Lions at city council

Members of the Brigantine Lions Club accept a proclamation from City Council at the meeting Wednesday.

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City Council adopted the municipal budget Wednesday with one adjustment since its introduction March 1. The spending plan reflects a reduction from $193,715 to $177,422 in state aid to the Brigantine School District, a change that has no affect on the tax levy or what property owners will be expected to pay in taxes this year, according to city auditor Leon Costello.

The budget calls for a 2.1 cent reduction in the property tax rate, which translates to a $21 reduction for every $100,000 of assessed property value. It was the third straight year the city has lowered the tax rate.

The budget is available for public inspection at the city website, bb-nj.org, under the Government drop-down link. Click “budget” under the Financials tab.

Council also issued a proclamation recognizing the Brigantine Lions Club, which turns 65 this year. About 15 members of the group were present to accept the proclamation, including Deputy Mayor Andy Simpson, the chapter's past president.

The proclamation states that the city of Brigantine will forever be grateful for the Lions' long history of volunteerism and charitable work in the community, particularly for the relief efforts the club provided after Superstorm Sandy.

“The Lions are best known for their commitment to vision issues,” said Mayor Phil Guenther, “but you have branched out in so many other areas whenever the community has had the need. Sandy was certainly at a time when the community was at its greatest need, and the Lions certainly stepped forward.”

Three ordinances were on the agenda that would reallocate money originally bonded for other projects to capital improvements. The three bonds together totaled $575,850.

Another ordinance was introduced that would authorize the issuance of $5.34 million in bonds for capital improvements in five major areas, according to city manager Ed Stinson. They include improvements to roads — particularly repaving sections of Bayshore Avenue; the storm sewer drainage system; bulkheads; municipal buildings and grounds; and the purchase of various vehicles and equipment for the police, fire, public works and beach patrol departments.

A priority in the buildings-and-grounds category is replacing the public works salt-storage building that was destroyed by a storm. Lack of such a structure has put Brigantine out of compliance with state regulations, he said.

Council also made a change to an ordinance introduced March 15 that would require property owners who rent to tenants for fewer than 175 days to pay a $100 license fee. The money generated was to go toward establishing a marketing-and-tourism plan.

Council decided to scrap that plan because it might cause too much confusion among the building and fire-inspection departments, and create situations where property owners might try to avoid paying the fee. 

Council instead raised the existing rental inspection fee all rental-property owners pay from $100 to $150. The $50 increase will be the city's first inspection fee hike since 2005.

The final ordinance on council's agenda Wednesday received substantial public support. If passed at the April 19 meeting, the ordinance would make it illegal for any person, firm or corporation to release helium balloons into the atmosphere. The ordinance would impose a fine of up to $500 for intentionally releasing helium balloons. Supporters said the balloons pose a hazard to wildlife and the environment.

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Anne Phillips of the Brigantine Taxpayers Association stated that Brigantine's last two municipal budgets included appropriations for surpluses that far exceeded what was necessary, resulting in overtaxation of all property owners.

“For the past two years, this administration has accumulated the two largest surpluses in Brigantine's history, $5.4 million in 2015 and $5.7 million in 2016,” said Phillips, adding that the Brigantine School District should be consolidated into a single school under one administration, rather than separate administrations for the elementary and middle schools.

“In each of those years $2.5 million was removed and applied to the next year's budget. In this budget, over $3 million will be passed to the following year in surplus,” she said.

The mayor responded that there had been a different accounting system in place that resulted in serious miscalculation of the utility fund, which is currently being corrected. He said certain sections of the budget hinge on income generated that can be unpredictable, such as the golf-course utility. The Brigantine Golf Links is still recovering from damage sustained in Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and a recently initiated shared-service agreement with the county has been panning out in assisting with that recovery.

The mayor said he is completely confident in the system the city has in place for collecting and spending revenue from the taxpayers, and that an outside agency that recently upgraded Brigantine's bond rating should serve as a good indicator that the city is moving in the right direction.

“When you look toward the future, and you tighten up your budget and your accounting practices, you are going to see less excess in accounts going forward,” he said. “We have a very financially stable plan in place. This is not a one-year plan. You don't run a household by taking everything in and spending it in one year without caring about the next year.”

The Family Dinner Night March 30 at the Brigantine Elks Lodge received positive feedback during the public comment part of the meeting. Organized by the Brigantine Municipal Alliance with support from council, the public works, police and fire departments, the Elks lodge, Lions Club, Garden Club, Sons of Italy, Bacharach Rehabilitation Center, Brigantine Clean Communities, and the Antlers and Crossroads youth groups, the event emphasized the constructive influence sit-down dinners can have among family members. 

“On behalf of the Brigantine Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse I want to express my thanks to Joe Campitelli, the chairperson of Family Dinner Night, who orchestrated full community involvement to make the evening such a success,” said John Livezey, coordinator of the Brigantine Municipal Alliance. “We're looking forward to doing it again.”

He gave special thanks to Tricia Cosgrove, Rose Doring, Don Marrandino, Vince Sera and guest speaker Kim Burns of Atlantic Prevention Resources, who “offered all those tips on how to keep the family dinner table interesting.”

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