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News Digest 1/25/2006

By Rick Racela

Once the 15-minute meetings between residents and company representatives are completed, the company will review its finding with the city. Homeowners should receive the county’s assessment figures next month and will have another change to appeal to the county Board of Taxation. Property values have quadrupled since the city’s last revaluation was completed in 1988. The total assessment for the city has gone from $864 million to approximately $3 billion.
Off-Color
WILDWOOD — The faded colored sidewalks that line Pacific Avenue are scheduled to be removed in the next three weeks and replaced with more traditional paving. The rocket shaped street signs are also slated for removal. A $174,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and $200,000 from the Downtown Business Improvement District budget are earmarked to pay for the work designed to “revitalize” Pacific Avenue. According to reports, Bud Concrete of Sewell, and Marandino Concrete Co. Inc. of Vineland, bid on the project. 
Guilty Plea
COURT HOUSE — Lionel M. Gerald, of Ocean City, pled guilty to second-degree aggravated assault on the first day of his attempted murder trail on Jan. 24. While being questioned by his attorney, Robert Boney, Gerald admitted shooting Emanuel Wilson, 34, just before 10 p.m. on March 29 on Fourth Street in Ocean City. Gerald claimed he had been trying to leave town in a cab and had stopped to buy cigarettes when Wilson and Dante Selby approached him. Gerald said that he had pulled the gun to scare the two men off and the gun went off, striking Wilson in the leg. Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten said that Gerald would have to serve 85 percent of the nine-year sentence, before becoming eligible for parole. Sentencing is scheduled for March 17.  
Fund Disabilities Office
CREST HAVEN — The proposed 2006 county budget includes $25,300 for an Office of Disabilities, Freeholder Gerald M. Thornton pointed out. He said he expects the Human Services Department to seek proposals to operate it, and noted Jersey Cape Diagnostic Training and Opportunity Center would be a good choice. It already has a $12,500 contract to prepare a directory of organizations that serve individuals with disabilities. Ronald Jost of Court House came to the freeholders last Sept. 27 to request a Division on Disabilities.
Heads to Retire
CREST HAVEN — Two veteran county department heads will be retiring in March: Eileen Maguire, head of Human Resources and Training (Personnel) and Eugene Sicilia, director of Purchasing.  Freeholders noted that Monday as they lauded the budget team.  Maguire, with the county since 1975, and Sicilia, with the county since 1977, serve on that team.
Assessments Coming
DENNISVILLE — For those township residents sitting on pins and needles, waiting to know what their properties are worth, the news will hit the street before Feb. 7. Although notices were originally anticipated to be mailed to residents around last Thanksgiving, township Tax Assessor Patricia Sutton said she received an extension of a Jan. 10 deadline to file the values with the county Tax Board until Feb. 7. However, she could not say last week exactly when revised assessments would be mailed to residents.
No Bids for Sand
AVALON — Despite rebidding a project for 350,000 cubic yards of beach replenishment after the first round of bidding came in with one contractor $1 million over budget, borough council had no bids to open at its special meeting Jan 17. Andrew Bednarek, borough administrator, has now been given authority to negotiate a contract for the work, which involves dredging offshore and then pumping it onto borough beaches. Last year, council passed a $3 million bond ordinance to cover this work needed at northern beaches that have taken the toll of heavy weather. Most beach access in that area is now closed due to dangerous cliff conditions that the ocean has carved into dunes. 
Van Drew Moves Up
TRENTON — Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew (D-1st) has been named Assistant Majority Leader at the beginning of his third term. He will also continue to chair the Tourism and Gaming Committee, vice chair the Labor Committee, and sit on the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. He has chaired Tourism and Gaming since his first term in office when he was the only freshman assembly member to be named to a committee chair.
Glum Outlook
COURT HOUSE — Middle Township Board of Education isn’t expecting any monetary windfalls from the state this year. Business Administrator Walter Landgraf told the board of education at its Jan. 19 meeting, “My association had a meeting in Mount Laurel that was extremely pessimistic. To the best of my knowledge, it we get the same aid, feel lucky…It was an extremely pessimistic meeting.” Couple that dismal news with fuel costs up 30 percent, and the outlook seems stormy for budget time.
Card Access
COURT HOUSE — As Middle Township Board of Education looks ahead to capital projects for this year, a top concern is Elementary No. 1, the oldest of present schools. There, replacement of ceiling tiles, deemed “a must” by Vice President Dennis Roberts, and an electrical system upgrade is planned for the present year’s budget, according to board member George DeLollis at the Jan. 19 board meeting. Also eyed is a card access system, for security reasons, that may be addressed this year. Also in the offing, he said, contract renewal with Chartwell’s, the foodservice provider.
Parkway Hearing Set 
CREST HAVEN — A fourth public information meeting will be held today from 4:30 to 7 p.m. in the Freeholder Meeting Room, County Administration Building, 4 Moore Road to present alternative plans for improving the Garden State Parkway intersections at Interchange 9; Shell Bay Avenue and Interchange 11; Crest Haven Road.  The N.J. Turnpike Authority is doing preliminary designs for interchanges 9, 10 and 11. The improvements are anticipated to include grade separating the parkway and the east west cross streets, including interchange ramps to provide access to the parkway at certain locations. The existing three intersections are the only remaining at-grade signalized intersections along the entire length of the 172-mile parkway.
Appeals Have Appeal
