Editor's Note: Please note that this article has been updated. Board of Education President Shawn Denning, Jr. was not immediately available when we initially contacted him. This article contains information obtained after our interview with him.

WARETOWN, NJ - The Ocean Township Mayor and Township Committee is well aware of the petition circulating regarding a proposed tax abatement resolution. No doubt it’s at least part of the reason they’ve issued a press release regarding Ordinance 2019-10.

According to information received from the Township, taxpayers should be aware that the ordinance had been in the Codebook since 2000. It expired and therefore needs the local government to approve its reintroduction into local law.

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At the Township Committee meeting in September, Ordinance 2019-10 was read for the first time and seemed to take many by surprise. Residents and other interested parties can read the exact language of the ordinance here. 

When it was first read, Mayor Ben LoParo attempted to change the language of the ordinance. LoParo, who is running for reelection, has also served on the Board of Education. He wanted the abatement to exclude properties that included any portions of residential development. LoParo raised concerns that more housing could mean more children in a school system that is already facing decreased state aid.

The other two members of the Township Committee rejected LoParo’s request and voted yes on the first reading of the ordinance. This only means that the proposal moves to the next step.

The press release issued by the Township explains what reestablishment of the five-year abatement means for particular areas. More specifically, it would only pertain to “Areas in need of Redevelopment” in the C-1/C-2 zones as stipulated in the Township’s Town Center and Plan Endorsement process.  This would be the Route 9 corridor and Old Main Street.

Notably, tax abatements won’t be routinely granted just because the proposed development falls in the appropriate zone. All applications for the tax abatement must be reviewed and voted on by the Township Committee.

There are criteria and documents to be provided to be eligible for this program, as stated in the Ordinance. Additionally, procedures defined in the Ordinance need to be followed in order for a company to make an application.

The issue of a proposed tax abatement first came up at a Township Board of Education meeting. Although the Board did not pass a resolution at that time, Board of Education President Shawn Denning, Jr. objected to tax cuts of any kind, saying it would hurt the school district.

Meanwhile, Denning disagrees that the proposed resolution is the same as the one that was in effect starting in 2000. "The old ordinance did not allow abatements for mixed use projects or residential properties," he said.

Board members planned to vote on their own resolution against any abatements at their October meeting, next week. However, Denning says they actually voted on the resolution sooner than planned. The draft version of the passed resolution currently appears on the school district's website and will soon be replaced with the final one.

The Board of Education's resolution focuses on residential development within the municipality as potentially generating increased student enrollment. It opposes “any PILOTS or tax abatements that would negatively impact the financial ability of the District to provide a thorough and efficient education and the proposed development may increase the burden on the school community.”

Then again, there's also the issue of the petition circulated by the Concerned Citizens of Waretown?  It, too,  focuses on what the burden of residential projects could pose to taxpayers as far as education taxes.

Questions regarding the makeup of the Concerned Citizens of Waretown surfaced among local residents.  Denning actively shared the petition on social media and verified a signature for someone at her request. When asked if he represented the Concerned Citizens of Waretown, Denning admitted his involvement.

”I didn't want it to look like I was trying to make this something political,“ said Denning, as he explained his reasoning in acting on behalf of the group.  "I wanted the focus to be on the issue. And, I am a concerned citizen."

In the meantime, there's something else for consideration when it comes to dealing with more than hypotheticals. "Approval of a tax abatement application doesn't mean the developer won't pay any taxes at all," explained Diane Ambrosio, Township Adminstrator/Clerk. "They always pay their land tax and can be approved for a term lesser than five years with rates established by the Township Committee after improvements are made."

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.