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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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The Wrap: School Regionalization, Ratepayers, Housing Crisis

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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.

Feb. 12-18

School Regionalization

Ex-Senate President Steve Sweeney has announced his candidacy for governor in 2025. One thing his candidacy may mean is a renewed focus on school consolidation, a policy issue Sweeney championed from his leadership position in the Legislature. It is also an issue that his namesake policy institute at Rowan University has shined a spotlight on with a Feb. 7 conference in which educational experts discussed a path to school regionalization.

Education luminaries like former state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy and New Jersey Education Association Research Director Peter Vala assessed the impact of S3488, a bill enacted in 2022 which provides funding for feasibility studies and implementation of regionalization. A key message from the panelists at the conference was that regionalization can result in an enhanced educational experience for students and reduced long-term costs for taxpayers.

In Cape May County a recent feasibility study considered the integration of school districts in Woodbine, Dennis Township and Middle Township. That study presented pros and cons, urging in the end that input be sought from community stakeholders.

In Cape May County there are 19 public school districts with three of them nonoperational. The districts host 31 separate schools. School enrollment is under 12,000.

Since the 2018 school funding law known as S-2, state aid for county schools has dropped from $65.4 million in fiscal year 2019 to $46.2 million in fiscal year 2024. The full impact of the reductions was somewhat masked by the influx of pandemic funding which ends this year.

Ratepayers

Since June 2023 the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in our region has risen 8.3% with an additional hike of 4.8% approved this month to go into effect this June 1. The hikes have been the result of both state auctions for pricing from power generators and from Atlantic City Electric’s approved request for recovery of costs for reliability and infrastructure improvement projects. The end result is that come June 1 the price of a kWh of electricity in Cape May County will be 13.4% higher than it was on Memorial Day 2023.

This isn’t unique to ACE and its customer base. The cost of electricity is rising. It is true that electricity costs in New Jersey are among the highest in the country. It is also true that ACE customers pay more for a kWh of electricity than do customers of New Jersey’s three other distribution companies. Yet perhaps the larger issue is two federal and state initiatives are likely to drive up electricity costs with no clear public analysis available on what that may mean for ratepayers.

The first federal and state policy initiative is electrification, the push to have most consumer energy consumption be in the form of electricity rather than fossil fuels. This leads to the goals for growth in the purchase and use of electric vehicles, heat pumps, and appliances among other things.

The second initiative is in the use of renewable sources for the generation of all the electricity that will be increasingly needed due to electrification policies. Here we get the renewed interest in nuclear power, the push into wind and solar power generation and the heavy interest in electricity storage technologies.

A massive transition is underway. Whatever side one takes on the transition itself, what is clear is there is little public understanding of how it will be paid for. Rates for electricity will probably remain volatile.

Housing Crisis

The language of crisis is being used more often whenever the discussion turns to housing. The term affordable housing is now an awkward one given that it has increasingly been co-opted by state and federal agencies to reference a specific type of below-market-priced housing governed by federal rules.

The broader crisis that is gaining in visibility is the lack of housing accessible to working class and middle class families regardless of whether they meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development definitions for low or moderate income.

The cost of housing in Cape May County has been seen as a contributing factor in the loss of young families to the county, as a cause in the rise in homelessness and as a barrier to economic development.

County Democrats focused on the issue in a recent public Zoom meeting. Area churches have hosted discussions on the topic. Formal analysis of the problem is becoming common whether from Harvard’s Center for Housing Studies or closer to home at the Rutgers State Policy Lab.

As both home prices and rents soar in the county, housing is increasingly demanding a high percentage of any family’s income, leading many to relocate outside the county.

A ten-year county plan from 2018 recognized the need for affordable housing and promised efforts to address that need. The plan has been said to have fallen “far short” by affordable housing advocates.

Happenings

Stone Harbor Council has introduced an ordinance change that would allow homeowners on Linden Lane to add limited second stories. A public hearing and possible vote are scheduled for March 19 at Borough Hall.

Cape May City Council introduced an ordinance amendment establishing fees for city-owned electric vehicle charging stations. The proposed structure includes rates for both level 2 and level 3 chargers, with a public hearing scheduled for March 5 at City Hall.

Dr. Ralph Boerner discussed major causes of whale deaths including vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglement, while debunking false claims about wind farms and shipping noise, emphasizing the need to address threats to protect humpback whales.

Stone Harbor Council is deliberating on parking solutions, considering either abolishing paid parking or improving visitor familiarity with the existing system. Talks continue, with the next council session set to further the discussion.

In 1994, Patrolman David C. Douglass Sr. was fatally shot while responding to a call. His son, David Douglass Jr., now seeks answers.

Patrick Iannone, who assaulted TV personality Bob Kelly, got three years’ probation and a $5,000 restitution order.

Galloway Township Police removed 25 animals, arrested Jason Millar, of Wildwood Crest, for cruelty, and continue investigating. Animals were placed with local partners, and adoption information will be provided.

Upper Township expects a modest tax rate increase for its 2024 budget to cover debt service, with the proposed rate rising by 1.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Police arrested Rakesh Patel in Wildwood after he barricaded himself following the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency’s attempt to serve him a no-contact order. Patel faces multiple charges, and the family involved was unharmed.

Cape May’s advisory committee recommended adjustments to shared services to prevent taxpayer subsidization, suggesting shorter contracts, transparent cost accounting, and flexible cost-sharing.

Cape May County, highlighted in a report by the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, requires incentives for new industries, improved public transportation, and affordable housing to address its economic challenges.

Ruth DiRienzo-Whitehead, of Horsham Township, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to life in prison for strangling her 11-year-old son due to financial stress.

Sea Isle City Council allocated $2.2 million for the community center and awarded oversight contracts. Construction by Ernest Bock & Sons is expected to start in March.

Johnnie Walker, a Vietnam War veteran, heads the Citizens and Veterans Advisory Committee, helping Cape May County veterans with housing, PTSD, and more. His story is featured in a documentary series, showcasing New Jerseyans who are making an impact in their counties.

The Mahalo Resort project in Wildwood Crest got approval from the Planning Board after a long hearing, despite objections. Construction is set to begin after permits are obtained, with the developer viewing it as a win for the community despite setbacks.

Spout Off of the Week

Wildwood – In response to Cape Issues on affordable housing: affordable housing already exists but it is being demolished for new construction. Older homes, which are statistically more affordable than new ones, are disappearing and nothing is being done to protect them. Preservation is about preserving the working- and middle-class. All towns should have historic preservation commissions that help maintain a balance between old and new, affordable and expensive. Older homes ARE affordable housing.

Read more spouts at spoutoff.capemaycountyherald.com. 

Spout Off

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Avalon – With the passage of the national security supplemental bill through the House of Representatives, President Joe Biden became the winner of this Congress. When the Republicans took control of the…

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