WILDWOOD CREST – On the wall in a conference room at Wildwood Crest Borough Hall, there is a whiteboard titled, “Crest Capital Projects.”
It’s a visual that reminds the borough administration what is in the works and how much it will cost to complete the work.
“All together…for 2023, I think in round numbers, probably about $8 million, and as we say, it’s a moving target,” Mayor Don Cabrera said.
Cabrera said the Board of Commissioners just passed a bond ordinance and will probably introduce another in early spring. He said the number for capital projects is never a fixed number, because there are ongoing discussions, grants being worked on in the early part of the year, and just trying to project the impact of capital projects and repayment terms on the tax rate.
“We don’t want to spike the tax rate,” Cabrera said.
According to Borough Administrator Connie Mahon, on the advice of its auditors, the borough always tries to retire old debt as it assumes new debt, keeping the level of municipal debt service balanced. At the same time, the borough attempts to acquire grant money to keep the costs of capital projects down.
“We’ve been very successful in getting grants, here – the amount of grant monies that have flowed through the town – we’ve been pretty tremendous,” Mahon said.
She said Cabrera is very aggressive about applying for grants and then following up; especially with county Open Space money. Currently the borough is waiting to hear about an anticipated $1.5 million for the Crest Arts Pavilion project. Cabrera said the Arts Pavilion will be one of the more visible capital projects, as far as the public is concerned.
“I think that is what you’re going to look at first – the pavilion, the beach patrol headquarters – that’s what a lot of people will be looking at it – not a pool roof, and so forth,” Cabrera said.
He said those two projects, along with the beach bump-outs with new showers, will be the ones people are commenting on. However, there are plenty of other projects on the whiteboard, including $2 million going for bulkhead improvements and flood mitigation.
Mahon said streets-end bulkheads would be either kept or replaced depending on the condition of the bulkhead, and they might be made higher and resistant to flooding but added that the borough’s project does nothing to improve residential bulkheads.
“That’s just our street end improvements,” Mahon said.
The borough is also attempting to repair or replace flood valves, which is part of the $2 million flood mitigation improvements along the bay front and various locations. The borough is just putting the funding in place for engineering reporting and planning; prioritizing which ones would need to be addressed.
The borough is looking at spending about $400,000 to improve Preston Park at the south end of Wildwood Crest. There is about $1.9 million slated to go into the beach patrol headquarters. The borough is also looking at installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The borough is planning to install EV charging stations at the Crest Arts Pavilion, the municipal pool, the Crest Pier, and a fleet charger at the Borough Hall parking lot.
The borough received a more than $70,000 FEMA grant to study flood mitigation on Washington Avenue. The borough will be spending another $24,000 on that study.
There are a series of New Jersey Avenue sewer improvements that Mahon said might be pushed off until 2024, but at least $1.2 million is dedicated to that project in 2023.
There will be about $500,000 spent on the Public Works roof, and another $1 million to traffic signal improvements at Heather and Rambler Road.
And there will be pickleball courts.
“So those are for sure for this year,” Cabrera said. “There are other things that could come into play with these things.”
He said the funding for these projects, such as the pool improvements and the Arts Pavilion, was put into place at the last meeting. The money for the Arts Pavilion, for example, had to be put in place and spent before the borough is reimbursed with Open Space funding.
Cabrera said the borough takes a careful look at spending, including operating costs.
“I think we’re lean. We don’t have a big staff. We do a lot with less. And we spend more money probably on the projects and so forth because we recognize we’re a vacation community,” he said.
Cabrera said everyone, from year-round residents to second homeowners, to vacationers come to Wildwood Crest, wants to see positive changes. Cabrera, who is a realtor, said when you look at what’s happening in the market, in the Crest, from a real estate perspective, Wildwood Crest is becoming the “go to” resort in Cape May County.
“So I think that they’re seeing these changes. They see the family friendly parks and what we’re doing on the beaches, the access points, and they see in the balance where the infrastructure is not: you’re not getting that same pothole in the street for years, and years, and years. We’ve identified it and we’ve got it in the capital plan. I think that proactive thinking is helpful,” he said.
Cabrera said the results of careful budgeting will be very clear in the budget. He said most municipalities attempt to do capital projects without their surplus. He also said the increases in the budget are not for funding capital projects, but increases are primarily seen in costs the borough cannot control, such as pensions, health benefits, insurance, healthcare, union contracts and utility costs.
“So you’re going to hear me saying that everything around us is going up, so are the borough’s costs, and in order to grow with the times we’ve got to increase things to keep up, but it’s not going to be based on capital prices – it’s based on our annual operating cost. It’s inflation,” he said.
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