In the discussion, then-Mayor Frank Adams states that “he and Councilman Tully had met several times with the landlords … and an agreement has been reached.” No tenants appear to have been included in the discussions. The one year agreement was to run from July 1, 1984 through June 30, 1984 and provided for “a rent increase of four and one-half percent for those tenants who supply their own heat, and five and one-half percent for those tenants who have heat supplied.”

The 1984 agreement was put to a vote by then-Councilman Sante Perri and freshman Councilman Art Herner; the Council voted that the agreement be authorized to be signed.

At the next regularly scheduled council meeting on May 29, 1984, Homestead Gardens Apartments tenant Kay LaMorte spoke during the voice of the public, noting that her opposition to a lack of tenant input into the agreement dated back to 1980. Councilman Tully “pointed out that the tenant representatives have refused to sign the agreement for many years and the previous agreements have been between the landlords and the Borough.” Mayor Adams explained that the rent increase prevents the landlords and tenants from being subjected to “tax passthroughs or capital improvements cost passthroughs” – additional charges sometimes added to residents’ tax bills to cover additional unbudgeted costs.

The discussion continued when Councilman Cornelius Kelly – for whom the Community Center is named – “voiced his total objection to the agreement” which he considered to be “null and void” as no new members of the 3-member rent review board had been appointed since the previous Council representatives completed their terms in 1983. Kelly said that he “wanted no increase in the rents as the majority of tenants were faced with only a 3% increase in their benefits income.”

A tenant from Heights Manor, a Mr. Sedlak, asked the Council if the Borough ever asked the landlords if an increase was justified each year. At that point, the public comments period was closed.

At the June 11, 1984 meeting, a resolution was adopted appointing 3 new members to the Rent Review Board: Shenadoah Arms tenant Arnold Worme, Royal Court-owner representative Marshall Weinerman, and as Council representative, Mayor Frank Adams.

At the June 25, 1984 meeting, tenant representative Worme reported on the results of a newly-formed Tenants Association. He said that the Association had agreed to the 4 ½ % and 5 ½ % rent increases “although they do not go along with the Gentleman’s Agreement.” They also asked for a deletion of capital improvement passthroughs and tax passthroughs.

The agreement was eventually signed, but signed only by landlords and the Borough; the tenant representatives or members of the Tenants Association seem never to have been asked to sign, only agree. The 4 ½ % and 5 ½ % rent increases continued annually until 1987, always negotiated by the Mayor and the landlords with little to no tenant input.

By 1987, the Tenants Association began to push back. It had come to light that a clause in the Gentleman’s Agreement provided that, if an apartment became vacant, it was not then subject to the terms of the agreement and became “free market,” meaning the owner could rent it for whatever he wished. This had led to an inequity at the Colony Club (now Ocean Aire), in which new tenants were paying less rent than long-time tenants.

Kay LaMorte of the Tenants Association proposed increases of 3 ½% and 4 ½%. Royal Court owner Marshall Weinerman said the lowest amount the landlords would consider was 4% and 5%. Mayor Adams felt it would be better to negotiate an Agreement to cover two years’ time, in order to avoid an annual argument. The upshot of all this was that, at the May 11, 1987 meeting, Mayor Adams was “pleased to announce” that a two year agree had been struck – giving the tenants their 3 ½% / 4 ½% increase for 1987 but granting the landlords’ request for a 4% / 5% increase in 1988.

This pattern of negotiating continued for years under the guise of benefiting the tenants, but it is difficult to see how enforced rent increases of 4 ½% and 5 ½% benefited anyone except the landlords. Especially when it became known that vacant apartments were renting for less, in the “free market.” In other regions, landlords would come before a rent review board and the board would ask for proof as to why the increases were needed. In Spring Lake Heights, it seems the landlords were just taken at their word in spite of any pleas from the tenants. Returning to a system that benefits the landlords at the expense of the tenants does not seem to be in the best interest of apartment-dwellers in Spring Lake Heights.

Democrat’s Mayoral Candidate Supports Tax Increase

At the May 11, 2015 Spring Lake Heights Borough Council meeting, two proposed budgets were discussed. One, proposed by Councilwoman Sara King, included a zero tax rate increase but with no reduction to municipal services. The other, proposed by Finance Chair Tom O’Brien, included a 1.3 cent tax rate increase per each $100 of assessed value. The zero tax rate budget was put to a vote and was supported by Councilwoman King, along with Councilman Chris Campion and Councilman James Shuler.

When it was time for O’Brien, who is the Democrat’s 2015 candidate for Mayor, to vote, he explained he did not want to support the zero increase budget and said that “You know, now you have me on record as saying I want to raise taxes, so that’s cool.” He voted no along with fellow Democrat Tom Vorbach and Independent Chris Tienken.

Mayor Maccanico broke the tie by voting “yes” in favor of no municipal tax increase for 2015.

To hear the content of the entire May 11 meeting, visit Heightsonline on YouTube or click the link below just to hear Mr. O’Brien cast his vote: