By Lauren Wanko
Today’s dreary skies and wet weather didn’t dampen spirits in Sea Bright. Local officials joined Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable to highlight the Essential Services Grant. The $60 million grant program is part of the federal disaster aid.
“What we want to do is make sure that municipalities that were devastated by the storm aren’t in a position where they have to lay off firefighters, police, lifeguards there on the coast, simply because they don’t have the income coming up. A lot of municipalities lost ratables,” Constable said.
The storm-ravaged community received more than $1 million in June. So far 11 local government entities were awarded grant money. County governments and school districts can also apply.
“This grant is allowing us to maintain salary and wages for our police force. Without it we might have had to consider laying off, reducing hours or furloughing personnel,” Mayor Dina Long said.
“With the devastation that we had in town here, we need our police department to be whole. We also need our emergency services to be whole,” said Sea Bright Police Chief John Sorrentino.
In Sea Bright, the grant dollars will also help the Monmouth County community maintain other public services and personnel like lifeguards and the fire department. The superstorm severely impacted the beach town’s ability to collect revenue.
“Initially when we prepared our budget for this year we identified a need of about $6 million in order to maintain what we have and to begin the repairs,” Long said. “So through programs like the community disaster loan through FEMA provided us with a little over $1 million to help us meet our budget and the essential services grant allows us to at least present a balanced budget this year. We’re still facing extraordinary budget shortfalls when we contemplate that funding needed to repair what was damaged and we’re working through that piece by piece.”
Still, Long says the grant has helped tremendously in maintaining a sense of normalcy after the superstorm devastated this shore community.
As the borough continues to rebuild, so do the businesses along Ocean Avenue. Sandy wiped out 100 percent of the businesses in town and the local merchants we spoke with today say this grant is just as important to them.
Bain’s Hardware owner Frank Bain is grateful his store is up and running again. He’s been in business for 20 years.
“We need to get the services back. That’s where the money, I believe, needs to go. It needs to go to municipal centers, it needs to go to fire houses, it needs to keep the infrastructure going,” Baine said.
A second round of federal community development block grant disaster recovery funds is expected to be released this fall.