FROM THE FREEHOLDERS by Laura Kolnoski

After a lengthy discussion during the June 13 afternoon workshop meeting of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, members voted that evening 4-1 to approve the $19,125,000 budget for the county’s library system. The 2013 library budget declined by $655,000, but there will be a $1,235,000 increase in the tax levy, causing a rise in taxes in municipalities that participate in the system. Freeholder John Curley cast the lone no vote.

While Freeholder Curley maintained that the library system has become too large to sustain itself and has raised its budget consistently in recent years, the reasons behind the figures were revealed by Millstone Mayor Nancy Grbelja, a five-year member of the county’s Library Commissioners.

“The increase was not caused by spending, it was costs absorbed by the library,” Mayor Grbelja said. “Before 2009, we weren’t paying for utilities, attorney fees, maintenance, and janitorial fees; those were paid by the county. It totaled $3.5 million, but we never increased our tax levy to cover it. We have complained that we were burdened with those costs. The freeholders voted for that. We tried to accommodate the county and the residents. We are taking steps to rebuild our fund balance and keep the library healthy. We are also looking for grants. We have a plan and are working with County Finance Director Craig R. Marshall on a regular basis.” She said the library had to utilize its fund balance to cover the costs.

Mr. Marshall told the board that the increased costs absorbed by the library system were $1,000,000 in 2009, $1,050,000 in 2010, $3.4 million in 2011, and $3.4 million in 2012. Freeholder Gary Rich said a consultant will be retained to review the library system’s entire operations. “This increase is really a stop gap,” Freeholder Rich said. “We need to look at the role of the library for the future and get a handle on our responsibilities and costs.

The county library system has 13 branches and 14 member municipalities out of the county’s total 53 municipalities. Three new branches have become part of the system over the last decade. Freeholder Lillian Burry, liaison to the library system, said only those towns whose citizens vote to join the library system pay for it. Citizens in towns not affiliated with the library system can and do pay $100 per family to obtain a library card so they can take out books and materials. All citizens can partake of the library’s free programs, but only those who have a library card may take out books and materials. 

Those towns not affiliated with the county library system will see no library-related tax increase. Mayor Grbelja said all member communities severely affected by Superstorm Sandy will see a tax decrease in the levy.

“There has to be a drastic overhaul of the library system,” Freeholder Curley said. “It’s a wonderful system, but it can’t sustain itself and is heading for bankruptcy. The increased operations and employees are against what we’ve been doing in reducing other departments. There are more salaries and more benefits. I don’t think they are using sound business practices.”

Vendors Sought for September 28 “Made in Monmouth” Expo

Last year’s day-long “Made in Monmouth” event was so successful, participating businesses already signed on for this year. Over 80 businesses participated last year. Organizers are currently seeking more county businesses to take part.

Produced by the “Grow Monmouth” team within Monmouth County’s Division of Economic Development, the expo is scheduled for September 28 at Monmouth University. It is intended to draw attention to businesses that manufacture products here while giving people the opportunity to shop local. Among the products displayed last year were jewelry, baked goods, surfboards, handmade glass, honey, cosmetics, flags, beer, candy, tea, furniture, award-winning sauces, original artworks, handbags, and more — all available to purchase and sample.

“Monmouth County has a long, rich heritage of producing goods and services,” Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone said. “From our earliest days of lumber, food, iron, and boat-building to today’s high-tech graphics and the arts, Monmouth County has always been creative and productive, bringing top-quality merchandise to markets here and around the world.”

As part of its economic development efforts, “Grow Monmouth” officials have met with hundreds of business, civic, and government leaders to provide state-of-the-art information services in a major public-private project to create and preserve jobs in Monmouth County.  Interested businesses are encouraged to register online at www.visitmonmouth.com or contact Economic Development at (732) 431-7470 for more information. The list of participating vendors will be published on the county website.

Fifth Grade Historic Essay Winners Recognized, Preservation Award Winners Announced

Each year, fifth graders from throughout the county submit impressive and thoughtful essays focusing on historic preservation, sponsored by the Monmouth County Historical Commission. This year’s top entries were honored in June.

The 2013 first place essay winner was Madeleine Hicks of St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft, who wrote about Longstreet Farm in Holmdel and received a $100 book store gift card. Second place winner David Burrell, of Oak Hill Academy, Lincroft, wrote about the Allen House in Shrewsbury and received a $75 book store gift card. Third place winner Ryan Gruss, also of Oak Hill Academy, Lincroft, wrote about Woodrow Wilson Hall at Monmouth University in West Long Branch and received a $50 book store gift card.

In addition to the essays, preservation awards were given to the individuals and groups engaged in successful preservation and restoration projects.  They included:

                – Henry Wikoff saved and restored the Peter Bruere House in downtown Allentown, which was threatened by flood waters.

                – In Farmingdale, John and Virginia Woolley saved the historic Wainright House by completing a preservation project and opened the house to the public.

                – Robert Swabsin was lauded for his exterior restoration of the Truex Blacksmith Shop in Middletown.

                – The Red Bank Woman’s Club was honored for the exterior restoration of its headquarters, formerly the home of Anthony Reckless. The project’s architect, Margaret Westfield, R.A., was recognized for her contributions.

“Preserving these sentinels of the past takes more than interest in history; it takes personal dedication, hard work, and financial commitment by these current guardians of our shared heritage,” said Freeholder Burry, liaison to the commission. Historical Commission Executive Director Randall Gabrielan added, “Monmouth County has an amazing collection of historic buildings. Keeping these structures that give our county special character is more than ownership; it is a distinctive calling and mission.”

Director Arnone Honored by Chamber of Commerce 

Freeholder Director Arnone was honored last month with a “Circle of Excellence Award” by the Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Arnone, an elected public official for 15 years, served as Councilman and Mayor of Neptune City before becoming a freeholder in 2011. As freeholder liaison to the Economic Development Division, he has toured the county, giving presentations to municipalities and businesses on what the county offers to attract and keep firms and jobs in the county.  

 “I am extremely honored to be recognized by Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce for my dedication to public service,” Mr. Arnone said. “The advancements made in the expansion of the County’s Shared Services program, the development of our Grow Monmouth initiative, and the creation of a Tourism Advisory Group are some of the projects I have been leading during my tenure on the freeholder board. These projects have been making a positive impact on business as well as county and local government operations.”

Director Arnone has also been active in statewide professional organizations. He became president of the New Jersey Conference of Mayors in 2010 after serving a term as vice president. He is an active member of the New Jersey League of Municipalities as a member of the State Resolutions Committee and Nominating Committee.