Letters to the editor

For the week of April 11.

Voters should reject

school budget
To the editor:
   When I read an article in last Friday’s New York Times on the subject of out-of-control property taxes and saw that Washington Township Mayor Dave Fried was the first person quoted, I knew it was no mere coincidence. After all, there are more than 600 municipalities in the state of New Jersey and few have seen the meteoric rise in property taxes that we have experienced here in Washington.
   For those of you who haven’t seen the article, the mayor predicts that property taxes will almost double within five years and is quoted as saying, "you wear a baseball cap when you go to the store," an allusion to his having to bear the brunt of residents’ frustration with Washington’s ever-burgeoning property tax assessments.
   It seems clear that these criticisms are somewhat misplaced; after jumping in 1999, "municipal" taxes have remained stable in recent years. Instead, residents should be laying blame where it really belongs — at the school board’s doorstep. Just four months after barely winning approval for its $50 million high school plan, a majority of the board has shown yet again that they are not at all interested in exercising fiscal responsibility, this time by approving a 26-cent per $100 assessed value, or 14 percent, school tax increase, an increase so large that it exceeds the state-mandated cap and thus requires two ballot questions.
   Concerned residents should send a message to the board on April 16 by voting "NO" on these questions. Then it will be up to the Township Committee to review the school budget and make reasonable adjustments that the school board appears incapable of doing itself.
Stephen C. Angelo
Land-use plans

should go to voters
To the editor:
   "PUBLIC QUESTION: Do the voters of Upper Freehold Township support a change in local zoning ordinances that would increase the required minimum size of a building lot from the current 2 acres to a new minimum of 4 acres? This public question is intended to be nonbinding and advisory to the Planning Board and Township Committee of Upper Freehold."
   This is the language for a public question proposed by myself and my husband, Chris Berzinski. According to a legal advisor to Common Cause, it is perfectly legal for the Upper Freehold Township Committee to include a nonbinding question on this year’s November ballot asking residents their opinion on a land-use matter. As Chris and I noted in a letter to the Township Committee and my comments during the body’s April 3 meeting, we believe it would benefit both the Planning Board and the Township Committee to learn the taxpayers opinions on the current land-use debate.
   We are open, as we mentioned, to changing the language as long as it is clear that the public is being asked to comment on 2- vs. 4-acre lot sizes in a nonbinding referendum.
   I support 4-acre zoning because I fear a significant increase in population will compromise our natural resources and result in unmanaged and overwhelming growth and property taxes. The zoning debate turns on this question: Do large property owners have all the rights and small property owners no rights? Maybe we can let the people speak and the elected officials will learn the majority viewpoint.
   Throughout this debate, average citizens have been up front regarding their opinions on 2- to 4-acre zoning and natural resource protection. Yet, there is one group that hired an appraiser and refuses to make public its membership. The United Landowners of Upper Freehold claims to represent the owners of 8,000 acres of township of land. You would think that such a prestigious group of landowners would want to make public their membership and take credit for the appraisal report. To date, Mr. Doug Totten, the ULUF spokesman, will not release the names of its members. We need to know the names because much of the past six weeks of activities on the Planning Board have focused on my accusations that two members of the Planning Board have conflicts of interest. In fact, alternate member David Holmes recused himself twice, once on Feb. 26 and again on March 26.
   The difference on March 26 was that he had his brother read a letter on his behalf. He admitted that he is an "active member" of the ULUF, and he asked the board to act on the question of 2- or 4-acre zoning that night. I was amazed to see how Mr. Holmes still participated in the process by actively lobbying for action in his recusal letter.
   There may be other individuals on the Planning Board or the Township Committee who might be ULUF members, made donations to the ULUF or received contributions from the group as part of campaigns. Yes, I know there is no legal requirement for this lobbying group to release their names. However, in the interest of an open and honest debate, doesn’t it make sense for the air to be cleared, and the membership to be disclosed?
   Our elected officials need to let the people speak. The Planning Board tried to shut out public comment on March 26 by abruptly ending discussion and weakening the re-examination report. Let’s not sell short our beautiful town. The Planning Board must set a deadline of September 1 to recommend final changes to the Master Plan. The Township Committee must schedule, before the end of June, a discussion (where hopefully all five members will attend a meeting) and decide whether they will support or deny a nonbinding referendum on 2 vs. 4 acres. Anything less looks like the town’s leaders are hiding from a full and open debate.
   In the meantime, a formal request for an investigation into the conflicts of interest charges will be filed in the near future with the Local Finance Board of the Department of Community Affairs. As for the future of Upper Freehold, stay tuned. Regardless of what happens on the Master Plan, new voices will emerge in town that will change the Township Committee and "business as usual" practices in this once sleepy and quiet township.
Sue Kozel
Upper Freehold
Lynn Mele is qualified

