Oceanport candidates address issues facing boro



OCEANPORT — Six candidates vying for three council seats agreed before an audience of more than 50 people this week that the key issues facing the borough include holding down property taxes, preserving open space, sharing services with other agencies, and working to preserve Monmouth Park Race Track.

The Republican candidates were Joseph R. Foster and Hugh F. Sharkey, who are running for two three-year seats, and Richard A. Gallo, who is seeking a one-year seat. The Democrats are Alfred (Butch) Guzzi Jr. and incumbent Gerald Briscione, who are seeking three-year terms, and incumbent Robert J. Holden, who is seeking the one-year term. Holden was appointed to the council by Democratic Mayor Maria Gatta when Phil Apruzzi resigned in March.

Other issues raised by the contenders included fiscally accountable government, the need for an ordinance banning “pay-to-play,” school safety, quality of life concerns, and if a replacement will be needed when the current borough clerk, Patricia Varga, retires.

Borough residents who attended raised concerns about commercial businesses operating from homes in residential areas, the future of Fort Monmouth and the provision of benefits for fire and rescue volunteers.

The Republicans favored hiring an administrator, while the Democrats did not.

Foster argued that having a borough administrator could help repair the “breakdown in communications” between the taxpayers and town officials and provide accountability. Sharkey said an administrator “won’t add to the borough costs,” while Gallo claimed that with a professional administrator, “we don’t have to rely solely on part-time council members.”

“I’m not aware of any borough miscommunication,” Briscione said. “The town is running efficiently.”

Holden claimed, “We don’t need it,” noting that when the council eliminated the administrator’s position in 1985, “at $65,000 dollars a year, we’ve saved $2 million.”

Guzzi claimed an administrator would “take away the hands-on approach of the mayor and council.”

Members of both parties favor a “pay-to-play” ordinance, but the Republicans claimed the Democrats were taking too long to pass it.

“It shouldn’t take 10 months,” Sharkey said. Foster also said he favored banning companies and individuals doing business with the borough from contributing to political campaigns. Gallo said simply, “I support it.”

All the candidates agreed that sharing services with adjacent municipalities, the borough’s school board, and even county and state governments could help control municipal costs.

“Anything that can be shared should be shared,” said Gallo, although Guzzi demurred at regionalizing the police department. “They know every street and road, every resident, because they live here,” he said.

Also discussed was the fate of Monmouth Race Track, which the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has been considering leasing to private operators. Briscione noted that activities of the Monmouth Park Stakeholders Committee have been suspended. The committee represents a wide range of municipalities, organizations and agencies that could be affected by any leasing plans. The borough has been concerned about how the many acres of open land owned by the Sports Authority might be used by any prospective operator. Briscione and Mayor Gatta represent the borough on the committee. All the candidates agreed they wanted to keep horse racing at the facility, which generates $1.4 million in taxes to the borough annually.

The candidates agreed that the borough should take a look at regionalizing the elementary school system, but they appeared more cautious than they did in discussing sharing municipal services. Foster said, ”We need a serious debate on whether this is a viable solution,” and Sharkey agreed, saying, “This is a concept that needs to be explored.” Briscione noted that “It costs $8,000 to educate a student in Oceanport, but $14,000 at Shore Regional,” the area’s regional high school for four communities.