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Stockton funding, Atlantic City expansion, in state budget limbo

Stockton University’s $4.6 million in additional funding in the 2020 budget survived Gov. Phil Murphy’s veto pen, but university officials say the funding is in limbo along with Stockton’s Atlantic City expansion.

“We do not have clarity on how much of that is being placed in reserve,” said Stockton President Harvey Kesselman on Monday. “We absolutely need that commitment of funds in order to move forward with phase two of the Atlantic City campus.”

At a Sunday news conference, Murphy said he was line-item vetoing $48.5 million, and putting another $235 million of spending of the Legislature’s $38.7 billion budget into reserve. It would be spent only if the state collects sufficient revenue to cover the extra spending, or if the Legislature provides a new revenue source, Murphy said.

On Monday, a spokesperson said Murphy expects the state Department of Treasury to compile the list of reserved spending some time this week.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said the funding is important to the viability of Stockton and continued economic development in Atlantic City.

“I’m a little suspicious. I hate to put this as a North and South (issue),” Mazzeo said. “But with Rutgers Camden and Rowan vetoed, and Stockton in limbo, it really makes you feel again South Jersey legislators are going to have to really hold the governor’s feet to the fire and get an explanation of what’s going to happen.”

Rutgers University Camden lost about $500,000 in grants-in-aid, and Rowan University lost about $1 million for state-funded positions. They were the only two higher education institutions included in the line-item vetoes.

Murphy’s budget gave Stockton about $1.35 million, and the legislature added another $4.6 million, for a total of about $5.95 million.

Kesselman thanked the governor for not line-item vetoing the funding, and State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Leader Craig Coughlin for “their confidence and support of Stockton.”

“Keep in mind why it is so critical for Stockton,” Kesselman said. “Stockton and Montclair (State University) get the least amount (of per student funding) of any senior public colleges and universities.”

Kesselman said Stockton opened its Atlantic City campus last fall without any additional state funding and needs the added revenue if it is to keep expanding there.

State Senator Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he has been working across the aisle with State Sen. Nina Gill, D-Essex, Passaic, and meeting with the state Department of Education to get increased funding for both Stockton and Montclair.

“If the governor and state are putting as much hopes on the revitalization of Atlantic City with Stockton playing its role, we need to fairly fund it from the state,” Brown said, “so students can still afford to attend college.”

He said he’s hopeful Stockton’s funding will not be held in reserve “because the formula was a partially revised formula we worked with the Secretary of Education to make it more fair.”

Murphy said Sunday the list of items to be put on hold will include spending he proposed.

“Overwhelmingly they will be programs we like,” Murphy said. “We want to do (these programs) but we have to see if revenues come in ahead of expectations or if the legislature presents us another revenue source.”

Murphy said the Legislature’s budget contained “unrealistic revenue projections, unachievable savings assumptions and underfunded programs and services.”

By refusing to raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a year, Murphy said the Legislature failed to create enough of a dependable revenue stream.

Stockton is negotiating with Atlantic City Development Corp. to build a six-story, $64 million second phase that will include a 405-bed residential complex across from O’Donnell Park in Atlantic City.

AC Devco is hoping to fund it with $54 million in tax-exempt debt through the Atlantic County Improvement Authority and a $10 million loan from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, AC Devco President Christopher Paladino has said. He expects to break ground in September and finish by summer 2021.

Paladino did not return calls for comment.

Paladino had expected to approach CRDA to request the funding at its June 18 meeting but did not. His company already has final site plan approval from CRDA.

Last September, Stockton opened a three-story academic building and a 533-bed residence hall along Albany Avenue.


Local
Warped Tour's last hurrah a success for Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — As crews tore down the stages, skate ramps, wrestling ring and tents that scattered the beach between Arkansas Avenue and St. James Place on Monday morning, the aftermath of a two-day punk rock festival was evident.

The plastic bottles and bags, cigarette butts, beer cans and sandals were strewn about, but workers from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s Special Improvement District and LiveNation were feverishly restoring the Boardwalk and beach following the 25th anniversary of the Vans Warped Tour.

“The CRDA participated by having its SID employees clean the beach and Boardwalk during and after the event on both days,” said Matt Doherty, executive director of the authority. “Some employees worked until 2 a.m. to ensure that the area was clean for the next morning.”

Compared to what the area looked like Sunday night after nearly 30,000 people left, it was a vast improvement.

The cleanup and breakdown of the makeshift concert venue is expected to be complete by the end of the week, according to Ike Richman, a spokesman for concert organizer LiveNation.

And while the visuals of a littered beach are less than ideal (and temporary), Warped Tour in Atlantic City was, by most accounts, a resounding success.

“I have to say that this was probably one of the most impressive festivals that Atlantic City has ever seen,” said Fire Chief Scott Evans. “This was one of the largest footprints of temporary structures that we’ve seen on the beach. I think Atlantic City performed extraordinarily well.”

