A look back at the top stories of 2010 in Millstone

BY JANE MEGGITT Correspondent

MILLSTONE — As 2011 begins, school boards and townships are planning how to do more with less as a result of drastic changes made last year in both state mandates and funding.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories in Millstone during 2010, many of which deal with the sea change in New Jersey’s economy and its trickle-down effects.

January: At the Jan. 6 reorganization meeting, Committeeman Gary Dorfman was sworn in for his initial term, and Nancy Grbelja and Robert Kinsey were appointed mayor and deputy mayor, respectively, for the fifth consecutive year.

The Millstone Board of Education learned in January that the state may decrease funding to the school district by $500,000.

Applicants in arrears on their municipal taxes found out that they would now have to pay before they could appear before the Planning Board or Zoning Board ofAdjustment under an ordinance introduced at the Jan. 20 Township Committee meeting.

February: A proposed bill in the state Senate that would abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) appeared to answer Millstone Township’s COAH dilemma, but the mayor took a closer look at it and saw some of its elements could wreak havoc on the community. The Township Committee then passed a resolution to oppose action on the bill until Gov. Chris Christie could hear the results compiled by a new task force that he appointed to study COAH issues.

Despite the down-turned economy, voters approved the $1.7 million fire budget in a vote of 148 to 115 during the election at the firehouse on Feb. 20.

The Millstone Township Board of Education adopted a tentative budget for the 2010-11 school year on Feb. 22 for the purpose of applying for a waiver from the Monmouth County superintendent of schools. The tentative budget asked the owner of an average house in Millstone as- sessed at $510,750 to pay $8,647 in school taxes, an increase of $384.

March: The remains of the historic Clarksburg Inn, destroyed in a fire on July 30, 2009, were demolished on March 6.

After over a decade of working in the Millstone Township School District, Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Donahue decided to retire in March.

The school district’s Millstone Township Administrators Association (MTAA) agreed to forgo a raise and change the health benefits plan to try to help the budgeting process. Teachers, bus drivers and parents crowded the March 22 Board of Education meeting to voice their opinions about what the district should do in the face of sharp state aid cuts. In previous meetings, the board had envisioned a “worst-case scenario,” estimating a 15 percent cut. When the state released the actual figures on March 17, the worst-case scenario was twice as bad as the district had imagined. The state cut the school district’s aid by 29.5 percent, going from $5,457,261 in 2009 to $3,945,538 in 2010, a loss of $1,511,723. The cut resulted in staff reduction and larger class sizes.

April: At the April 7 Township Committee meeting, the governing body unanimously voted for the purchase of 18.5 acres owned by the estate of Mary K. Boris.

In theApril 20 Board of Education election, incumbents Margaret Gordon and David DePinho won three-year terms, and Kevin McGovern won a one-year term. Ramon Recalde and Denise Touhey announced that they were interested in the seat formerly held by Doreen Beaumont, who chose not to run for a second term. No one officially filed to run for the seat, and Touhey won the seat in the election.

The Board of Education turned down theMillstone Township EducationAssociation’s (MTEA) offer to change the terms of their recently negotiated contract settlement. MTEA members voluntarily agreed to change the terms of the contract they settled shortly before March 17 when the district found out that it would lose 29.5 percent in state aid. At the time of the MTEA contract negotiations, the district was anticipating a maximum decrease in state aid of 15 percent.

After theMillstone Township and Upper Freehold Regional school districts’ budgets failed April 20, bus drivers in both districts started fearing for their jobs. Drivers attended Millstone and Upper Freehold Township Committee meetings.

Irene Pearson, a leader of the MTEA, said board members and administrators remained silent and did not contact her after a phony email sent in her name went out to those on the district’s list-serve. She confronted the board about the district’s inaction at the April 26 meeting.

May: Members of the governing body chastised the Board of Education for ratifying a new contract on March 15 with the MTEA. The school district negotiated a new contract with the MTEA shortly before it discovered on March 17 that it would lose 29.5 percent of its state aid. The new contract called for a zero percent pay increase this year, a 6 percent salary increase next year and a 4.25 percent increase the final year of the contract.

The Board of Education rejected the Millstone Township Committee’s decision to reduce the proposed tax levy in support of the new school budget by over $1.2 million. The board unanimously voted May 18 to appeal the governing body’s decision to the New Jersey commissioner of education and seek restoration of the reduction.

Township Administrator James Pickering presented the town’s proposed spending plan at the May 19 Township Committee meeting. The 2010 budget amounted to $477,892, or 7 percent, less than the 2009 budget. The township planned to spend $6.23 million in 2010.

The Jersey Shore Builders Association (JSBA) took issue with a township ordinance that aims to further protect endangered species and their habitats from development. JSBA President Dwight Pittenger and attorney Paul Schneider attended the May 19 Township Committee meeting, asking the governing body to reconsider the recently adopted ordinance that better defines endangered and threatened species and their habitats for township land-use regulations. The committee unanimously passed the ordinance.

The township also decided that Seasonal World could not expand its store on Route 537. At the May 26 Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, the board voted to deny the business’ application for a use variance to expand the building with a canopy.

