Inside Ocean County Government

Lacey, Opinion

Editorial: Taxpayers Get Hosed Again With Lacey Water Line Deal

LACEY – A sweetheart deal approved by the MUA and township committee is seeing taxpayers foot the bill for a water line serving a private restaurant with deep ties to the MUA chairman. This deal is Lacey’s latest backroom boondoggle, an improper expenditure of public funds and the latest display of self-serving local politics in Ocean County.

MUA commissioners admitted on tape at the December MUA meeting that they are holding private meetings at this restaurant. The chairman of the MUA is deeply involved with the property. And now they’re getting a free 8 inch water line, courtesy of Lacey taxpayers. What’s going on?

According to a copy of the agreement obtained in response to an OPRA request, the Lacey Township municipal government is going to take the money for the water line out of the 2019 municipal budget, and pay back the MUA for work done on the project.

That’s over $72,000 of public funds that have been picked from the pockets of taxpayers in Lacey to benefit private interests in this one-sided deal. And what are taxpayers getting in return? Zilch.

We now know that this deal is one of the many reasons Mr. Parker, among others, were furious at MUA commissioners in Lacey at last month’s meeting.

Parker, for his part, can hardly be considered an authority on ethical leadership given the way he has governed Lacey Township over the years (Just ask Jim LeTellier), but he was right to be outraged over this deal.

LMUA chairman Jim Knoeller, a past township committeeman and school board candidate, has continued to deny having any financial stake in the property, and recused himself from the vote to approve this resolution at the MUA. But Knoeller’s denials are starting to ring hollow.

Just take a look at South Winds Marina’s official Facebook page and you can see how deep the MUA chairman’s ties to the establishment are. That page states that the marina is “Managed and Operated by Jimmy Knoeller.”

Knoeller has continued to assert that he does not have a direct financial stake in the property, but there’s no denying that the optics here are nothing short of terrible. A reasonable outside observer may conclude that there’s influence peddling afoot in the southern Ocean County municipality.

The site of the restaurant has changed hands multiple times over the years. It recently underwent a name change from Latitude’s to Joey Harrison’s River House. They should have paid for the water line like any other business or residential property. This is nothing short of corporate welfare on the local level.

There are many questions that linger with respect to this project and how it came to be rubber stamped by Lacey officials. Here are a few of mine:

  • Why are Lacey taxpayers on the hook for over $72,000 to install a water line to a private restaurant? Shouldn’t that cost be borne by the private business like anyone else?
  • Why are MUA commissioners holding private meetings among themselves after public meetings at that very same restaurant?
  • Why did an MUA commissioner who chairs the Lacey GOP retroactively change his vote on the project from yes to no?
  • Why did the Township Committee rubber stamp a giveaway of public resources? Who is representing the best interests of Lacey taxpayers?
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