Tuckerton Budget Stalled by Increase to Water Rates

By PAT JOHNSON | Jun 05, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson Tuckerton Mayor Susan Marshall reads a proclamation to Virginia Rettig, manager of the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Refuge.

Tuckerton — At its June 3 meeting, the Tuckerton Borough Council resolved to take an emergency appropriation of $3,346,979 from general funds and $2,380,896 from the water utility to make up a temporary borough budget, as the local finance board has not yet approved Tuckerton’s introduced budget. During the public question period, Administrator Jenny Gleghorn explained that the local finance board has to approve a waiver to go over the state-imposed 2 percent cap in order to increase the water and sewer budget. The water and sewer rates are increasing due to an emergency in 2018 when the borough received a surprise overage charge of $160,000 from the Ocean County Utility Authority.

“The borough had a rough estimate of what was used the year before, and this was significantly more than we anticipated,” said Gleghorn. The problem is infiltration of salt water into the sewer system that then goes to the county for treatment as sewage. The borough has had the problem for a number of years, but only in the last few years has it been able to utilize loans from the state’s Infrastructure Trust Bank to replace old water and sewer lines. In 2018, the town replaced the lines in Heron Road and also fixed manholes on Bass Road. In 2017 and 2016, lines were replaced in Curlew, Little Egg Harbor Boulevard, Dolphin and Marlin, and there are plans to replace lines in Kingfisher Road in 2020.

“We have significantly lowered the infiltration,” she said. Gleghorn also said she has confidence in the management of the water utility.

Eighty Years
Of Wildlife Refuge

Mayor Susan Marshall read a proclamation congratulating the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge for its 80 years of service protecting the waterfowl and habitats in southern New Jersey. She noted the refuge was initiated in 1939 and was called the Brigantine Wildlife Refuge. It has grown to encompass 48,000 acres of wildlife habitat, and approximately 250,000 people visit the wildlife drive and refuge headquartered in Oceanville. “Tuckerton has 875 acres of this Jersey Shore treasure,” said Marshall as she handed Refuge Manager Virginia Rettig the document.

In other news, Councilman Ron Peterson read the police report for May: 301 calls for service, 48 arrests, 279 motor vehicle stops with 98 motor vehicle summonses written, 12 accidents and 37 emergency medical calls. The court report for May found 210 cases resolved and 271 criminal complaints pending. The court collected $6,890 in fines for the state, $3,170 for the county and $8,547 for the borough. The public defenders fees were $305.

Peterson also announced the ferry service between the Tuckerton Seaport and Beach Haven will commence during the July 4 weekend. “It’s going to be great for our community, and it’s going to grow.”

The borough approved letting Jersey Outlaws Boat Races use South Green Street Park on July 7 and 28, Aug. 18, and Sept. 8 with a rain date of Sept. 15.

The borough said goodbye to Marilyn Kent, head of the Office of Emergency Management, as she and her husband are moving to Florida. Kent was second in command to Harold Spedding (now deceased) during Superstorm Sandy. Her leaving was bittersweet, said Kent.

Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Dale Eggert said he and Shane Willie had attended a symposium on leadership at the Ocean County Fire Academy and reported another member has started training at the fire academy. The Memorial Day weekend coin drop was better than anticipated and netted $9,000 toward the goal of $12,000 by the end of the year. Eggert thanked the residents and visitors to the area.

During the public comment period, Frank Fein from Tuckerton Beach asked why the town needed to spend $1 million for a new fire truck. Eggert said the new truck costs $920,000 and is needed because the newest truck the company has is a 1994 Pierce pumper. The new truck is a pumper but is also a ladder truck, which is needed to fight three-story fires—most of the houses in Tuckerton Beach are now a story higher since Superstorm Sandy regulations require rebuilding on pilings in the flood zone. The 1994 pumper has some issues with maintenance, and the additional money in the bond will be used to rehab that piece of equipment.

Ann Marie Sweeney, also of Tuckerton Beach, accused the mayor and council of hiding the fact they had met with a vendor to discuss the shoreline restoration and dredging projects in the borough. Sweeney said the council lacked transparency.

Councilman John Schwartz, the point person on the council for dredging and other waterways projects, said the mayor and he, plus two members of the Waterways Commission, had met with a vendor and were told they would have information back to them in one week. “That was three weeks ago, so end of story.”

Sweeney also asked why the town doesn’t stream the municipal meetings as other towns do.

Mayor Marshall said a member of the Tuckerton Beach Association has been doing that service but could not be there that evening.

She also said she had no answer for Sweeney about changing the vendor for the shoreline project. “When we have an answer, we will let the public know. We feel we are working in the best interests of the borough; if we need to call in a third party, we will. We did talk to someone, but we have nothing to report.”

Michele Cherry, wife of Police Cpl. Justine Cherry, said her husband was recently acquitted of any wrongdoing in relation to releasing his K9 officer, Gunner, on a Barnegat woman who was driving on a suspended license and unresponsive to police demands to get out of her car.

“My husband was acquitted and wants to come back to work,” she said. “I know you are trying to bring him up on administrative charges so you won’t have to give him his back pay,” she continued. “You know the truth, so stop before you continue to make fools of yourselves. It’s not going to end.”

Borough Attorney Christopher J. Connors had already warned the mayor and council they could not discuss the situation in public. Connors had asked for executive session to discuss a personnel issue. Cherry is still a Tuckerton police officer, on unpaid leave since April 2014.

Joni Fras, Michele Cherry’s mother, said since Justin Cherry had not received a “Rice notice” to appear, they could not discuss him.

“I’m entitled to talk about what I’m going to talk about in executive session,” Connors retorted.

After the meeting, Michele Cherry and Fras said the five years of waiting for the court’s judgment had been a nightmare. “Justin couldn’t find work because no one would hire him while he was facing criminal charges. Our home was foreclosed on, and we used up all our savings,” Michele said. She is a nurse at Community Medical Center in Toms River, so it was up to her to be the breadwinner for her family, which includes three boys, ages 9, 7 and 4.

“Not one person (from Tuckerton police) reached out to us in 5½ years,” she said. She also said the borough owes her husband his salary including any overtime he might have made, his holiday pay and promotions he would have received. Fras estimated the cost to be “well over $400,000.”

Cherry and another officer had been placed on administrative leave in September 2011 after shooting and killing a Tuckerton man, Steven Theoharides, on Sept. 15. Cherry and Patrolman Brian Olsen responded to a domestic incident in which Theoharides was wielding a knife. The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office on Nov. 29 of that year after an investigation found the use of deadly force was legally justified.

“Even after that, and all the stress, he wanted to return to work. He loves his job,” said his wife.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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