Established in 1957, Loch Arbour was once part of Ocean Township. Now less then 200 residents live in this seaside community that’s one tenth of a square mile. Residents like Barbara Gassaro say they can’t take another year of high property taxes . That’s why they support a proposed merger with Allenhurst, the neighboring borough of less then 500 residents.
Gassaro said that when she first moved to Loch Arbour, taxes were $6,900 a year, and has since gone up to almost $40,000 . And now she’s tapped out. “We never in our wildest dreams, never thought it would go up that high,” said Gassaro. “We just cant afford to stay here.”
Loch Arbour was required to remain a part of Ocean Township schools after forming its own municipality in the 1950s. Twenty-two students now attend the school district that costs Loch Arbour tax payers over $2 million a year. Mayor Paul Fernicola says school taxes shot up after the Kieley Bill, legislation that required Loch Arbour to pay the Ocean Township school system on a per pupil basis, was repealed under the Corzine administration.
According to Mayor Paul Fernicola, it sent Loch Arbour’s school tax from $300,000 to $1.6 million; and it’s now at $2.1 million for 20 children. “So we’re paying in excess of $100,000 per child to be part of the Ocean Township School system,” said Fernicola. “At over $100,000 a student, it would be cheaper to send them to Harvard for college!”
Last summer, the Loch Arbour Board of Trustees approved the merger. But Allenhurst commissioners said there were too many unanswered questions on how the borough would benefit. The municipalities chose to use the state’s Sparsely Populated Municipal Consolidation Act to develop a plan for the merger.
The problem with the act, said Fernicola, is that it lacks a definitive plan for implementing consolidation until after it’s approved by both municipalities. “And the concern for Allenhurst was that they didn’t know all the risks associated with consolidation because you don’t sit down with the Department of Community Affairs and Department of Education until after the election,” explained Fernicola.
That’s why Mayor Fernicola thinks the municipalities should consider abandoning that act and opt for a provision that would enable both municipalities to develop a plan with a binding effect before the election.
Stephen Dweck of Allenhurst expressed some concerns about the merger and the costs associated with the addition of Loch Arbour residents.
“I happen to enjoy that my neighborhood is a very warm, close-knit, tight, little neighborhood. And I really want to kinda share, but what would that share cost me?” wondered Dweck.
Other Allenhurst residents told NJ Today they didn’t agree with the merger, but weren’t comfortable sharing their opinions on-camera because they have too many friends in Loch Arbour. The towns are close, perhaps a little too close for comfort.
Standing on one side of the street in Loch Arbour, Gassaro looked longingly across the same street to Allenhurst, saying their taxes are totally reasonable. “If I lived on that side of the street, I could stay here the rest of my life. Being on this side of the street, this is our last year here,” lamented Gassaro.
Loch Arbour’s mayor hopes Allenhurst will agree to develop a new plan, so residents can cast their vote in the May 2013 elections.
Reporting from Loch Arbour, Lauren Wanko files this report.