LAKEHURST – The borough’s $4.1 million budget was approved, but one line item in it caused one council member to vote against it.
Municipal accountant William E. Antonides, Jr. of William E. Antonides and Company, an accounting company in Freehold, said residents will see a slight increase in their municipal tax rate, from $1.70 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.72. The average taxpayer who owns a house valued at $159,422 will see a $32 jump in municipal taxes, from $2,710 to $2,742.
The issue for some council members was $36,000 slated for the Lakehurst Volunteer Fire Department. Officials are asking for an audit of the department. They said they want to ensure proper records are being kept, because any problems will ultimately be the borough’s – and the taxpayers’ – responsibility.
Councilwoman Patricia Hodges kept her promise that she would vote against the 2017 Lakehurst municipal budget if the $36,000 remained. The 20-member department gets that money as well as apparatus paid for by the borough. They also raise money through fundraising, and received federal grant money to reimburse some expenses.
“I was told two-and-a-half years ago we would have the audit, yet we still have no audit. I’m standing by my vote to say no,” Hodges said.
It’s been several years since the borough has received an audit from the department, officials said. Council members said they have made numerous requests publicly and privately.
However, members of the fire department said the request for an audit, and what type of audit, has not been made in writing.
Councilman James Davis asked that the request be put in writing and delivered to the department’s executive board.
Council members will discuss how thorough an audit they require, and when that audit must be completed by and delivered to the governing body.
“If you want us to fund you, you have to give us accountability,” council president Steven Oglesby said.
Though brief comments have been offered on the subject, council’s April 20 meeting was the first time extensive public comments have been made about the audit. Oglesby said every other department that receives borough money provides an audit without protest.
The community center, where council meetings are held on Thursdays, is normally filled with rows of folding chairs, empty save one regularly attending couple and a newspaper reporter. At the April 20 council meeting, those seats were filled with members and friends of the fire department, who were there to address another issue, an ordinance on the books that requires volunteer firefighters to live in the borough.
Eight members, including chief Ed Seaman, live outside Lakehurst. The borough suspended the eight, due to the ordinance, but asked that they write letters to request to be reinstated. The council, which is reviewing all ordinances on the books, plans to look at changing the ordinance to accommodate non-residents who wish to volunteer.