WARETOWN, NJ – It was a civics lesson worthy of classroom discussion. From all appearances, a majority of two planned to reestablish an ordinance allowing a five-year tax abatement in select circumstances. Instead, after listening to local residents, the Ocean Township Committee unanimously voted to table the proposed resolution.
As Mayor Ben LoParo thanked the gathering of over 100 people for participating in the Township Committee’s October meeting, he said, “Since I’ve been a member of the Committee, I’ve never seen a crowd this large.”
Literally, a handful of regulars attends monthly meetings to watch and comment on local government in action. At last night’s session, there weren’t enough seats to accommodate people. Some spilled into the hallway and waited their turn to address the three-member Township Committee.
Mayor Ben LoParo has expressed his dissatisfaction with one aspect of the proposed tax abatement tool since its introduction. “I do not feel that residential-commercial property should be included in this resolution,” he reiterated. “It should be available for businesses only and exclude residences.”
The Board of Education recently passed a resolution of its own, echoing LoParo’s sentiments. The school district is already adjusting budgets to address a decrease in state aid. Board members fear that increased student enrollment without additional tax dollars represents the potential of a school budget nightmare.
“Tax and policy ordinances should not be irresponsibly introduced and enacted based on perception that another agency can pay more or should accept the loss,” admonished Sue McDowell, Vice President of the Ocean Township Board of Education.
Committee Members Justify Affirmative Votes on First Reading
Upon request, Committeewoman Lydia Dodd explained her affirmative vote on the first reading of the resolution. “It was Wawa,” she said, referring to the now closed convenience store on Route 9.
Dodd said she wanted to find a way to keep Wawa in town. She learned that an expired ordinance allowed select short-term tax abatements. “I saw reestablishing it as an incentive for businesses to come or stay.”
However, resident Marie Leming disagreed with the abatement applying to even commercial properties. “We have a low tax rate and that should be incentive enough to come to Waretown,” she said. “We’re all in this together, and we should all pay our fair share.”
Deputy Mayor Ken Baulderstone initially said he was considering voting in favor of the ordinance. “In the last two years, I have been working actively trying to attract developers to this town,” he shared.
Baulderstone said that for approximately a fifteen-year period, Greenbriar has added approximately 100 houses each year that allowed the Township to keep taxes at their current rate. However, there is no room for further development within Greenbriar.
“In order to keep taxes under control, we need to have ratables low and have properties that pay taxes,” the Deputy Mayor continued. “We have an empty pipeline right now.”
When someone suggested that the proposed abatement was intended for the Tradewinds project directly across from Route 9. Baulderstone vehemently denied it. Meeting attendees muttered aloud in disbelief.
Resident Mitch Bernstein, also Vice Chair of the Township’s Economic Development Committee, was the only individual to speak in favor of the proposed abatement. “The Township had a reputation of not being business friendly,” he said. He saw the proposal as a tool with developers.
Several residents reminded the Township leaders that they had an obligation to listen to their constituency. When the vote was taken, all three representatives voted in favor of tabling it.
Township Attorney Gregory P. McGuckin explained the significance of tabling the resolution. “Even if it is brought up again, it would have to be reintroduced and notice published,” he explained.
The ordinance cannot be passed without both first and second reading approval.