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Sunday, July 21, 2024


Hurricane Season Begins in Earnest; Mixed Signals on Pandemic; Uncertainty Dominates County’s Reality; Outside Funds – Good and Bad News

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Aug. 3-9:
Hurricane Season Begins in Earnest
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an active hurricane season this year. As if on cue, Tropical Storm Isaias roared through New Jersey last week, spawning a tornado, in Cape May County. In a matter of minutes, the tornado crossed the Garden State Parkway, made its way to Route 9 and exited via Stagecoach Road, dissipating over the woods.
Several residents of Upper Township suffered damage from the storm. Power was out across the state, forcing Cape May to cancel its planned virtual council meeting. By Aug. 7, Atlantic City Electric had power restored throughout the county.
One message delivered by Isaias was that the hurricane season requires its own vigilance, alertness and preparation. The county can’t forget about the potential of a major storm while it focuses on COVID-19.
Mixed Signals on Pandemic
New case growth continued to slow, with 35 total positive tests reported this past week. Of those, 21 represented county residents, 13 were non-residents and one was associated with a county long-term care facility.
The week also saw no new COVID-19 fatalities in the county. This was the county’s calming reality in a week when key state health metrics were producing concern in Trenton.
Gov. Phil Murphy reduced the permitted size of indoor gatherings, made wearing a mask at all times a requirement to be incorporated in school reopening plans, and called for greater police enforcement of executive order violations in the form of crowded house parties.
The state, already knocked from its perch on the COVID Act Now ranking, where it once stood at the top, saw its ranking slip further, dropping into the “at risk” category until improved metrics toward the end of the week brought it back to the level of “slow disease growth.”
Many of the island communities are seeing large crowds despite limitations on retail, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Even with the heightened activity, the county’s health metrics are trending in a positive direction.
One milestone was passed this week, the dubious honor of having experienced the county’s 1,000th confirmed case of COVID-19 since its first case was reported March 18.  The months of April (314 cases) and May (287 cases) produced over 60% of the cases.
There was a short spike in out-of-county individuals testing positive early, in July, but the non-resident case growth has since declined and appears to be remaining stable, according to county Health Department reports.
The nation saw its total cases surpass 5 million this week, leaving more states on New Jersey’s travel advisory than are off it. Murphy, once again, extended the public health emergency.
Uncertainty Dominates County’s Reality
In the coming week, the grace period for paying third quarter property taxes will end. No one knows if the tax collections will remain strong. County government took steps to reduce spending.
The state needs to settle on a 2021 budget by Oct. 1. Right now, the governor’s $9.9 billion borrowing plan is being challenged in the state Supreme Court. What that means for state aid in the 2021 budget is a mystery.
A second bill aimed at municipal borrowing capabilities was hit with a conditional veto by Murphy who wants to cut the repayment period for municipal loans and provide greater state oversight.
Potential federal relief for the unemployed, as a stimulus to the economy, and as help for state and local governments, is tied up in a Congress that has become notorious for its inability to legislate.
One statewide study done by an international consulting firm predicts a renter eviction crisis. The state announced a grant program for landlords with properties with at least three and not more than 10 housing units.
One of the biggest areas of uncertainty is the reopening of the county’s public schools. Plans have been developed by all 16 of the county’s operating school districts. Even with a resumption of in-person instruction, most of the county’s schools will, again, rely on a large dose of remote learning mechanisms.
The summer will end soon, crowds will diminish, and second homeowners will begin returning to their permanent domiciles.
What is completely uncertain is how prepared the county will be to live off that COVID-19 impacted summer through the late fall and winter. A great deal may depend on how the state budget plays out and whether there is a federal relief bill.
Outside Funds – Good and Bad News
Some outside funds were awarded for needed county projects. Federal grants will support improvements to water infrastructure, in West Wildwood, and also help with the remediation of a site that threatens a public water supply, in Woodbine.
Cape May approved a grant submission to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for help in funding an expansion of its desalination plant. The Sierra Club publically opposed the expansion, saying it will lead to greater environmental problems and more salt water intrusion. Cape May has a formal water management plan that calls for significant investment over the next decade to improve the desalination plant and the water distribution system. The city provides potable water to itself, West Cape May, Cape May Point and the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May.
Dennis Township received a Local Efficiency Achievement Program grant, which will allow it to purchase a battery-powered 75,000 pound lift needed to allow work on large vehicles, including buses.
Not all news was good, as the state Department of Transportation award of county aid funds for 2021 left Cape May County last among the 21 counties. Similarly, a draft transportation plan for South Jersey promises little relief for county needs.
In both instances, the county bears the burden of a small permanent population, which often leaves it low on the funding priorities. The 600% increase in the population, in summer, that produces hundreds of millions a year in tax revenues for the state carries no weight in the transportation planning or allocation of funds.
Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan’s litigation against New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal was dismissed in federal court this week. Nolan sought to continue his arrangements with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) concerning the detention and surrender of illegal aliens to ICE, a practice severely limited by Grewal.
The annual southbound flight of the red knots is being closely studied this year, with the added goal of understanding the potential environmental impact of wind turbines on the migration. Wind farms off the coast are expected to play an ever-increasing role in state energy production in the future.

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