By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – Although the Margate Board of Commissioners issued a nine-page response to the Margate Boardwalk Committee’s whitepaper, “A Margate Boardwalk for the 21st Century,” they left one thing out, according to Boardwalk Committee Chairman Glenn Klotz.
“Our primary reason for presenting the report was to do a survey of all the taxpayers. They did not respond to that,” Klotz said in a telephone interview last weekend. “We knew the city was reviewing it, but there was no response to our petition.”
When the Boardwalk Committee presented their findings to the commissioners, they also presented a petition with 614 signatures asking the board to conduct a public poll of all taxpayers, including second-homeowners who do not vote in Margate. Depending on the results of the poll, the city should hold a public referendum for local voters.
“We’re not asking for a binding referendum, just find out public sentiment on the idea of a boardwalk. I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Klotz said.
Administrator Richard Deaney said the city’s response to the committee’s initial request, was a nine-page report that provided information about how a boardwalk would affect operations and costs in different departments and raised more questions that need to be answered.
“We haven’t met with the committee on any of that,” Deaney said.
Klotz said he is glad the idea of building a “uniquely Margate” boardwalk that extends from the Ventnor boardwalk to Longport on the landward side of the dune has become a “public debate” that being discussed out in the open.
Klotz published a letter in response to the city’s report on the non-profit organization’s Facebook page.
In the letter dated Oct. 25, Klotz again asked the City Commission to issue a response to the committee’s poll request “as soon as is reasonably possible.”
“We know there needs to be more research, that we have to check with other municipalities that have boardwalks and that it will take time, just like it did when we prepared out initial report,” he said.
It took about a year for the committee to conduct research and compile a report about its proposal, which was first presented at a public meeting held at the William H. Ross School in July. The committee then provided the commissioners with the report at a meeting in August along with a petition encouraging the city to do a poll and follow-up with a public referendum.
“The position of the City of Margate at this time is that such a poll as requested is not necessary or even helpful, and if desired, is way premature,” Deaney said in a statement. “No capital project undertaking of the magnitude proposed by Mr. Klotz and the Margate Boardwalk Committee ($24 million) begins with a poll.”
Asking people if they thought having a boardwalk would be a “nice amenity for Margate” would draw many positive responses, Deaney said, but doing the poll “does nothing to move the discussion forward.”
“The Board of Commissioners looks forward to continuing dialog on the subject of constructing a boardwalk, and looks forward to hearing more questions, comments and concerns of the Margate Boardwalk Committee as well as the general public,” he stated. “A potential capital boardwalk project must be viewed and judged competitively in conjunction with other competing capital projects for limited capital dollars.”
Deaney said over the last several years, the commissioners have imposed cost-saving measures that limit capital expenditures and the bonds needed to fund them to $3.5 million annually.
Klotz said that it was Commissioner John Amodeo who suggested taxpayers be polled.
“I don’t believe we need to have every fact known before taking a survey,” Klotz said. “Let’s first ask the public if we should use public funds to build a boardwalk. A later referendum would be more specific. At some point we will need to take the temperature of the electorate on this issue.”
The next possible date for a non-binding referendum would be during the June 2020 primary, Klotz said.
“If the city doesn’t agree, we are prepared to forward an initiative, basically asking if the public likes the idea of building a boardwalk. We are not asking them to authorize building a boardwalk, just if they agree or disagree with the idea,” Klotz said.
Another shore town, Sea Isle City, is in the midst of surveying their taxpayers about building a swimming pool at a former K-8 school currently being used for recreation. The city wanted to know if the building should be renovated in its existing footprint, demolished and a new facility built, or if it should construct the new facility with a pool.
According to Sea Ise City Public Information Officer Katherine Custer, the governing body wanted more information about what the population wants. It embarked on a multi-phase campaign to determine if it should include a pool in the project.
First, they held a town hall meeting to discuss three options, then distributed a paper questionnaire that was available to all residents and visitors to determine what they wanted to see for the future of the community center.
Of the 773 overall responses received, 184 agreed the city should renovate the existing building at a cost of approximately $2 million; 179 said build new without a pool at a cost of $13-16 million; 358 said build the facility with a pool at a cost of $17-20 million, plus the cost of maintenance.
Only 263 respondents were year-round residents, four were renters and 405 were part-time residents or landlords.
Sea Isle’s City Council then hired a research company from California at a flat rate of $900 to conduct the survey of property owners.
The company, Probolsky Research, created a site-specific website with a unique URL where taxpayers can log on and answer a yes or no question. The survey was available for a two-week period ending 8 p.m. Nov. 5.
The online survey asks for their ownership status – seasonal or year-round – and a thumbs up or down to building the pool. The survey includes interpretive statements for yes or no answers with associated estimated costs. To ensure those who respond are bonafide taxpayers, respondents are required to input their water and sewer bill account number. Property owners without internet access can obtain a paper copy at the Welcome Center or City Hall.
After the polls close on Nov. 5, the company will end the survey, compile the results and file a report with the governing body, she said.
Although the results of the survey are non-binding, the governing body has also approved a non-binding referendum question for the Nov. 5 general election asking the same question of voters.
“The city would have to do the survey for it to be credible,” Klotz said. “We plan to talk to the commissioners individually to get our message across that we want a poll, survey or referendum, as well as lay out our initiative rights.”
Klotz said the committee could avail itself of the initiative process the state has for the commission form of government, in which case, the committee would need to obtain signatures numbering 10-15% of the votes cast in the last General Assembly election, which amounts to 175 signatures, he said. If the group goes with an initiative and the voters approve it, the Board of Commissioners would be required to introduce it by ordinance, he said.
“Our short-term goal is to find out what the public thinks and continue to put information out there. In the end, it will be up to the public to decide the issue and we will abide by the results either way,” Klotz said.
Copyright Mediawize, LLC 2019