Margate's Board of Commissioners must decide by Aug. 16 whether to hold a referendum on a dune and beachfill project, but scheduling issues and voting requirements could further complicate the already tricky legal issue.
Commissioner Brenda Taube wants to hold a public meeting with state and federal officials before the commission votes, but the originally scheduled date of Friday, Aug. 2, conflicted with the Margate Memorial Lifeguard Race.
The next Friday is the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships, also in Margate.
Army Corps officials would not be able to attend a weekend meeting, but the city's second homeowners would find it difficult to attend a weekday meeting.
"We've got to do this already," said Taube of a public meeting. "Knowing the lag time if we need to go to a (November) referendum, which is the same date every year, we should have been on this earlier."
"We're working on it right now," Mayor Mike Becker said. "If we can do it before the deadline of Aug. 16, that would be nice."
Even that deadline has some questions.
According to an ordinance passed more than a decade ago, commissioners cannot approve any dune project, accept any funds or enter into any agreement other than by ordinance, "which shall not be effective unless submitted to and approved by the voters of the city of Margate."
That ordinance was written by an attorney for a group opposed to a dune project, city Solicitor John Scott Abbott said.
But can commissioners vote to put a referendum on the ballot without first making a decision for or against the dune project? Abbott said that would be allowed by the ordinance, and that was the option that Becker endorsed.
But Abbott added that "if they were specifically to sign on to the existing Absecon Island (project), that would also be required to be put on the ballot."
DEP spokesman Larry Hejna did not know if Margate was the only New Jersey shore town required to put participation in any dune or beach project up to a citywide vote.
Longport, which passed a similar ordinance in 2001, rescinded it unanimously in April - but Margate's ordinance was passed following a petition, so that option is not available. Still, both Taube, who is in favor of the dune project, and Becker, who has not taken a position either way, have said they favor a referendum.
Commissioner Maury Blumberg, who has questioned the dune project, said he also backs a referendum but had concerns about the 70 percent of homes owned by second homeowners - who would not be able to vote if not registered in the city.
Abbott said that the only option available to those owners would be to change their primary residence and register to vote in Margate.
"If they want to vote, they've got to register to vote (here)," Becker said. "They have to change and make this their legal residence. That's the only way I know of. ... (But) it;s going to come down to year-round residents."
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