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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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The Wrap: The County Tax, Summer Reliability Assessment, Overdose Deaths Decline

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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.

May 13-19

The County Tax

Between 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, and 2024, the county government budget appropriations have swelled by 33%, a full third larger in five years. To pay for that increase in appropriations the amount raised by county taxation rose by 40%, with a growth in the county tax levy of $46.5 million in that same five years.

How do we reconcile that change to public announcements by the county commissioners that they have twice lowered the county tax rate? Easy. We accept the fact that the county tax levy, the amount we actually pay, depends much more on rising property values than it does on the tax rate.

The simple fact is that the county gets to tax on real value of property and not on some out-of-date assessment. The county does not tax the same way municipalities do. It is a simple fact that you must understand if you are going to evaluate the touting by county officials that they have lowered the tax rate.

Example number one: In Cape May City the county tax levy in 2019 was below the levy city taxpayers paid for local government activities and for the combined local and regional school tax. In 2024, with the two county tax rate reductions, the county tax is the largest share of the total tax bill annually presented to Cape May residents. The county rate had nothing to do with it. The rise in the city’s property values had everything to do with it.

Example number two: In Stone Harbor there are three main contributors to the property tax bill – the local government, the school district and the county. In 2019 the school levy was, and remains, a small portion of the tax bill. What changed in the five-year period to 2024 was both the local tax levy and the county tax levy, both rising, but with the county levy rising at a rate double that of the local levy. In those five years, when the true value of Stone Harbor real estate rose 67%, the county tax levy spread across the borough’s taxpayers rose by 47% and it continued to rise even in the two years that the county tax rate was cut.

Even in a mainland community like Middle Township where the property values did not soar in the same way they did in the island resorts, the county tax levy rose by 20%. In Middle the bigger issue is the school district levy that in 2024 accounts for about 53% of the total tax levy facing township property owners.

Moral of the story: Know what drives your community’s tax bill. It is often a taxing entity you pay the least attention to.

Summer Reliability Assessment

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has responsibility, subject to government oversight, for the reliability of electric power in the continental United States, Canada and parts of northern Mexico. Each year it produces a summer reliability assessment. This month NERC released its assessment for summer 2024.

The bottom line: The assessment found that every region has the resources to meet its targets for normal peak demand this summer. The assessment did find that many areas would face difficulty during lengthy heat waves. The problems that are worries in the report include variable renewable energy outputs, reduced capacity from existing generators that do not rely on renewables, a number of which are being retired, and weather-related risks including extended heat waves.

This news comes as the Federal Government’s Climate Prediction Center projects an abnormally hot summer in just about every state in the nation including New Jersey.

Add to this picture soaring demand for electricity which is rising faster than renewables are able to add new sources of electric power.

According to reports electric utilities have nearly doubled projections for electric power demand by 2030. The culprits include data centers turning increasingly to artificial intelligence applications, electric vehicle sales, the push for building electrification and even the resurgence of state-side manufacturing.

Even this summer there is concern expressed in the reliability assessment about the impact of surging demand growth. Yes, you are probably guessing right, many utilities are asking for rate increases in the face of rising demand.

Overdose Deaths Decline

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report delivered good news with overdose deaths declining for the first time since 2018. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deb Houry called the May 15 release of data “heartening,” but she also noted that the country lost over 100,000 people last year to overdose deaths. That number includes 2,518 overdose deaths in 2023 in the Garden State. Reported deaths in New Jersey were down 14.5%, according to the CDC data.

Nationally the decrease in reported overdose deaths is about 3% with a decline in deaths by opioid overdose and an increase in fatalities due to cocaine and methamphetamine overdose. Illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids remain a problem.

The New Jersey Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner has state overdose deaths in 2023 at 2,564, slightly higher but comparable to the CDC report. The Medical Examiner report shows significant reductions in most New Jersey counties, including Cape May County with an estimated 25% drop. There were increases in some counties led by nearby Salem County with a rise in overdose deaths of 27%.

With deaths trending downward in 2024, Houry urges a redoubling of effort saying, “our strategies are making a difference.” The national overdose prevention strategy can be seen here.