STRATHMERE — A filled-room at this seashore community’s firehouse on Jan. 21 focused its displeasure on the reassessed values of properties. Formation of the Strathmere Taxpayers Association grew from that recent revaluation which was ordered by the county Board of Taxation. The irate crowd heard attorney Joseph Grimes advise the manner in which they could appeal new assessments, which were performed by Tyler Technologies, Inc., the same firm contracted to do revaluations in Middle, Dennis and Lower townships. Those still unhappy with answers can appeal further. Other Upper Township residents were similarly displeased with the figures that allegedly show true market value of properties. There was also talk of an attempt at deannexation of this community from Upper Township.
Route 52 Reopens
OCEAN CITY — Open after renovation, but with fewer lanes to serve motorists. That’s Route 52, this city’s link to Somers Point. It was closed for repairs last week, but is open, albeit with two of four lanes closed. That has officials already fretting about summer’s congestion if a remedy doesn’t come soon. Representatives were to meet Monday to discuss the situation.
Charged in Drug Sales
WILDWOOD — Hector Ramos, 34, of Wildwood was arrested on Burk Avenue Jan. 21 as part of an investigation into the sale of heroin in Lower Township and Wildwood. He was charged with possession of heroin, possession of heroin with the intent to distribute less than one-half ounce, and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school zone and within 500 feet of a public place. Officers seized 52 bags of heroin, valued at $1,300, from Ramos’s car. The vehicle was also seized. Ramos is been held in county jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Ambulance Struck
NORTH WILDWOOD — A Volvo, that had been reported stolen from Michael’s Bar in Wildwood, struck a Wildwood city ambulance in the rear in the 600 block West Spruce Avenue on Jan. 12, shortly before midnight. The impact caused the ambulance to jump the curb and destroyed several mailboxes and a county road sign, police said. At the time of the accident, 11:50 p.m., no patients were on board the ambulance and no EMTs were injured. The driver of the allegedly stolen white 2006 Volvo, Eliseo Leal-Lopez, 22, of Wildwood, was charged with driving under the influence, unlawful taking of means of conveyance, and hindering his own prosecution. He was later found to be wanted on a bench warrant out of Cape May County Superior Court on drug-related charges. Leal-Lopez was remanded to county jail in lieu of $15,000 cash bail.
Indict for Scam
COURT HOUSE — Debbi Fitzpatrick of Ocean City was indicted by a county grand jury Jan. 18 on charges that she allegedly used deceptive business practices to con investors out of $567,500 in a production of “Phantom of the Opera.” Fitzpatrick was charged with three counts of uttering a forged instrument and two counts of theft by deception. As part of a plea bargain, she was to plead guilty to theft by deception and spend 364 days in county jail followed by probation. She would also have to pay $567,500 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service. She was to plead guilty to taking more than $75,000 from several people between February 2002 and September 2004. Fitzpatrick also forged documents that she alleged were signed by her husband, former Philadelphia District Attorney F. Emmett Fitzpatrick Jr. and former Park Place Entertainment CEO Wally Barr, and used them to convince investors that the show was going to be produced at the Tropicana Casino in Nevada. Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Hoerner said Fitzpatrick knew in 2001 the show was not going to happen.
Missing Pet?
CREST HAVEN — Is your dog missing? Call your local police department, advises County Animal Shelter Director John Queenan. “Make sure you get the name of whom you talked to,” he recommends. Queenan said he is not sure if the public and all police personnel are aware that any dog picked up by animal control, except for those picked up in Ocean City, are taken to the county shelter. 
Getting Closer
ERMA — Lower Township Councilman Stig Blomkvest announced at Jan. 18 meeting, the deadline for completion of construction at Bennett’s Crossing recreation area is March 15. “The park should be up and running fully this spring into summer and ready for the fall sports,” he said. Mayor Walter Craig said Schoor DePalma, the township’s contracted engineering firm, donated $3,000 for shelters over the player bench areas of the new hockey rink.
Diamond Beach EMS
VILLAS — As of March 1, Wildwood Crest will no longer provide emergency medical services to this community. Mayor Walter Craig told the Herald when Lower Township takes over ambulance service, residents using the service will be charged a fee, a change of policy from free service from Wildwood Crest. He said everyone else in Lower Township pays for ambulance service. The township has talked with several businesspersons about plugging in an ambulance to electrical power at their location, to keep the units charged, said Craig.
Breathe Easier
CAPE MAY — Cape May Volunteer and Career Fire Department has been awarded $46,000 in federal funding for the purchase of a diesel exhaust removal system at the firehouse. Fire Chief Jerry Inderwies Jr. thanked U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2) for his efforts in securing the grant in a Jan. 17 press release. 
Hat in the Ring
OCEAN CITY — Sal Perillo was expected to announce his candidacy for mayor of this city at ceremony Monday. Perillo is a longtime Ocean City resident and businessman.
Suit Continues
VILLAS — Despite the fact Lower Township Council has eased restrictions in an ordinance covering where convicted sex offenders can live in the township, Steven Elwell, a Tier 1 sex offender, is continuing his lawsuit against the township. Council loosened restrictions banning convicted sex offenders from residing or loitering within 2,500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds and recreation areas to 500 feet and from 500 feet from school bus stops to 25 feet. Elwell’s argument is that the ordinance is unconstitutional and his attorney Frank Corrado has amended the complaint to reflect council’s changes. The suit also claims the ordinance is a case of double jeopardy since Elwell already served time for the offense. The American Civil Liberties Union is also involved in the case.

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