Budget adopted for Freehold’s special improvement district

By Matthew Sockol
Staff Writer

FREEHOLD – A $401,000 budget to support Downtown Freehold’s operation for 2017-18 has been adopted by the Borough Council in Freehold Borough.

Downtown Freehold, which is a nonprofit organization, is the management corporation of Freehold Borough’s special improvement district. The organization produces annual events in the borough.

Council President George Schnurr and council members Sharon Shutzer, Kevin Kane, Jaye Sims and Ron Griffiths passed a resolution adopting the budget on May 22 after the spending plan was submitted by representatives of Downtown Freehold.

Councilman Michael DiBenedetto, who owns Joe’s Barber Shop in the special improvement district, abstained from voting.

Mayor Nolan Higgins, who owns Higgins Memorial Home in the special improvement district, also recused himself from the issue.

According to the resolution, the budget will fund the special improvement district from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018. The $401,000 budget will be supported by the collection of $245,000 in taxes from property owners and business operators in the special improvement district.

Expenses include $213,900 in member services, $90,625 in capital improvements and $96,475 in events.

Events listed in the 2017-18 budget are as follows: Thursdays Rock! concerts, $43,225; fall concert series, $22,250; Independence Day fireworks, $15,000; Freehold Idol talent competition, $13,200; and Jolly Trolley, $2,800.

The organization’s 2016-17 budget totaled $382,000 and was also supported by the collection of $245,000 in taxes from property owners and business operators in the special improvement district.

In a related matter, Downtown Freehold’s 2016 audit will be the first to be conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Prior to 2016, Downtown Freehold’s annual audit was conducted by an independent certified public accountant.

In 2016, the council adopted an ordinance requiring Downtown Freehold to undergo an audit conducted with generally accepted government auditing standards, among other changes.

Council members were of the opinion that having Downtown Freehold undergo an audit conducted with generally accepted government auditing standards would help answer questions borough officials had about the organization.

Several individuals associated with Downtown Freehold said they believed that type of audit would be onerous and costly. After the ordinance was adopted, several of the organization’s employees and members resigned.

As of May 22, the 2016 audit has not been completed, according to Downtown Freehold representatives.

Before the special improvement district’s budget was adopted, property owner Barry Fisher spoke positively of Downtown Freehold, but questioned why a portion of its budget did not go toward alleviating parking issues.

Shutzer agreed with Fisher that parking is an issue, but said no viable solution to the parking issue had been presented. She said borough officials do not want to spend money on the wrong solution.

Businessman Carl Steinberg questioned the boundaries of the special improvement district and asked why nearby businesses are not taxed as part of the district.

Steinberg advocated for all businesses in the borough to be in the special improvement district and said he is still waiting for the 2016 audit.

In response to Steinberg’s concerns, Schnurr said Downtown Freehold’s former leadership chose not to change the special improvement district’s boundaries when he asked them about the subject.

Schnurr and Shutzer said such changes would have to come from Downtown Freehold, not the Borough Council.

Downtown Freehold Business Advocate Jeffrey Friedman agreed that the special improvement district should have expansions. Regarding the 2016 audit, he said it will be delivered in the near future.

Friedman said when he and Dru-Anne Palaima, the events and marketing coordinator, assumed control of Downtown Freehold, it was not a smooth transition due to the resignation of the previous directors.