By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – The Board of Commissioners Thursday, Aug. 15 held a first reading on two bond ordinances that appropriate funds for capital improvement projects.
Ordinance 07-2019 appropriates $4,578,000 for general capital improvements, while Ordinance 08-2019 appropriates $1,678,000 for utility improvements.
The general capital bond ordinance will fund $2.6 million for improvements to municipal facilities, such as beach shack replacements, Lucy’s snack stand, Parkway landscaping, roof and façade improvements at the Police Department and Firehouse No. 1, and an environmental assessment at the Public Works yard.
The bond will also fund the cost of planning, engineering, plans and specifications, permitting and bid documents needed to replace the final remaining section of bulkhead along Amherst Avenue.
Resident Miriam Weitzman, who lives on Amherst Avenue, questioned if the bond would be funding the promenade the city is planning to construct after the final 508 feet of bulkhead is replaced. The remaining sections of bulkhead were replaced by private property owners, reducing the city’s costs.
Commissioner John Amodeo said the promenade, which planners suggested should be fashioned like a boardwalk, is still in the discussion phase, and is not part of the ordinance.
“That was a presentation made at our last capital meeting two weeks ago,” he said. “The bulkhead will be replaced this winter because the streets are caving into the bay and it is a public safety threat.”
He said that on Aug. 1, Arthur W. Ponzio Co. and Associates of Atlantic City presented the boardwalk concept plan, which was on display in the meeting room, but that no decision has been made to build it. It could be made of concrete instead of wood, he said.
“What we are looking to do is increase the width from 4-foot to 9-foot based on DEP regulations that allow us to put a bulkhead 2-foot further seaward…and allow the city to have a wider cartway,” he said.
The promenade was recommended in the city’s 2017 Master Plan as a way to tie the central business district along Atlantic and Ventnor avenues to the Amherst Avenue marina district with pedestrian access along Washington Avenue.
Amherst Avenue resident Barry Sherman asked about the construction timeline.
“We can’t go out to bid until our bond ordinance has final its reading because that is the appropriation that allows us to go out to bid,” Amodeo said.
After the bids are awarded, it will take two months to obtain materials with construction likely to begin in November, he said.
“The way we planned it, it would be done before Memorial Day,” Amodeo said.
Parking along the bulkhead would be available for the business district during the summer.
“And then as we progress, hopefully the following fall we can complete the promenade from the Lamberti’s property line to the Capt. Andy’s property line,” he said.
The general capital bond also appropriates $210,000 for recreation projects, $220,000 for vehicles, such as a large dump truck and a pick-up truck for Public Works Department. Additionally, $1.4 million will cover various road improvement projects, and an additional $400,000 will purchase 12 new fire hydrants. Technology systems will be upgraded at an estimated cost of $55,000.
The utility bond will cover replacement of underground utilities planned for several road projects, redevelopment of Well No. 9 and improvements to a pump station on Gladstone Avenue.
According to Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin, the state permits municipalities to bond up to 3.5% of their total equalized assessed valuation averaged out over three years, which in Margate is about $4 billion. The city has a bonding capacity of $140 million, and currently holds about $50 million in debt.
McLaughlin said although the bonds are more than the city’s self-imposed annual limits of $3.5 for general capital and $1.5 for utilities, the entire amount would not be funded by the city.
The $4.3 bond amount includes outside funding in the form of state grants totaling more than $1 million, “so we are within our budget,” she said.
“We need to authorize the full amount to authorize the project for spending purposes,” she said.
McLaughlin also noted that beach badge revenue was up $8,000 this year for a total of $308,000.
Bob Swisher of Suplee, Clooney & Company presented the results of the city’s annual financial and compliance audits, which revealed no findings or issues that need correction.
“There are no comments or recommendations in the audit report that you will need to address corrective action,” he said. “The city is in very good financial shape.”
A healthy surplus and a recent bond sale helped the city obtain a better bond rating, he said.
Swisher said during the firm’s “exit conference” he provided city officials with financing suggestions that the city will consider implementing in the future.
Commissioner of Finance Maury Blumberg thanked the finance team for “making sure the city does things the right way.”
Also at the meeting, Solicitor John Scott Abbott dispelled rumors swirling on social media that he will benefit financially from the Amherst Avenue bulkhead and promenade project.
“You cannot believe everything you read on the internet,” he said. “I have not owned property in that area for 16 years. It’s true I did develop Blue Water Marina about 30 years ago, but I sold it 16 years ago.”
The rumors have upset his wife and children, he said.
“People say what they want without verification, it’s not like a newspaper or anything else. It’s not true. I have no interest in the promenade.”
A public hearing on the bond ordinances will be held 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5.
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