With an estimated 60,000 people attending the event over the course of two days, Atlantic City police reported no arrests and emergency medical services were needed for just fewer than 300 people.

“Overall, we were excited with the success of the concert,” said ACPD Sgt. Kevin Fair. “We enjoy working these beach concerts because it highlights a concert atmosphere that is not found anywhere but Atlantic City.”

The city’s first responders were tested Saturday afternoon when lightning, thunder and heavy rain briefly forced an evacuation of the beach. Evans and Fair both said the evacuation plan was executed as planned and there were no issues during the rain delay.

“It was a fantastic event and thanks to all who made it a wonderful experience for the artists, the athletes and their fans,” Richman said Monday. “And special thanks to the city of Atlantic City, CRDA, police, firefighters, lifeguards and first responders who were all instrumental in making the event a success.”

The thunderstorm that interrupted Saturday afternoon’s festivities may have been a blessing in disguise for local businesses, many of whom often miss out on a revenue bump when beach concerts come to town.

“For two hours straight (on Saturday), you couldn’t find a seat at the bar or in the restaurant,” said Frank Pileggi, manager of The Irish Pub on St. James Place.

Pileggi said the 50-room hotel was booked solid for the weekend with the majority of guests in town for the concert.

Ducktown Tavern owner John Exadaktilos said Sunday was the better of the two days for his business. Exadaktilos estimated half the bar was locals and regulars, while the rest were new faces.

“(It was) a good economic boost before the holiday weekend,” he said.

Before heading out of town, Daniel Marker, 40, and Megan Snook, 25, both of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, heaped praise on Warped Tour and Atlantic City.

“(Warped Tour) did a better job this year than last,” Marker said. “But, I really liked the sand and the beach. Everything was within walking distance (from the Airbnb). I’d come back (to Atlantic City for another concert).”

“The atmosphere was good,” Snook said. “Everybody seemed to be having a good time.”

The Atlantic City show was the only East Coast appearance in what Vans Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman said is the event’s final year.

On Sunday night, after Blink-182 ended the show with “Dammit,” fans were already clamoring for more with some screaming “bring it back” and thanking Lyman for organizing a concert series that shaped American summers for a quarter century.

“It’s not up to me, it’s up to these guys,” Lyman said afterward pointing to the fans who chanted “bring it back!”

Miss any Warped Tour Atlantic City moment? Check out our complete coverage

Education
Rowan College of South Jersey becomes official

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — As one door closes, another one is opening for higher education in Cumberland County.

The community college had a rebirth on Monday, officially merging with Gloucester County to become Rowan College of South Jersey.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the people that I work with at this campus and the people at Cumberland and how it came together. We were going where nobody has gone before,” said Frederick Keating, who was once the president at Gloucester and is now heading the new unified college. “That’s what you’re seeing sitting on the stage: This is the intersection of vision and courage.”

The Board of Trustees for the new college, which includes representatives from both Cumberland and Gloucester counties, met together before the ceremony for the first time to sign the agreement.

This marked the final step of the process that began more than a year ago with talks and negotiations between freeholders and college officials.

“John Wooden said, ‘Change is never fatal but failure to change might be,’ and I think we’re going to make a change that’s going to make a true legacy for us in the future,” Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joe Derella said Friday after the Cumberland college board officially disbanded in preparation for the merge.

This merger of two existing community colleges is the first of its kind in the state, and state and local officials recognized the historic nature of their commitment.

“What we’re doing is recreating county college. We’re making county college now something that it has never been viewed as — legitimate,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Monday. “County colleges were always wonderful. County colleges were always outstanding, but no one ever gave it the credentials and the credibility that it has now.”

Sweeney was joined on the stage by Congressman Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, Donald Norcross and Cumberland and Gloucester County Freeholders.

“I love South Jersey, and I love when we’re on the cutting edge,” Van Drew said, “and today we are on the cutting edge. We are doing what is right. We’re thinking faster, smarter, sharper.”

Outgoing Cumberland County College Board of Trustees Chairwoman Donna Perez, who will serve on the new board, said Friday that “bold action” was needed to combat the declining enrollment and decreasing revenue.

“The result is an exciting new regional partnership,” she said, which will improve educational services, resources and affordability for students.

Perez said that Rowan College of South Jersey can become a model for the rest of the country and the state.

The merger talks were announced last year as Cumberland County College, facing a $2 million deficit, sought to stabilize finances and increase enrollment.

Derella said at the time that declining enrollment — 26% over 5 years — had exacerbated the financial problems at the college, which have been stalled through administrative cuts over the years. There were fears that the school would close for good if no action was taken.

After joining the Rowan College family in 2014, Gloucester County College was renamed and a seamless pathway to a four-year degree with Rowan University for students was put in place.

