Some answers…

questionsGuest Blogger: Kim Skorka

Here is the update to my original June 18th post, now with answers!

Did Highlands qualify for any of the state DCA money mentioned in this article? If yes, how much? If not, why?  This is for essential services and Highlands received funding in a previous round and we haven’t spent down that money.

When can we expect an update from the finance committee?  Per Mayor Nolan during the 6/18 council meeting, the Finance Committee will be meeting within the next 10 days.  He has asked Becky Kane for available dates.  Also, there may be more people appointed to the committee but he is waiting for Doug Card to be sworn in as he may have some input on committee members.  ***July 17th update: the Finance Committee still has not met

Does the town pay the school district for the meetings held in the gym?  Per Tara Ryan 6/18 – no, the town does not.  ***July 17th update: the town does pay for the custodial services, so there is a cost associated with our need to hold meetings while borough hall is damaged.

There are so many committees in town.  Why don’t they give regular updates?  For example, the environmental commission, shade tree, substandard housing, etc.  After a discussion with Tim, he will work with the council and the committees to include a summary report in the agenda.  We agreed that the meetings would be too long if every committee gave a detailed update but also see the need for everyone to stay informed on what the groups are focusing on.

What is the status of finding a communication tool for the residents? (ex: Nixle?) Tim thought this is being included with the web site committee’s work.

How much is in the Open Space trust fund? $155,000 rounded

Is the town getting reimbursed by FEMA for the 2014 lease of the borough trailers (municipal and police)? Yes, through Arcadia and the town is hoping to extend this through 2015.  The reimbursement is 90% of the cost.

How much is left on the bond for the fire truck? Are there bonds on any of the other fire equipment? There was some confusion on this question.  Pat thought I was asking for how much we are still able to spend on that bond when what I meant was how much debt is left to pay.  He will follow up with me.

What spending cuts can you recommend? This is for everyone, not just Mr. De Blasio. Are you asking all borough employees for suggested cost savings? Recommendations and a review is completed prior the preparation of the budget.  All departments are involved and some recent cost reductions were found in changing the cell phone contract, renegotiating other contracts, and changing the phone plan.  

2014 Budget Quesitons:  I was told that in general, 2013 was an “off year” as we were still recovering from Sandy and not all departments were running at 100%.  The Community Center is a good example of that.  In the coming months I will be working on an analysis of our budget and spending trends over the last 3 – 5 years.

