WARETOWN, NJ – The Township of Ocean has yet another “concerned citizen” on the issue of whether the Township Committee should be able to grant tax relief to properties that include residential development. Recently, the Board of Education passed a resolution against proposed abatements saying the district is already facing the prospect of reduced state aid.  Additionally, more housing means more students.

In the meantime, it’s not the first time someone identifying themselves as a concerned citizen has weighed in on whether the Township should reinstate an expired ordinance that allowed the Township to grant up to five years in tax relief in select areas within the community.

Last week, the Concerned Citizens of Waretown began circulating a petition requesting taxpayers to let local leaders know their objections to tax reductions within the community.  The petition honed in on tax relief related to residential developments, pointing out that more students could impact the school district.

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Board of President Shawn Denning, Jr. passed around the petition on social media and didn’t do a great job of hiding his relationship with the Concerned Citizens of Waretown. When interviewed, Denning admitted he was the mastermind behind the petition.

School District and State Aid Reduction

 Months ago, Ocean Township’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Lommerin shared the news that the school district faces some steep reduction in state aid. The revelation contributed to the move against proposed Township tax abatements that could be approved tonight at the Township Committee meeting.

However, in an anonymous tip submitted by “ConcernedCitizen900000,” the writer pointed out that the Township’s school district enrollment has dropped by 28% since the 2002-2003 school year. This information conforms to documentation submitted by the district and maintained by the New Jersey Data Book.

Concerned Citizen 90000 further called the” big reduction in state aid a myth” and shared numbers from the school years 2015-2018 to bolster their argument. For those three years, the district consistently received approximately $7M in state aid. The student population is currently at all-time low at 869 students. Its highest during this time period was 925.

One problem. No one has disputed state aid remained constant up until 2018. The issue is that over the next five years, Ocean Township Schools stand to lose a third of the aid that helped make their budget.

Meanwhile, Denning has other concerns. “It’s not unusual that we have decreased enrollment. However, we’re looking at the possibility of more students without additional revenue," he said. “We also have increased costs and other issues to consider,” he said.

According to the School Board President, health care costs alone for district employees have risen in double digits year after year. There are concerns about the infrastructure. Although state funding provides for the Township’s expanded preschool program, there’s still the issue of making room for additional students in the classrooms. Transportation represents yet another factor if more children enter the district.

Evolution of the Opposition to the Township’s Proposed Abatement Resolution

At the Board of Education’s meeting in September, Board members discussed their concerns about prospective tax abatements and the impact they could have on the school’s budget.  In particular, they pointed out that the new Cornerstone apartments on Route 9 could potentially bring in new students without additional school tax revenue.

However, the real elephant in the room seems to be the mixed-used Tradewinds project, which had been at a standstill for some time. Or, at least it was. Some question why construction vehicles have returned to the site.

At the September Board meeting, members came to a consensus as far as opposing any tax breaks that could deprive the district of education tax dollars and also bring in even more new students. Although  Board of Ed leaders weren’t scheduled to vote on a formal resolution until their October meeting, they voted on passing it a couple of Saturdays ago.

The timing of the actions proves interesting. After all, the Township already denied the Tradewinds developer two applications for PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) programs. It seemed the Committee intended to hold fast to caving into demands that would bring in less revenue to the municipality.

Perhaps it was no coincidence (or maybe it was) that the Township Committee introduced Resolution 2019-10 at their own September meeting. At that time, Mayor Ben LoParo attempted to change the language of the proposed ordinance.

“I would like to know if it’s possible to exclude residential properties and only consider tax abatements for commercial properties,” LoParo proposed.

The other Township Committee members dismissed LoParo’s suggestion and passed the first reading of the resolution. This placed the vote on this evening’s agenda in the Municipal Court at 7 pm.

The resolution calls for a short-term tax abatement that was on the Township books since 2000. It applies to only a certain area within Waretown and comes with a specified application process.  The resolution is intended to reestablish an expired ordinance.

Township Administrator/Clerk Diane Ambrosio denies the allegations that the purpose of the reinstatement is to get the Tradewinds project back in motion.  “There’s a whole application process and specific criteria for anyone who applies,” she shared. “It’s then up to the Township Committee to approve any terms.”

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