The borough of Belmar was served with another lawsuit this past Monday. The new suit alleges that Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty and most of the Borough Council illegally used the borough’s Beach Utility Fund over the past four years and also raised beach parking fees to pay for expenses not relating to the beach.
The language of the complaint insinuates that Mayor Doherty and the council acted in the manner described above in the interest of Belmar and its taxpaying constituency. The plaintiffs allege that Jersey Shore’s Belmar used revenue raised from beach fees to pay for a myriad of expenses that did not actually relate to the beach.
The complaint also challenges the legal basis for the recently adopted Belmar ordinance that increased beach parking fees twofold along the Ocean Avenue boardwalk. Additionally, the lawsuit challenges Belmar’s spending of the money in its Beach Utility Fund to cover legal fees. This includes a $925,000 payment made to settle a lawsuit regarding unpaid fees allegedly owed to Birdsall Engineering for services that only partially related to the beach.
The latest suit states that the new beach parking fee ordinance which increased the fee twofold, is in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine. It forces beachgoers to pay a charge that benefits Belmar taxpayers. The suit also refers to the Department of Environmental Protection’s legal requirement that beach parking fees be spent exclusively on beach maintenance and operations. One of the plaintiffs, Patricia Corea, states that the borough should have prevented tax increases by limiting or freezing its spending. Corea and her fellow plaintiffs believe that the mayor and the council have betrayed the public’s trust. This new suit is the latest of several suits filed against Belmar’s beach practices.
The group of plaintiffs is led by Belmar resident Joy DeSanctis and represented by former Mayor Kenneth Pringle’s law firm. They’ve been front and center for many of the legal challenges against the borough. DeSanctis alleges that the current mayor has displayed a pattern of using Belmar accounts to pay bills unrelated to public services. She alleges that Mayor Doherty has “…disregarded the true obligation of the accounts and legal guidelines of [their] use.”
The plaintiffs demand that the court order the borough to place all Ocean Avenue parking fee proceeds in the Beach Utility Fund. They also demand that the court issue an order that bars the borough from using the money derived from its “Buy-a-Board” effort for anything but the boardwalk.