June: The Township Committee “vehemently opposed” bills in the Legislature that would bring bow hunting closer to occupied buildings. At the June 16 meeting, the governing body unanimously passed a resolution against the so-called “perimeter bills,” Senate Bill 1181 and Assembly Bill 1683. The resolution stated that passage of the bills would significantly reduce the safety buffer around homes from 450 feet to 150 feet.July: In the six years since the Bulusu family moved to Millstone, they reportedly had their mailbox damaged, entryway lights stolen, intercoms broken, fences smashed, garage spray-painted and home broken into and flooded. The Bulusu residence, located at 212Millstone Road, is across from a 100- acre farm and located 250 feet away from the New Jersey State Police substation at 215 Millstone Road.

The Board of Education elected a new president at its July 12 meeting after the surprise resignation of Tom Foley via email on July 8. Foley had served on the board for 14 years, and as president since 2008. Kevin McGovern, who has served on the board since 2007, opted to run for a one-year term inApril and was elected as president in a 7- 0 vote.

The township decided mining permits must be renewed every two years. At the July 21 Township Committee meeting, members of the governing body discussed permit renewals and other issues concerning the township’s four mines.

As the Board of Education awaited the result of its appeal to the state Department of Education of the Township Committee’s decision to cut $1.2 million from the budget, the district had to lay off many teachers, other staff and bus drivers.

August: TheMillstone Township Board of Education got out of the transportation business when the board voted to approve an interlocal services agreement to outsource busing to the Upper Freehold Regional School District. As a result of budget cuts, the Millstone Township School District terminated its bus drivers in June. While the board considered outsourcing its bus routes to a private company, many residents objected with safety and other concerns.

The township wanted to recoup costs of having to mow several properties and decided to place liens on properties where grass was growing so high that the township’s Department of Public Works had to cut it.

Kindergarten classes were reduced in size thanks to the help of parents who got involved to get the board to allow Michelle Kean to teach an additional kindergarten class, which reduced the average kindergarten class size from 25 students to 20 or 21 students.

September: SeasonalWorld filed a civil action suit in state Superior Court against the Zoning Board and the township for denying its application for expansion.

The hot weather took its toll on local farmers, and consequently the Millstone community farm market closed early.

The state decided that the Millstone Township School District would not be stable without $960,683 of the $1.2 million cut from the 2010-11 budget. The New Jersey Department of Education reviewed the proposed budget and decided to grant a restoration in the amount of $960,683.

Several school employees laid off in June got their jobs back as a result of the restored funding, including a mechanic, primary school clerk typist, part-time media assistant, media specialist, school nurse, primary school social worker and a technology specialist.

The Township Committee decided to apply for a $250,000 matching grant to construct a building on the former Lee farm along Red Valley Road.

The township purchased the 181-acre tract in 2008 for open space and recreational purposes, and added approximately 23 additional acres earlier this year.

October: The New Jersey State Police reported that five suspects, who were allegedly responsible for 75 percent of township burglaries since July, were arrested. Millstone continues to experience 10 to 15 burglaries each month, according to the police.

M illstone residents found out they would have to ante up an average of $281 per household in additional taxes to pay for the state’s decision to reinstate $960,683 of the $1.2 million cut from the school district’s budget. Business Administrator Bernard Biesaida said that the entire tax would be levied in the next two quarters of residents’ tax bills.

The results of the 2010 New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) tests contained some disappointing news for the Millstone school district. According to Curriculum Director Laura Vetere, due to test changes, many districts scored lower in the fourth-grade math and language arts tests.

Members of the Township Committee voted to declare Orleans at Millstone in default. The developer was buildingWaterside Crossing on Furlong Drive, next to the township’s middle school and on the site of the formerWaters Farm.

November: Kinsey won re-election to the Township Committee with 1,911 votes.

The governing body decided to get more information regarding liability before committing to setting up an electronics drop-off site at the public works yard on Sweetmans Lane. The New Jersey Electronics Waste ManagementAct bans the disposal of computers, TVs and related electronics in the trash and prohibits public or private haulers from picking up such items.

The Board of Education decided to fully fund the instrumental program it cut as a result of the failed school budget inApril and subsequent cuts by the Township Committee. While the board initially decided to restore funding for only the middle school band, it subsequently decided to fully reinstate instrumental music in the fourth and fifth grades.

The township hired a new administrator and public works coordinator. The Township Committee meeting appointed Phil Del Turco to both positions.

The school district reported an increase in bullying incidents, with 11 incidents during the 2009-10 school year. The district reported two bullying incidents the prior year.

December: The Township Committee authorized the purchase of a 42.5-acre property on Route 526 for open space. Aspecial meeting of the Planning Board went ahead as scheduled on Dec. 22, even though the urgent reason for it was no longer necessary. At the Dec. 8 meeting, attorney Kenneth Pape asked the board for the special meeting for his client North Park Solar Energy Farm, located on a 132-acre parcel in the business park zone on North Disbrow Hill Road. At that time, Pape said that the federal stimulus bill, awarding grants of up to 30 percent of the cost to develop a solar farm, had a deadline for an approved application by Dec. 31. However, on Dec. 17 President Barack Obama signed an extension of the bill for another six months.