Some Wonder If The Highlands Business Partnership Is Actually Doing The Job It's Supposed To Do

HIGHLANDS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Some business owners in a small New Jersey town say a non-profit meant to promote business is only promoting itself.

The small borough of Highlands sits at the mouth of Sandy Hook Bay. It was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. Sea Bright next door is going through a renaissance when it comes to business, yet Highlands is still in transition.

“Keep making same mistakes with no results. Projects are redone over and over. It’s a waste of money,” former Councilwoman Claudette D’Arrigo told CBS2’s Meg Baker on Wednesday. “I feel business tax is being used to support the (Highlands Business Parternership) operation without serving the promotion of businesses in town or effective marketing techniques to draw new business.”

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(Photo: CBS2)

D’Arrigo said she was assigned by the mayor to look into complaints about the non-profit. Businesses pay a mandated tax that is given to the organization to promote and bring in business.

Steve Solop opened his shirt-making business five years ago, volunteered at local events, donated shirts and paid his business taxes.

“After a while we weren’t getting any benefit. I investigated a little bit further and found that most events were tailored towards bringing business to the front doors of the board of directors of the business partnership,” Solop said.

Carla Braswell, the president of the partnership, said big events like Highlands Clam Festival, Octoberfest and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade bring in hundreds of tourists each year. Those events are held in the two parks at either end of town. She said the money made from the events goes back to the community.

“We have business grants, so you can get a little thousand-dollar business grants. Like a few of the businesses just got new signage and awnings,” Braswell said.

Others question the money trail and ethics.

“The woman that runs the alliance is partners in a business. Her husband is actually on the council, so she has a lot to gain by giving her husband printing work,” Solop said.

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Braswell defended the group’s work and the payments to her husband, who handles online and printing work for the partnership. She spoke to CBS2 by phone.

“There is nothing illegal about it. It’s illegal if you don’t disclose it,” Braswell said.

Solop has suggested car shows and fairs that bring people into the center of town, where business is struggling, as a better way.

There was a town council meeting scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss the Business Partnership budget.