In 2015, Burlington County College entered into a similar deal with Rowan.

Both institutions saw increases in enrollment and students were able to achieve significant savings on a four-year degree.

Officials said the merger will also create a corridor of educational opportunity, including in the health industry, along Route 55.

Keating reported it will be a rate of $152 per credit.

“Through this partnership, we’re not only creating access and affordability, but more importantly we’re bringing the education to the regions, to the counties based on the needs of these counties based on the economies of these counties,” said Rowan University President Ali A. Houshmand.

Current and former students said Friday they were excited about the advantages they will now have as part of the Rowan College family.

“It’s going to offer a lot of new opportunities for students. We have a lot of opportunities already, and I think the partnership with Rowan will make it even greater,” said Kristin DellaVecchia, 30, of Vineland.

DellaVecchia graduated from Cumberland County College and is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in social work at Georgian Court’s local campus.

Student Stephanie Cruz, 32, of Vineland, said change is good, and oftentimes necessary for growth. Cruz is going for her associate’s degree in business at Cumberland County and said the merger with Rowan will expose her to new people and job opportunities.

Rowan College of South Jersey will operate over two campuses at the Cumberland and Gloucester colleges. There will be one president and one board of trustees.

Members of the board of trustees are J. Kenneth Mecouch, Yolanda Balicki, Donna Perez, Jean DuBois, Len Daws, Benjamin Griffith, Douglas Wills, Gene Concordia and Ruby Love.


Local
U.S. woman's soccer team an inspiration to local soccer teams

Many sports fans are finding out this summer what Middle Township High School standout Kira Sides and other local girls soccer players already knew.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is impressive to watch in the Women’s World Cup and can inspire fans and future players with their talent.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of people posting on social media about how they’re watching the games,” said Sides, who will be a senior in the fall. “It’s like ‘Ha, you see how good they are now.’”

Boys get to see their athletic heroes play on national television all the time. Girls not so much. But every four years, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team grabs the country’s sporting attention. The U.S. women have won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals.

“They’re an inspiration not only to the soccer players but women in general,” said Alivia Handson, who graduated from Mainland Regional in June and was The Press Girls Soccer Player of the Year last fall. “They work so hard, and they’re a powerhouse. It’s really cool.”

The World Cup games this year have been must-watch games for local girls soccer standouts and sports fans in general. The U.S. will play England in the semifinals 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The Middle Township girls soccer team got together as a group to watch the U.S. beat Sweden last week.

The Mainland Regional girls watched some of the group games while they worked out in the weight room. Mainland Regional graduate Christine Napoli, who will continue her career at St. Bonaventure University in New York, watched the games in the lobby of her hotel while on vacation in the Bahamas last week.

“I didn’t even have to ask them to put it on,” Napoli said.

The U.S. women play a physical style of soccer. They tackle hard and sprint all over the field.

“They’re providing positive role models for our girls,” Mainland Regional girls coach Alex Weidman said. “It’s showing they can go out, do their thing and be rock stars on the field and not have to be (worried) about being competitive, being tough or some of the things girls get self-conscious about.”

The U.S. women have a special connection to South Jersey.

Carli Lloyd of Delran, Burlington County, now comes off the bench, but she has been one of the team’s past stars. When Handson was in middle school, she attended a couple of Lloyd’s soccer camps.

“It’s so much more special (with Lloyd being from South Jersey) and you feel a little bit more connected,” Handson said. “I’ve played on the same fields as she has. To know that she came from our area, came from our similar soccer programs, look at where she is now.”

And then there’s U.S. midfielder Julie Ertz. She is married to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

“She married an Eagles player, which is even cooler,” Handson said.

This year’s World Cup has been filled with inspirational moments. A video with Brazilian soccer star Marta went viral where she urged girls to pursue the game with passion. Her words were directed at people in her home country, but they can be used as inspiration for male or female athletes in any sport.

“Cry now so you can smile at the end,” Marta said.

Napoli says the first thing she wants to do after watching a World Cup game is play soccer.

“It’s hard to watch a game and not want to go out and play or just juggle some balls with my little brother,” she said. “Watching this, I can’t wait to get to college soon and play at a high level like that.”

While many young girls soccer players feel a special connection to the U.S. women’s team, its success is reaching even the casual sports fan. Handson said her grandmother, Linda Carson, who never played soccer, hasn’t missed a game. The U.S. win over France set a record for the most-watched Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match on U.S. English-language television.

Ratings are expected to be even better for Tuesday’s semifinal.

“Having a sports team that is captivating and had so much success gets everyone involved,” Handson said. “It’s not just for soccer players. It’s for all girls and all athletes.”


Dale Gerhard/  

Sides 2019 Middle Township H.S. girls lacrosse team