Sea Bright Bond Referendum Approved By Voters
By Liz SheehanSEA BRIGHT—As the fourth anniversary of the devastating October 2012 Super Storm Sandy approaches, borough voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved three bond issues that will fund the replacement of the firehouse, police headquarters and library that were lost to the storm, as well as the existing Borough Hall.It has been a bumpy road for the bonds, which were passed in a 4-2 Borough Council vote in June, but then faced a referendum after a petition signed by qualified registered voters met the threshold to require a vote on the bonds.Mayor Dina Long said at the Borough Hall after the results of the vote were announced, “I’m happy and relieved. It’s very gratifying for me that so many people turned out to vote.”“I see it as an approval of the concepts” of the town’s plans for the new buildings, she said. “I don’t see it as a mandate to spend.”Critics of the bond issue, including Borough Council President Jack Keeler and Councilman John Lamia Jr., who had voted against the $5.7 million bond issue when it was approved by the council, said the proposed $13 million project was too costly and should be scaled down.The bonds were for the portion of the costs of the project the town would finance; the other funds would be provided by insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a beach settlement.Earlier this month, the council passed a resolution in response to residents’ concerns about the bond issues that said if the referendum passed, the town would immediately obtain a review architect to address savings in the project’s costs and to set a cost that was not be exceeded by the project.The bond issue on the ballot that provided for the construction of a community center was approved by a vote of 329 to 166, with 11 yes and 3 no absentee votes. The related bond issue for the building of a beach facility was passed with a 330 to 164 vote, with 10 yes and 4 no absentee votes.Both these bonds needed approval to allow the construction of a single, 8,609-square-foot building that would replace both the town’s library and the beach facility, with a second level for Borough Council and other town meetings and an area that could be rented out for public events.The bond issue that provides funds for a second building of 14,187 square feet to replace the police headquarters, fire house and first aid quarters and for the borough’s administration functions and storage of records, was approved by a 339 to 157 vote, with 9 yes and 5 no absentee votes.The vote count, which was unofficial, was given when the polls were closed. There are 1,172 registered voters in the borough, according to Borough Clerk Christine Pfeiffer.Joseph Verruni, the acting administrator for the borough said Wednesday that the town would now move ahead on the project. He said the reason the referendum was held in October instead of waiting for the November general election was that FEMA had to be notified by the end of October of what plans the borough had for the project.He said the first spending on the new buildings, after a bid is accepted and costs established, would be from FEMA and insurance funds and then temporary funding, before the bonds would be issued.Verruni said the costs of the project should not be reflected in taxes until 2018 or 2019.Councilman Brian Kelly said in a council meeting when discussing the proposal that the projected cost would result in an increase of two cents per hundred dollars of assessed valuation.Several voters entering the Borough Hall to vote said they were in favor of the bonds.Stephen Cashmore said “I have questions,” and would have to read the explanation on the ballot before voting. “Overall, I think it is a good idea.”“There’s plenty of room for growth in this town for moving forward. We might as well do it right now. I’m for it,” said Sean Daly. “I just want to see the town build again.”“I feel very positive about it. I feel Sea Bright is making great strides in moving ahead,” said Nancy McBride.And Jane Havard said, “I’m going to vote for it.”But two women who were talking outside of Borough Hall said they did not want to comment because there was too much vitriol around the issue in the town.After the vote was announced, Marianne McKenzie, who has expressed her concern at council meetings about the size and cost of the project and the bond issues, said that the referendum had served the purpose of engaging the residents in the process of rebuilding the lost facilities and also putting in place the cost cutting measures, such as appointing a review architect and setting a cap on the price of the project.