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The Wrap: The DEP Again, School Funding Reforms, Electricity Prices

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By Herald Staff

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March 18-24

The DEP Again

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Unfortunately among the most dreaded words in the state’s shore communities is “I’m from the DEP and I’m here to help.” The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has allowed itself to become an adversary of shore communities at precisely the point in time when they should be working together to address the problems of climate change and rising sea levels.

This week a local mayor said his community was singled out for political retribution. That was the claim that North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello made in court papers filed as part of the city’s Superior Court litigation against the agency. Rosenello says critical comments he made in 2020 about the state’s handling of the economy during the Covid pandemic led to an intentional slowdown by the agency in obtaining the necessary easements to allow for the Five Mile Dune project by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The relationship between the DEP and North Wildwood has become a case study for how not to handle a dispute between a state agency and a municipality. Even in instances where the DEP feels North Wildwood was at fault, the agency did nothing to inform the public of what it was doing and why it was doing it.

Now the DEP’s Fish and Wildlife section has joined in for its first foray into shore protection and beach management issues. Fish and Wildlife has picked this phenomenally bad time to propose a new rule that would allow it to impose beach access restrictions at will in order to protect an endangered species habitat or, and here is the kicker, a potential such habitat, in the eyes of Fish and Wildlife.

For over 20 years a system of town beach management plans and permit restrictions has worked. So why with the DEP’s reputation in tatters would Fish and Wildlife pick now to pose a new threat to beach access in communities whose economies live and die at the beaches? It seems they want their own rule rather than have to depend on land use rules from ”the other side of the department.”

School Funding Reforms

State education advocates are pushing for a rethink on the 2018 funding formula known as S-2. The formula set the stage for a later phase-out of state funding for districts considered overfunded due to enrollment declines. In Cape May County in the 2017-2018 school year, state aid to the county’s school districts was $65.4 million. In school year 2024-2025 it is set at $41.9 million, a drop of 36%. In case you think overall state aid has declined, it has not. Total aid in 2017-2018 to all state school districts was $8.1 billion, and this year it will be $11.7 billion, an increase of 45%.

Where the Legislature will go with reforms isn’t clear. It is also unclear if they would benefit Cape May County. The Senate Education Committee hopes to have a bill by summer.

Electricity Prices

This week Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2) asked constituents to take a survey about their electric bills. The purpose of the survey was to further document the fact that South Jersey residents have experienced a steady rise in electricity rates. Just a month ago, the Herald published a story that showed that rates have been moving up relentlessly and that the South Jersey customers of Atlantic City Electric pay the highest rates in the state.

Now the Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined that electricity prices are rising faster than the underlying inflation rate. For 12 months across the nation, electricity prices rose 3.6% as opposed to the inflation rate of 3.2%. These numbers would be higher here. As the Herald showed, three rate increases in one year from February 2023 meant a cumulative rate hike of 13%.

It may be time for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to talk to consumers about the likely direction of electric rates.

Atlantic City Electric responded to a question on why its rates are the highest in the state, saying, “Atlantic City Electric’s cost of electric service, along with those of the other N.J. utilities, are reviewed and approved by the N.J. BPU during formal rate review procedures. The BPU has deemed our cost of electric services to be just and reasonable for us to provide safe and reliable service to our customers.” This it’s-not-us-but-them argument wears thin quickly.

Happenings

Atlantic Cape is ready to begin classes at its new Atlantic City-based Wind Training Center in April. The center will offer classes on basic safety training.

Middle Township denied another request for local support from a prospective cannabis retailer. Mayor Christopher Leusner said the township would move cautiously and wait to see the results of the one license it has awarded, to Insa, Middle Township LLC.

The county broke ground on the Gerald M. Thornton Veterans Cemetery beautification project. The $1.68 million project aims to have phase one completed by the time of the annual Memorial Day ceremonies.

Cape May resident David Cluff was one of two pilots to dock the largest ship ever to make port in Philadelphia. The Marco Polo is 1,300 feet long, 175 feet wide and has a deep draft of 41 feet.

Cape May City received its draft budget from its city manager. For the fifth year in a row, the budget contains no tax increase.

Stone Harbor introduced its budget with a one-cent increase in the tax rate. The borough also announced new water rates that work on a tiered system, putting the greater rate burden on properties that use the most water.

Cape May City will experiment with digital beach tags this year as an additional way for beachgoers to purchase and use their tags. The city says it will run a trial this year with one type of tag. There are no plans to end the popular plastic tags that many people collect.

It was moved and now it has been moved back. One of the more popular summer events in Stone Harbor is its annual farmers market. This year the council moved it from its home at the iconic water tower to a large lot at 94th street. The move evoked public criticism. The council moved it back to its original home.

Stone Harbor is still weighing options for its 97th Street playground revitalization. Playgrounds at 82nd Street and 97th Street were both deemed unsafe due to equipment deterioration. The plan is to tackle 97th Street first.

County Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio gave a state of the county address to the members of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce. He said the county is in a strong financial position and wants to partner with small business.

Mayor Frank Sippel and Councilman Kevin Coombs are running for reelection in Lower Township. Coombs also hopes to be deputy mayor, as the current deputy mayor, Dave Perry, is stepping down.

Sofia Lomax, a Middle Township High School graduate, held a private screening of her short film documentary “The Heel.” It portrays the real-life story of Juliana Daddio, a Quinnipiac graduate and wrestler whose stage name is Skylar Grey.

Spout Off of the Week

Lower Township – Before the new athletic building and commercial buildings are complete at the airport in Lower Township will there be a bike path for the local people to get there from North Cape May and the villas? Maybe someone will even think to connect the local areas to the existing bike path?

Read more spouts at spoutoff.capemaycountyherald.com. 

Spout Off

Cape May County – Our world is physically sick; because we are spiritually sick.

Read More

Wildwood Crest – In the msm you won’t hear about Trump falling asleep in court today .

Read More

Dennisville – Once again, it happened. A Marlboro Memorial Middle School teacher was charged with inappropriately touching a student. Reportedly the incident occurred in plain sight in a school hallway. The…

Read More

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