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Avalon Adopts ’23 Budget Despite Objections to Armacost Park in Future Capital Item

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By Vince Conti

AVALON – Borough Council April 26 adopted a $36 million current fund budget for 2023. The budget calls for a $0.006 increase in the local purpose tax, representing the first increase in that tax since 2015. 

The budget also contains a water/sewer utility budget of $8.1 million and a beach utility budget for $2.1 million.  

The borough continues to carry no long-term debt, with municipal debt service for short-term debt standing at only 6% of 2023 current fund revenue. The budget used $5.3 million of the total $7.5 million in current fund surplus. The budget contains a $4.7 million appropriation for the borough library, which is not part of the county library system. 

The Avalon budget did not pass without opposition from a group of residents who mainly objected to a 2025 capital budget line item for $740,000 for “74th Street Park Improvements.” The 74th Street Park in question is Armacost Park, which has been the subject of dissention in the past. 

In 2015, the council adopted a $23.5 million current fund budget that called for a $0.002 increase in the local purpose tax rate. The budget sailed through smoothly, but public comment saw the issue of borough efforts to deal with vine control at Armacost Park come up as a resident asked the borough to broaden its use of environmental consultants. The argument was directed at the borough’s use of the Lomax Consulting Group. 

In March 2015, a demonstration at the park saw citizens opposed to borough efforts there and citizens supporting those borough efforts each carrying signs to “Save Armacost Park.” 

Since 2015, any hint that the borough is planning an intervention in the park has brought protests from those who feel the park should be left to nature. 

At the hearing on the 2023 budget, resident Martha Wright, who has been active throughout the years of controversy over the park, said the Environmental Commission had held meetings in 2022 concerning a plan the commission developed and which is directed at maintenance at the park.  

The appearance of a $740,000 line item in the budget raised concerns for those who spoke out at the hearing that the borough intended to take action in the park but was unwilling to provide details to the public. 

The borough response was that capital items in the budget, especially ones outside the current budget year being planned, are nothing but placeholders for broad potential areas of work the borough might consider in those years.  

Council member John McCorristin explained that a capital item in the budget authorized no action. Formal allocation of resources for any capital project would have to come in the budget for the year in question or in the form of a capital bond ordinance. 

If one held the library budget out for comparison purposes and did the same for year-to-year fluctuations in grant funding, the budget for 2023 is up $490,000 from the previous year. Auditor Michael Garcia said much of the increase was locked in by contractual salary increases and state determined pension contributions. 

Business Administrator Scott Wahl noted that since 2015, Avalon has reduced the municipal tax rate three times and held it steady once. 

Wahl also dismissed accusations that a $600,000 grant from Ørsted and Ocean Wind I was meant to quiet the borough in the debates raging on the wind farm project and its potential link to a spike in whale and dolphin deaths since early December 2022.

Wahl said the borough applied for the grant to save taxpayer funds. Before and after applying for and receiving the grant, the borough has remained steadfast in its opposition to the way the Ocean Wind project has been allowed to ignore local elected bodies and appeal directly to the appointed New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU). 

The focus of most of the public debate at the meeting remained Armacost Park. There was some discussion of removing or altering the item in the multiyear capital program, but support for such a move was not present on the council. 

In the end, the budget was adopted, with no change to the future capital budget line item concerning the park.  

Council President Sam Wierman said to make a change would be tantamount to “appeasement” of those who had come out to speak on the issue.  

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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