As a courtesy to our SHPOA Members, we’re bringing you a summary of each Stone Harbor Work Session and Council Meeting. Intended as summaries, these intentionally don’t have a lot of details and are not a substitute for the official Borough minutes.
Budget, Pier, and Water
Chief Financial Officer James Craft reviewed the proposed budget for 2023. Most of the categories had no change or minimal change from 2022. Public Works was the highest at $45,000 due to service contracts, removal of old oil tanks, needed equipment, beach management, and the increased cost of handling solid waste. Public Works also has major projects scheduled such as lead pipe replacement and firehouse repairs. This category would increase by 27.5%.
Council member Jen Gensemer laid out preliminary ideas for the development of a recreation pier at 81st Street. She proposes providing a new amenity where all residents and visitors have access to the bay waterfront. The Borough could lease operations, such as regularly-scheduled boat cruises, and gain a revenue generator.
There was a substantive discussion, led by Council member Bunny Parzych of how to set the water/sewer rates fairly so as to reward the low-users for their conservation efforts. This would be a key principle in the determination of the new rate schedule.
Stone Harbor base rates are the highest in Cape May County. This results in heavy users being subsidized by lower quantity users. The proposal which passed reduces the base rate so it would provide a reduction for about 60% of ratepayers, with the other 40% (the heavier users) paying more by increasing the charges for water use in excess of the base quantity (10,000/gallons per quarter). This proposal will raise about $300,000 more than if rates remained at the 2021 level. The alternative proposal by Parzych would keep the base rate unchanged while increasing the charges for water use in excess of the base quantity. This proposal would raise about $600,000 more than if rates remained at 2021 level.
The argument for the higher revenues was to pay down the water/sewer utility debt, which stands at over $27 million. Parzych says this is too high. Other members of Council say that the proposal would provide additional revenue to pay down debt while balancing against too aggressive a rate increase. Also, there has been no study on whether the debt level is appropriate for a utility, is too high, or too low. Council members Reese Moore and Frank Dallahan recommended a financial study of the utility be conducted to determine whether the debt level is manageable and to assess the impact on future investments/borrowings which will be required.
Fees, Employee Benefits, and a Grant Discussed
An offshoot of this discussion was an informal agreement that a study of the Borough’s debt service and management should be undertaken. Council members discussed the proposed increases for certain municipal fees such as boat dock rentals to dog license fees. Many are limited by the state or other authorities. Those fees within the Borough’s authority may see a 10% increase; however, Council President Reese Moore urged that more research be done. Parking meters will not change.
A new disability benefit has been provided to Borough employees which provides 70% income replacement tax-free up to the point of eligibility for Social Security benefits.
Borough engineer Marc DeBlasio reported five construction projects completed on time and under budget. NJDOT has awarded a $200,000 grant to Stone Harbor for reconstructive work on 96th street.
The tax assessor, borough clerk, and tax collector reported fees collected. It is expected that the new Villa Maria Retreat Center will get its certificate of occupancy for the first floor in January.
Public Works Director Manny Parada noted the work accomplished by his department. He, DeBlasio, and former SHPOA sustainability chairman Wally Bishop are working on a pilot study of stormwater management. He said the trash center was not very successful and should be rethought. Both the Public Works building and the firehouse are budgeted for repairs.
Council acted on the following ordinances:
•#1620: This ordinance establishes criteria for special events by non-profit organizations.
•#1621: This ordinance amends the existing water and sewer fee schedule, to be effective April 1, 2023.
Council also approved the following resolutions:
•To participate in the Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) Safety Incentive Program and authorize the mayor to sign the agreement to join the National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance
•To petition Governor Murphy to use Covid Relief Funds to offset the increased premium costs (28.7% ) of the NJ state health benefits program as is being done for state employees
•To support three local non-profit organizations. This year’s recipients are Cape May County Coast Guard Community, Volunteers in Medicine, and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.