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Housing Market Soars; 15-year Bridge Plan Could Cost $800 Million; Pandemic Stays Moderate with Some Worries; Municipal, State Happenings

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Sept. 7-13:  

Housing Market Soars 

“It’s crazy” was how Stone Harbor Tax Assessor Margaret Slavin expressed it. Slavin was talking about soaring home values in an already high ratable community that completed a borough-wide reevaluation two years ago. “I know this will even out,” Slavin added, “but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.” 

Low-interest rates have certainly contributed to the county’s high-end housing boom, but the real impact may be coming from the pandemic.  

Many local real estate agents are hearing about safety concerns, as people seek to relocate, temporarily or permanently, to the shore. More open space, fewer year-round people, and a relatively low number of positive COVID-19 cases combine to make waiting out the virus in a shore home attractive. 

Even the difficulties faced by school districts striving to reestablish in-person education play to the attraction, since many areas have had to fall back on virtual instruction, freeing parents to opt for time at a shore vacation home rather than an urban or semi-urban setting. 

More people use more water. Water usage is up significantly, leading one borough, Stone Harbor, to intensify its water conservation campaign, even going so far as to set up a pilot program for evaluating artificial grass. 

Rentals have seen the same upward pressures. Local real estate offices are still seeing record increases in September rentals. 

15-year Bridge Plan Could Cost $800 Million 

Cape May County freeholders and the Cape May County Bridge Commission made public a 15-year plan to deal with the many deteriorated and dangerous bridges that are a critical part of the area’s road and maritime infrastructure; 23 county bridges and five commission spans were considered as part of the plan.  

Cost for replacement or major repairs to more than half of the bridges could run as high as $800 million, with the county hoping for 50% to 70% of the funds to come from state and federal sources. 

The plan is very much needed and overdue, yet multiple, overlapping bridge projects can’t help but impact the flow of the millions of visitors who fuel the county’s tourist economy. From funding to project management to diverted traffic, there are many questions concerning an effort of this magnitude. 

Pandemic Stays Moderate with Some Worries 

The public health metrics continue to trend well. For the state, as a whole, the positivity rate remains among the nation’s lowest, at 2.6%, Sept. 11.  

The rate of transmission is slightly above the desired target level, but it is not setting off alarms. COVID-19-associated hospitalizations remain low. 

In Cape May County, the numbers of new cases  last week were at levels higher than in August, but they have not been associated with increased demands on the health systems. 

A lot of the story of the state and county’s recent experience with COVID-19 is centered on young people. Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Sept. 11 that the positivity rate for those ages 18 to 24 was the highest in the state, at 6%. The next highest rate belongs to individuals who are ages 14 to 18, where it stands at 4%. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set a positivity rate of 5% or lower for a safe reopening of schools. For the population, as a whole, the southern New Jersey counties are at 2.44%, well within the CDC threshold. It is the subpopulations of teens and twentysomethings that are a worry. 

Also worrisome is the increasing obstacles placed in the way of contact tracers. In the prior week, the Herald reported that roughly half of those contacted were refusing to supply information.  

This week, the state Health Department reports that 59% of those contacted will not cooperate.  

When added to those who will not accept the initial call and those who have supplied incorrect information, the numbers reported on the state dashboard add up to the ability to trace contacts from only about one in three or less of those infected with the coronavirus. 

This trend links with the age groups with the highest positivity rates since state officials report that parents are often refusing to allow their teenage children to speak to contact tracers. Persichilli, again, urged more cooperation, saying, “Our contact tracers’ only job is to protect public health.” They are not engaged in tracking down underage drinking or other violations of the law. 

Good news is coming from health officials concerning the first week of school. While schools are finding cases among staff and students, health officials said Sept. 11 that there was no evidence of any case that was “related to school attendance.” The transmission, they maintain, is occurring outside of the schools. 

Still, the coronavirus continued to threaten. The state’s travel advisory grew again this week, with 35 states and territories from which visitors or returning residents are advised to quarantine. Two nearby states, Delaware and Maryland, were added to the list again this week. 

Municipal, State Happenings 

Middle Township celebrated its postponed Independence Day events with Freedom Day Sept. 4. Whitesboro was also the site of a community event Sept. 5-6. 

Sea Isle City announced a dredging project while some citizens used the governing body meeting to chastise the mayor for a local establishment he owns caught on video ignoring health protocols. The mayor is also a member of the freeholder board. 

Confronted with a significant increase in the number of families seeking help from food pantries, Lower Township held a food drive Sept. 12. The municipality also provided an update on park projects. 

Middle Township took steps to calm traffic near the Martin Luther King complex, in Whitesboro. Whitesboro was also the scene for the opening of a new post office. 

County officials urged residents to get flu shots this year, as health experts fear a twin attack from COVID-19 and the annual flu strains. Clinic hours were also announced. 

State news included the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities opening applications for a second offshore wind project. 

The state Attorney General’s Office announced strengthened efforts to combat housing discrimination. The effort is billed as a combination of enforcement, prevention, and public awareness. 

Gov. Phil Murphy increased his efforts to highlight the “baby bond” in his 2021 budget proposal. Legislators have until Sept. 30 to pass a 2021 budget for the shortened nine-month budget year, beginning Oct. 1. 

Also related to the 2021 budget was a resolution by county freeholders that opposes Murphy’s proposed cuts in funding for school-based youth services. 

To combat increases in opioid overdoses, the state announced its second free naloxone distribution through approved county pharmacies. Often called narcan, naloxone is an opioid overdose reversal drug. 

A state report says that low-risk defendants continue to decrease as a percentage of New Jersey’s jail population. The report states that the rate of new indictable criminal activity by defendants awaiting trial for non-violent crimes is low. 

And… 

Rip currents continue to be a threat. In North Wildwood, after hours beach patrol personnel and firefighters rescued four members of one family. A 53-year-old woman was hospitalized with injuries. 

The governor announced that Juneteenth would be a public state holiday. The long-standing African American celebration of the end of slavery gained prominence this year, following the nationwide protests calling for greater social justice and an end to racial bias in policing. 

A state report on the Pagan motorcycle gang and its criminal activities, in New Jersey, specifically cited two incidents of assault by gang members, in Wildwood. Calling the biker gang a threat to the state, the report says the Pagans are responsible for “an explosion of violence,” in New Jersey.

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