Southern New Jersey voters came out in record numbers Tuesday, and many of them rejected their school budgets.
But results in some counties were not as bad as had been feared, based on the unofficial results.
Cape May bucked what appeared to be a statewide trend of rejections, approving nine of 15 budgets. Based on unofficial results, the only rejected budgets were in Upper Township, Sea Isle City, and all four Wildwoods.
Voter turnout, which usually averages about 12 to 15 percent, was exceeded in most local counties, with Ocean County reporting a 24 percent turnout, Cape May County 19 percent and Cumberland County 11.3 percent. The Atlantic County turnout was not available but vote totals in some districts were double last year’s numbers.
In Atlantic County, angry taxypayers outnumbered concerned parents. Almost all budgets were defeated. Early results showed only Atlantic City, Northfield, Folsom and Hammonton approving their budgets, with Weymouth incomplete. All others were defeated.
In Ocean County, unofficial results had budgets passing in Beach Haven, Eagleswood, Southern Regional, Stafford Township and Tuckerton. Budgets were defeated in Barnegat, Lacey Township, Little Egg Harbor Township, Long Beach Island, Ocean Township and Pinelands Regional.
In Cumberland County, Bridgeton, Greenwich, Hopewell Township, Millville and Stow Creek approved their budgets. Vineland and all others were defeated.
Some area polls reported steady business all day, in contrast to sleepy past elections.
A trio of neon-colored handmades signs on a utility pole near the entrance to Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing said it loud and clear: “Schools must tighten their belts like the rest of us.” “We want an affordable tax bill.” “Vote No.”
A small sign on West Jersey Avenue near Fernwood Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township said, “Children Are Our Greatest Asset: Vote Today.”
Families with children came to support the budget.
“We’re definitely more concerned this year,” said Tara Lake, of Egg Harbor Township , mother of a 5-year-old in kindergarten and a 2-year old. “We have to support it.”
Older residents, and angry taxpayers, followed the governor’s lead.
Bill Hartman, of Egg Harbor Township, admitted he has missed the past six or seven school elections, but this year he came out to vote. Both he and Ray Coates voted no, saying the schools have to cut back just like everyone else.
“I’m fed up with these people,” Coates said. “They have to learn to control the money.”
Coates and his wife, Lynnette, have been active in tea party events, saying they are willing to get involved to make change.
Defeated budgets now go to their municipal governing bodies, which have until May 19 to review the budgets. They can call for additional cuts, and with most municipalities also having to cut budgets, there may not be much sympathy for the schools.
Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said he will respond to the voters wishes, but this year is a no-win situation for everyone.
“People are angry,” he said.
Contact Diane D'Amico: