By Donald Wittkowski
Mayor Jay Gillian on Thursday night touted Ocean City’s strong finances, tax-friendly reputation and ambitious capital improvement program during a State of the City address that serves as the foundation for his re-election campaign this year.
Gillian, who is seeking his third term in the May 8 municipal election, also unveiled his proposed $79.9 million budget for 2018. The budget will add a penny to the local tax rate while financing an array of construction projects that address the city’s critical infrastructure needs.
Speaking before City Council, Gillian called on the governing body to continue to work with him to stimulate economic growth, promote tourism and build projects that will “improve our infrastructure and way of life.”
“The great news is the state of the city is strong. And although it is strong, we still have challenges,” he said.
Gillian stressed that he wants to maintain “the first-class services people come to expect in Ocean City – in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
“As mayor, I will make sure our city is clean, safe and family-friendly and will commit the resources to make that happen,” he said.
He also used his address to outline a series of economic achievements during his administration that are expected to position the town for further growth in 2018 and years to come.
Road and drainage improvements, beach replenishment projects, the Boardwalk’s reconstruction and the dredging of the shallow back bays will all pay dividends as the city looks to make itself even more appealing to residents and tourists, he said.
“We’ve tackled major repairs to every part of Ocean City, and the work continues,” he said. “All of the people who live here, own property here or vacation here share a love of Ocean City.”
In the past two years, in particular, Gillian has placed a heavy emphasis on capital projects to catch up on what he has described as the city’s aging and long-neglected infrastructure.
He noted that during his eight years as mayor, the city has completely rebuilt more than 18 percent of the town’s 110 miles of roads and alleys. More than 25 percent of the streets will have been repaved when the city completes the most recent series of road and drainage projects, he said.
This year, major road and drainage improvements will target flooding that occurs from 26th to 34th streets, between West Avenue and Bay Avenue. The city is also launching new drainage projects in flood-prone neighborhoods from Second Street to Eighth Street, between West Avenue and the bay.
On Feb. 8, Council approved the mayor’s $100 million, five-year capital plan, a sweeping blueprint for construction projects that will span from the beaches to the Boardwalk to the bay. The capital plan calls for $38.7 million worth of projects in 2018 alone. On Thursday night, Council approved a $5.7 million bond ordinance to finance the first round of projects.
“The city continues to experience strong tax-base growth. We’ve added more than $100 million in ratables in each of the past four years. That makes this an ideal time to complete this ambitious list of capital projects,” Gillian said.
Separate from the capital plan is the city’s 2018 municipal budget. Gillian gave Council the first glimpse of his proposed budget while delivering his State of the City address.
Council will scrutinize the budget in coming weeks as it prepares to formally introduce it on March 22 during the first of two votes required for the spending plan. A final vote and public hearing are tentatively scheduled for April 26.
The proposed $79.9 million budget is 1.5 percent higher than the 2017 spending plan and adds a penny to the local tax rate. The owner of a $500,000 home would pay an extra $50 in local taxes under the budget.
Gillian said the city’s property tax rate remains low overall, at 0.79 percent. Emphasizing his point, he cited a NJBIZ story that called Ocean City “the most tax-friendly municipality in New Jersey for retirees.”
“I’d like to stress that conservative financial planning will always be a priority of mine,” he said.
In other business Thursday night, Council honored three leaders of the Ocean City school district by presenting them with proclamations recognizing their achievements.
Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Taylor, American Sign Language Teacher Amy Andersen and Ocean City High School Student Council President Nora Faverzani are all “amazing women” who have made the Ocean City school district one of the best in the state, the Council members said.
Taylor has been named New Jersey’s Superintendent of the Year and is a candidate for National Superintendent of the Year honors. Andersen has been selected as New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year and is a finalist for National Teacher of the Year. The winners will be announced in the spring.
Faverzani, meanwhile, has been named State Board of Education student representative for 2018. The 16-year-old junior is the daughter of former Ocean City Councilwoman and former Cape May County Freeholder Susan Sheppard, who is now a Superior Court judge.
“Nora Faverzani, what a rock star,” Councilman Michael DeVlieger said. “She’s somebody to watch. She’s going to do great things in her life.”
Taylor and Andersen also were praised by the Council members and Mayor. DeVlieger called Taylor “world class.” Council President Peter Madden said Andersen has inspired countless students in her American Sign Language class and helped to make Ocean City a deaf-friendly community.
Speaking for the three women, Taylor thanked the mayor and Council for their support of the school district. She said the district has benefited immensely from all of the hard work invested by the community.
“We strive every day to make sure we have the best possible educational system for our students,” Taylor said.