By Donald Wittkowski
Mayor Jay Gillian proposed a $100.1 million, five-year capital plan that includes a series of big-ticket items in 2018, including drainage improvements, road construction and more dredging projects to clear out the shallow back bays.
In a presentation to City Council on Thursday night, senior members of Gillian’s administration said the capital plan spreads out projects across the entire town and builds on the momentum started in the last few years to address Ocean City’s critical infrastructure needs.
“We’ve tackled some major, major projects in the last couple of years,” said Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer.
On average, the capital plan would cause the local property tax rate to increase by about a penny per year, Donato said. On a home assessed at $500,000, that would mean about an extra $50 annually in local taxes.
“When you think about 50 bucks for what’s being done, it’s a great value,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said.
Donato and the Council members, though, repeatedly stressed that the capital plan would have to go through a series of votes before any projects are funded by bond ordinances backed by the city’s tax revenue. County, state and federal grants would supplement the city’s funding.
“You have several bites at the apple here. This is just the first step,” Donato told Council of the funding process to make the plan a reality.
The plan runs from 2018 to 2022 and represents a nearly $12 million decrease compared to the five-year, $112 million capital program that Gillian proposed in 2017.
Donato noted that proposed spending is down overall compared to the record-high, five-year capital plan submitted last year because a series of major projects were started or finished in 2017. They included road construction across the city, dredging in three bayfront neighborhoods and the Boardwalk’s facelift between 10th and 12th streets.
Altogether, the new capital plan calls for $38.7 million in construction in 2018, including paving projects to improve the road network, drainage work to reduce flooding and dredging along the back bays in the sediment-choked lagoons.
Some lagoons are so shallow that boats are trapped at their slips. The capital plan proposes spending $4 million for dredging projects in 2018. Vince Bekier, aide to the mayor, said the city still must decide which lagoons will be dredged this year. Those areas will be announced later during a town meeting, he added.
Overall, the Council members seemed receptive to the capital plan during the presentation by Donato and Bekier. They said they would need to scrutinize the plan further before suggesting any possible revisions.
“We’ve got a lot to digest,” Councilman Tony Wilson said.
The single-most expensive project is the proposed $17.5 million public safety building. However, Gillian said the fate of the existing public safety building still must be decided before the city moves ahead with the project.
Gillian originally proposed tearing down the building last year and replacing it with an all-new public safety complex. Later, he proposed renovating and expanding the building as the most cost-efficient option. But now, he believes the project must be analyzed even further before any decisions are made.
“It is a huge undertaking,” Gillian told Council.
Gillian said he has an obligation to the taxpayers to explore “every avenue possible” before presenting his plans to Council for the project.
“We’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it right,” he said.
One local resident, Michael Hinchman, a former president of the government watchdog group Fairness In Taxes, called the public safety project the “elephant in the room.” Hinchman urged the city to build an entirely new public safety complex in the middle of Central Avenue and surround it with a parking mall.
The public safety complex, a former school, has been a fixture on Central Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets for more than 100 years. The antiquated building serves as the headquarters for the police department, municipal court and city’s social services.
“It’s probably the hardest issue we’re going to have – where to put it and how much it’s going to cost,” Hartzell said of the complexities of building a new public safety complex or renovating the existing site.
The full capital plan is available for the public to review on the Ocean City municipal website at http://www.ocnj.us/projects/