VENTNOR – Mayor Beth Holtzman, along with Commissioners Tim Kriebel and Lance Landgraf, were elected to four-year terms in May 2016 on the Imagine Ventnor slate. On Thursday, Nov. 8 they reviewed the status of an ambitious plan to upgrade the city through series of public projects they imagined would move the city forward and spur economic development.

On Nov. 16, 2017, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved five bond ordinances appropriating $20.8 million for public projects and infrastructure improvements. At that time, commissioners said the ordinances would allow the city to improve its aging infrastructure, improve resiliency against flooding, upgrade public buildings and recreation, purchase equipment and improve public safety.

During a lengthy “capital” workshop meeting, department heads reviewed projects already completed, in the works or planned over the next few years.

According to Administrator Maria Mento, department heads prioritized projects several months ago and reviewed them at a meeting earlier in the day.

“We thought we would have to re-prioritize the dollars and make hard decisions as to what we can’t do because things came over or unanticipated emergencies…but we were surprised that we didn’t have to,” she said. “We are falling in line with the schedule we had prioritized previously.”

Any leftover funding after the projects identified in the capital plan are completed could fund additional projects, she said.

Fire Chief Michael Cahill said the Fire Department has completed “a large chunk” of projects and is well on its way to rebuilding Fire Station No. 2 on Wellington Avenue. Completed projects include installing 45 custom gear racks, purchasing new turn-out gear for the department’s 35 firefighters, and replacing air packs, which was funded through a grant. The department plans to replace an ambulance that is more than 16-years-old.

“The fire department is trying to stay within what was budget before,” he said.

Any remaining balances would be rolled into the cost of purchasing a new multi-purpose apparatus, the cost of which was underestimated by $300,000, he said.

The commissioners on Thursday awarded a $103,330 contract to Mahaffey Tent Awning Fabric Structures of Memphis, Tennessee to provide a temporary fabric structure to house apparatus and equipment while the firehouse in Ventnor Heights is demolished and rebuilt. Bidding for the new building will be done in December, Cahill said.

The building will be partially funded through a $1.8 million grant-loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mento said. Other grants will be sought, Cahill said.

“When we get the date for the demo day, we will move into the temporary structure,” he said.

Police Chief Douglas Biagi said the department purchased rifles and “long guns” for half of its 30 police officers. The department also purchased “tactical bags” that contain medical kits and ballistic protective vests and helmets. Recording devices have been purchased for the interview rooms, which was mandated by the attorney general to protect victims’ rights, he said.

The department is in the process of planning an emergency public address system for the beach and boardwalk and installing a card access system and security cameras for City Hall.

“The public isn’t going to just be able to walk right in anymore. Those days are gone. We can make it as publicly friendly as we can without making it look like some camp or prison,” Biagi said.

He said the Department of Homeland Security already inspected City Hall and will inspecting houses of worship in January.

Biagi said he is flexible on the city’s plan to purchase two SUVs a year.

“I can slow that down a bit and if I can get away with one or none I will, so it leaves a little cushion,” he said.

The city will also be equipping officers with body and vehicle cameras.

“We’re the only city in the county that hasn’t gone to them yet,” he said. “It will stop the amount of frivolous complaints against my officers, which nine out of 10 are found unsustained.”

Mento said the Beach Patrol purchased two surf boats this year and plans to purchase three more, along with new storage garages.

A redesign of Ventnor Beach Patrol Headquarters is in the works, Commissioner of Public Safety Tim Kriebel said.

Public Works Supervisor Ed Stinson ran through a long list of projects that include paving streets, installing new curbs, gutters and pedestrian crosswalks, bulkhead repairs, and recreation projects, such as resurfacing the basketball court and creation of pickleball courts on Suffolk Avenue park. Emergency mold remediation at City Hall ate up more than $100,000 that was allotted for other projects, he said.

Stinson said one of the projects includes improvements to the municipal parking lot, Public Works building and replacing windows and installing ADA-compliant doors at the library building. The city is also anticipating receiving a partial grant for a bike lane on Atlantic Avenue.

The department is now working on a public-private partnership with the Ventnor Beautification Committee to make improvements at Ski Beach that could include a floating dock, new picnic tables, benches and a pavilion. Improvements will also be made to the ramp used by boaters, Stinson said.

The city is looking to make immediate upgrades to equipment at its four playgrounds, with a concentration on repairing surfaces that ensure the safety of children. Mento estimates playground upgrades will cost about $300,000.

“This needs to be done right away to make it safe,” Stinson said.

Kriebel shared plans for the new bathroom facilities and snack bar at the Ventnor Fishing Pier, which was designed by SOSH Architects. Bid specifications will be finalized next week, he said. The design has “more character” than originally planned because it was designed with hip roof.

“It will be something to be proud of,” he said.

According to Chief Financial Officer Toro Aboderin, balances left in older bond authorizations could help fund existing priorities.

“It’s not a lot, but it’s a good chunk to help us out,” she said.

Commissioner Lance Landgraf applauded staff for their work in upgrading the city’s infrastructure.

“It’s been left in its poor condition for too long,” he said.

Aboderin also informed commissioners that the city finalized documentation for a $5 million loan provided by the state following Hurricane Sandy to replace revenue lost as a result of the storm. The city will have to repay $2.7 million with interest over the next five years, she said.


Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.