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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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The Wrap: New Home Sale Listings Surge, Earthquakes and Hurricanes, County Line

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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/HeraldNewsletters.

April 1-7

New Home Sale Listings Surge

The inventory of Cape May County homes for sale surged in February, growing 19% over listings in February 2023. The median listing price was also the highest in the state at $899,900.

The latest data from Realtor.com showed a total of 7,262 homes for sale across the state with a median listing price of $536,875. Only three counties saw double-digit increases in the year-to-year listings with the other two being Cumberland and Salem, both with the lowest median prices in the state. Nine of the 21 counties saw a drop in the number of listings compared to 2023, with the biggest decrease in Middlesex at 13%.

A frenzied post-pandemic real estate market drove the aggregate true value of county property to $86.6 billion from $52 billion in the pre-pandemic year 2019, a valuation rise of 66% in five years. Actual assessed value of county property has risen only 5% in the same time period, moving from $50 billion to $52.5 billion. The ratio of assessed to true value of real estate now sits at 60%, meaning that every municipality in the county is likely to be required to conduct a revaluation in the next few years.

Earthquakes and Hurricanes

On April 5 at 10:33 a.m., the New York and New Jersey area was struck with a 4.8 magnitude earthquake. The epicenter of the quake was near Lebanon, New Jersey. The 4.8 magnitude quake was the strongest on record in New Jersey since 1783. No significant damage was reported.

With the eclipse scheduled to cross the continent on Monday, April 8, no one was expecting to be talking about an east coast earthquake. That might have to change.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey study found that nearly 75% of the country, including the northeast, could experience damaging earthquake shaking. The updated Fifty-State National Seismic Hazard Model showed the possibility of damaging earthquakes along the central and northeastern Atlantic Coast corridor. The model, which was released in February, predicts a greater chance for shaking along the line from Washington through Philadelphia to New York and on to Boston.

While the USGS gives us something to think about regarding earthquakes in the northeast, the first forecasts for the upcoming hurricane season that starts June 1 are not comforting either.

Weather forecasters at Colorado State University released their first predictions for the coming storm season, calling for an “extremely active” 2024 Atlantic hurricane season due to high sea surface temperatures and less wind shear to break up storms in the summer and fall.

The CSU forecast is widely watched and consulted by coastal communities and energy companies as they prepare for the annual storm season. The forecast calls for five major hurricanes, meaning those with wind speed above 111 miles per hour, out of a total of 11 included in a projected 23 named storms.

The forecast states, “We anticipate a well above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean.”

Last year there were three major hurricanes among seven total hurricanes and 20 named storms. An average hurricane season has 14 named storms of which seven lead to hurricanes and three become major storms.

County Line

This year’s primary elections will present voters with two different ballot formats. Those receiving the ballot for the Democratic candidates will see those candidates organized by the office they are seeking. Those who receive the Republican ballot will find the names on the ballots for 19 of the state’s 21 counties grouped by their endorsement or lack of endorsement from the county Democratic or Republican parties. New Jersey is the only state in the union to use this format known as the “county line” ballot.

The endorsed candidates, the county line, are often given prime locations on the ballot and are presented in a line with candidates included for every office. Those candidates without a party endorsement are listed elsewhere on the ballot, sometimes far away from the county line candidates.

This year litigation brought by Representative Andy Kim (D-3) was successful in eliciting a federal court ruling banning the county line format. Because Kim brought his case as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, the court ruling applies only to the Democratic primary. For the time being the county line format is still allowed for the Republican primary. Thus two very different ballot formats will be used for the June contest.

A legal challenge to the court order remains as the Camden County Democratic Party has not dropped its appeal. The Middlesex County Democratic Organization has filed a brief in support of the Camden County action.

Cape May County Republican Organization Chairman Michael Donohue released a statement attacking the court ruling, which he said, “moved aside the entire New Jersey Legislature.” For Donohue the ruling represented an attack on the right of association for political activities.

Judge Zahid Quraishi saw it differently. In his ruling he said, “The integrity of the democratic process for a primary election is at stake.” Supporters of the decision say that it diminishes the power of the county party chairmen on both sides of the aisle.

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin sent a letter to the judge overseeing the case saying that his office will not defend the county line format in court. The letter goes on to declare the format unconstitutional.

