WILDWOOD — The eight candidates in the city’s May 10 election had a host of different views on topics ranging from the town’s infrastructure needs to ways to reach out to Hispanic voters, but one issue brought them together.
“I think that is something we may all agree with tonight,” said candidate Anthony Leonetti as he addressed the consolidation of the towns that make up the Wildwoods.
Consolidation has been a topic on Five Mile Beach for decades, and each of the would-be commissioners said it was an idea long overdue.
Leonetti’s running mate, Peter Byron, welcomed the merger of the island’s police, fire and recreation departments.
“We need to consolidate our entire island,” added Commissioner Edward Harshaw.
First-time candidate Dara Baltuskonis agreed. “It will reduce the tax burden that is on us,” she said.
Commissioner Al Brannen said the nation’s economic climate and Gov. Chris Christie’s administration could create the atmosphere that finally leads to the Wildwoods becoming one governmental entity.
“It’s very workable here,” he said.
Sandra Richardson called the prospect “only logical and sensible.”
The current mayor, Gary DeMarzo, said people remain territorial, but “it’s inevitable. The money is drying up.”
His predecessor, Ernie Troiano Jr., said the island should have been consolidated “from day one.”
But he warned no consolidation was likely until the town is welcomed by its neighbors.
“Until we clean our own house up, they are not going to reach out to us,” Troiano said.
Much of Thursday’s candidates’ night event, sponsored by the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Mary Conley, president of the Cape May County League of Women Voters, focused on what methods the candidates would use to clean up Wildwood and prepare it for the future.
Part of that effort would be improving the town’s infrastructure.
“If you ride up and down the streets, you know the biggest problem with infrastructure,” Brannen said of the need to repair city streets block by block.
Byron said he would ask the county to step in and repair its share of the roads that run across the city.
The potential benefits of a solar park planned for the city’s backbay landfill was also discussed.
“I would not continue with the solar project as it’s written today,” Leonetti said, questioning the city’s current plan to lease the site. It “seems like a one-shot deal,” he said.
DeMarzo said he wholeheartedly supported the solar project, something he called “a revenue generator, budget neutral plan.”
Taxes and new ideas for revenue were also among the questions posed.
Baltuskonis said the city needed new ratables and should encourage businesses with tax incentives.
“We need to cut spending,” she said. “We have to live within our means.”
Harshaw said the town’s problems were clear. “Our taxes are just too high,” he said.
Beach fees, a much talked about subject like consolidation, were also raised, with some like Troiano questioning their value. Richardson suggested an alternative similar to the Cape May County Zoo, which brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars with donation boxes.
The event moved quickly, lasting just 90 minutes, and getting through a long list of questions submitted by city residents.
The chamber meeting room was ready for 400 guests, but there were plenty of empty seats, with many residents likely choosing to watch the event via the chamber’s website.
Now, the candidates will continue campaigning, delivering their messages door to door, on the Internet and through advertisements.
Voters will head to the polls on May 10 at the Wildwoods Convention Center.
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