Part-year residents pay taxes. Deserve voice in how town is run, Pullella Says

NOV 2006  Press of AC

BRIGANTINE – Mayor Phillip Guenther is running unopposed for a fourth term and three people are competing for two at-large seats on City Council, as the island city finds itself with a growing number of part-time residents.

Guenther said the City Council has had different priorities over the years. These have ranged from working with state officials to ensure Brigantine wasn’t forgotten during construction of the Atlantic City Connector to preserving open spaces to replenishing the beaches.

The character of Brigantine is changing, as many residents sold their homes during the real-estate boom and bought larger homes offshore, Guenther said. That leads to fewer students in the school system but a larger demand for services on weekends when the second-homeowners come to town.

“We’ve established very good partnerships at the county, state and federal levels” to work in the best interests of residents, Guenther said.

Guenther, 48, works as the superintendent of the Atlantic County Vocational School District. A lifelong resident of Brigantine, he is married with one daughter.

Republican at-large council members John Murray and Sue Schilling face a challenge from independent candidate Domenic “Tony” Pullella. The candidates representing individual wards are up for re-election in 2008.

Pullella, registered to vote as a Republican, said he is making his first-ever run for public office because, “I don’t think we have any checks and balances in our local city government.”

The City Council has been comprised of all Republicans for the last 10 years, leaving no room for an opposing point of view, Pullella said.

“I think they’ve locked the average taxpayer out of the debate,” Pullella said.

Pullella said he is concerned about the number of full-time residents leaving Brigantine, and school enrollment has declined from 1,350 to 850 in the last four years.

But part-year residents pay taxes, and may choose to retire in Brigantine, and they deserve a voice in how the town is run, Pullella said.

Pullella has lived in Brigantine for 28 years, and owns the Laguna Grill restaurant. He is married with three children.

Murray and Schilling dispute Pullella’s claim that decisions are made behind closed doors and say they are working for the good of city residents. They said change for its own sake has no value.

One of his biggest accomplishments in his five years in office is the purchase of the BrigantineGolf Course “and keeping that as open space for eternity,” Murray said.

In the future, he would like to work to maintain the city’s award-winning school system while maintaining the lowest tax rate in the county for municipalities that provide a full range of services, Murray said.

Murray, 53, works as a certified public accountant and has been active in several organizations, including the Brigantine Elks, St. Thomas Church and the Chamber of Commerce. He is married with two children and two grandchildren.

Sue Schilling, 58, is a lifelong resident of Brigantine and finishing her 14th year on the City Council. She, too, is proud of the efforts of saving open spaces, including getting a grant to build a bicycle path around the island and restricting the development of multi-family housing.

Municipal government in Brigantine is “open and above board” and there is plenty of room for the citizens to have an input into decision-making, Schilling said. Her name and phone number are listed in the phone book, and she’s always willing to speak with residents.

“They get me at Wawa. They get me at church” and apologize for being a bother, Schilling said. But “I’m willing to speak to anyone about anything and try to find a resolution.”

Schilling said her main concern is keeping taxes low enough so people can afford to stay inBrigantine. She works as an administrative assistant for a construction company and is married with two grown daughters.

“As this community nurtured me in my formative years, it’s important to me that I give back,” Schilling said.

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