Little Egg Harbor Approves Bonding for Mystic Island Dredging

By PAT JOHNSON | May 22, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson

Little Egg Harbor — The lagoons on the east side of Radio Road in the Mystic Island section of Little Egg Harbor will be dredged this year, according to Township Committeeman Ray Gormley. During the May 9 municipal meeting, the committee passed a bond ordinance for $4.5 million.

The bonding will make dredging Rose Cove and parts of 12 lagoons possible but will be reimbursed by a tax assessment on the waterfront homeowners. According to township attorney Jean Cipriani, the bonding is for a maximum $4.5 million. If dredging costs are lower, the assessments will be lowered. For now, the plan is for each property to pay a portion figured at an additional $1,000 annually for ten years.

Approximately 35,000 cubic yards will be taken from the creek and lagoons as they are dredged to a depth of 4.5 feet.

Gormley said the east side of Radio Road in Mystic has 527 properties. Dividing the number of properties into $4.5 million and trying to come to an individual cost of assessment does not compute because money is needed for soft costs: engineering and contracts needing attorneys fees.

The township is requesting bids from contractors. Gormley said if all goes as planned, the town should see a dredging company mobilizing equipment in late August to start dredging after Labor Day.

The committee also passed a bulkhead maintenance ordinance that requires all waterfront lots to be bulkheaded and in good repair. Once a property owner is notified by code enforcement, they have 120 days to comply.

Jane Letterman from Burgee Drive said most of the people in Mystic are retirees and the added expense of an assessment could be a hardship.

Gormley said the ability to use the waterway would add value to everyone’s property. He also added that a dedicated tax for waterways maintenance could be coming in the future, one that is similar to the open space tax of one-tenth a cent per $100 assessed property value. It would be a way “to build up the kitty.”

“The unfortunate part is the lagoons haven’t been dredged since the late 1960s,” he said.

A resident of North Ensign asked if he could have his slip dredged. “Once the project is completed, you will have the option to have your slip cleaned out and you’ll have to pay for that,” said Gormley.

Another resident asked if the township was able to get any federal money to help pay for the dredging.

Township engineer Jason Worth said the depth surveys and testing of the mud was done using $175,000 of the $2.1 million grant given by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a grant split between Little Egg Harbor and Tuckerton.

In other news, the committee adopted the 2019 budget that includes a 6.9-cent increase on the municipal tax rate, bringing it to 74.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. On the average home assessment of $204,568, there would be an approximate increase of $141 per year.

The tax increase is necessary to meet the increases in employer pension costs and healthcare, debt service requirements and annual equipment maintenance agreements on the radio/communication system project to improve the communications of the police department and the safety of residents.

The township’s total budget is $24,531,351, up $2,159,277 over last year. The amount to be raised by taxes is $17,273,432. The prior year’s tax levy was $15,604,864.

Senior advocate Art Mooney from Sun Rise Bay calculated this was a 10 percent increase on the tax rate (excluding schools and county taxes). The municipal tax rate for 2018 was 67.3 cents.

Chief Financial Officer Rodney Haines said the township did use some of the state-allowed banked cap on budget increase limits. But debt service, and increases to salaries and benefits, are calculated outside of the 2 percent cap imposed by the state.

“This is the highest rate increase in five years,” said Mooney. “This is a stiff burden on the senior citizens who are not getting an increase (in their Social Security cost of living) and the 2.8 percent we got last year was sucked up by increases to Medicare. The state has also put a crimp in the senior citizen tax freeze lowering the annual income to $70,000. And the Homestead Rebate has been watered down. I applaud the school systems for (consolidating) and keeping the taxes down. But I don’t applaud the township. You should be looking at some kind of austerity budget. You folks should be ashamed for putting that burden on seniors.”

Ken Schuster from Spinnaker Drive asked what the township was doing to attract commercial tax ratables, and why the township wasn’t behind getting an appeal to Great Wolf Lodge to locate a resort on 68 acres next to the Walmart.

“It seems everything that comes to the town is shot down. Are the (protected) frogs paying any taxes?”

Gormley said that Great Wolf Lodge is not interested in New Jersey because they get better tax incentives in areas like Georgia, or Havre de Grace, Maryland, where they have recently opened two lodges.

The problem with attracting businesses to Little Egg Harbor is the demographics and the population. The town has 35,000 year-round residents and little opportunity for future growth, the committeeman remarked.

“That’s why Stafford gets Panera Bread and Chick-Fil-A. The other problem is our income. According to the census, our income is a little low.”

“We have two 90,000-square-foot (approved and planned) grocery stores that are shovel ready but can’t find a buyer.”

In other business, Committeeman John Kehm said the town energy audit that is underway underscores the need to add solar panels on the Justice Complex and on a canopy that would be located over the adjacent parking lot. He also suggested a site along Sports Complex Drive, where he would like to see an array of solar panels that could be easily connected to a substation near the Wawa on Route 539. “Paying $400,000 (a year) for street lighting is just ridiculous,” he said.

Pat Johnson

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