  • Sheet 12, Central Services – Other Expenses. Why was $37,000 budgeted when only $21,741.48 was spent in 2013? The budget was kept the same as 2014
  • Sheet 12, Borough Council – Salaries and Wages. Why is there in increase? The mayor didn’t draw a salary until 2014
  • Sheet 12, Borough Council – Other. What is this for? Why was $67,580 budgeted when only $13,928.02 was spent in 2013? This is for the grant writer
  • Sheet 13, Assessment of Taxes – Other Expenses. Why was $48,205 budgeted when only $30,790.02 was spent in 2013? This is to cover the cost of the new county pilot program where 20% of the homes will be reassessed every year.
  • Sheet 13, Legal Services, Other Expenses. What is this for? Why was $177,500 budgeted when only $120,124.15 was spent in 2013? The budget is decreasing year over year and the increase in spending is due to more employee contracts coming up for renewal.
  • Sheet 14, Engineering Services and Costs. Why was $150,000 budgeted when only $114,000 was spent in 2013? This is based on the 2014 projects
  • Sheet 14, Code Enforcement – Other Expenses. Why was $25,100 budgeted when only $6,738.91 was spent in 2013? This is for private property maintenance.  The town will demolish homes and place a lien on the property so that the town will recoup the cost sometime in the future.
  • Sheet 15, Police – Other Expenses. Why was $86,066 budgeted when only $63,140.80 was spent in 2013? This is for the purchase of ammunition for training.
  • Sheet 15-1, Road Repair and Maintenance – Salaries and Wages. Why was $178,000 budgeted when only $153,809.15 was spent in 2013? In 2013 4 to 5 positions were covered by workforce development.
  • Sheet 15-1, Road Repair and Maintenance – Other Expenses. Why was $55,000 budgeted when only $40,891.27 was spent in 2013? The budget was held at the same level as 2013 and spending was down because the DPW supervisor was not replaced
  • Sheet 15-1, Snow Removal – Other Expenses. Why was $40,000 budgeted when only $18,039.11 was spent in 2013? The budget is the same as the prior 3 years.  Spending will be up in 2014 due to the amount of snowfall.
  • Sheet 15-2, Sanitation – Other Expenses. Why was $50,350 budgeted when only $32,861.00 was spent in 2013? Skipped
  • Sheet 15-2, Public Buildings and Grounds – Other Expenses. Why was $80,000 budgeted when only $40,855.91 was spent in 2013? The budget is being reduced over the years and we had less maintenance in 2013 due to being in trailers.
  • Sheet 15-2, Condominium Expenses. Why was $28,000 projected when only $5,951.94 was spent in 2013? The budget is based on maximum exposure and spending is based on the reimbursement requests submitted by condo associations.
  • Sheet 15-3, Dog Control – Other Expenses. Why was $18,000 budgeted when only $6,165.00 was spent in 2013? Spending in 2013 was low because bills didn’t come through until 2014 and the animal control officer tries to mitigate.  Also, the ASPCA TNR program was scaled back.
  • Sheet 15-4, Community Center – Salaries and Wages. Why was $103,000 budgeted when only $77,979.02 was spent in 2013? In 2013 there was less staff and more down time while the 2014 budget is based on the community center being up & running for a full year.
  • Sheet 15-4, Community Center – Other Expenses. Why was $25,000 budgeted when only $14,431.79 was spent in 2013? Same as salaries & wages for Community Center
  • Sheet 16, Construction Code Official – Other Expenses. Why was $23,200 budgeted when only $4,146.44 was spent in 2013? This is for the new software for construction/code enforcement.
  • Sheet 17, Electricity. Why was $60,000 budgeted when only $41,544.15 was spent in 2013? The 2013 spending only has 11 months of bills because the December bill is received in January.  I asked why didn’t 2013 run from December ’12 – November ’13 (12 months) and was told that in the reporting to the state that the spending is adjusted and that adjustment is not reflected in this budget packet.
  • Sheet 17, Telephone. Why was $32,000 budgeted when only $21,460.32 was spent in 2013? Same as explanation for Electricity.
  • Sheet 17, Landfill/Solid Waste Disposal – Other Expenses. Why was $199,000 budgeted when only $166,2017.39 was spent in 2013? Even though there was continued clean up from the storm, there were fewer residents so the tipping fees were lower.
  • Sheet 20, Length of Service Awards Program. Why was $45,000 budgeted and nothing paid in 2013? This is similar to the explanation for Electricity.  The 2013 LOSAP awards had not been calculated yet so the 2013 spending does not reflect the awards yet.  The first aid LOSAP was in last night’s agenda and the fire department should be received soon.
  • Sheet 20, Employee Group Insurance. Why is nothing budgeted for 2014 when $14,505.79 was paid in 2013? This is formula driven and some insurance is in the cap and some is outside of the cap.  There is $45k budgeted for 2014 outside of the cap.
  • Sheet 22, Atlantic Highlands – Maintenance of Motor Vehicles. Why was $90,500 budgeted when only $41,760.58 was spent in 2013? The budget is down compared to prior years and the 2013 spending is down due to Atlantic Highlands having lower staff.  Highlands is keeping up with the maintenance of the fleet but some general maintenance was not done due to the Atlantic Highlands staffing.
  • Sheet 26, Capital Improvement Fund. Is there a minimum balance for this? How is this calculated? This is used for the down payments when bonds are issued.  It is an estimate based on the projects anticipated for the year.
  • Sheet 26, Firehouse Facility Upgrade and Equipment. What is this for? What exactly is being upgraded and/or purchased? There was a pipe break in the fire house over the winter.  The insurance company has made suggestions to bring the fire house up to code.  The items include communication equipment, moving the pipe, and making sure there are adequate electric outlets.  
  • Sheet 26, Restoration of Borough Hall. Why is nothing budgeted for 2014? The 2013 expense was for the clean up.  
  • Sheet 26, Firehouse Repairs and Equipment due to water pipe break. Did insurance cover the $50,000? Insurance reimbursed the town $70k for the incident.
  • Sheet 27, Interest on Notes. Why is there an increase? Does the borough have the option of paying down the notes early? Is there a penalty for early payment of the principal? What is the interest rate on the notes?  The increase is due to the emergency notes.  They are issued for one year and the interest rate is between 0.90% and 2.0%. At the end of the year a small principal pay down is required and the notes rolled over.  The town can pay down more principal if the cash is available.
  • Sheet 27, Capital Lease Obligations. What is this for? Why was there no expense for this in 2013? This is for equipment (5 year leases) and police cars (3 year leases).
  • Sheet 29, Reserve for Uncollected Taxes. Why is this less than 2013? This is formula driven and budgets for a 93% collection rate.  Any late payments are charged 18% interest and the town does collect that.  There is no waiving of the interest.
  • Sheet 34, Sewer Rents.  What is this for?  Why is there a decrease?  This is the fees paid by the town.  There was some catch up in 2013 because the 4th quarter bills went out late in 2012 due to Sandy.
  • Sheet 35, Water & Wastewater – Salaries & Wages.  Why is $79,805 budgeted when only $66,379.64 was paid in 2013? The 2013 expense was lower due to a decrease in man hours, a decrease in overtime, and one position being vacant for part of 2013.
  • Sheet 35, Water & Wastewater – Other Expense.  Why was $1,152.838 budgeted, which is less than the $1,471,582.11 spent in 2013?  The decrease is due to the anticipated cost savings after the dissolution of the AHH Regional Sewer Authority.  
  • Sheet 35, Debt Service.  Can the bond principal be paid down early?  What is the interest rate on the bonds?  Bonds are different than the notes and some of them may not be callable (able to pay the principal early).  The interest rates range between 2% and 5%.

