Future of LSTA Remains Uncertain after Budget Vote
Community advocates continue to work towards a solution that will facilitate bussing for Lakewood’s private school students in the coming year after the final budget stripped the district of additional funding and authorization that would have allowed for Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA) to continue past its three year pilot period.
In an ironic twist, the supplemental funding needed was awarded as part of a $36 million loan from the state Department of Education to the district, yet without legislation to perpetuate the program, transportation for non-public school students would revert to being the district’s responsibility as it was prior to the creation of LSTA.
Advocates had breathed a sigh of relief when Governor Phil Murphy included language authorizing LSTA to continue for the coming year as well as $30 million in additional funding to Lakewood’s public schools, $6 million of which was slated for the bussing consortium. Yet, amid budget negotiations in the state Senate, both were struck from the final spending bill. The administration has given positive signals of a desire to work out an affable solution before the start of the coming school year, but methods of how to do so have not yet been discussed.
Board of Education Approves Tax Hikes
The Lakewood School Board which governs the town’s public school district approved a new budget that calls for a mild hike on property taxes to finance some of its programs.
Scrabbling for ways to continue services in the coming year, the board approved a $238 million budget. According to the Asbury Park Press, it will mean that the average homeowner will be paying $67 more than in the previous year. The board also approved adding a question to the ballot for this coming November asking if residents would agree to an additional hike to finance certain after-school clubs and “courtesy bussing” for public school students. If approved average homeowners would pay an additional $203.
Since the creation of the private consortium that handles transportation for the vast majority of Lakewood’s students who attend private schools, courtesy bussing for public school students has been covered by a township surplus, but earlier this year it was announced that the arrangement would not continue in the coming year.
New Plans to Relieve Route 9 Traffic Released
After many attempts and delays, the state Department of Transportation said that it will begin work to widen and reduce traffic along Route 9 in 2022.
The narrow part of the corridor that runs between Lakewood and Toms River has become increasingly congested over the past decade as more residential and commercial development has been built along it.
The current plan details construction that will take place on the road between Lakewood’s Second Street and Toms River’s Indian Head Road. In some areas additional regular lanes as well as turning lanes will be added. The work is estimated to cost $50 million and to be completed by 2024.
According to a report by Jersey Shore Online, plans are being designed by Arora and Associates. Its engineers predict that the changes will reduce travel time at “peak hours” by 15 to 45 percent.
The DOT has initiated plans to relieve traffic on the heavily traveled route several times in the past, but major projects have all been delayed for a variety of given reasons.
A sardonic Asbury Park Press opinion piece on the announcement opened saying, “Which is most likely to happen first? Major traffic improvements coming to Route 9 in Lakewood or man building a space station on planet Jupiter? It would be a mistake to bet against Planet Jupiter.”
Ocean County to Sue State AG over Order to Cut Ties with Immigrations Enforcement
Ocean County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders has voted to sue New Jersey’s attorney general over a directive that ordered state law enforcement to curtail cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
In a report by the Asbury Park Press, Freeholder Jack Kelly said that the move calls out the Murphy administration’s move as maverick.
“New Jersey is either part of the United States or it’s not,” he said. “We do not believe that its governor or its state attorney general — whether they be Democrat or Republican — has the lawful authority to instruct anyone to not cooperate with a federal law enforcement agency. We are not an island unto ourselves.”
Since the Trump administration began its national attempt to stem the increasing flow of illegal immigration several left wing states and municipalities have attempted to push back with measures aimed at promoting the rights of individuals in the country illegally. New Jersey’s Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal’s directive, which took effect this past March, took this movement a step further by calling on state and local law enforcement not to share information on illegal immigrants with federal authorities or to question or detain an individual on suspicion of their having entered the county illegally.
The suit, which has yet to be drafted, takes aim at the state’s order as it relates to Ocean County’s prison officials who routinely give immigration officers access to the records of those incarcerated for having committed crimes. The county’s attorney said that the filing will challenge the attorney general’s authority to direct officers not to comply with federal directives.
The Murphy administration’s policy was also recently criticized by the three legislators representing Toms River and other town’s in southern Ocean County.
“Governor Murphy’s directive will prevent our jails from working with ICE to deport known criminals who are already in custody,” said Senator James Holzapfel. “It’s an outrageous and dangerous political statement that jeopardizes the safety of millions of New Jersey residents. We shouldn’t allow the Governor to create a sanctuary for criminals in our state.”
Ocean County is not the only New Jersey municipality chaffing under the Attorney General’s directive. Monmouth and Cape May sheriffs have continued cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Their move recently drew a letter of rebuke from the state Division of Criminal Justice.