MANAHAWKIN – Did Mayor Spodofora and the Stafford Township Council give residents of Beach Haven West the raw end of the deal, by buying a new recreation building on Pine Street, and financing most of the purchase price with more bond debt?
$225,000 Bonded To Buy Building From Stafford BOE
At a Stafford council meeting regarding the purchase of a new building to be used for the recreation department several residents alleged that the Beach Haven West section of town – along with Stafford taxpayers – were not being served by the purchase of a building from the Stafford Board of Education located on 25 Pine Street South, off of East Bay Avenue.
The small building was purchased for $236,250 and the price was a “steal,” amounting to roughly the cost of the land according to Township Administrator James Moran. $225,000 of that sum will be bonded. The township’s own geographic information system (GIS) shows the most recent total value of the property being $266,800 with the land on its own being worth $128,700.
The residents that spoke out against the purchase did not seem to share Mr. Moran’s enthusiasm for the price.
“A lot of spending” in Stafford
Former councilwoman Joanne Sitek, who unsucessfully challenged Mayor Spodofora in 2015’s election, spoke first. Ms. Sitek claimed that in recent months of observing Stafford council meetings, she has seen “a lot of spending,” some of which she claims is not necessary.
Still, Mayor Spodofora defended the purchase of the new building, citing growing demand for township recreation programs.
Minimum Number Of Council Members Present For Meeting
Just the minimum four council members to establish a quorum were present at the council meeting, including Mayor Spodofora, Council President Taylor, along with Councilmen Smith and Fessler.
A “Different Story” From The Council
Dawn Papatheodorou, president of the Beach Haven West civic association, joined in the critique of the council’s purchase, and claimed that the Pine Street building is unnecessary. “I don’t think we need this building,” she said.
Ms. Papatheodorou claimed that in previous meetings her group has had with township officials, members of the council were resistant in addressing issues surrounding the Mill Creek pavilion, often citing costs as a prohibitive factor. Mayor Spodofora denied her allegation and claimed that the promises he made only went as a far as looking into the matter further, rather than making a hard commitment.
The Beach Haven West resident further claimed that council members previously told her that there was a need for only one community center, but now they are suddenly changing their tune.
“Now all of a sudden you’re telling me we need to buy [another] building because we don’t have enough community centers,” she said. “So now we’re going to have three when you told me we only need one.”
“Every time I come here it’s a different story,” she said. Visibly frustrated by the council’s responses, she later left the meeting.
Spodofora Defends Purchase, Cites Demand For Recreation Programs
Mayor Spodofora disputed those claims, asserting that he said that the township would “look into” renovations, without making a hard commitment.
Stafford Recreation Director Betty Anne McVey claimed that the purchase of the building to create an additional community center was necessary to get the department to the same level “before Hurricane Sandy hit.” Mayor Spodofora cited increasing demand for meeting space, requested by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and the “Dress for Success” program.
Resident: Stafford Council “Cheated” Beach Haven West
BHW Resident Robert McManus said that he was “embarrassed” by the council’s purchase of the building. “Over the years, Beach Haven West has taken all the beatings,” Mr. McManus declared.
“I think it’s disgraceful to have told us that we can’t have the same building we had, when you can do this.”
Mr. McManus claimed that despite Beach Haven West providing a stable base of tax revenue, the township has not treated the neighborhood equitably in terms of recreation facilities. He said that for the township to buy the building next to the brand new recreation center currently under construction on Bay Avenue without replacing Beach Haven West’s Sandy-destroyed building with one of an equal size is “disgraceful.”
“You cheat on Beach Haven West,” he said.
But for Mayor Spodofora the issue was one of “need versus want.” The mayor asserted that Beach Haven West was not showing the same demand as other sections of town. “I’m not getting the demand over there,” he said, rejecting McManus’ argument.
Stafford Township Debt Totals Nearly $130 Million
A hot topic of discussion at the council meeting related to the purchase was Stafford Township’s municipal bond debt, which currently totals nearly $130 million, according to Township Administrator Jim Moran. The majority of the recreation building’s cost will be added to this sum.
“It’s nice that you call it bonding, but it’s really bonding debt,” said Stafford resident Sal Sorce. In response to Sorce’s comments, Administrator Moran claimed that comparing Stafford’s debt to other municipalities would be like comparing “apples and organges.” Stafford is different from other municipalities because rather than having an independent municipal utilities authority (MUA), the township has a water and sewer department as a component of the municipal government, leading to the higher debt figure compared to towns such as Toms River, Jackson, Brick and Lacey, according to Mr. Moran.
“Surf City has zero bonding debt,” Mr. Sorce told the council.
“Well we’re not Surf City,” the mayor replied.
Was the purchase of the Pine Street building necessary, given Stafford’s financial situation, and the construction of another community center next door? Vote in our poll below and share your thoughts in the comments.