WILDWOOD — Opponents of a city plan to build a synthetic ice skating rink downtown have turned in a petition seeking to put the issue before voters.
City Commission voted 2 to 1 on Sept. 12 to purchase a vacant lot at 3400 Pacific Ave. and bond for the money, about $1.3 million, to pay for the rink.
Pete Byron, commissioner of revenue and finance, has requested that the Cape May County Open Space Review Board fund the purchase through the county’s open space program. The board has hired two appraisers to determine the value of the site.
Byron has led the effort to bring a synthetic ice rink to the island that would be open year-round. At a city meeting, Byron called the project “the future of our town,” saying it would draw new commercial interest to the downtown.
Dara Baltuskonis, one of the five city residents who formed the initial petition committee, said Monday that obtaining more than 200 signatures on the petitions was not difficult.
According to the city, the petitioners needed to collect a minimum of 117 signatures from registered voters.
“People were actually stopping their cars to sign the petition when they saw us walking down the street. Everybody’s upset over their taxes, and with taxes so high, why are we spending more money?” Baltuskonis said, noting the costs of the purchase and operating the rink.
Wildwood has the highest local purpose tax rate in Cape May County at $1.088 per $100 of assessed valuation. This year, however, the local purpose tax rate did not increase.
Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said Monday that the people behind the petition were behind his 2009 recall and he didn’t want to lend any credence to their efforts.
“This is a group upset with a zero tax increase,” Troiano said. “They’re the ones that complain constantly about everything.”
Baltuskonis said many opponents don’t believe the synthetic rink can lure enough visitors to make it sustainable.
“Some of them felt the whole idea of a skating rink (at the shore) is ludicrous,” she said.
Troiano said that the feedback he received was largely supportive of placing a park in downtown, though there were some reservations about the skating rink, “but not a lot of calls either way.”
City Clerk/Administrator Christopher Wood must now review the signatures and determine if enough legitimate signatures were obtained before the issue can be placed on the ballot.
Wood said Monday that the petitioners are seeking to have the purchase of the land, the bond ordinance and a third question about the lease of the former monster truck building and adjacent beach under a 50-year contract all placed on the ballot.
If enough signatures were obtained, the commission can either choose to repeal the ordinances or place them on the ballot, he said.
Any vote would take place during a special election to be held in December or January.
Troiano estimated the special election would cost $25,000.
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