Are there any plans to replace trees lost in recent years? Shore Drive is lacking in trees compared to just five years ago.  Tim said he would look into this and we agreed that we have to keep in mind the root systems and placement so that the trees don’t impact power lines and our infrastructure (sidewalks, sewer, drain, roads, etc.).  Shrubs and grasses were offered as an alternative.

Status of the community center – when can we start repairs? The town is still working with FEMA and is awaiting approval of the formal mitigation plan (ex: raising outlets).  This should be done by the end of the month.  I asked about volunteers and donations and was told that the value of whatever the town receives in goods & services would be deducted from the amount FEMA pays us.

Status of boro hall – when can we start repairs? See above for Community Center

Status of the Transit Village application and can anything be delegated to move this along? It is included in the Master Plan and was revived after Sandy.  Steve Nelson is doing more ground work on this.

Is Hope for Highlands winding down?  Why haven’t we heard about any fundraising or more programs?  As per Carla at last night’s (7/16) council meeting, Hope for Highlands is accepting applications in case they get more funding.  At this time Hope for Highlands is not actively fundraising.

Sea Bright celebration & promotion of the town.  What is Highlands and the HBP doing to draw people in? skipped

Can we get a composting program going in town to cut down on the tipping fees for garbage collection? Princeton has a program where the residents separate their compost materials and pay a fee to have it picked up and taken to a central location. Chatham has a program where people compost in their own yards and has a great planning tool.  The town was approached by a student from Rowan regarding a composting survey.  That can be found here:  It’s also on the Highlands web page under “Public Notices.”


  1. Some of these answers are a bit vague and would not be accepted in a professional arena. For Ex:-: Electric and Phone bill budgets with an answer that only 11 months of invoices were available so they increased it for the 12th month …. so, are we expected to believe that the 12th month is equal to about half of what was paid for the 11 month total in those utilities?

    RE: Sea Bright promotion of the town and what HBP and Highlands were doing to draw people in? (skipped).

    At the 7/16 Council meeting the HBP report said they formed a sub-committee to review and assess properties for code violations. It seemed that this was the first time the Council was being informed of this sub-committee. When I asked why the Business partnership was involved with evaluating residential structures Carla stated it was similar to the Visual Improvement program of a couple of years back.

    Shouldn’t the HBP focus be on the business properties for now with Visual Improvement …. and leave the residential structures to the town, the property owners and Code Enforcement?


  2. Barbara, you make some great points. I wasn’t focused on the dollars when my questions were being answered. I will be doing a follow up analysis of our budget and spending trends. Hopefully that will address that issue and some others. I’m hoping that all of this work leads to Highlands being able to roll back at least some of that 9.5% tax increase.

