SEA BRIGHT — A study being conducted by a committee of borough residents to determine the feasibility of consolidating Sea Bright with a neighboring municipality will not be completed until March.
The Citizen Advisory Committee, established in September to look into consolidation, was expected to present its preliminary findings and recommendations to the Borough Council by Dec. 31, but requested additional time to gather information. The Borough Council granted the request on Nov. 18 with a resolution extending the deadline to March 31. “This is a complex situation, and our committee first had to understand the New Jersey state statutes that relate to municipal consolidation,” said Jennifer Walsh, a member of the committee. “In order to provide the mayor and council with complete information, additional time was requested to have the opportunity to meet with all the potential partners before making a recommendation.” Also serving on the committee are Heather Bedenko, Martin Arasin and Marianne McKenzie Morse. For the past three months, the committee has been meeting with officials from Monmouth Beach, Rumson, Highlands and Middletown to collect information on the school systems, property values, taxes, budgets, duplicate services, recreation, demographics and the culture of each of the towns. Walsh said the objective is to study the possibility of consolidating with one of the four neighboring towns with a focus on “potential cost-savings, improving property values and providing a better education for borough children.” “Per state statute, it is in the public interest to encourage contiguous municipalities to consider consolidation as a means of insuring more rational control of growth and development, more efficient provision of local services and more effective public administration,” she said. The team has also held consolidation discussions with Courage to Connect, a nonprofit organization that facilitated the merger of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough earlier this year. Mayor Dina Long said she attended the meeting between the committee and Gina Genovese of Courage to Connect. “The one thing they stressed to us is that before we can go down the road of consolidation, we need a willing consolidation partner — and that is the work that the committee is still doing,” Long said, adding that the request for an extension was understandable given the complexity of the information that is involved. The possibility of consolidating has been brought up for discussion at many post-Sandy meetings. Residents have said that now is the time to study consolidation, as the borough is recovering from the storm and undertaking long-term planning. A major impetus for the study is the heavy tax burden that Sea Bright incurs for sending students to the Shore Regional High School District. For the 2013-2014 school year, the borough’s school tax levy to the district is $2.4 million to educate about 20 students, the highest per-pupil assessment in the district. Consolidation with Rumson would mean Sea Bright students would attend schools in the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional School District. The next step for the committee is to analyze all of the relevant factors for each of the potential consolidation partners. The analysis would also include a preliminary assessment of the financial impact of consolidating with each of the towns. The results of this analysis would provide the foundation for the committee’s recommendation to the Borough Council.