By Dan Moffett
    Manalapan has the lowest tax rate in Palm Beach County, and some of its highest property values and budget reserves that are the envy of communities across the bridge.
    So finding $750,000 to replace the town’s failing Audubon Causeway Bridge shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Well, not exactly.
    During the town’s budget workshop on June 23, Mayor David Cheifetz instructed Town Manager Linda Stumpf to explore the possibility of taking out a loan to cover the initial $500,000 that is needed this year to get the project underway.
    “We could borrow. I think it’s something we should consider,” Cheifetz said. “Interest rates are pretty low and the town has a good credit rating. We could leave the reserves intact then.”
    The town commission has been wrestling with the costs of replacing the 30-yard span on Point Manalapan for the past six months. Efforts to find federal, state or county money failed. The project is too small to finance through a bond offering, Stumpf told commissioners. The town’s auditors have suggested maybe opening a line of credit with a local bank.
    If all else fails, commissioners actually might have to dip into the $1.8 million in reserves that are sitting in the town’s bank account, Manalapan’s rainy day fund — rainy day as in hurricane.
    About $120,000 of the Audubon project’s cost goes toward replacing a water line that runs across the bridge. That expense is covered by utility fees, according to Stumpf, leaving about $630,000 that ultimately will have to come out of reserves, new taxes, borrowed money or a combination of all three.
    The project is scheduled to begin next May, and commissioners are hoping the worst of the construction work is over by the start of the 2015 tourist season.
    Two other significant capital expenditures are in the early budget for the new fiscal year. The town’s 9-year-old generator is corroded and needs replacement at a cost of about $27,650; and it might take as much as $20,000 to replace the 11-year-old town hall phone system which has failed several times in recent months.
    Manalapan has also seen rising costs from litigation with the police union. Arbitration issues over the town’s plan to fire Officer David Hul have helped run up about $37,000 in legal fees, according to Stumpf’s preliminary numbers.
    The town’s next budget workshops are scheduled for July 22 and Aug. 20. ;

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