    As for the promotion of the town, that was skipped because that is for Carla, as head of the HBP to answer. This was one of two questions on my list for last night’s meeting until my focus was shifted. I specifically want to know why the town and the HBP is silent on social media (Facebook specifically) when Sandy Hook posts that they are closed due to capacity. Surely our town and businesses could benefit from a little added traffic.

    I think that Carla should be focusing on fundraising for Hope for Highlands. There is still a need for financial assistance otherwise more structures would be in a better state of repair. Hope for Highlands is still taking applications in anticipation of future funding, but there is no proactive fund raising as far as I can tell.


  3. Kim, what I find funny is that when I was given my “Elected Officials Handbook” from New Jersey State League of Municipalities. On page 112 it has a topic of ” Social Media Dos and Don’ts for government .

    – “Do learn to understand and use social media. It is here to stay. If you don’t use social media to get your massage out, the danger is that your opponents will, either now or in the very near future”

    Both the town and HBP need to get up to speed.


  4. Just wondering if the handbook tells the elected officials how to defend themselves against innuendo, allegation, perception, name calling and other slurs from their constituents hiding behind those on-line nom de plumes?


    • I don’t see any name calling or slurs etc here. I also don’t see anyone hiding who they are. If an elected official can’t take criticism or questioning, then they may want to re-think running for office. Also if they think something being said is incorrect; then I would hope they would respond back with their viewpoint.


  5. Well, K and Kat: A wee bit of name calling does come to mind. Something about bats I believe. Along with other little “slips”, they do tend to show the character of this blog. As to “nom de plumes” how about NJView, NoLongerNew, Chris07732, Sevens, plus all the first names (?) only. Kat, Kat who, there are a lot of “Kats” in Highlands, and the best one of all, Duncan Mcleod–thought somebody would have fried that clam by now.

    During the campaign for the two Council seats, there was also a lot of mud slinging by innuendo,
    allegation and perception on Highlands Face Book. Now there, the true identities show thru, so you bet your boots ol’ clammsie wammsie and a few others stayed away from that one.


  6. Divergent thinking: a thought process and method used to generate creative ideas and SOLUTIONS by exploring many possibilities. It occurs in a spontaneous free flowing manner. Activities which PROMOTE divergent thinking INCLUDE CREATING LISTS OF QUESTIONS.
    Three things come to mind… Two minutes is not enough time to think divergently, what is everyone afraid of when questions are posed on this blog and Facebook and thank you Kim for your list of questions and answers as it causes me to think and question in areas I have limited expertise.


  7. Wikipedia does not hold all the answers. Divergent thinking is creativity. Beware of creativity, it has its dark side.

    “Creative individuals are more likely to be arrogant, good liars, distrustful, dishonest and maybe just a little crazy, ok, let’s say eccentric”.

    I think I’ll just go with the everyday plodder who is well organized, intelligent, honest and willing to extend him or herself for his or her fellow residents; but, at the same time smart enough not to expose him or herself to anonymous posters


    • Two minutes is enough time to ask a question unless you didn’t think about what u want to ask. A better move IMHO is to allow more public time and keep the 2 minute limit so you can ask 10 questions as long as each one has been thought out


    • Two minutes is not enough time when someone during the Regular Meeting takes five minutes to slander a resident and that resident only gets two minutes to address it.


    • Wow I did not know creative people were “dishonest, distrustful, good liars, crazy , thanks for educating me . It seems without these crazy “creative people “you would not have your telephone ,electricity , cures for various diseases,and on and on. If I recall my from my past education everyone thought Einstein , the wright brothers etc were all “crazy” I’ll take my “creative eccentric” thinkers who can think outside the box over negativity any day . In this town we absolutely need creative answers since the “old way” is most certainly not working as evidenced by the trouble this town . You can keep your attacks coming it solidifies what I feel which is there is so much disrespect for others In this town that it is frightening and we need drastic change . I certainly am not “afraid” to expose myself which has nothing to do with my level of intelligence quite the contrary.


