By Donald Wittkowski
Delivering a dose of good news to homeowners, Mayor Jay Gillian announced during his annual State of the City address Thursday night that there will be no increase in local property taxes in the 2019 municipal budget.
Gillian also used his speech to tout the city’s strong financial condition and an ambitious five-year capital plan that proposes more than $100 million in spending for an array of infrastructure projects from the beach to the bay to the Boardwalk.
“As we begin a new year, I want to thank you all for working together to make Ocean City a truly exceptional place to live, work and play,” he told members of City Council. “I’m proud to report: The state of Ocean City is stronger than ever.”
Giving a sneak preview of the city’s proposed $90.7 million operating budget for 2019, the mayor stressed that it keeps local taxes stable.
For the owner of a typical home assessed at $675,000, the annual local tax bill will be about $3,100. The figure does not include county or school taxes, said Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer.
Donato is expected to give a detailed report on the budget at an upcoming Council meeting. The governing body will scrutinize the spending plan before it introduces the budget, followed by a public hearing and final vote.
The city’s finances have been strengthened by its growing tax base, including $133 million in new ratables in this year alone, Gillian said. He also noted that a new arrangement for retirement healthcare benefits saved the city more than $2.2 million.
“Revenues from 2018 were up by about $280,000,” Gillian said. “These factors helped us continue our infrastructure improvements without raising the tax rate.”
Road and drainage improvements, beach replenishment projects, the Boardwalk’s recent 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.
“As mayor, I will make sure our city is clean, safe and family-friendly and will commit the resources to make that happen,” he pledged. “I know City Council and the city team are with me in our continued goals. We all share a common mission, so future generations can enjoy the Ocean City we all know and love.”
In the past three 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 pointed out that during his nine years as mayor, the city has completely rebuilt more than 35 percent of its 110 miles of roads and alleys.
“From the start, City Council and the city administration made a priority of addressing the most common complaints: Fix our roads – help with flooding,” he said.
The city is in the process of completing major drainage improvements to help reduce flooding in the midsection of town and expects to finish a similar project in the north end by April. Gillian said those projects reflect Ocean City’s aggressive action to protect the island from floods.
“New study after study tells us what we already know: Barrier islands flood. But unlike others, Ocean City is taking a lead in finding solutions,” he said.
“The elevation of homes and infrastructure, installation of pumping stations, replacement of bulkheads and barriers, creation of living shorelines, the purchase of open space and various other ideas are all part of our work,” he added.
A major theme of his State of the City address was his emphasis on more capital projects to come in 2019 as well as in the next five years.
To that end, Gillian and his top aides unveiled the city’s proposed $108.3 million, five-year capital plan, a sweeping blueprint for construction projects that will span the entire island.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this plan,” Donato told Council. “We’re doing some catch-up, where we are still completing road projects.”
The capital plan calls for nearly $33.3 million worth of projects in 2019. Big-ticket items planned for this year include a total of $6 million in road and drainage upgrades, $3 million for dredging along the back bays, $2 million for beach replenishment and $2.1 million in improvements to the historic Music Pier, the city’s main concert venue.
The city’s Sports and Civic Center is in line for $2.2 million in upgrades this year, including new restrooms, locker rooms and concessions. Gillian said the Sports and Civic Center’s facelift will make the facility, as well as the adjacent Carey Stadium, more attractive to college teams wanting to rent out both sites, producing more revenue for the city.
Construction projects to fulfill the city’s affordable housing obligations are another major part of the 2019 capital plan. In total, the city plans to spend $6.6 million to build or rehabilitate affordable housing sites for senior citizens and low-income families.
“We are obligated to make major investments in affordable housing, and it’s important to provide this basic need for all our residents” Gillian said.
The city’s affordable housing sites include Bayview Manor and Peck’s Beach Village. They are operated by the Ocean City Housing Authority.
Bayview Manor is slated for $2.7 million in rehabilitation work in 2019. Part of the flood-prone Peck’s Beach Village site will be demolished and replaced with a new 33-unit affordable housing project for senior citizens next to Bayview Manor.
The city’s share of the new senior citizens housing project is expected to be $3.7 million. The Ocean City Housing Authority, meanwhile, plans to contribute $4.2 million in funding to the project using a federal Hurricane Sandy recovery grant.
State of the City address: www.ocnj.us/
Proposed 2019 budget: www.ocnj.us/finance
Capital plan: www.ocnj.us/projects