Point Beach Council Candidates: Boardwalk Businesses Should Help Pay for Cops
But disagreement on how to get them to do that
Boardwalk businesses should help pay for summer police protection, according to Point Beach Borough Council candidates at Tuesday night's debate at G. Harold Antrim Elementary School.
However, there was disagreement about how the town should go about collecting those fees and no specific amounts suggested.
Six of the seven candidates running for two, three-year council seats were at the debate. They were: Democrat Nick Mazzola, Republicans Andy Cortes and William Mayer, Independent candidates Bret Gordon and Phyllis Thomson, who are running as a slate, and Kitty Stillufsen, who is running as an Independent separately from Gordon and Thomson.
Democrat Frank Rizzo, the only incumbent running for re-election was absent.
The salary for a council member is $4,500 per year, said Gail Saxer of the League of Women Voters, a Berkeley resident who moderated the debate. The Woman's Club, on St. Louis Avenue, which hosted the forum, asked the League to moderate, said Ann Kessler, Woman's Club president.
"We should talk to the boardwalk businesses and reach a happy medium," Cortes said.
Independent candidate Stillufsen said the town can use the leverage of the liquor licenses to require businesses to help pay for police protection.
"Every year, on June 30, the liquor licenses are up for renewal and the council has the right to renew or restrict," she said. "We can say to the boardwalk businesses, 'Hey, we can revoke your license or we might restrict it. We want more security.' "
"There are towns where police are paid as a condition of a liquor license," said Republican Mayer, who is currently the town's bond counsel. "Bullying the boardwalk businesses is a mistake. We need to request cooperation from them."
Mayer also said during another part of the forum: "I want to see the boardwalk help pay for police, but I wasn't a big fan of special event fees for the Easter Egg hunt and fireworks, because that attracts families and that's what we want."
"No one wants to offend boardwalk businesses, but costs have to be shared by all the businesses in town," said Democrat Mazzola, who is running on a slate with mayoral candidate Tim Lurie.
Gordon, like Cortes, said he thinks the ordinance governing "special event fees" should be revised.
"We need to redefine 'special events,' and then enforce that and all other ordinances," he said.
After the debate, when asked what he would do if "a happy medium" could not be reached with boardwalk businesses, Cortes said, "Then you turn down their special event applications."
When asked if he knew that Jenkinsons' has not paid any special event fees in recent years, Cortes said, "That's wrong." But he also said the ordinance must be revised, possibly with different fees for nonprofits and for-profit corporations, as well as possibly imposing different fees for events that occur once a year and those that are re-occurring.
Earlier on Tuesday, Municipal Clerk Maryann Ellsworth said she has billed Jenkinson's $28,202.75 for their Music Fest, fireworks and Big Joe Henry shows during the summer.
"These are the events that require additional police services," she wrote in an email, adding that as of late Tuesday afternoon, she had not received any of those payments.
Thomson said, "What 'special events' means to me are events that are not an everyday occurrence. Special event fees should be paid by everyone, not only certain groups."
After the forum ended, when asked about additional police costs, Chief Kevin O'Hara said he had asked the council during the summer for $155,000 in additional funding for the police department to help handle what the department described as the worst summer for crime in the past 17 years.
In the summer, the council appropriated $95,000 of the $155,000 requested, mostly for overtime for police officers. And in September, council allocated the remaining $60,000 requested to hire and train up to 50 more special police officers for next summer, O'Hara said.
The $155,000 will come out of next year's municipal budget, since it was not available in this year's budget.
Regarding next year's budget, Gordon said it's critical the council find ways to develop a municipal budget without having to furlough employees. This year, employees had 17 unpaid days.
"That's not only money out of their pockets, it's money out of your pockets," he said to the audience of about 50 people, "because you're paying for services you're not getting on those days.
"Sustaining the town on the backs of employees" is not the way to run a town, Gordon said.
To help generate more revenue for the budget, Gordon said he favors local option taxes, which would be taxes paid on things like alcohol sold at local bars or parking fees paid in private lots.
Mazzola said he is against local option taxes "because they could apply to a beer or a haircut or anything," he said, adding people already pay enough taxes.
Mayer said, "Local option taxes are a good idea, but they won't be in place for the 2012 budget."
The state Legislature and governor would have to approve enabling legislation for local options taxes before Point Beach can impose them.
Such local options taxes are already allowed in at least a few municipalities in New Jersey, including Newark where the city reaps revenue from parking lot fees.
Mayor Vincent Barrella has often said it's unfair that state law allows Newark to reap that local option tax revenue, but that it does not allow Point Beach and many other towns to do the same.
He has been trying to generate legislators' interest in changing that, but there is no bill successfully progressing at this point.
Candidates said they would look for ways to cut spending and increase revenue.
Mayer said he wants to examine how much is being generated in municipal court and parking revenue to see how that can help stabilize the budget.
Gordon said as employees retire, their positions should be evaluated to see if they need to be filled by a full-time employee, a part-timer, or if they should be left vacant. He also said cross-training of employees may result in the town being able to leave some positions vacant.
However, when asked about possibly hiring more full-time police officers he said he wouldn't rule out the possibility, if that's what was recommended by the police chief.
Most of the other candidates said they favor hiring more part-time special police officers, but not full-time cops.
Candidates liked an idea suggested by Ben Dispoto to cut trash collection to once a week, and recycling only on alternate weeks, during the off-season.
A candidates forum for the three mayoral candidates will be held at 7 p.m. at Antrim. The candidates are: Barrella, running as an Independent for re-election, Lurie, currently Democratic council president, and Republican Stephen Reid.