By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Mayor Leonard Desiderio was so confident of Sea Isle City’s financial strength that he pledged during his annual State of the City address in 2019 that taxes would not go up in 2020.
He fulfilled that promise Tuesday during his 2020 State of the City address, saying that the municipal budget for this year will keep local property taxes stable.
“I’m pleased to announce that we will be following through on that commitment this year – there is no tax rate increase in the budget I’m delivering to Council,” he said.
The city’s strong financial footing was a recurring theme in his address. In another bit of good news for property owners, he announced that there will be no increase in the city’s water and sewer rates for the seventh year in a row.
He also reported that the city’s budget surplus has grown to $6.4 million, the highest it has ever been and nearly double the surplus amount seven years ago.
“There is no doubt that the city is in great financial shape,” he said. “We’ve accomplished this by continually analyzing our operations, following policies and procedures to ensure efficiency and economy, and working with Council and the public to deliver the services needed to maintain a safe and clean community.”
Council has scheduled a budget workshop for 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall to begin scrutinizing the proposed $25 million spending plan for 2020.The governing body will have to give its approval of the budget.
Desiderio, meanwhile, also used his address to tout a series of capital projects undertaken by the city, including flood control measures, road construction and upgrades to the public parks and playgrounds.
The city is in the midst of adding decorative lighting that will brighten up and beautify parts of the Promenade and downtown business district.
In one eagerly awaited project by the public, the city will receive construction bids next week for a new fishing pier and kayak launch site overlooking the bayfront near 60th Street at the Dealy Field recreation complex.
The Boardwalk-style pier will extend 132 feet into the water, giving anglers, kayakers and paddleboarders easy public access to the picturesque back bays.
Also on the bay side, Sea Isle is awaiting permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to begin the dredging of the municipal marina and lagoons to clear out muddy sediment, Desiderio said.
Deeper lagoons will improve access for boaters. The city is working with bayfront property owners adjacent to 38th Street and Venicean Road to allow them to piggyback on the city’s environmental permits to have their boat slips dredged at their cost.
The city will continue its broad flood-mitigation strategy by pursuing funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a pumping station in the area between 44th and 47th streets.
Last year, Sea Isle built its first pumping station, in the flood-prone bayfront neighborhood of 38th Street and Sounds Avenue. Pumping stations channel stormwater back into the bay much faster than it would normally take for the flooding to recede by itself.
Desiderio called Sea Isle “the leader in the state in flood-mitigation efforts.” He noted that the city’s property owners receive the highest flood insurance discounts available in the state – 35 percent.
“From an infrastructure standpoint, flood mitigation remains our highest priority,” he said.
Another major project that Desiderio touched on in his address is the proposed redevelopment of the former public school site on Park Road into a community recreation center.
Property owners voted overwhelmingly last fall to reject an indoor swimming pool as part of the recreation complex. Council responded by directing Desiderio’s administration to move ahead with designs for a recreation center without a pool.
Desiderio announced in his address that within the next month the city expects to bring forward a professional services contract to develop conceptual plans for the recreation center. The plans will be shared with Council and the public.
He pledged to involve the “entire community” in the planning process for the project “to ensure we build a facility that meets all of our needs.” The cost is estimated between $10 million and $15 million.
“While we seem to have settled on the matter of building a community center at Park Road, the details of such a project need to be worked out, and it’s important that we take the time to do this right,” Desiderio said. “Like our City Hall, this is a facility that will serve the community for generations to come.”