BRICK – The governing body held their March 24 council meeting with only Mayor John G. Ducey, Business Administrator Joanne Bergin and Council President Lisa Crate in attendance at Town Hall.
Due to the fear of spreading the Coronavirus, other council members and the township attorney were patched in via phone for the meeting.
“Everybody’s probably wondering why we’re doing this meeting, but it’s by statute. The township needs to proceed with this meeting in order to introduce our budget,” said Mayor Ducey.
The format of the meeting was held in accordance with state guidelines for remote council meetings under emergency circumstances, he said.
“We must continue services as a township entity, and this budget is what funds those services,” Ducey said, which is why the governing body must move forward with the budget process.
This is Ducey’s seventh municipal budget while serving as mayor. The $106,031,875 budget has been increased due largely to the costs of health benefits, pension contributions, solid waste disposal, and wages for police, EMS and dispatch, the mayor said.
The budget is supported by an increase in the tax levy of $2,274,232, or just under two cents on the tax rate. This equates to an annual increase of $55.87 on an average assessed home of $294,100. This is for the part of the tax bill that is controlled by the municipality. The remainder of the tax bill is controlled by other entities, including the Brick Township Schools and the Ocean County Freeholders for the county portion.
“I would have preferred to have presented this budget to you under different circumstances, not over the telephone while sitting in an empty room, but government doesn’t stop, and obviously we all must move forward to do our duties,” the mayor said.
During public comment, resident (and former councilman) Jim Fozman said that with the current coronavirus, people aren’t working and people will be out of work until at least Easter.
“Is the township going to have a resolution to defer out taxes for 30 or 60 days to give everybody a chance to get back to work and get their things together?” Fozman asked.
Mayor Ducey said he reached out to the governor’s office a number of times and made that request.
“They said they are considering it, but there’s nothing that has been passed yet,” he said. “Only the state can control that. We have no opportunity to control that on a local level, otherwise we’d be in favor of it.”
Ducey added that he is hoping for a tax deferment because there are a lot of people “who are hurting now and there’s going to be more people who are hurting later on as far as their income, so hopefully the governor’s office will come through for us.”
The State Legislature is responsible for passing such a deferment, he added, and it would then go to the governor to sign.
Fozman also asked if the township has the ability to waive interest charges for late tax payments.
Ducey said that is another call for the NJ Legislature.
“It’s something that we hope they’ll pass and the governor signs, so that’s something we want for our residents for sure,” the mayor said.
Ducey said that per Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders, the only two powers given to counties and municipalities (and therefore mayors), is control over temporary rentals, and control over parks.
The township made the decision to keep all the parks open as of press time, but playground equipment and basketball hoops, skateparks, and all those types of activities are shut down because those call for social gathering of many people, the mayor said.
Ducey said he has asked for a moratorium on the payment of cable bills and other utility bills. Also, he asked for a limit of 50 people at a time in stores, a temperature check for people entering stores, but “they’re not at that point yet, they say.”
The mayor notified Governor Murphy about concerns over large gatherings in Lakewood, and he was told that the police there are breaking up the large gatherings and charging people criminally.
“I know the Lakewood Police Chief did a letter/press release about that, and he gave specific incidents that occurred last week,” Ducey said.
The mayor urged residents to stay in touch with elderly relatives and neighbors, and to try and keep small businesses alive by ordering takeout or delivery.
“The sooner and the faster we all pay attention to these restrictions, and shelter in place, and avoid being out in the public, and avoid other people, the faster this thing will be over,” said Council Vice President Art Halloran.
“If we want it to be over for the summer, do what you’re supposed to do now,” he said.