The Manalapan Township Committee tabled paying Monmouth County $186,969.10, their portion of the farmland preservation project for sitting Committeeman Andrew Lucas’ Burke Farm, at their meeting Wednesday night.
Township Committeeman Ryan Green made the motion to table the item on the bill list because he said he was not comfortable with the documentation the Township has on the matter.
He also said he was not able to fully overlook certain documentation, including a “somewhat hastily sent-out” email containing a 19-page document that the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) sent over to the Township Wednesday morning.
Deputy Mayor Jordan Maskowitz seconded Green’s motion, saying that he did not even have a chance to read through the paperwork.
Manalapan Township attorney Roger McLauglin explained that it is the Township’s responsibility to ensure the money is paid because both Monmouth County and the SADC approved the application sent in by Lucas to sell the developmental rights of his 97-acre farm on Iron Ore Road. The project was also authorized for acquisition and closing, which the County is currently in the middle of completing.
The SADC has not yet reviewed closing paperwork and a closing date has not yet been set, according to Green. “In light of the fact that this is a sensitive case and it involves turning funds over to a sitting committeeperson - taxpayer funds - I feel very strongly that this Committee needs to hold itself to a higher standard and make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed,” said Green.
There are also 14 issues about the project that have not yet been resolved, the email sent out to the Township Committee highlighted, according to Green.
McLaughlin said that he fully reviewed all of the documentation that was sent over to the Committee. The acquisition of the property is done by the County and not by the municipality; Manalapan does not participate in the closing process at all, McLaughlin explained.
Everything so far has been completed in accordance with the law and the documentation is fully in order, McLaughlin said, as any issues highlighted are taken care of by the SADC review attorney during the closing process.
Furthermore, the Township is already committed to paying the County 16 percent of the acquisition, which the nearly $187,000 represents. Manalapan Township is legally obligated to pay Monmouth County this amount, a responsibility the Township undertook when they agreed to participate in the acquisition of the farm.
Despite McLaughlin’s request, Green and Maskowitz voted against approving the payment to the County. Mayor Susan Cohen and Committeeman Don Holland voted to authorize the payment; Lucas left the dais due to a conflict of interest. A majority of votes were needed to approve the payment for the farm which were not met, so the purchase order will be pushed to the next Bill List for the Township to approve.
Since this purchase order was tabled, the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders decided to table voting on their share of the acquisition of the farm at their Thursday, Feb. 14 meeting, the Asbury Park Press reported. Monmouth County’s portion of the development rights purchase is $277,920, according to the Asbury Park Press.