By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – According to year-end department head reports provided at the last Board of Commissioners meeting, the city is proving to be an attractive place to live and play.
The city maintained its near $25 million in construction investments in 2020, and increased revenue from permitting fees to $345,702, up from $272,961 in 2019. The city saw 43 new homes built in 2020, one more than in 2019.
Zoning Officer Jimmy Agnesino said the city issued 517 certificates of occupancy for home sales in 2020, up from 392 in 2019. The Building Department also issued 1,323 building permits, up from 1,264 the year before.
“The building is through the roof,” Agnesino said. “The city is blowing up” with calls from people wanting to invest in the city. “Everybody should be smiling,” he said.
Tax Assessor Bill Crowther confirmed the city maintained its level of added ratables over the last two years.
“When the pandemic first came in, I didn’t know what the housing market was going to do. But with historically low interest rates, and people fleeing from the cities to move to rural areas because they can work from wherever, the market is on fire here,” he said.
Crowther said he checked the Multiple Listing Service, which showed there were fewer than 50 homes currently for sale in Ventnor.
The ratable base increased approximately $24 million to $2,065,706,400, he said.
Despite the challenges of working remotely, the city’s court system heard more cases, mainly because it was more convenient for out-of-towners or part-time residents to appear.
“It’s a wonderful thing because even our locals who don’t want to take a day off from work can appear on their lunch break,” Deputy Court Administrator Deanna Jackson said.
Although some events and recreational programs were cancelled due to the pandemic, such as the surf camps, volleyball tournaments, and Absecon Island Surf Contest, Recreation Director Jerry Thomas said there were many positives.
Tennis and pickleball programs ran at full capacity with no reports of COVID-19 among participants, and revenue increased.
Proceeds from the tennis and pickleball programs were $29,861, up from $16,174 in 2018, the year pickleball courts were completed.
Although the Cultural Arts program had its studios closed to the public, Director Sue Van Duyne Hunter took advantage of the time and purged and reorganized spaces and completed maintenance on studio equipment and tools.
She applied for several COVID-19 grants for arts organizations and received two.
Adults took Zoom classes, and children were able to take classes virtually using 75 pre-made art kits, and 20 of them went to the Girls and Boys Club of Atlantic City. By the fall, some classes were held outdoors with social distancing and mask wearing.
“We finished and installed two more panels for the mosaic mural on the playground wall with volunteers,” she said in her report.
Work on the garden at the rear of the arts center included raising 85 Monarch butterflies that were released into the garden.
Also, Chief Financial Officer Al Stanley said 2020 “was the most challenging since 2012 with Hurricane Sandy.” Nevertheless, the department worked to ensure all first responders were properly equipped with PPE purchased through Amazon and from other vendors located across the country.
“The city was able to receive the maximum amount of relief through the CARES Act,” he said, which will help in formulating the 2021 budget.
Stanley said the department was down two employees, but other employees stepped up to assist.
“In 2021, I believe the new start will create opportunity to enable change to increase efficiency and accuracy to the city’s finances,” he said in his report.
Administrator Maria Mento also reported that the city has finalized agreements for two of its five collective bargaining units.
“With everything we are hearing, there’s a lot going on in Ventnor,” she said.
The Public Works, Police and Fire department heads will provide year-end reports at the next Board of Commissioners meeting on March 11.
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