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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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The Wrap: School Board Elections, Under-assessment and Campgrounds

School board candidates have placed yard signs throughout the county for the Nov. 8 School Board Election. ED NOTE: These yard signs are shown as a sample of school board candidate campaign materials and do not reflect the Herald’s endorsement of these candidates.

By Herald Staff

Get ‘The Wrap,’ our take on the news of the week, in your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up at https://bit.ly/3goVpVr.

Oct. 10 – 16:

School Board Elections

When many voters look at the general election ballot for their municipality, the names that are often a mystery to them are the candidates running for the local school board. The majority of voters do not have children in the public school system. The Cape May County general election summary shows that the average votes cast for school board members are always less than those cast for municipal offices. 
That may be changing as issues of curriculum become more central to the overall political discourse and as the tax burden associated with school district budgets continues to be the largest contributor to the total property tax burden in many municipalities. 
Ongoing state reductions in equalization aid, hot-button curricular issues and the likelihood of a need for new revenue as federal pandemic relief funds trail off have upped the ante this year. The Herald invited all candidates for local school board seats to respond to questions on their reasons for seeking service on the school board. Not all participated but many did. 
While all the candidates expressed a desire to help provide a quality education for the county’s youth, only one spoke directly to the issue of a school board member’s responsibility to oversee the budget demands placed on the property owner. There were a variety of opinions regarding the appropriateness and implementation of the state’s new sex education standards. 

Under-assessments 

At a recent meeting of the Stone Harbor Council, Tax Assessor Margaret Slavin informed the governing body that the latest state calculations showed the borough was 37% under-assessed, meaning that the assessed value of property in the borough was 37% under the true value as calculated by the county and state. 
Stone Harbor is an example of what has happened in many of the county’s municipalities during the frenzied real estate boom that was so prominent a side effect of the pandemic. Again, in Stone Harbor, the 2019 assessed value was $4.8 billion according to county data, with a true value listed at $4.8 billion. The borough had recently completed a revaluation and the ratio of assessed value to true value was right on the money. By 2022, the assessed value was pegged at $5 billion and the true value at $6.3 billion with a ratio of 80%. Now, we hear that the ratio sits at 67% for 2023.  
The issue of under-assessment is a general one in the county, especially so in the island communities. In 2022, all but four of the sixteen county municipalities were below the 85% ratio that usually is the trigger for a municipal revaluation.

Campgrounds 

Both Middle and Upper townships have recently taken actions to clarify building codes as a way of ensuring that campground structures are not permanent. 
In Upper Township, a new ordinance eliminates a popular campground addition known as a roof-over. The expressed concern was that the more habitable these campground structures become year-round, the greater likelihood someone will improperly attempt to use one as a permanent residence.
Middle Township also recently adopted an ordinance change that limits what additions can be added to campground structures. Specifically, the township directed that decks and Florida rooms be purchased premade rather than built on-site.
Part of the argument, explicitly made in Upper Township, is that families that live in a campground as a permanent home will end up sending kids to local schools, even though the school taxes paid do not “come close” to the cost of educating a student. 
In Middle, the emphasis was on viewing campgrounds as seasonal recreational sites. Those who oppose the limitations being placed on campground sites argue that the more permanent structures offer greater protection and safety from storms. 

Happenings

Kirkland’s warbler, a bird not common to this area, was sighted twice in one day, in Del Haven and Cape May, by local birders. 
Erosion in Strathmere’s north end, due to the nor’easter, was severe. It has left prospects of a 2023 summer with little area of dry beach during high tide.
Lower Cape May Regional was in lockdown Oct. 14 due to a hoax. The investigation is ongoing.
County roads on Cape Island will lower the speed limit to 25 mph in response to a request from the local municipalities. The City of Cape May recently lowered the speed limit on city streets to a maximum of 20 mph.
A move to have the state’s Shore Protection Fund increased from an annual allotment of $25 million to $50 million has the strong support of local shore towns. The fund is used to cover the state portion of expenses related to federal beach replenishments. Efforts to raise the funding in the past have failed in Trenton.
A fourth individual has been charged in connection with the H2oi unsanctioned car rally in Wildwood that left two dead. Wildwood is also taking steps against exhibition driving during unsanctioned events.
Avalon has developed what it says is a win, win arrangement for employees as both the employees and the borough try to deal with a 21% state-mandated increase in health care premiums for public workers. 
A deaf service dog had a retirement party at the United Methodist Church in Tuckahoe. Many in attendance spoke of the difference that Ezekiel made in their lives.
Cape Hope, a homeless advocacy group, organized a gathering of individuals and organizations committed to dealing with the problem of homelessness in the county. Pointing to little effort by the county to address the problem, the group discussed plans for a community care center. The group also spoke of using the Rosetta House in Whitesboro as long-term housing for homeless mothers.
The DEP will allow temporary barriers to protect the lifeguard building in North Wildwood but has not yet approved a more permanent sea wall effort. North Wildwood’s mayor, Patrick Rosenello, says the city will “take whatever action is necessary” to protect life and property.

Spout Off of the Week

Stone Harbor – Someone nearly died at the Nuns Beach today and the Borough couldn’t get their beach access roads rebuilt because of a NJDEP permit. Maybe this will finally light a fire under someone in Trenton and they let our PW people fix the emergency access roads to the beaches!  Sometimes I really think the DEP thinks the states ends at Atlantic County. 
Read more or submit your own at spoutoff.cmcherald.com.

Spout Off

Wildwood Crest – I have given all my money to Mr. Trump but it's not enough. So, I plan to sell my family at the big yardsale coming up in May. Please consider doing the same. He needs us. He is very weak…

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North Wildwood – Trump is a stand up entertainer. Listen to him speak. Amazing, incredible, like no one has ever seen before. The battle of Gettysburg was beautiful, so interesting, vicious and horrible. Never…

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Court House – Middle Township taxes are going up. It's no surprise. The township is getting overdeveloped. Every new house built equals higher taxes. Once all of the houses are built, our taxes will go even…

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