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Monday, June 17, 2024

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Crest Aims to Keep Taxes Steady as Capital Projects Loom

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By Shay Roddy

WILDWOOD CREST – Borough officials in Wildwood Crest explained why the town can make major upgrades and take on large capital projects, without asking homeowners to incur the costs via a major tax hike. 
Francine Springer, the borough’s chief financial officer, gave a presentation at a Nov. 18 Wildwood Crest Board of Commissioners meeting, explaining the borough’s financial position and how upcoming capital projects would be financed. 
Springer pointed out the borough’s low debt, $29.5 million, which is a net debt of 1.3%, well below the 3.5% cap for municipalities. 
By keeping debt down and the town’s surplus healthy – averaging just under $9 million over the last three years – the borough can subsidize remaining expensive projects through various grants and budgeting, while keeping the tax increase moderate. The local purpose tax in the borough increased from 6.71 to 6.79 in the last three years. 
Springer explained the next three years of planned capital projects in four categories, showing the estimated costs associated with each category and pointing out potential grants and other methods to offset the costs of these projects, without significant increases to the tax rate. 
Upcoming road and drainage projects include the New Jersey Avenue business district (https://bit.ly/2Kz4FtH), work along Beach and Stanton avenues, and the flood mitigation efforts in the “triangle,” a one-mile-long area by the back bay, between Cresse and Rambler roads, which the borough identified as particularly prone to flooding. 
These street projects were estimated to cost $13.4 million, with $9 million of that on the books in 2023, when pump stations will be installed. A potential grant of $4 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would help offset some of the cost, Springer said. 
Beach and bay improvements will include, in the short term, new “bump out” access points in the south end of town, beach excavation and dune fill expenses, and eventually work on the fishing pier (https://bit.ly/2J9aDB4), raised bulkheads on the bayside of town, and a new beach outfall to reduce flooding. 
Homeowners along the bayfront in the “triangle” will be forced to raise their bulkheads at their expense, but the town will have to work on street ends and other public bulkheads in the problem region (https://bit.ly/2UZBMsw); $6.25 million is expected to be spent on beach and bay improvements in 2023, bringing the total for that year on capital projects to $15.25 million. 
A total of $1 million is expected to be spent on parks over the next two years, for work on Scoop Taylor Park, which is fully funded by a grant, and at the baseball fields, where insurance money will help rebuild storm-damaged dugouts. 
The town also expects to spend $2.9 million in the next two years on buildings and properties, including acquiring land along New Jersey Avenue for parking lots, renovations to the former library (https://bit.ly/2HxwuS9), bringing borough buildings up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, various roof repairs, and improvements to borough hall. 
Springer showed the grants that the borough obtained over the last three years, averaging about $708,000 per year. She praised borough officials for obtaining these grants. 
Of the $25.8 million expected to be spent on capital projects over the next three years, when longstanding flooding problems will be addressed, Springer predicts almost $8 million to be covered by grants, leaving the borough on the hook for $17.8 million of the costs.
“The key point in this presentation is that with the receipt of grant money, annual debt service payments, increased ratables, and sound use of surplus, while keeping controllable operational costs down, Wildwood Crest can do capital projects with no spikes on tax rate,” Mayor Don Cabrera wrote, in a text message after the meeting.  
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.

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