By Chris Rotolo |OCEANPORT — At Monday afternoon’s reorganization meeting it was clear the mayor and six-member Borough Council will be focused on horse racing subsidies in the new year.After overwhelming Republican victories this past election season, the council’s first session of 2018 was used to appoint Joseph Irace as the new council president by a 5-1 vote, as well as to swear in incumbents Richard Gallo Jr. and Robert Proto, each of whom won a full-term seat on the council; Stephen Solan, who was elected to a two-year unexpired term; and William Deerin, who captured the bid for a one-year unexpired term.However, the assemblage also provided a stage for the governing body, led by Mayor Jay Coffey, to discuss its focus for the next calendar year, and atop that list was the ongoing debate about Monmouth Park.“We have a financial issue confronting us with the park, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of our tax base,” said Coffey. “And if we don’t get some sort of subsidization of horse racing, the track might not be able to sustain itself.”Coffey’s ominous tidings about the future of this Jersey Shore institution come in response to the lack of New Jersey government subsidies provided to Monmouth Park and the borough, a circumstance the mayor points out is not suffered by surrounding states.Stephen Solan takes the oath to be an Oceanport Councilman.“The four states around us all subsidize their horse racing and thoroughbred racing,” Coffey said. “This year, we need seven people all working together in lockstep to support the advancement of subsidization, be it gambling revenue or, we’re hoping for sports betting.”The fight for sports betting at Monmouth Park has been an ongoing legal battle that began six years ago, but the case to legalize was finally heard by the Supreme Court on Dec. 4, 2017, meaning Coffey’s hopes could be answered in the early months of 2018. Should the state be permitted by the nation’s highest court, Monmouth Park’s share of New Jersey’s sports wagering revenue is estimated at nearly $50 million annually, an amount the venue would split with its sports betting partner, William Hill.Deerin’s election to the council is an addition Coffey is pleased with, as he believes the longtime Oceanport resident’s background can be particularly helpful in achieving the borough’s subsidization goals.“Bill is one of the first people I met when I came to Oceanport in 2002, so I know him well, and I know his financial background will be a tremendous help with what we’re facing with both the park and the fort. His business acumen is much needed in a town like ours. He was elected for a one-year term, but I hope we have him for much longer than that.”“We’re facing some challenges for sure,” said Deerin, who has lived and coached youth athletics in Oceanport for 24 years, and now plans to serve an even larger role in the borough’s recreational sports leagues. “Our biggest focuses are the fort and the track, and we’re determined to make headway with both of them, while financially keeping us in line.”John Drucker was named as the new Fire Prevention Subcode Official, while Michael Macstudy was appointed to replace Proto and serve alongside John Bonforte on the Two River’s Water Reclamation Authority.Mayor Coffey also appointed William Sullivan (Class I), Daphne Halpern (Class IV), James Whitson (Class IV), Michael Savarese (Class IV), Thomas Tvrdik (Alternate I) and Michael O’Brien (Alternate II) to the Planning Board, while Anthony Forlini and Jack L. Harris were appointed to the Environmental Commission.Tearful AcceptanceFire department and first aid squad officer elections were also made official on Monday, as Mike Patterson (Fire Chief), Paul Van Brunt (1st Assistant Chief) and Michael Lippolis (2nd Assistant Chief) each took their oath, as did Kelsey Bernaducci (First Aid Squad Sergeant), John Gallo (2nd Lieutenant) and John Connor (1st Lieutenant).Though it was the emotional acceptance of the first aid captaincy role by Kathy Kenny that proved to be the most heart-warming moment of the meeting.Kenny’s father, Danny Sapp — who passed away in 1978 at the age of 50 — was a former Oceanport Fire Chief, and deeply connected to the borough’s first aid squad, a familial connection to the position that caused Kenny to voice her oath through prideful tears.“It was an emotional moment for me,” Kenny said. “My father died when I was 14 years old and my sister, who is my only living relative and has been very sick, she came out for me today… and I was done.”A teary-eyed Kathleen Kelly celebrates her election as Oceanport First Aid Captain with grandaughter.“I’ve been with the first aid squad for 18 years and today is the first time I’ve been captain, so this means the world to me,” Kenny added. “It’s overwhelming emotion right now, and I wouldn’t be in this position without the support of my family.”“I just hope I fill the footsteps of my past captains as well as they did it,” she said.According to Kenny, one of her priorities as captain is to bolster the numbers of her volunteer squad.“It’s tough being volunteers, and to get people to come out to volunteer,” Kenny said. “We get almost 700 calls a year, but I have great people standing beside to help me do it. And I urge people to join us, because there is no better feeling in the world. We come and help people in their worst time. When they need someone the most, we’re there. It’s truly is something special to be a part of.”For more information on how to join the Oceanport First Aid Squad visit oceanportfirstaid.org or call their nonemergency number at 732-544-0864.This article was first published in the Jan. 4-11, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.