to be on school board
To the editor:
Dear friends and neighbors, I am writing this letter to ask you to take a moment to reflect on a very serious subject — the education of our children. This year, five candidates are vying for three seats on Millstone Township’s Board of Education. While each candidate brings different qualities to the table, one clearly stands out based on her experience, knowledge and level of commitment.
   Lynn Mele is an individual who is anxious to offer new ideas and explore innovative ways to deal with the same issues we face year after year. I have known Lynn for more than 10 years. She is an honest and committed individual who can be counted on to make sound decisions on behalf of the residents of Millstone Township and on behalf of our children. With Lynn’s background in education and business, she is the ideal representative to sit on the Board of Education in Millstone. I urge everyone to come out and vote for Lynn Mele on April 16.
Michele Muraski
Armenantes should

take own advice
To the editor:
   It has been very interesting reading about the proposed house demolition put forth by the Armenantes to the HPRC of Allentown and quite unfortunate that they faced such an obstinate public forum in which, according to Ms. Armenante, they were subjected to "vicious and personal attacks which have no place in the public forum."
   On this point, we can agree, having a solid basis from similar experience on my side as one of the applicants before Washington Township attempting to build a youth soccer training facility on Potts Road.
   During our zoning board hearings in Washington Township, Ms. Armenante, representing the Borough Council and arguing against our application, stated, "Allentown Borough is about 2,000 residents," 650 houses, and I might add, one of the proofs is that it’s (soccer facility) not supposed to impact historical districts. Well, I want to tell you that the entire Main Street of Allentown is a historic district."
   When this comment was entered into the public domain, Upper Freehold had already began conveying plans to build a 100-plus housing/golf community across Potts Road from our facility, easily exceeding traffic impact concerns voiced by our opposition. Now we find that this historical standard accorded by Ms. Armenante, deemed so effective in defeating our application, does not apply to wanton and blatant power brokers, who happen to own historic property on Main Street but hold no regard for community initiatives that may prohibit achieving their own personal agendas.
   Ironically, this must only apply to soccer fields, located more than a mile outside of town, in which primary access will be from Route 195 or from points west, down a country road in which the principals committed personal funds to dramatically improve. Not to mention the potential economic growth derived from parents conducting commerce in your community, while their children develop life skills through a great sport.
   Add to that, principals willing to work with the planning board and the community at large to ensure open space with a positive economic and environmental impact and you have a very suspect mixture of un-due process and inconsistency in our towns’ leadership.
   We are appealing the Washington Township zoning board decision to deny our application, and while we are not the type of organization which wants to take this action, we have no choice. We are obligated to our mission and to the kids we train: "Do it right and do it that way all the time." This was something in short order during the highly volatile and ethically devoid hearing we were given.
   My challenge to the Armenantes is the same as Ms. Armenante posed to me over our soccer facility last fall, "you can have your soccer academy, you just need to find another place." Maybe they could heed their own advice and build their home/office elsewhere, but than again, if the shoe fits?
Jeff Pritchard
Cream Ridge
Support the budget

for Millstone schools
To the editor:
   On April 16, Millstone Township holds elections for its school budget and Board of Education positions. This election presents an opportunity for us to determine our children’s future and enhance the standing of our township as a preeminent New Jersey community. There are few times in a community’s evolution when you can do this with as little effort as flipping a lever.
   Up until now, our schools have managed to provide good services while containing spending at levels well below the state average. We currently rank seventh lowest in the state for per-pupil spending among the 92 other K-8 school districts with more than 750 students. Spending per pupil in Millstone is almost $2,000 below the state average.
   At this level, Millstone’s schools can provide a basic level of education for all students. But, is a basic level all that we want for our children? The number of people who volunteered their time to create a strategic plan for the future course of our schools is evidence that a basic level is not enough.
   Advancing means we have to commit the financial resources to achieve the next level of high-quality, progressive education we demand. It means updating textbooks and teaching materials to include current information and incorporate new, research-proven teaching techniques. It means supporting educational programs, such as gifted and talented/enrichment for advanced students and upgrading technology in keeping with current advancements, so they can progress past the current limited pilot program stage.
   We are all aware of the tremendous growth in our township. This year alone (2001-02), our school enrollment increased by 4 percent — on top of last year’s 5 percent increase. Our average class size is already 16 percent above the state average (24.1 children vs. 20.8). Nearly 100 new homes are slated for completion prior to September, representing further enrollment increases for the 2002-03 school year. An approved budget will add the minimal basic operational resources needed to begin easing overcrowding by adding critical professional staff and additional buses, drivers and routes.
   The state is in a budget crisis and has frozen its education spending for the coming fiscal year at this year’s levels. Yet, the cost of providing top quality education continues to rise. For example, mandatory, out-of-district Special Education placement tuition is increasing by more than 6 percent for the coming school year. In addition, our school’s investment income has decreased by 35 percent in the post-Sept. 11 economy. We must make up these differences so our children can receive the quality educational experiences we desperately want for them.
   Three budget questions are on the ballot. Passage of the main operating budget (the first question) means that Millstone schools can begin to cover the increases in enrollment and costs of doing business. Passage of the second and third questions will help our schools begin their ascent to the next level and to meet community demand for educational excellence.
   Passage of the latter two and defeat of the first will force these items into the original program and result in basic programming and services cuts to accommodate the new needs. Essentially, it would mean a step backward.
   The budget was defeated in past years simply because of poor voter turnout. We entrust the future of our children to the township education system. Don’t we owe it to our children to make sure their teachers and schools have the proper resources? Come out and vote in favor of your children. See you on April 16.
Karen G. Shaffer
Thanks for successful

