When Hurricane Sandy struck the Jersey coast, few places took a harder hit than Sea Bright. Officials there have been trying to rebuild their town and generate revenue without exceeding the 2 percent property tax cap. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long about recovery efforts in her town.
According to Long, one of the most pressing concerns of her residents is the impact of Sandy on property tax increases. She said she and her staff have been working diligently to keep any proposed increases within the cap.
She said, “The state of New Jersey, particularly the Department of Community Affairs, and local government services have been really terrific in trying to work with us in identifying the potential gaps in our budget and also finding revenue sources to cover them.”
Should the increase exceed the 2 percent cap, Long would need voter approval.
“I believe it would have to be approved by voter referendum,” said Long.
Long adds that Sea Bright will be hurt in the upcoming budget year because the regional school taxes are assessed using pre-Sandy property values.
“It was a difficult situation before but in the after-Sandy world it’s going to create a true hardship for my residents,” she said.
Long has been quoted as saying it would take years before the town recovers the ratables that were damaged by the hurricane. As a result, she said the town is aggressively projecting a three-year return rate for its ratable base.
“We’re doing everything that we can at this point to try and help our property owners get their properties repaired, get their risks mitigated so that those property values begin increasing as soon as possible.”
In addition, she said that Sea Bright has applied for a community disaster loan, a federal program designed to offset the loss of ratables. In addition, she said that the school district is in the process of applying for a community disaster loan as well. But there is a cap for how much they can borrow.
She explained, “The cap is set at 25 percent of revenue. That makes Sea Bright eligible for a $1.2 million loan which will be great for us this year.” But again, she stressed that it was next year that she was really worried about.
In many ways, she said dealing with a crisis like Sandy, while it was happening, was the easiest part.
“The recovery has really been challenging cause there’s lots of obstacles and challenges for us to rebuild and to get back to where we were before Sandy came.”
Earlier this year, Long, a Democrat, made headlines for crossing party lines to endorse Gov. Christie in his re-election campaign. She said that while she is a big fan of the Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, Christie’s handling of Sandy and his support for her town during the crisis motivated her decision.
“I wanted to stand with candidate who has been standing with Sea Bright since the water pulled back from Sandy,” she said. “The governor has been a tremendous advocate for the people who have been affected by Sandy and frankly [whether] a Democrat [or] a Republican, a natural disaster teaches us that partisan politics are really often a waste of time … I don’t care who’s fault it was that we have this problem. I want us all to roll up our sleeves to work together to fix it and so I think my endorsement of the governor represents that mindset.”