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State Authorizes W. Wildwood’s Plan for Judgment Bond

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By Vince Conti

TRENTON – West Wildwood Aug. 11 received some help from the state Local Finance Board. In a short hearing, the board approved a plan by the borough to issue $800,000 in bonds to pay off a civil judgment.
The new administration that assumed borough leadership in January has been grappling with financial problems left by the previous administration, headed by then-Mayor Christopher Fox. 
The judgment required the borough to pay over $1.7 million to Police Chief Jackie Ferentz and her attorney.
The urgency increased when Fox and his fellow commissioners accelerated the payment schedule arrangement with Ferentz as they left office, after being voted out in November. 
The payments to Ferentz’s attorney were scheduled to end in September 2021, freeing funds in the borough’s operating budget. The accelerated payment schedule canceled that expected reprieve.
The other factor motivating the borough’s action is that Ferentz always had the ability to terminate the payment schedule and call the remaining portion of the judgment on 60 days’ notice. Eliminating that contingency was a primary goal for the borough.
The borough sought the right to bond for the judgment, in 2017. Then, the state board urged a payment plan instead. At that time, the amount of the proposed bond was larger, and the borough sought a longer period for repayment.
Finance board members at that time expressed their displeasure with the handling of the issue by the Fox administration. One board member, in 2017, reminded the borough that Fox’s decision to settle the wrongful termination suit probably led to the jury award on the whistleblower suit and the eventual decision by the Joint Insurance Fund to refuse payment against the judgment.
With the Aug. 11 meeting, the new borough administration was able to show that the payments to date on the judgment hampered the borough’s ability to supply needed services to residents, and that the relief the officials expected with the end of payments to Ferentz’s attorney were lost because of the last-minute agreement by Fox and the other commissioners to accelerate the payment schedule.
The approval from the board is for a bond issue not to exceed $800,000 and to be repaid over a five-year term, in equal installments. The borough also pointed out to the board that the accelerated payments were done at the same time the previous commissioners approved a five-year contract for the police chief, even though three-year terms are more often the preferred term.
Among the services for which the borough said it wants to direct freed-up funds include reopening the municipal building five days a week, providing added staff in the tax office, hiring a business administrator, and adequately funding the storm clean-up budget.
In 2019, Fox was fined $24,900 for multiple ethics violations, includingvoting on ordinances involving Ferentz while they were living together. Other violations included using his position to have his daughter appointed to a borough position and failing to disclose relevant income on his annual financial disclosure forms.
Fox appealed the fines, and after long delays, the hearing was held this spring. According to West Wildwood Solicitor Matthew Lyons, there has been no word yet from the state Department of Administrative Law.
Mayor Matthew Ksiazek attended the board meeting. The decision to allow the $800,000 bond issue moved the borough one step closer to greater financial stability. 
While the presentation to the board assumed that the five-year bond would be at 2.5% interest, the expectation is that the interest rate will be considerably lower, freeing more funds for borough services.  
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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