Four seek three seats in Monmouth Beach

By Neil Schulman, Monmouth Beach — Three incumbents and one challenger are vying for three seats in the May 11 Commissioners election.

Incumbents David Stickle, the current mayor, and Commissioners Lawrence “Larry” Bolsh and Timothy Sommers, are running for re-election as a group with the slogan “Progress Through Teamwork,” saying they have a group of commissioners who are working together to get things accomplished. They are being challenged by Kristina Schmelz, who says she can bring new perspectives to some of the issues facing the borough.,

Monmouth Beach holds non-partisan municipal elections, Voters choose three commissioners, who select who serves as mayor amongst themselves

2020 saw a major shift in the governing body, as two longtime Commissioners, Jim Cuniff and Mayor Susan Howard, resigned. In November, Sommers and Bolsh were elected to fill out the remainder of their terms through this May in a seven-way race.

Candidates say the issues in Monmouth Beach include the budget, taxes, parking, beach access and other things which will impact the future of the town.

About the candidates

Bolsh, appointed commissioner in March and elected in November, is a 25 year resident of Monmouth Beach, where he and his wife raised three chidren. He has served on the Recreation Committee, Education Foundation and Planning and Zoning Board.

With a degree in accounting, his current role is Commissioner of the Revenue and Finance Department, where he hopes to continue. He said his goal, and his team’s, is to “make sure our financial position remains sound, strong and stable as we move forward with all the things that we want to do.”

Sommers, a lifelong resident of the borough, is a former chief of the Monmouth Beach Fire Company, and has served as an officer. He is also a career firefighter professionally.

He says that his goal is to continue some of the issues he campaigned on in November. Progress has been made in several of this, including the founding of a beach advisory committee that has seen an impact; and working with emergency services in the borough to address their needs.

Schmelz, who grew up in Monmouth Beach, is a former attorney who changed to working for her family’s auto dealership when her children were born. She is a member of the Planning and Zoning Board, and the PTO.

Stickle, who is seeking his second four-year term as Commissioner, has been a resident for more than 30 years. He is a small business owner and has served formerly as fire chief. He says he’s accomplished a lot during his time in office.

Team: Cooperation means progress

Stickle noted that Monmouth Beach has been through a lot since he first became a commissioner. “Over the last four years we have come a long way from a sleepy little town to one that seems to be on everyone’s minds.”

Some of the changes include eliminating plastic bags from stores, replacing the equipment at Griffin Park, installing a rain garden to reduce flooding, and getting more than $1.5 million in grants. Since he’s been mayor, Stickle said that they’ve increased staff at the Bathing Pavilion, hired a zoning officer, and this summer are instituting paid parking for the arts center, in an attempt to help the major congestion problems.

More than that, the Progress Through Teamwork group says that, as their name suggests, they are working well together and have a vision for the future. Stickle said four years ago, the commissioners “were thinking in the short term.” Now they have a five-year plan for road improvements and are addressing some longstanding issues in town, such as improving the sidewalks and curbing. And having a full-time zoning officer saves the borough money over the previous system.

Somers, who chairs the Beach Advisory Committee, said that they’ve been able to gather input from residents on what they want from the beach and how to address issues. The committee’s input is how they decided to implement paid parking at the cultural arts center.

Schmelz: More perspectives help

Schmelz said that she does appreciate much of what the commissoners have accomplished. But she argues that she can bring different points of view to the governing body as an attorney and mother. If elected, she said she’d be happy to work together with the other two successful candidates.

“I’d bring a balance and fresh pers[ective,” she said.

And while Schmelz says overall she appreciates what the commissioners are doing and some of their plans, she believes there’s room for improvement.

For example, she approves of the change to parking at the cultural center, saying that it will make things better for people who live in that part of town. But she feels the plans for beach access could be more thorough. There are plans to charge for access to locations which will now be guarded, but other areas of the beach, and the congestion caused by visitors, need to be addressed.

She also believes residents have a hard time learning what’s happening. Monmouth Beach doesn’t have any official social media, and while it has a mailing list, that’s not frequently used. Some links on the borough’s webpage are outdated.

“I think the commissioners need to do a much better job communicating with residents.”

She also noted that commissioner meetings still aren’t available online, and the only way to see them is to attend in person. “The entire world is up on Zoom,” she said.

One of the biggest areas of disagreement is the budget.

Budget higher this year

One thing that Stickles mentions as an accomplishment is the borough has gone years with no municipal tax increase. That looks like it’s going to change this year.

The 2021 budget calls for an average home, assessed at around $790,000 to pay $489 more per year, a roughly 19% increase.

Schmelz says this is worrying. The borough’s low tax rate is part of its character, and helps seniors and those on fixed incomes stay here. “It’s fundamental to the town.” To her, one of the major duties of a commissioner is to keep the budget in line

But Sommers said that these expenses are needed now. In fact, they were probably necessary years ago, but previous administrations put them off. “Unfortunately, you’re going to pay for that later.” Putting things off more will just make it more expensive in the future, he said.

With their team’s long term plans in place, the Progress Through Teamwork team says it will be easier budget well in the future.

There’s also the question of some items which won’t appear in the budget. Monmouth Beach is due to receive $300,000 federal aid for Covid-19 relief. But the borough hasn’t received the funds yet. Stickle said that the federal government is giving the money to the state, which will distribute it to smaller towns. But when they get the money is still up in the air.

“I do feel it should go to our taxpayers,” Stickle said.

Under the laws for municipal budgets, though, Monmouth Beach can’t use this sort of anticipated money – a grant it hasn’t received before – in the budget. Nor can it use expected funds like parking revenue. While those monies may go to tax relief, they can’t be included in the budget.

Election Date and Time

The Election will be May 11, 6 a.m.-8 p.m., at the Parish Center on Riverdale Avenue.

This will be the first election in New Jersey to test the use of electronic poll books. These replace the use of paper poll books, but do not otherwise affect how you vote.