VIDEO: The Toms River Republican Primary Debate

Mo Hill, Dan Rodrick and Joe Coronato ready for the debate. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

TOMS RIVER – Three Republican candidates for mayor were invited to a live-streamed debate on Thursday, May 30, 2019 to discuss their vision for Toms River’s future.

Ready 2 Roll Studios, Seaside Heights, will hosted the candidates. The debate was shown on Comcast Channel 190 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

  The Republican Club has endorsed former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato for the June 4 primary. He is being challenged by Councilman Maurice Hill and Councilman Daniel Rodrick. The winner will face off against Democrat Jonathan Petro in November. Current Mayor Thomas Kelaher is not running for re-election.

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A number of issues came up.

Taxes

  Taxes are always the first thing people want to know about. How will the governing body’s spending impact them?

  According to township records, spending has continued to increase over the last decade or so.

  In 2007, taxes made up $43.6 million of an $80.8 million budget.

  In 2019, taxes make up $82.7 million of an $130.7 million budget.

  In a dozen years, there has been a total budget increase of about $50 million. However, the total budget figure does not tell that much of a story. The total budget equals all the money spent throughout a year. Therefore, if the town gets a lot of grants, the budget goes up.

  The figure that really shows how residents are impacted is the amount to be raised in taxation. This is the figure that roughly doubled from $43.6 million in 2007 to $82.7 million in 2019.

  To be fair, though, the last few years have seen very little municipal tax increase for a town the size of Toms River. In 2016, the amount to be raised by taxation was $80.4 million. In 2017, it went up to $81.5 million. In 2018, it went up to $82.1 million. And then finally it is at $82.7 million for 2019.  

Ratables

  Any discussion of taxes will eventually lead to a discussion of ratables.

  Almost every piece of property is taxed in a town. Municipalities prefer commercial ratables because they don’t add children to the school district (which would then increase school taxes.)

  Bringing in additional ratables has been a challenge for towns in Ocean County for a number of reasons.

Development

  As towns like to have commercial development, they also want to have less traffic, less noise, and less impact on resources. That’s where development comes in.

  There have been complaints about the added traffic from the heavy residential development in the northern section of the township. In recent years, large tracts of land have become large neighborhoods, dumping vehicles onto roads that were never meant to hold them.

  Still, there are other projects in the works. A section of Hooper Avenue near Caudina Avenue (near Seacourt Pavilion) might one day be redeveloped for the relocation of a post office, veterans clinic, and fire house. The veterans clinic in Brick is too small for the population it serves, and local officials have been trying to get it moved here. There is also an approval for 128 residential units in multi-family housing. The plan is contingent on a lot of approvals. Two of the biggest ones would be the federal government’s OK to abandon the post office in downtown Toms River and build a new one here, and to give up the Veterans Administration’s clinic in Brick and build a new one here as well.

  If the United States Postal Service decides to relocate its downtown office to this Hooper location, it would need about five acres to handle the busy town. It would also free up three acres of land in downtown Toms River. This land could then be developed into commercial property.

  This ties into a separate redevelopment plan that would revamp the downtown area. Officials have that includes street-level shops with apartments above. There is also the possibility of parking, renovated mass transit, and open passive recreation.

  None of these plans are set in stone, but they are on the minds of government officials.

Council Election

  This is not just a mayoral election but a council one. On the ballot are three council spots. Currently, these council spots are filled by Hill, Brian Kubiel, and George Wittmann, Jr. Kubiel and Wittmann are not running for re-election, and Hill is only running for mayor.

  Coronato’s team is John Meehan, Christian Momm, and Board of Education member Ginny Rhine. The Coronato team’s website notes these points:

“KEEP property taxes down and reduce the size and cost of government,​

“STOP reckless over-development and protect our special quality of life​,

“FIGHT Phil Murphy’s suburban tax increases and school funding cuts​,

“CONFRONT the opioid and addiction crisis destroying too many local families​,

“OPPOSE Democrat giveaways to illegal immigrants and special interests.”

  Hill’s team is Matt Lotano, a principal in the commercial Lotano Development Corporation; Josh Kopp, a veteran and director of Kopp Electric Company; and former Councilman Kevin Geoghegan, a retired Toms River Police Officer and member of EMS and fire departments.

  Hill’s team has been promoting his experience in town – four terms on council, 35 years in the United States Navy, and work with numerous volunteer groups.

  “After serving on the Toms River Council I feel I have the knowledge, experience and leadership skills to guide Toms River as the mayor in the next four years,” he said in a press release. “We have an ongoing tax appeal with BASF (owner of the Ciba-Geigy property) that can have a financial impact on our municipal taxes and as a member of the finance and budget committee we are developing strategies to mitigate any settlement should the township lose the appeal.” 

  Rodrick’s team is Ken Londregin, a vice principal in Old Bridge Township, engineer George Lobman, and attorney Justin Lamb.

  Rodrick is a science teacher with the Middletown school district.

  “I’m running for mayor to put a stop to over-development and to stabilize taxes,” Roderick said in a press release. “I will not approve the development of Ciba-Geigy and I have a plan to cut $3 million from our budget in my first 3 months as mayor. I can’t do it alone, so I’ve assembled a slate of true conservatives that will support my agenda.”

  Also seeking the Republican nomination for council is Heather Barone, who is running apart from the other teams.

  “As a Reagan Republican, I have watched the traditional republican party in Toms River deteriorate under the watchful eye of Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore and for that reason I am running independent of and without seeking their endorsement.

  She is a former elementary school teacher who is one of the principal owners of her family’s financial planning firm. She works for abused and neglected foster children as president of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Ocean County.

  “As a member of the Toms River Planning Board I have learned first hand of the debilitating effects that development can have on our environment, schools and infrastructure. I scrutinize each application to ensure that it strictly conforms with current zoning requirements and that it contributes to better, healthier Toms River. On more than one occasion I have been the lone voice of dissent on a governing body that otherwise has been a rubber stamp for development. I believe in a smaller, less intrusive governing body that puts the wants, needs and desires of residents first, always,” she said.

Democrats

  There is no primary competition on the left side of the aisle.

  The Democrats are running attorney Jonathan Z. Petro for mayor, and the following for council: Board of Education member and former principal Michele Williams, attorney Karin K. Sage, and teacher Drew Boyle.

  “I’ve always been proud to call Toms River home, but I know this township has the potential to once again be a beacon for folks and families to put down their roots,” Petro said. “We can do more, not just on escalating taxes and development missteps, but on improving the quality of life and increasing community engagement. I’m running to make the improvements that haven’t been made, to develop the ideas that have stagnated on the shelf, and to make this town a better place for all of us.”

  Democrats won three of four seats on the township council in 2017. However, one of the winners was Rodrick. He had been a Republican, switched to Democrat at some point, and switched back after winning because he was angry with the way Democrat leaders in Trenton were treating Toms River.

The debate was moderated by Chris Lundy, news editor for the Toms River Times and its web site, JerseyShoreOnline.com.