Far Hills Mayor Paul Vallone said he would like to meet again with Bernards Township officials as a Feb. 27 deadline approaches in dispute over how much Far Hills should contribute to costs for two roads equally owned by both towns that has led to the Bernards Township Committee threatening to plow and pave only one lane of each road.
"I would be happy to discuss possible options," Vallone said on Tuesday night. "We are trying to come up with some sort of agreement," he said, in regard to the issues of routine maintenance and also repaving when necessary for Douglas Road and a portion of Mine Brook Road.
The border for the two towns has run down the center of each road since Far Hills split off from Bernards Township to become its own municipality in the 1920s.
As of Dec. 31, a previous agreement expired under which Far Hills, with fewer than a thousand residents, had been paying 15 percent of the cost of maintaining and repaving Douglas Road and a portion of Mine Brook Road.
On Feb. 12, Township Committee members rejected as insufficient an offer by Far Hills to increase its funding share to 20 percent. Committee members unanimously voted to inform Far Hills that the borough must begin paying 50 percent of all related costs for the shared roads. The directive was to specify that otherwise Bernards Township will only plow and maintain its side of the roads.
"I am more than happy to sit down with him," Gaziano said of Vallone, whom she acknowledged is "looking at things differently than we are."
Bernards taxpayers can't "subsidize Far Hills"
However, Gaziano added, "We can't justify having our taxpayers subsidize Far Hills."
"To me, it's an unacceptable situation," Bernards Deputy Mayor John Carpenter said at last Tuesday's meeting. "Our neighboring town is the third wealthiest town in the state of New Jersey," he said of Far Hills.
Both Gaziano and Vallone said they had not been in direct contact after the Feb. 12 Bernards Township Committee meeting.
Vallone said Tuesday night that the only direct communication he had received on the Bernards Township Committee's decision was an email from Township Administrator Bruce McArthur.
However, Vallone said he had met with Gaziano and McArthur to discuss the subject near the end of last year.
At that time, Vallone said he verbally had indicated Far Hills' share might increase its share to even higher than 20 percent, and had promised to commit 100 percent of the borough's 2014 state aid for road construction to repaving Douglas Road.
At the Feb. 12 meeting, McArthur said that repaving Douglas Road, now filled with patch jobs, would cost about $500,000.
Vallone said it would be possible that Far Hills could be awarded state road aid for up to a few hundred thousand dollars, and noted the state's road grants aren't necessarily given out on the basis of the size of a municipality. He said he felt that he left the earlier meeting with Gaziano and McArthur feeling positive about chances for a new road agreement.
Vallone said he does not feel that it's reasonable — especially under the 2 percent cap on municipal budget increases — for the borough to absorb a 330 percent increase in costs for maintaining the two roads.
In the meantime, Vallone said the borough is working on alternative arrangements for taking care of its side of the road. He said the issue likely will come up at the Far Hills Council meeting scheduled for next Monday night.
Vallone also said the borough must make other arrangements for plowing and maintaining Sherwood Farm Road. As part of the previous agreement, he said the borough paid Bernards Township 100 percent of the cost for that road, completely within the borough.
On Feb. 12, McArthur told the Township Commitee that Bernards has spent about $81,000 on the shared roads for the past three years, including various maintenance and repair projects, and snow removal. Under the current formula, in place for at least 14 years, Bernards picked up $69,000 of that total, and Far Hills spent $12,000 during that three-year period, McArthur said.