If the court’s ruling stands, it is probably only a matter of time before the county line ballot is challenged by a Republican candidate.

Happenings

The Colliers study on boutique hotels in Avalon’s business district acknowledges potential benefits for nearby businesses but refrains from recommending borough support. It defines boutique hotels and their amenities but lacks analysis on economic impact or synergy with existing businesses.

The Wildwood Crest Board of Commissioners approved a $28.5 million municipal budget for 2024, including a 1.5-cent tax rate increase. Homeowners with an average assessment of $450,000 will pay an extra $66 in municipal taxes.

Six protesters charged for disrupting Orsted’s cable route testing in Ocean City had their cases dismissed. Despite warnings, they refused to leave the roadway during the Sept. 12 incident related to the proposed Ocean Wind I offshore wind farm. Orsted later withdrew its commitments, and the road work was halted.

Lower Township honored four retiring public servants at their April 1 Township Council meeting: Kevin Coombs, a special education teacher; Eric Coombs, a police officer; Sandra Eakin, a history teacher; and Beth Suter, a special education teacher.

Lower Township Council approved a $34.6 million budget for 2024 with a stable tax rate, slightly decreasing from the previous year. Increased assessed values and revenue contributed to the budget’s health, while staying below state-mandated spending and tax levy caps.

Administrator Manny Parada presented a rough timeline for replacing the historic 96th Street Bridge to the Stone Harbor Borough Council. Design work is ongoing, aiming for completion by year-end 2024. Road closures are anticipated in 2026 and 2027, with project completion targeted for May 2028.

Stone Harbor appointed Cynthia L. Lindsay as its new full-time CFO, succeeding James Craft, who served part-time for over a decade. Lindsay, experienced in state and municipal finance, starts in May, overlapping with Craft before his retirement.

Shari Schwert, a Woodbine resident, released her first book, “The Trouble With Bubble Gum,” 25 years after writing it. Illustrated by Mari Sebastian and published by Mascot Books, the children’s book is about a boy facing consequences for disobeying his parents.

Stone Harbor Borough Council established a Flood Mitigation Special Committee to oversee a pilot study on control valves along the bayfront to prevent street flooding. Chaired by Councilwoman Bunny Parzych, it includes council members and other officials and residents.

Cape May City Manager Paul Dietrich discussed plans for the $6.7 million Boardwalk Preservation Grant at the April 2 City Council meeting. The grant will improve access points along the Promenade, with work starting after summer.

Stone Harbor’s 2024 budget proposes a 1-cent tax rate increase and a $5.7 million water and sewer utility plan. CFO James Craft highlighted a 3.3% tax rate hike, emphasizing surplus growth and capital project allocations. A public hearing is scheduled for April 16 before the budget vote.

Cape May City Council introduced a $39.9 million budget for 2024, keeping the tax rate steady at $0.361. It includes $26.8 million for the general fund and covers utilities. A public hearing is scheduled for May 7, followed by adoption.

Dennis Township School District is facing a $1.9 million shortfall from state aid cuts. They’re exploring solutions. Options include seeking voter approval for funding increases. They oppose cutting courtesy busing and seek public support for advocacy efforts.

Grant Wilfley Casting is seeking extras for “A Complete Unknown,” filming in Cape May May 12-16, depicting the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Mayor Zack Mullock touted Cape May’s charm for filming. Email brothers@gwcnyc.com for casting.

Four years ago, Frank Breakell’s fishing charter business took on new meaning when he helped a veteran struggling with suicide. Inspired by this, he founded Jersey Cape Hook, Line, and Heroes, offering free fishing trips to veterans for relaxation and camaraderie. With community support, they aim to provide positive experiences for veterans in need.

Spout Off of the Week

Cape May – The traffic lights are on along Beach Ave. in Cape May and the town is bustling with visitors. I live here full time and welcome everyone. I will also mention that the speed limits in town have changed, and the traffic laws are being enforced. It was a pleasure to see a “speeding” driver was stopped and issued as summons for driving too fast along Pittsburgh Ave. Thank you CMPD for keeping our town safe. We “locals” appreciate it.

Read more spouts at spoutoff.capemaycountyherald.com. 

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