    • Claudette: If you will reread my post, you will note I was speaking of the “dark side of creativity”. While Einstein could not drive an automobile his theory of relativity was applied to the car battery and that theory still holds to this date. Did you know that indeed Einstein did have a dark side revealed in letters. This concerned his first wife to whom he gave explicit orders:

      “You will see to it that my clothes and linens are kept in order; that I am served 3 regular meals a day in my room; you will renounce all personal relations with me, except when they are required to keep up social appearances; you will expect no affection from me; you must leave my room or study when I ask to you.” Hmmmmmmm

      And those poor Wright Brothers. When the Army Air Force had problems with their planes nose diving and attributed more than half the fatalities to the Wright C, the brothers, creative thinkers that they were, blamed pilot error.

      So, it is nice to know that you perceive at least 4 out of 5 of our elected officials as not having a dark side and can effectively “think outside the box”


  8. First let me say, welcome back Seven Stars. Next time don’t stay away so long. Then I’ll tell HB that my family has not lived in Highlands for generations…a mere half century at best. And oh yes, Claudette, please don’t thank me for the comments re “the dark side of creativity”, thank the Harvard School of Business for their study on the subject. After all, who knows what lurks “outside that box”.

    As to my “negativity”, shall we review the subject? Seems I have a different point of view, perception if you must, from the majority of posters here. On this blog that is considered negativity…. ergo, vilification…

    Whatever or whenever I have posted here has been reaction…again, that ol’ knee jerk.
    First, I learned that I was bat sh..crazy, then to my surprise I was told I had a twig on my head and should call myself a tree….I really thought wow, I must be “outside that box” again.

    When I call this a fun blog, I am not being sarcastic….I’m having fun here. It’s a good hobby for old age, sparring keeps the mind young…however. while walking softly, I will still carry that big twig.


  9. Ahh yes the Harvard Business school I know their studies well…I truly understand an Ivy education having done one myself . Perhaps the “sparring” you so allude to does keep your”mind young” but it tends to alienate and make change more of an issue for those who have not “lived here for generations” . We “new ” people pay taxes too and we are entitled to speak our mind without being insulted , cursed at and intimidated because we did not “live here for generations” Change is necessary in this town as evidenced by the state we are in with some of the highest taxes in the county and very little to show for it. We “new” people have every right to know where are taxes are being spent and we have every right to question what every council , committee, and board is doing. this has NOTHING to do with how long anyone has lived here and I would think every tax payer would want to know the facts . I attend every council meeting and take notes on my iPad (that was created by one of the greatest creative people in the world before his death) The disparities of what is done from meeting to meeting and yes the inconsistencies in the statements from week to week is disconcerting to say the least. . I applaud the people who question because it allows me to see things clearly especially after I review my notes with my husband the next night. Oh and I too was lied about and called names by a council person who did not bother to even check their facts before they opened their mouth. I attribute that to a deep insecurity on that individual’s part and nothing more.


  10. Claudette, I have nothing against so called “new” people. I was a “new” person myself at one time. I can honestly say I was welcomed with open arms. Just imagine how stagnated any place would be without new people. I have nothing against change. It too is necessary, without change is also stagnation. I think it’s great that you attend the Council meetings, nor am I against anyone who questions. Checks, balances and regulations are necessary to keep any government, even local ones, on the straight and narrow. I also believe in time limits on questions at the Council meetings. I also think time limits should be applied on a one to one bases depending on the question asked. This will cut down the time some used for unnecessary repetitive haggling (I’ve witnessed this first hand) I am a firm believer in following the rules. I am also a firm believer in having all the “facts” before pronouncing judgment (as is constantly done on this blog).

    Sorry you had to experience name calling (rankles, doesn’t it?). There is no excuse for that. Also “did not bother to even check their facts before they opened their mouth”….that too sounds like a familiar condition used by too many.

    I also believe in following proper procedure in obtaining documents from Borough Hall (prude that I am). I believe “inquiring minds” would have had their answers a lot sooner and with a lot less acrimony.

    Sad to say, but I do not have an IPad. My almost 2 year old great grandson knows where “his” apps are and goes right to them. My other great grandson is 5 and quite the wiz at the thing. I’m lucky to include myself in the 21st century by using a computer, but you know, hobbies are hobbies.


