CAPE MAY — Mayor Ed Mahaney and Councilwoman Terri Swain received the oath of office for new four-year terms at City Council’s reorganization meeting Tuesday afternoon, while several new initiatives were announced during the annual state-of-the-city address.
About 60 people showed up for the city’s first January reorganization meeting. Last year the city moved municipal elections to November, which resulted in new terms beginning in January. The city for years held May elections with a July reorganization.
Mahaney took the oath with his sister Patricia Brand by his side. Swain stood next to her father, Bud Swain. Municipal Judge Louis Belasco administered the oaths. Council then voted in Councilman William Murray as deputy mayor. He replaces Councilman Jack Wichterman, who had held the post for several years.
Mahaney and Swain pledged to continue with their four main goals they established during their previous term: spurring economic growth, helping the environment, maintaining the infrastucture, and doing all three while maintaining the quality of life and keeping Cape May an affordable place to live.
Swain thanked her supporters for getting her elected and allowing her to “do something I love to do.”
The reorganization under this form of government also includes the state of the city address by the mayor, and he used the time to list what has been done to meet the four goals.
His list of accomplishments included planning initiatives on the city’s Master Plan, affordable housing, flood plain management, meeting State Plan goals and earning “Silver Certification” from the state for the city’s sustainability measures. Silver is the highest certification, and the Sustainable New Jersey program for two years in a row has declared Cape May the Small Municipality Champion for towns of 5,000 people or fewer.
Participating in all these programs helps draw state and federal grants and loans.
“In the last two years we’ve drawn $6.6 million for infrastructure improvements, and we have the mechanism in place to keep this momentum,” Mahaney said.
He also outlined two large park projects on which his administration has been working: a 38-acre park off Lafayette Street and 78 acres of open space being purchased along Pittsburgh Avenue. The city has received $6 million in grants for the two projects.
“We will keep the quality of life we have in this town,” Mahaney said.
The mayor added that building the desalination plant has helped solve the city’s longtime water problems by supplying 66 percent of the city’s water and making Cape May a water exporter to neighboring municipalities.
“We have a potable water supply from our system for the next 25 years. Water is a very valuable commodity, and it will become more so, especially on the Jersey cape,” Mahaney said.
The city is also in “very stable” financial shape, with a AA bond rating, Mahaney said.
The new $10.5 million Convention Hall will go to permanent financing this year, but Mahaney said it was timed so a similar amount of debt is being retired. That means the debt service residents fund via taxes will not increase.
Mahaney also announced the most popular program at the old convention hall, winter roller skating, will begin soon.
That draws as many as 300 people on a given winter day. The fencing is being delivered next week and it will be assembled and tested before the opening. He said the hall would continue to be used to expand the tourism season.
“We’re trying to strengthen our season so we can go back to being a 10-and-a-half-month economy like we used to be,” Mahaney said.
The mayor said quality of life for the disabled has also improved through the use of $2.1 million in grants over the past four years for access improvements on the beaches, Promenade, Washington Street Mall and Franklin Street Civic Center. He also announced that Gov. Chris Christie has just notified the city it will receive a $400,000 grant for disabled-access improvements on Carpenters Lane and at the Village Greene development.
The mayor also said he sees some problems on the horizon, including proposed state legislation to eliminate beach tags in towns that get state and federal funds for beach replenishment. Cape May does get such funds and is opposing the bill.
Mahaney said the city takes in $2.1 million a year on beach tags and spends $1.9 million runing the beach operation. The extra money helps pay the city’s share of replenishment projects. He noted Cape May County makes $5.1 billion a year on tourism, but that eliminating beach tags would affect the state’s share of that, which is $484 million.
“The legislation sounds very favorable to somebody who lives inland, but there are no free beaches ... somebody has to pay for it,” Mahaney said.
He also sees trouble ahead as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, makes changes due to damages caused by Hurricane Sandy. That is expected to affect construction and increase the cost of flood insurance.
“The new FEMA flood maps and regulations will have a major impact on all aspects of our community. I don’t think there is any need for anybody to be alarmed or petrified at this point,” Mahaney said.
The stagnation of the national economy and the state-imposed 2 percent cap on tax increases were also cited by Mahaney as threats to the city.
The mayor also announced a new initiative to have the Mayor’s Advisory Committee look at aesthetic issues and make recommendations to City Council by March to improve the “appearance and functionality” of the city by the 2013 tourist season. He appointed six new people to the committee. They are Mark Lomanno, Susan Mullins, Curtis Bashaw, Scott Thomas, Hilary Pritchard and Eliza Lotozo. The commiteee will also work on a regional economic development initiative Mahaney has spearheaded with Freeholder Will Morey.
In other news, City Council hired Dixon Associates Engineering to look into possible water losses in the water supplied to neighboring West Cape May. The borough may be getting charged for more water than it is receiving.
“We will do a full, fair and unbiased study to see where there are problems and will address them,” Mahaney said.
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