Ocean Ave. funds to be included in budget

Save Ocean Avenue will donate raised funds to the city

Staff Writer

LONG BRANCH — The Save Ocean Avenue committee has a 14-point plan for the future of Ocean Avenue, and the city is taking steps to ensure that funds raised by the group will be spent on improvements to the beachfront thoroughfare.

At the Aug. 23 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution that will set up a specific line in the budget for Ocean Avenue improvements.

Council President Michael Sirianni explained that the Ocean Avenue line item is so improvements can come from donations and not from the taxpayers.

“We were asked to set up an account which, if people donate to the repairs of Ocean Avenue, it would not fall totally on taxpayers,” he said. “Once the funds are collected, it is the city’s responsibility how it will be spent on the oceanfront.”

Bill McLaughlin, a member of the Save Ocean Avenue committee, said in an interview last week that the group hopes to fund projects including safety improvements, historical artwork, shade areas, repairs and signage.

He said the group regularly meets with the city administration, and members decided it would be best to work with the city to accomplish goals.

“We are going to try to get people to donate for Ocean Avenue improvements to make it a nicer place for everybody,” McLaughlin said. “We had to meet with [the city] because we tried to do this on our own but decided it was better with the city.”

City Attorney James Aaron explained during the meeting that funds that the Save Ocean Avenue group gives to the city cannot be allocated for specific projects, and the city will decide on the use of the funds.

“I believe it is very important for everyone to realize that when someone makes a donation to a general fund such as for improvements to Ocean Avenue, that is not a specific donation,” he said. “If someone wants to make a donation to put a new bench in the area, that is not this program, and the city cannot put money in the general budget for a specific donation.

“If people are donating to this, they are saying this money goes into the general fund, and the general fund will use this as limited by this resolution,” he added. “It has to have a purpose that is related to the improvement to Ocean Avenue.”

Aaron added that the money given to the city cannot be used in any other section of the city. He also said that once monies are received, the administration will make suggestions on what projects to pursue, and the council will have the final say.

“The administration will determine — with the funds that are available — what the appropriate projects are, and then you’ll be consulted,” Aaron told the council.

Finance Director Ron Mehlhorn Sr. said it is his job to ensure that the donations are spent in the correct way.

“It is a trust fund; when a dollar comes in, we put it in a separate bank account,” he said. “I have the duty of ensuring that all these monies are spent according to their dedication.”

Mehlhorn also said that the city anticipates receiving state Green Acres grant funds that are allocated for Ocean Avenue.

Aaron explained that the city has accepted donations before but this is the first time a budget line item will be dedicated to the program.

“We have never done something exactly like this before, but since 1994 the city has accepted donations for specific purposes,” he said.

The Save Ocean Avenue committee includes eight members who frequently appear at public meetings to advocate for improvements to the city’s beachfront area.

In 2010 member Dennis Sherman presented the council with a 14-point priority plan for the stretch of Ocean Avenue between West End and Atlantic avenues.

The priority list for the area includes new railings, road improvements, changing the traffic flow to one-way, finishing a bike path, a sculpture of a seal, the creation of an art walk, painting the public bathroom facilities, commissioning historical plaques, boardwalk and safety improvements, and writing Green Acres grant applications.

Contact Kenny Walter at kwalter@gmnews.com.