Happenings

Cape May City Council has delayed an ordinance needed to comply with a 2021 New Jersey law requiring lead paint inspections in pre-1978 rental properties every three years or upon tenant turnover, starting July 22, 2024. The ordinance was tabled to refine its clarity and ensure timely compliance.

Officer Tyler Lavender and his K-9, Quest, made two significant drug-related arrests within a week, uncovering crack cocaine and methamphetamine during traffic stops. The incidents led to multiple charges, including drug possession and distribution offenses.

Michelle R. Stanton was charged with manslaughter and child endangerment after her 6-month-old son suffocated when she passed out from drinking. Authorities found she had consumed 12 to 14 mini bottles of alcohol before the incident.

Austin T. Mahan, a former USPS supervisor from Court House, pleaded guilty to misappropriating $54,356 in postal funds. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, with sentencing on Sept. 25, 2024.

The Open Public Records Act bill passed both New Jersey legislative houses despite significant public opposition and now awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision. Critics argue the bill reduces transparency and complicates the recovery of legal fees for wrongfully withheld records.

Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrera clarified that while some construction activities are restricted during summer, normal construction like roofing is permitted, urging residents to address concerns directly with the borough. Noise complaints under the noise ordinance will be addressed by police.

Stone Harbor leads Cape May County in exploring a stormwater utility’s creation, aligning with a 2019 state law aimed at managing stormwater and reducing runoff pollutants, despite past opposition. Public involvement is emphasized in the feasibility study, contrasting with initial resistance to the “rain tax” concept.

A trash truck collision damaged the historic Elward House in Cape May, requiring emergency services to stabilize the building and evacuate residents. No injuries were reported during the incident.

Ocean City’s municipal elections saw nine candidates competing for five council seats, with Mayor Jay Gillian’s influence apparent in key wins. Voter turnout was about one-third of registered voters, with one race still undecided due to a narrow margin in the Third Ward.

Wildwood Crest plans to upgrade street-ends and bulkheads, prompting letters to residents to remove private paving or landscaping modifications in the right of way. Mayor Cabrera emphasized restoring concrete and not burdening taxpayers with high-end modifications’ maintenance costs.

North Cape May native Shannah Rose received the Rome Prize for her research on Aztec manuscripts, earning a residency in Rome to study cultural exchange during the Renaissance, highlighting her academic journey from chemical engineering to art history.

Former Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron pleads not guilty to official misconduct charges related to alleged misuse of his elected position for personal gain, amid questions about financial pressures and conflicts of interest.

From new eateries like Captain Obadiah’s Seafood Market to infrastructure upgrades such as boardwalk improvements, Cape May County’s mainland and islands saw a bustling transformation since last Memorial Day, promising exciting experiences for locals and tourists alike.

North Wildwood is close to completing its Gold Star Family Memorial and Gateway, honoring fallen military members and their families with a towering 40-foot triangular tower and reflective black granite monument.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., with new attorney Charles Nugent, prepares for trial, rejecting plea deals in the criminal case alleging unlawful acceptance of health benefits. Co-defendants Byron and Mikulski maintain innocence.

Scenes for the Bob Dylan biopic “A Complete Unknown” were shot in Cape May, featuring stars like Timothée Chalamet and Elle Fanning, with locals and officials expressing enthusiasm for the film’s impact on the community.

Spout Off of the Week

Sea Isle City – Everyday should be charged to be on the beaches! Wed should not be an exception! Why am I giving a free day to people from other areas! It’s my tax dollars! Politicians use my tax dollars wisely! CHARGE CHARGE CHARGE ON WED! Change the Ordinance!

Read more spouts at spoutoff.capemaycountyherald.com. 

Spout Off

Wildwood – Signs everywhere saying no dogs, no bicycles, no smoking, no loud music, no idling… Get rid of the sign blight if you're not going to enforce simple ordinances.

Read More

Wildwood – With all of the recent hoopla concerning President Biden's mental capabilities, why doesn't the White House release the special council interview tapes to prove to the anti Biden people…

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Sea Isle City – Non-Residents, voice your opinions at the Council meetings. You are taxpayers. You have that privilege! What are your concerns, thoughts or will you make a change! Insist on Night and Day meetings so…

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