  11. While I can appreciate any discourse or verbal sparring I also strongly feel that diversity of opinion in this town has not been readily if at all accepted. I have only lived here for 8 years and I am continually amazed by the lack of consistency in many areas. This lack of consistency creates strong animosity among involved taxpayers , particularly when things are stated in one meeting and the next meeting either claimed they were not stated or denied. Meeting after meeting things are discussed and yet very little is resolved. Many times things are “tabled , repeatedly postponed , deflected or ignored ” with no resolution . As a taxpayer I want answers , as a former educator on both the high school and college level with a doctorate degree , I appreciate all questions even if they seem repetitive as sometimes repetition is required to get to the true answers. I am also the daughter of both a well known artist father and former journalist mother so the comments about creative people being liars, distrustful,dishonest and crazy are offensive not only to me but to every “creative ” person I know. As for personal name calling it does not rankle nor upset me, I came from an extremely accepting and diverse background and was called many a name in my lifetime. If a person feels the need to lie about me or call me a name it only succeeds in showing me how truly insecure that person is. Change is progress and is required in this town as well as many other towns in order for them and us to survive. It’s a different world after this storm for everyone and in my opinion unless drastic change occurs the very survival of this town is in jeopardy. It saddens me because I think everyone will lose if change in the manner the way things are done does not happen soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Claudette, I think it takes more than talent and creativeness to bring about success. It also takes ambition and hard work. You and your family should be congratulated on yours.

      I also do not think it is the number of years a family lives in a town that matters. It is what they contribute to that town that should..

      As to being called names, the only times in my adult life that I can recall being called names is on social media. I dare say, sometimes it isn’t so social. But I take comfort in the knowledge that when one does not have the wherewithal or words to answer another’s argument they can resort to name calling.

      Having been reviewing this blog for the last few months I see a trend toward negativity. It is on the rare occasion that I have seen anything positive posted here. Seems the more you do for your community the more debased you are. Therefore, when I read your post on divergent thinking, I did so with a jaundiced eye thinking, oh oh, what are “they” up to now. Defenses to the forefront, I merely pointed out that there is also a dark side to creativity; and, in my opinion, a struggling local government is not the place for it.

      Of course, without divergent thinking, creativity, we would not be so advanced as we are today. But, after reading about perception of corruption in our Council (forensic audit demanded) and allegations of incompetency toward our council by posters who also post on this very blog, I do not think they should venture outside that box. They have restrictions that prevent too much wandering from the norm….laws, ordinances and that really big one….the budget. All the towns around us are having the same problems, they just keep their dirty linen in the hampe.

      If you want answers to your questions or solutions to your problem, I don’t think you’ll find them on this blog. I would suggest emailing a member (or all of them) of the Council for help. You can find their email addresses on the Highlands Web Site. They will respond.

      The best of luck to you


    • Funny, going to your council for answers is what Kim did, and what started this entore blog post.
      I will add that I have found more information in this blog than anywhere else that is town sponsered.


    • “Having been reviewing this blog for the last few months I see a trend toward negativity.”

      And you do nothing to move whatever you think is negative into a positive. You bash people for questioning how the town runs and how they spending our money. When someone asks the simplest question about the FD, right away you claim that person is bashing the FD. The very FD that many of us support with donations in various forms.

      You have taken a positive – educating residents on how the town runs and how they are spending our money – and spun it into something negative. You take Claudette’s comments and spin them into something negative. YOU are the cause of a good portion of the negativity on this blog.

      Comments repeatedly ask you contribute something positive, offer your suggestions for change, and you ignore those posts. You continue to put down others instead of focusing on the work that is being done. Why be so mean? Why be so defensive? It makes me wonder if there’s something you’re trying to hide. The weather is beautiful. Perhaps you’ll feel better if you spent more time outside than behind the keyboard. Don’t you have a brand new great-granddaughter to visit?

      Do something to make this town better instead of bashing the people that are trying.


  12. Through the looking glass darkly…….or just under how many “names” do you post here, NoLongerNew?

    That’s all she wrote!!!


    • Lucille Kane
      Still in that cave…aka, you really know who
      Still in that cave
      Caves and twigs and other good stuff
      View from the Bat Cave
      who’d I miss?
      and as popular as you think you are, many people still didn’t realize who you were.. Of course I would tell them and the response would be “I voted for her grand daughter, won’t make that mistake again.” — keep the negativity coming.. next time Becky runs I won’t have to try too hard to get her out..

      Poster’s here outside of me. have tried to tell you its not your disagreement or difference of opinion its your delivery that most people here have an issue with. Ever thought about taking up crocheting?


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