Donovan’s Reef purchase: Wrong priorities

When Sea Bright property owners open their 2008 tax bills, they may be in for a big surprise. And it won’t be a pleasant one, thanks to the mayor and council’s contested decision to pursue the purchase of Donovan’s Reef (asking price: $4.5 million).

If the deal goes through, Sea Bright’s taxpayers can expect their annual property tax increase to triple – adding an expected $.07 cents per $100 assessed value – to cover the cost of the bonds that will inevitably be floated to pay for the deal.

As a member of the Sea Bright Council, I voted against even considering the purchase of Donovan’s Reef, and I continue to oppose this purchase for a number of reasons:

• Taxes are too high already. Though $4 million may seem a good deal for beachfront property, the tax increase to pay it for will run the average taxpayer in excess of $300 more a year — for the next 30 years.

• The property is not needed. The borough already owns 15 acres of underutilized open space along the beachfront just four blocks away.

• The deal is not well thought out. The council has no plan for the property already owned by the borough. The results of a $50K Smart Growth planning grant (proposals for use of borough-owned property, zoning and aesthetic enhancements) undertaken in 2005 lay fallow, while the municipal buildings deteriorate, and portable trailers are considered public “facilities” (our court, police offices, beach bathrooms, etc.)

• The deal is not a cost-effective way to deal with upgrades to Borough Hall. Though Donovan’s has an 80-space parking lot right to Borough Hall, its purchase will significantly drive up the cost of renovating or upgrading the current facility, since any of these improvements will be added on to the $4 million purchase price.

• The deal does nothing to help the borough’s difficult position with the state DEP and beach access. In fact, this deal adds more beachfront property for the state to potentially take away in the name of public access. The debt service on the Donovan’s deal also drains resources from the costly lawsuit already under way.

Nonetheless, some may disagree with me and endorse Sea Bright’s purchase of Donovan’s Reef. Without a doubt, the property is a beachfront jewel, and like the entire 3-mile stretch of Sea Bright, has so much potential.

Those who support the Donovan’s purchase point to the prospect of creating a nontax-based revenue generator for the town. Indeed, the borough could purchase the property and lease it out, or operate its own restaurant/beach club at the site.

Unfortunately, the numbers don’t add up. To pay for itself, the deal would need to generate a minimum $365K annually for the cost of the bonds and lost tax revenue, and this is before insurance and the inevitable renovation/construction costs to upgrade the facility, not to mention the increase in the size of the municipal government to operate it. Furthermore, a look at the borough’s track record with the property it already owns does not inspire much confidence in success.

To my way of thinking, this deal spends $4 million of real money on nothing but talk, which is irresponsible stewardship of taxpayer resources. Especially considering that if the council decided to make a $4 million investment elsewhere, Sea Bright’s downtown flooding problem could be solved. For this reason, I believe the Donovan’s Reef land purchase represents the wrong priorities for Sea Bright.

Instead of purchasing the property directly, the Sea Bright Council could offer business incentives to keep the property in private hands, exactly as it is: “Cocktails with a View,” a landmark establishment, and part of the fabric that makes up the one and only Sea Bright.

Dina Long

Sea Bright councilwoman