egg hunt event
To the editor:
   New Egypt Elks 2457 held its annual Easter Egg Hunt on March 23. It was a wonderful event and everyone had a great time. There were more than 120 dozen eggs dyed for this event by lodge members, their children and grandchildren.
   Our sincerest thanks to Jeff Pivovarnick, our youth activities chairman, for putting the egg hunt together; Rich Houston for his generous donation of eggs; Diane and Bob Tilghman, Nadine Britt, Michael Cowell and the children for their time and effort in the dyeing process.
   We would also like to thank Bob Scott of Scott’s Market, Ken Francis of Recreation Oasis, John and Nora of the Laurel House and Tootie’s for their donations of prizes for the children. Your kindness and generosity are the true expression of charity.
New Egypt Elks
School budget increases

should come to end
To the editor:
   If you live in Allentown or Upper Freehold and you haven’t been watching the school budget, I am sure over the next three to five years when your taxes are 50 percent higher you will. Last month it was a $19 million referendum and now they want a $1.5 million increase to the annual budget indicates there is no end to this reckless spending any time soon.
   I attended the March 26 public hearing on the budget and the sad thing is I was the only one. I watched as Dr. Connelly gave his budget presentation to the school board, I was amazed to hear some of the board members say that no one could argue with this $1.5 million increase, except for me of course.
   Unfortunately Lynne Meara and the rest of the board have a very hostile view of anyone who would dare disagree with any budget increase, let alone a meager $1.5 million increase.
   I tried to explain how over the past 10 years the budget has just about doubled while the increase of students did not and neither did cost of living. There is no end to how much they will spend and at this rate the budget will double in less than 10 years and so will your taxes. There seems to be no budgetary restraint, every year brings a new high in spending.
Vince Scotto
Upper Freehold
Tax hike needed

to maintain excellence
To the editor:
   With school district elections just one week away, it is important to look at the issues facing Washington Township this year. In 2002, Washington Township faces exciting and challenging times. Exciting in that new facilities are on our horizon, our students continue to score in the top percentages of state testing and our community continues to value the importance of investing in excellence.
   However, with this excitement comes the continuing challenge of putting together a budget that balances excellence in education with fiscal responsibility. This challenge is an awesome task due to our continuing growth in enrollment (again 12 percent) with no growth in state aid.
   The expenses associated with our growth significantly outweigh our allowable budget growth of 3 percent. This, again, results in a shortfall and the need to seek a waiver to our budget cap from our community, in order to maintain the excellence in programming we have worked so hard to achieve.
   This waiver takes the form of a second question on the ballot, which our community is asked to vote on separate from the budget, itself. The proposed budget and second question will allow for us to continue to maintain class sizes at 22:1 in Sharon School and 24:1 in Pond Road Middle School. These class sizes, combined with our quality staff are our formula for success in achieving "excellence in education." Test scores have proven the effectiveness of this formula.
   As you are well aware, our district taxes have risen over the last few years as a result of the amount of state aid that we receive (or more aptly put, do not receive). Unfortunately, the formula the state uses to calculate district aid DOES NOT take into consideration district growth. Further, the state has put a freeze on educational spending for this budget year. That means that our amount of state aid is exactly what it was last year, regardless of the fact that our district has grown by 12 percent!
   So again we must present a budget that does raise taxes. However, please know that we as a school district remain in the midst of an aggressive campaign not only to challenge our share of state aid (or lack thereof), but also to seek special legislation for the uniqueness of our district growth. Meetings with legislators and state officials continue to take place with regularity. However, in the meantime, we need to maintain our standards for excellence in education for our students.
   On Tuesday, April 16, we will present to our community a base budget and additional question that reflects these standards.
   Thank you for continuing to invest in educational excellence for all students of Washington Township! This investment will produce strong dividends; well educated students who are our hopes for the future.
Michele N. Siekerka
Washington Township
Board of Education