The Village of Loch Arbour just hit a road bump in its plans to merge with the Borough of Allenhurst.
The village’s board of commissioners on Wednesday put off voting on an ordinance calling for the merger, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press. The action took place after the commissioners could not get binding answers from state officials regarding the fiscal impact of the merger, the Press reported. The state regulates and oversees the finances of municipalities.
Loch Arbour Mayor Paul Fernicola will now seek to sit down with his counterparts in Allenhurst to discuss the next move, according to the Press article.
“We have to do this right,” Fernicola told the Press’s Nancy Shields. “We already did an ordinance last year. We want to make sure everything is in line, the ducks are in order. It’s more appropriate to first meet with Allenhurst to discuss the state’s responses.”
Another concern of Loch Arbour officials is that if an effort to merge fails, state law says another attempt cannot be made for five years, Shields reported. Voters of both town have to approve the merger in a referendum, after their respective governing bodies authorize a vote by passing an ordinance.
Fernicola had previously told the Sun that he had hoped to have such a referendum on the ballot this November. According to the Press article, he said the merger now may have to be undertaken through a different state statute.
A big factor driving the merger is that Loch Arbour sends its students to Ocean Township, and officials and residents in the village have objected to the taxes property owners pay to the Ocean Township board of education.
Since Allenhurst is a sending district to Asbury Park, a merger would end Loch Arbour’s ties to Ocean Township. Fernicola has told the Sun that the village received a letter last year from the state commissioner of education confirming that a merger with Allenhurst would “sever” Loch Arbour’s relationship with Ocean Township.
The school tax rate in Allenhurst is significantly lower than in Loch Arbour because Allenhurst pays Asbury Park on a per-pupil basis and few Allenhurst students attend Asbury Park schools, Fernicola said.
Currently, Loch Arbour pays Ocean Township $2.1 million annually for its 20 students, but that figure remains the same regardless of how many students are sent, Fernicola said. In 2011, the average Loch Arbour homeowner paid $24,000 in taxes, but if the merger were approved that would drop to an average of less than $9,000, he said.
Loch Arbour was once part of Ocean Township, but it seceded in 1957. The arrangement for the Village to send its students to Ocean Township dates back to that time.
Fernicola said that Ocean Township objected to the secession in the 1950s and took the matter to the state supreme court, but the new village of Loch Arbour ultimately prevailed.