WILDWOOD — A city commissioner presented plans to revitalize the Wildwoods and discussed the local government’s finances Monday evening before a standing-room-only crowd at a special meeting.
The presentation at the Byrne Community Center focused on plans to build a synthetic ice rink to attract year-round visitors to Pacific Avenue as part of a larger goal to increase government revenue.
More than 100 people attended the hearing.
“There never is a best idea, but it’s the best idea I’ve heard,” said John Sheppard, owner of the Cattle & Clover Irish Steakhouse on Pacific Avenue, to applause.
The plan has been spearheaded by City Commissioner Pete Byron, who owns a realty company in the city and led Monday’s meeting.
“This administration is finally coming up with some ideas to move Wildwood forward,” Byron said at the opening of the presentation.
Municipal accountant Robert Swartz and engineer Stuart Wiser also spoke, discussing the city’s long-term plan for redevelopment and explaining the city’s current financial state.
The city adopted its $27 million budget Sept. 12, one of the last local governments in the state to do so this year. The local-purpose tax remained flat at $1.08 per $100 of assessed value, which equates to $2,463 for the average residential property owner with an assessment of $226,400.
The city balanced its budget after overcoming a $3 million deficit, $2 million of which was “incurred by avoiding public safety and other vital municipal services layoffs in order to keep Wildwood’s streets safe and the town clean and inviting,” according to a handout given to those who attended.
A financial austerity program created by the City Commission also cut costs by improving efficiency, negotiating lower public safety contracts, auctioning its municipal energy contract and reducing the municipal work force through attrition, the handout states.
The city also increased revenue through revising municipal fees, revising the municipal parking program and finding ways to make money off beach programming, such as leasing the so-called monster truck building and renting storage boxes.
At the same Sept. 12 meeting, the city approved issuing bonds worth $1.3 million to acquire a vacant property on Pacific Avenue as the site of the rink. City officials are expecting Cape May County to reimburse it with open-space funding.
“We would be foolish not to accept this money,” resident Kathy Mills said Monday in support of the plan.
Byron said that after the city acquires the property he hopes to attract sponsors to fund the development of the rink along with a park and amphitheater.
He also said that since the plans were reported in the media, his email has been “blowing up” with interest from synthetic-ice manufacturers.
The plans have also generated opposition.
Two opponents of the project, residents Mary Ann Giblin and Kathleen McCullough, spoke against it Monday night and received applause from the crowd.
McCullough said she doubted the rink and park would be the revitalizing spark that the city’s downtown business district needs, pointing to an ice rink that closed in Vineland in March after about four years of operation.
The city’s former development director accuses Byron and a city consulting firm of fraud in their efforts to secure approval for the rink, a charge both deny.
Byron said several times that he was open to different ideas about what should be done on the property, but he said the first step would be acquiring it.
Richard Olarsch, a resident and physician in town, said he supports the project because he thought it would provide an activity for local children.
“I’m worried about boredom,” he said. “Boredom is a dangerous thing for children.”
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