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Sea Bright Examines Whether to Consolidate with Neighboring Towns

SEA BRIGHT: A borough council subcommittee exploring consolidating Sea Bright into a neighboring town found adjoining municipalities were not anxious to combine.

“We met with various municipalities, those immediately adjoining us,” said Councilman Marc Leckstein. None were immediately interested or saw a benefit after calculating impact, he said.

Of note was Rumson’s response, who were not interested “right now,” Leckstein said, which he added could mean the town could be interested in the future. “They did not rule it out 100 percent,” he said.

The councilman said the focus of the committee in its next stage should be exploring shared services, not just consolidation.

“We want to reformat the committee toward shared services, and exploring those opportunities,” he said. An example of a shared service is combining municipal court staff between two towns, as Eatontown does with its courts.

The subcommittee was formed in 2013 after a number of local residents expressed interest in the idea, and some of those residents helped serve on the committee to research consolidation. At issue was Sea Bright’s small size, at 0.7 square miles of land, and 1412 residents according to the 2010 Census, while having to provide its own municipal services and infrastructure. The regional school funding formula also impacts a town of its size dramatically in regional school tax rate, according to the subcommittee report.

Leckstein provided a synopsis of the subcommittee report, which was released May 28 and provided at the June 3 council meeting.

Among the report’s points:

Most residents would still identify with their place of residence as “Sea Bright” just as Ocean Grove is a section of Neptune, and Middletown has sections such as Navesink and Leonardo.

Sea Bright should maintain its identity as a “Census Designated Place” similar to how Ocean Grove or Lincroft does.

The most likely candidates for consolidation are the towns that adjoin Sea Bright: Highlands, Monmouth Beach, Rumson, and Middletown due to Sandy Hook, which is part of the township, but both the interested town and Sea Bright would have to identify the financial benefit and receive approval from its governing body to explore the idea.

The methodology to find financial benefits must recognize and attempt to equalize regional school tax rates, average value of assessed property, among other benchmark values.

After analyzing varied factors, the advisory committee found Sea Bright residents would face a tax increase if the borough consolidated with either Highlands or Monmouth Beach.

Highlands was eliminated as a consolidation option based on a potentially higher tax impact, and incompatible sewer system, plus the town’s Hurricane Sandy recovery.

Monmouth Beach was eliminated as an option, because officials had publicly stated their opposition to consolidation efforts, but also because the number of personnel there could not additionally handle administering to Sea Bright residents. Also according to the report, there would be no relief from the school funding formula to either town.

Middletown officials had reached out to Sea Bright to explore consolidation, according to the report, and were willing to have the borough be absorbed into Middletown, but the financial impact was minor to each municipality.

Combining with Middletown also had negative impacts, according to the report:

  • The sense of community and lack of contiguous land between the two makes them unlikely candidates for consolidation.
  • The distance Sea Bright students would travel to Middletown North, plus the Middletown school is scored negatively compared to Shore Regional.

Consolidating with Rumson seemed to offer the most potential, according to the report, because:

  • the Rumson-Fair Haven school district is rated well, and both towns could be positively impacted by the resulting school funding formula.
  • Sea Bright and Rumson share a ZIP code and are more contiguous.
  • Rumson has quality recreation options that would be a benefit to Sea Bright, and Sea Bright’s beach utility could be a benefit to Rumson.

However, Rumson discussed the information further and considered that the weight of rebuilding projects that came with Sea Bright made it a bad time to move forward with consolidating.

Rumson Business Administrator Tom Rodgers was quoted in the report, saying “given recent storm events and the great deal of uncertainty ahead, this is not the right time to pursue a municipal consolidation between Sea Bright and Rumson.”

The Borough Council accepted the advisory committee’s report, and approved renaming the committee to focus on shared services. The committee will meet every two months and provide reports on a bi-annual basis.

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