Council candidates discuss DPW furloughs, police, SIDs
By Zach Levine
Democratic Councilman Matthew Doherty, 36, will be running for re-election to his seat in this year’s general election and will be challenged by Republican James Bean Jr., 36.
The race is for one full, three-year term.
A debate between the two candidates is scheduled for next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Taylor Pavilion.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues the candidates will have to address during their respective campaigns will be the furlough implementation within the department of public works [DPW].
All borough departments were asked to take a wage freeze this year to help save money. The Belmar Police Department, which is currently in arbitration regarding its salary, did not agree to the freeze. The DPW did not accept the freeze either, and it was due a 4-percent wage increase this year.
The governing body subsequently decided to implement furloughs in the public works department in order to save money. The announcement was handed down at a council meeting last month, and the department will be forced to take off 10 Tuesday’s throughout the remainder of the year, save for Election Day.
When asked for thoughts about the furlough situation, both candidates said they believe the borough had no choice but to implement furloughs for the DPW.
Mr. Bean noted that, when dealing with these situations, all personal emotions have to be set aside, and only the economic factors must be dealt with.
“I think it’s all about economics,” he said. “There is only so much taxpayer money coming in.”
He further noted that, after reviewing the situation, it seemed to him that furloughs were the only option to deal with this difficult situation.
“Furloughs are the only way to work with the union and work around it, and it was the only way it could have been done,” Mr. Bean said.
Councilman Doherty agreed with his opponent, highlighting the importance of economics in the matter.
“If we didn’t have these furloughs, we would have had to raise property taxes, and I would not support that,” he said. “The furloughs were the only option we had. It’s very unfortunate and I hope we don’t have this situation again.”
He further stressed that, in this economic climate, all borough employees are being called on to help out.
“We need our borough employees to work with us and understand that our residents cannot absorb these large-scale taxes,” he said.
Similarly, the Belmar Policeman’s Benevolent Association [PBA] has also not agreed to a wage freeze for 2009, and currently both groups are in arbitration to find a solution to the matter.
Mr. Bean said that, just like the situation with the DPW, the matter is specifically about economics.
“It’s about economics,” he said. “If there are no other options, then the police department just has to get creative.”
The notion of combining police forces has come up recently, as well, and Mr. Bean said the only neighboring borough which he would consider merging departments with is Lake Como.
“I’m not for combining police forces unless it is with Lake Como,” he said. “If we ever had to combine with a larger town, they would have taxation power over us, and I would not want us to take that. I want to keep the Belmar police force in Belmar.”
Councilman Doherty stated that he is hopeful the PBA will eventually accept the zero-percent wage freeze and help out the borough economically.
“The PBA has not accepted the zero-percent freeze, and we need the arbitrator to understand the tax burden and agree to the zero percent due to this economic climate,” he said.
Like Mr. Bean, Councilman Doherty noted that he is strongly in favor of merging police departments with Lake Como.
“I think it would be a natural fit,” he said. “I’m not only in favor of it, but I’m advocating for it. I’m always going to be looking for ways to share costs and find savings.”
On another subject, the idea of adding a Special Improvement District [SID] has recently been proposed in Belmar.
The SID is a collection of local businesses who would actively recruit for new businesses to join Belmar, as well as work to improve the ones which are currently operating in the borough.
The SID would be paid for by all commercial property owners, who will be required to participate in the organization if it is eventually approved by the borough council.
Some have worried, however, that the day-to-day operations of the SID would conflict with the overall work of the tourism commission and chamber of commerce, two similar local organizations.
Mr. Bean stated that he is in favor of the SID in Belmar, as he believes that it would lead to a healthy competition between the community organizations.
“I’m all for competition,” he said. “If one makes the other work harder, then I’m all for it.”
He also said that, if the people of Belmar want to have a SID, he would not stand in their way of doing what they can to try to improve the community.
“If the citizens want to do it, I won’t stop them. We’re all working for the same goal and all looking for a better Belmar,” he said.
Councilman Doherty believes that a SID will be a huge asset to the local community as well.
“The SID would be a tremendous benefit to the businesses in town,” he said. “We already have the chamber and tourism in place, and the SID would supplement their work.”
He also noted that the SID can recruit businesses to Belmar, whereas the tourism commission recruits people to Belmar and the chamber of commerce helps look out for local businesses.
“There are a lot of things the SID can do that the chamber and tourism cannot do. They’d leverage off of each other’s strengths, and we’d make sure all would work together,” Councilman Doherty said.