By Donald Wittkowski
City Council adopted Sea Isle City’s 2017 municipal budget Tuesday, while also approving a $3.2 million bond ordinance for an array of capital projects highlighted by new road and drainage upgrades to reduce flooding on the barrier island.
By a 5-0 vote, Council gave final approval to a $24 million budget that raises the tax rate by less than a penny and includes funding to create a new professional emergency medical services unit to take charge of the city’s ambulance operations.
Under the spending plan, the local tax rate will increase from 37.6 cents to 38.3 cents, resulting in an extra $46 in annual taxes on a typical Sea Isle home assessed at $663,000, City Business Administrator George Savastano said. On such a home, the local tax bill will be $2,539 per year, a figure that does not include county and school taxes.
Meanwhile, water and sewer rates will remain the same under the city’s new $9 million utilities budget. The utilities budget is separate from the municipal spending plan.
The municipal budget includes about $600,000 in new spending to carry out the transition from the city’s existing volunteer ambulance squad to a paid EMS unit. That funding is the principal reason the budget requires a small increase in local taxes, Savastano said.
“It’s a tight budget,” he told Council.
Founded in 1956, the ambulance corps has struggled recently to find enough volunteers to provide 24-hour service. Mayor Leonard Desiderio has cited the “diminishing ability” of the ambulance squad as the reason for creating a paid EMS staff.
City officials have declined to characterize the EMS plan as an outright takeover of the ambulance corps because volunteers will be used to supplement the new full-time emergency workers as part of a “hybrid” force. Both squads will operate out of the existing ambulance building on John F. Kennedy Boulevard next to City Hall.
City officials, in another key initiative for public safety, are preparing to build a series of road and drainage projects this year to help protect the low-lying island from tidal flooding unleashed by coastal storms.
A $3.2 million bond ordinance, approved in a separate 5-0 vote Tuesday by Council, includes about $1.2 million in funding for road and drainage construction, Savastano said.
A series of upgrades to public buildings and facilities costing a total of $1.4 million are also part of the bond ordinance. They include improvements to public restrooms and renovations to the Public Works Department maintenance building.
The city also plans to build a new launching area for kayaks and paddleboards along the bayfront at 61st Street behind the Dealy Field athletic complex.
The bond ordinance also includes money to tear down the city’s deteriorated old firehouse on 42nd Place. The city will also demolish some old trailers that were part of an expansion project years ago at the Sea Isle City Public School when it was still open.