A proposal to consolidate neighboring Loch Arbour and Allenhurst was derailed Tuesday night after a member of the Allenhurst Board of Commissioners changed his vote. The proposal as it stands now will not be officially submitted to state officials for review and possible approval.
Allenhurst Commissioner Christoper McLoughlin said at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting he was reversing his previous vote after contacting state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) officials and getting no concrete answers to questions he posed about the possible merger, especially on issues about creating a special tax district in Loch Arbour and regarding the future education formula in Allenhurst.
He said state official’s answers to his questions were “minimalistic” at best.
McLoughlin said rumors that he was threatened with a recall vote or coerced into changing his vote are unfounded.
He said that state officials told him there is no mechanism in place right now for Loch Arbour to pay down Allenhurst’s debt, which is part of the merger deal, and that state assumptions on how students would be educated in the future in Allenhurst “were more than a little off. ”
“If something goes wrong (with the consolidation) then the ramifications to all residents could be devastating,” McLoughlin said.
He said that Allenhurst is taking a lot of what the state says “at face value” right now, which is why he decided to call the state and ask some questions himself.
“Loch Arbour is under an onerous burden and needs to move fast- and I understand that, but going too fast is doing a disservice to our residents,” he said.
McLoughlin said that he is still not totally against the plan but that he needs more concrete information
Allenhurst Mayor David J. McLaughlin has already voted against submitting the proposal to that state, calling it “flawed” and “a serious proposition,” while Commission Terrence J. Bolan stood by his original vote to submit the plan.
“I don’t think this plan is sound…and I have been told that one town can’t pay off another’s debt,” McLaughlin said.
“I think we are doing this on the fly and to submit a plan in this ad hoc way is not good business. We can get into some very dangerous territory if we submit this without having all of the facts,” he said.
Bolan, who said he is not convinced that a majority of Allenhurst residents are against the merger, said he believes it should be submitted so the state can comment and make recommendations.
“Let’s get a formal response on the big issues. We are going to create the process and people calling this dangerous is a real stretch of the word dangerous,” he said.
Residents at Tuesday’s meeting were split on the issue but many agreed that more information is needed before taking such a big step and merging the two communities together.
Resident Allen Walker said he is “definitely opposed” to any merger.
“We’ve let the genie out of the bottle and the quicker you put it back in the better off we will be,” he said.
He said many of the details are confusing and that the merger attempt “needs to stop now.”
Others said the proposal should move on to state officials for review and comment.
“Everybody wants questions answered but they don’t want to submit the questions. If we don’t take the first step then we will never get to the end of the journey. I would like as much information about what the future holds as possible,” resident Mark Horowitz said.
Some residents said they are concerned that the state may eventually come in and force Allenhurst to merge with another nearby school district anyway, while others said that poor proposals now could come back and haunt Allenhurst residents in the future.
Some said that they want Allenhurst to remain just as it is even though Loch Arbour is having serious school tax problems.
Two weeks ago Loch Arbour officials unanimously voted to forward the draft plan to the DCA) while Mayor McLaughlin was the sole Allenhurst vote against moving the plan forward.
In turn, Loch Arbour has submitted the draft plan to the state but Allenhurst delayed and, at this point, will not submit the plan for review.
Loch Arbour Mayor Paul Fernicola said that he will now go back to his Board of Commissioners for more input.
“We will meet and discuss our next options,” he said.
Important aspects of the merger plan are that Loch Arbour’s ties with the Ocean Township school system end and that Allenhurst will not be forced to regionalize with the school district either.
Loch Arbour would be solely responsible to pay off a $5 million payment to Allenhurst over a five-year period to reduce debt and lower taxes through a special tax district comprised only of former Loch Arbour properties.
Both McLaughlin and McLoughlin said this is the area that state officials could not confirm is legal.
If the consolidation plan goes through, taxes in both towns would be lowered but especially in Loch Arbour because of their high school tax rate.
The Loch Arbour municipal building would probably also be sold off to reduce any debt.
Under an agreement to be approved by the state Department of Education, Loch Arbour would cease to exist and its school children would be treated like Allenhurst school-age children, who attend school in Asbury Park or go to private or parochial schools. Loch Arbour would become property of Allenhurst and the borough would receive the additional tax revenue. The current Allenhurst Board of Commission would not be changed but remain with the same members.
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