Arrival of silly season evident in Sayreville

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy debate on a public issue, but discussions on the Sayreville municipal budget have turned ugly as political maneuvering seems to have taken on highest priority. Borough officials do talk about protecting the fiscal interests of the town and helping the taxpayer, but the past few weeks saw more posturing and finger-pointing than fact-finding and working together to achieve a common goal.

The Borough Council’s three Democrats and three Republicans had remained gridlocked regarding how much money should be taken from the borough’s surplus in order to reduce the tax rate. The Democrats sought to use $1 million and bring the tax rate increase down from 7 cents to 2 cents, while Republicans suggested varying measures that would in one case eliminate the tax hike, and in another raise the increase in favor of more long-term stabilization.

Mayor Kennedy O’Brien, who said he feels the town is taking a risk by using too much from surplus, accused the Democrats of trying push off a tax spike to next year, when two Republicans will be up for re-election. As things got more heated last week, O’Brien sounded off on Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who heads the borough’s Democratic organization, saying he was “screwing the Sayreville taxpayer” by influencing the state aid formula so it would work in the local Democrats’ favor this year.

Wisniewski fired back that O’Brien was “lying to the press” and that the mayor should not complain about the borough getting state aid in a year most towns did not.

Meanwhile, it’s a safe bet that there is one simple wish on the minds of most residents when it comes to the budget, and that is to see some tax relief. They know their school taxes are rising ($133 on average for the school budget and more for construction costs); they know their general cost of living has increased. They don’t want to pay more for municipal taxes, and by the looks of it, they don’t have to right now.

Fortunately, officials seemed to realize this by the time of Monday’s meeting, when they resolved to use any amount of surplus possible to bring the tax hike down to zero.

Still, politicking seemed to be front and center. Not only were three Republicans, including the mayor, not present at this meeting, prompting one GOP official to call Monday’s action “cheap politics,” but Democrats quickly fired off a press release taking credit for the tax cut. Not surprisingly, the press release didn’t mention that Republican Frank Makransky also voted for the zero tax hike. Likewise, Makransky sent out his own press statement saying the Democrats caved in and followed his lead.

It seems to us that local officials ought to stop thinking about who’s on which side of the political aisle and who’s up for re-election in which year. Residents aren’t interested in rhetoric or gimmicks; they want elected officials who will work for them year-round, and ideally, it’s those officials they’ll remember come election time.