LBHA is facing budget shortfall HUD freezes spending at current level while revising funding formula

Staff Writer

By Carolyn O

LBHA is facing budget shortfall
HUD freezes spending at current level while revising funding formula

A drop in the level of support from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for Long Branch’s Housing Authority may not be felt right away, but officials say there could be problems down the road.

According to Michael Winnick, president of the Long Branch Housing Authority, HUD recently began revamping its financing rules. While it does that, the funding it provides will be frozen at this year’s level.

Because of rising costs, particularly for utility services and health-care costs for employees, HUD will provide a significantly smaller portion of the LBHA budget for the upcoming year.

According to Cindy Toy, who works in the LBHA finance department, HUD provided approximately 92 percent of the authority’s budget this year. With funding frozen at current levels that will drop to about 83 percent for the next fiscal year.

The budget shortfall created by the change will be about $130,000, Toy said.

Winnick said the housing authority also is subject to additional requirements by HUD, but there will be no additional money to support the mandated changes.

"This will have no immediate effect on the standard of living but within two to three years infrastructure and some of our programs will be affected," Winnick said.

The LBHA, currently operating with a $6 million budget (with an additional $2 million for programs), supports roughly 1,400 housing units, of which 300 are designated for senior citizens.

Because it is facing an operating shortfall, the LBHA has received approval to use 10 percent of its 2003 Comprehensive Grant, a grant funding capital improvements, as part of its operating budget.

However, that move only shifts where the LBHA will have a budget problem, according to Winnick. "If we’re not re-funded for the utilities expenses, we’ll be short on our capital program," he said. "These things aren’t a wish list; we’re not talking about putting in valet parking. These things are realistic concerns and needs. The increase of utilities and reduction in funding puts us in a difficult position."

Winnick noted that the LBHA is operating some of the oldest public housing buildings in the state, some dating back to the 1930s.

Grant Court, the first public housing in the city, was the eighth housing development in the state to receive funding from the federal government, and the building is still in use.

"What we really need is to replace them, but one of our big problems is that we’ve been maintaining the buildings too well," Winnick said.

He explained that the money available to replace public housing comes from HUD’s Hope Six program which is a competitive grant process.

"We’re competing against places like Newark, Camden and Trenton," Winnick said. "Our buildings are in good shape comparatively. If we had ignored the buildings, we would be eligible for money to replace them."

This latest revamping of the HUD formula may be part of a trend Winnick said he has seen in the last few years where the federal government is attempting to shift responsibility to local governments.

Any such move could significantly increase the burden already being carried by local taxpayers, according to the authority’s president.

Winnick pointed out that because the LBHA is tax exempt, other property owners in the city bear a significant burden because they fund much of the cost of educating the children who live in the public housing as well as all borough services, such as the police department and the department of public works that serve the facilities.

The LBHA does pay the city for additional policing at its buildings. "But that too," said Winnick, "is paid through a drug-elimination grant which will see a reduction."

The neighborhood has visible signs of drug activity, according to Winnick, and that creates a great concern he shares with other commissioners since the drug program funding has been reduced from $250,000 to $140,000. In addition said Winnick residents are looking to see if recommendations of a five-year community plan devised from residents and resident councils will be implemented. He said that may be difficult while trying to reduce the cost of housing.

No link found between sunscreen, blindness

The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) has received calls during the past summers from concerned citizens regarding the myth that getting sunscreen in the eyes causes blindness. Many of the calls have been from parents who are worried about using sunscreen on young children, according to a press release from Bayshore Community Hospital, Holmdel.

"We have searched for information to suggest a possible link, but have not found anything in our efforts," said L. Scott Larsen, director of the department of emergency medicine.

However, this does not mean that sunscreens cannot be problematic or harmful it they get into the eyes; some products cause irritation, redness, discomfort, tearing, or temporary blurring of vision.

The benefits of sunscreens outweigh any potential risk when the products are used as directed. Sunscreens are highly recommended when exposure to the sun is likely; in fact, some medications increase the risk of getting an exaggerated sunburn, therefore sunscreens are strongly encouraged, especially in cases like these.

Proper use of sunscreen includes careful application around the eyes. When using a spray applicator, the individual should not spray the lotion on the face, rather it should be sprayed on the hands, then applied to the face.

In case of any eye exposure to any chemical, including sunscreen, NJPIES suggests flushing the eye with a gentle stream of warm water, and then calling the N.J. Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 to determine what, if any, treatment is necessary.

