Boardwalk Businesses off the Hook for Boardwalk Fix
Unusual mayor-council alliances tank ordinance to bill businesses for part of cost
Point Beach Council voted nearly unanimously to fix an Irene-ravaged section of boardwalk without help from boardwalk businesses, right after an initial move to bill businesses for part of the cost narrowly failed.
The lengthy discussion, and, ultimately, the votes on the issue, did not play out along the usual political alliances.
Councilmember Tim Lurie agreed with Mayor Vincent Barrella to not pass the first ordinance to bill Jenkinson's and Risden's for part of the cost, and disagreed with Councilmember William Mayer; Councilmembers Michael Corbally and Kristine Tooker agreed with Mayer and disagreed with Councilmember Bret Gordon; Councilmember Stephen Reid disagreed with Mayer, but agreed with Barrella and Gordon.
Yes, it was unusual.
The First Vote Fails
First, there was a 3 to 3 tie that was not enough for the required two-thirds vote, or four votes by councilmembers, to adopt an ordinance for a bond appropriation that included getting about $70,000, in total, from Jenkinson's and Risden's to fix a section of storm-damaged boardwalk from in front of Lucky's North to Trenton Avenue. The boardwalk is 16 feet wide in that section.
The $70,000 could have been paid out over the next 10 years.
Mayer, who had proposed using a "special assessment" for the boardwalk businesses to pay for $70,000 of the total cost of $565,000, and Corbally and Tooker voted yes, after a lot of discussion. Councilmembers Bret Gordon, Tim Lurie and Stephen Reid voted no.
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) would reimburse the town for 75 percent of the cost because that section of boardwalk had been damaged in tropical storm Irene.
Barrella, who made it clear he was against the ordinance, was not able to vote. Usually, he is able to vote when there is a tie, according to the terms of the mayor-borough council form of government. However, mayors in this form of government are not allowed to vote, not even to break a tie, on bond ordinances, Barrella said later.
At one point in the discussion, Barrella said he felt strongly enough against the special assessments, that he might "line item veto" that part of the ordinance if it passes.
That prompted a discussion between the mayor and Municipal Attorney Sean Gertner, who questioned whether the mayor could "line item veto" a section of an ordinance that he isn't even allowed to vote on.
"I've done it in the past," said Barrella, referring to last year when Gertner was not the attorney.
"I know you have, but I don't know if it's legal," Gertner said. Since the measure failed, Barrella did not need to consider whether he would line item veto.
The Second Vote Passes
Then there was a second vote to bond for the boardwalk repairs without asking for any "special assessment" or any other financial contribution from Jenkinson's or Risden's. Corbally was the lone no vote on that measure, which is scheduled for second reading and adoption at the Oct. 2 council meeting.
The repair work must be completed 18 months after Irene, which hit in August 2011, according to FEMA guidelines which stipulate that any repair work done to fix damage by Mother Nature, and paid for FEMA, must be completed 18 months after the damage occurred, Mayer said.
Barrella said that while he might at some point favor boardwalk help in footing the bill for the boardwalk fix, he did not feel comfortable with the way the ordinance had been crafted. He said he thinks there should have been two separate ordinances, one for the bond and one for the special assessments imposed on businesses.
Mayer, who is a full-time bond counsel, and had filled that role for Point Beach before he was elected, said placing both of those elements into one ordinance is not only allowable, but is standard practice.
Barrella also said he was concerned about imposing special assessments on businesses for repairs to the boardwalk that had been damaged in a storm.
Mayer said that section of boardwalk has not been worked on in many years.
Discussion about "setting precedent"
Also, Barrella said he was concerned about how it would affect any future plan to fix the boardwalk on the north end, between Jenkinson's bar and the Harbor Head condominiums.
Anyone who has been on the boardwalk on the northern end knows the terrible condition of the boards there, many of which are loose and popping up.
"When we fix that part, are you going to tell Jenkinson's on one side they have to pay a special assessment and then tell the residents on the other side that they don't?" Barrella asked Mayer.
Mayer said he is not in favor of imposing such assessments on any of the boardwalk residents, but that he might be interested in investigating whether a special improvement district could be established to help fund the cost. Such a district would only include the commercial properties on the boardwalk, he said.
Barrella added after the meeting that he is not in favor of imposing such special assessments on boardwalk residents either, but that he is concerned about not funding boardwalk improvements (and possibly not using special assessments) in a consistent way.
Barrella said the state should help to pay for boardwalk repairs because the state collects taxes on tourism revenue spent at the boardwalk businesses.
"This boardwalk is a state asset," he said.
Lurie said the town should investigate through Ocean County whether it can use an Open Space grant to help pay for the cost.
During the public comment portion, Trenton Avenue resident Tom Davis said he would rather see the town budget money every year towards capital improvements on the boardwalk, so that maintenance is done in a preventive and consistent way.
"That way, rather than being reactive, you are being pro-active," Davis said.
Reid and Gordon agreed with that.
What a difference a few weeks makes
Dave Cavagnaro, a Parkway resident, said, before the votes, "The boardwalk is like a sidewalk and when my sidewalk has to be replaced, I have to replace it. It's reasonable that the boardwalk businesses should absorb some of the cost."
After the votes, Cavagnaro said that he was extremely disappointed that what he characterized as "disorganization" among the mayor and council members led to the council not voting down a plan that included financial help from the boardwalk.
He noted that a lot of questions and debated points that surfaced Tuesday night had never come up at the Aug. 28 meeting, when the ordinance was passed on first reading.
One possible reason for that is that at the last meeting, Barrella had been absent and away on vacation for at least several days, and Tooker and Lurie were also absent.
At the Aug. 28 meeting, the four councilmembers present, Mayer, Corbally, Reid and Gordon, voted for first reading of an ordinance for $565,000 "to replace 400 feet of boardwalk north of the southerly intersection of Trenton Avenue and the boardwalk," according to the ordinance.
In terms of clarifying, Mayer added, "There is 400 feet of property on both the East and West side resulting in 800 feet of property adjoining the 400 foot improvement."
The amount includes a down payment of $28,250 and a bond for the balance of $536,750, with FEMA later reimbursing 75 percent of the cost.
The plan, now dead, would have called for the town to split the remaining 25 percent of the cost with Jenkinson's and Risden's. Mayer had estimated that Risden's would have been called on to pay nearly $17,000 for about 180 feet of boardwalk and Jenkinson's would have been responsible for paying about $53,000 for about 575 feet of boardwalk.
"I think it's the first time the town has done this kind of special assessment," Mayer had said. The businesses could pay in 60 days, after the work is completed, or over a 10-year period, he said.
Mayer said the town owns the boardwalk, but not the land under it.
There were no representatives of Jenkinson's or Risden's at the Aug. 28 or Tuesday night meetings.
Resident Ben Dispoto, who favored boardwalk bucks helping to carry the load, asked Barrella if he had heard any hint that either Jenkinson's or Risden's might sue if hit with the special assessment.
"I haven't heard anything like that," Barrella said. "But as I've said many times, you can't govern in fear of litigation.
"Has anyone talked to the boardwalk businesses about this?" Barrella asked.
"I talked to the owners of Jenkinson's," Corbally said. "They're not in favor of it."
"Jenkinson's doesn't like the precedent of it," Mayer said.