By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
The message coming out of today’s Senate Budget Committee hearing in Toms River is that rebuilding in hard-hit towns like this one is taking longer than some expected.
Issues keep arising, and legal obstacles.
For example, before dunes can be reconstructed, every beachfront property owner must provide access to the beach and sign an easement. And in Toms River that includes 16 private beach associations.
“No municipality — Brick Township, nobody — can move forward. The Army Corps won’t move forward until they have easement agreements from every one of the private beach associations in every municipality. Are we correct in saying that?” asked Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo.
“You’re absolutely correct,” said Toms River Township Attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons. “I envision there’s going to have to be some state legislation that is going to require the dunes to be built or require at least oceanfront property owners to give an easement,”
“Nobody should think this Army Corps of Engineer permit, this widening and dune reconstruction, is gonna happen overnight. It’s gonna take years,” Sarlo said.
Another problem is municipal budgets.
Mayor Tom Kelaher told the panel 10,000 homes in Toms River were either knocked over, flooded or destroyed.
“We’re already estimating that we’re gonna see a loss of 20 to 25 percent of our tax ratable base without any diminishing in our expenses,” Kelaher said.
Democrats on the committee say the state needs to create special municipal aid for these towns.
“You’re gonna see a dramatic impact on the ability to deliver services unless there’s some relief from the state of New Jersey,” Sen. Bob Smith said.
“They’re gonna be looking for special municipal aid for many of these coastal towns not just along the ocean in Monmouth County, you got towns in Bergen County, you got towns in Middlesex,” said Sarlo.
Republicans are more cautious about committing state dollars.
“I think the big thing now is to find out just how much money FEMA’s gonna have to supply, how much money the federal government’s gonna supply, whether these insurance carriers and these flood insurance policies are gonna pay. There’s a lot that needs to be coordinated before we talk about special aid to the municipalities. There’s a lot of other pots we need to go to before we go to that special aid for towns,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole.
The mayor of Toms River said cleaning up after Sandy was like running a sprint. Rebuilding and recovery are more like a marathon.
“A lot of the good will is turning to frustration now. A lot of people are frustrated. They’re not sure especially when it comes to the flood maps, the new base elevations. FEMA was supposed to be here today. For some reason they were unable to be here. I’m not sure if they were told not to be here,” Sarlo said.
Democrats also want hard-hit towns exempted from the 2 percent property tax cap.