L.B. summer beach series to begin July 8

The Long Branch Summer Beach Series will kick off July 8, and continue to run each Sunday during July and August, on the corner of Ocean and Laird avenues. Admission to the shows is free, which run from 7-8:30 p.m. The Black Widow Band will perform at the July 8 show.

The series is presented by the city of Long Branch and the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation (JSJBF).

Line Drive will perform on July 15, followed by the Chuck Lambert Band on July 22. A Blues group, the Universal Sound Band will perform July 29.

The series continues on Aug. 5 with the Dennis Gruenling Blues Band with Gina Fox. The Jazz Lobsters will provide "big band" tunes on Aug. 12, accompanied by John Esposito. The VooDudes will perform zydeco on Aug. 19.

Wrapping up the series is the Terraplane Blues on Aug. 26.

The JSJBF wraps up the summer season with its second annual Summer Beachfest on the beach in Long Branch. The event is free, and dates, times and lineup information will be announced later this summer.

For more information about the events, call Allen Consulting at (732) 946-2711.

Helipad trial ends before it starts Plea bargain allows operator to pay $1,000 fine

Staff Writer

By elaine van develde

Helipad trial ends before it starts
Plea bargain allows operator to pay $1,000 fine

The Monmouth Park Corporate Center helipad trial finally came in for a landing. It was a rough one for justice, according to those concerned with the West Long Branch facility’s operation.

On June 28, before the trial commenced, the helipad operators and the borough reached a plea bargain that assessed a $1,000 fine.

According to West Long Branch Zoning Officer Jerome Donlon, the man who lodged the 14 complaints against the pad that led to the court date, the outcome was "anticlimactic and was another example that John Q. Public sometimes ends up being a voice in the wilderness."

In an interview minutes after the hearing, Donlon explained that before any testimony was heard, Prosecutor Steve Rubin made an announcement that the plea bargain agreement had been reached.

Rubin, Donlon noted, said that though witnesses would have a chance to talk before sentencing, as any victims would, there would be no trial. It was at that time, Donlon said, that Oceanport resident and witness Marie Lerner expressed her agreement that the witnesses certainly were victims.

The outcome: All 14 summonses for unlawfully "expanding a nonconforming use (from a permitted accessory to a commuter use), by reason of number of flights" were merged into two, by months. One of the complaints comprised all summonses issued in August 2000 by Donlon, and the other fused all of September’s complaints into one.

Each of the merged complaints carried with it a fine of $500 plus court costs. The total amount in fines and court costs paid amounted to $1,060. Though the defendant pleaded guilty to the merged charges, Donlon said, "That’s not even a slap on the wrist," adding that he did not speak before sentencing. "It’s an insult to the residents whose lives were destroyed for nearly three summers listening to helicopters and wondering how their quality of life would be affected every day." Had the charges not been merged, maximum penalties would have amounted to $7,000 plus court costs.

The $500 fine for violating the West Long Branch zoning ordinance, Donlon said, is the maximum. He specified that the maximum dollar penalty for the offense in West Long Branch used to be $250 not long ago. "The actual penalty is listed as ‘imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, $500 fine for each and every offense or both,’ " Donlon said.

In what he could only describe as a peculiar turn of events, Donlon added, though defense attorney Christopher Hanlon wanted it stipulated that if there are any future infractions of the law, there would be no jail sentence imposed by the judge.

Donlon noted that Prosecutor Rubin also specified, that the source of the complaints was amended from the corporate entity of the facility (Monmouth Park Corporate Center) to the helicopter company (leasing the pad) in violation, Broadcast.

Though the prosecutor was satisfied with the defendant’s promise to adhere to a December 2000 resolution enacted by West Long Branch which restricts flight numbers and patterns, Donlon said Oceanport witnesses clearly weren’t impressed.

In fact, when they had a minute to air their complaints to a listening judge, most people made it clear that nothing changed the fact that their summers had already been ruined and their homeowners’ insurance policies had gone up because of the liability imposed by the ’copters’ proximity to their property. The witnesses also told the judge that the resolution is like a promise from a bad teen-ager who promises not to break curfew.

According to Donlon, Oceanport resident Marc Stenroos pointed out that, in his mind, West Long Branch took the "death knell" out of its own resolution when, in amended form, the governing body eliminated a clause that stipulated any violation of the resolution’s restrictions would result in the immediate shutdown of the helipad.

Somewhere amid all the flight-fiasco flurry, Donlon was unknowingly dismissed from any zoning activity affecting the Monmouth Park Corporate Center. That decision had no real affect because Donlon chose to leave his post on Tuesday.

He remains the zoning officer in Ocean Township and Shrewsbury Borough.