CAPE MAY - City Council conducted its annual reorganization meeting Jan. 11 on Zoom due to the surge in Covid cases in the county.
The first order of business was the reappointment of Councilwoman Stacy Sheehan as deputy mayor. She was unopposed and selected unanimously by her colleagues on the council.
Next up was the reappointment of Christopher Gillin-Schwartz as the city solicitor. City Manager Michael Voll was reappointed Dec. 30.
A long list of resolutions followed that annually set the stage for routine municipal business during the coming year, including appointments of other professionals to service contracts, setting up accounts and authorizations, establishing council meeting times, business hours for city hall, and city-recognized holidays for 2022.
One item of note was the reappointment of Engineering Design Associates (EDA) as the municipal engineering firm. Both Mayor Zack Mullock and Sheehan served on the council during 2020 with then-Mayor Clarence Lear. Mullock and Sheehan made a point of arguing for an in-house engineer. The issue was even part of their campaigns for office.
They, and others on the council, appear to have dropped the issue of an in-house engineering professional, satisfied instead with the work of Vince Orlando, of EDA. Orlando is also the township engineer in Middle Township.
As part of the process, the council approved a temporary budget for the city set at $4.7 million for the current fund, $1.5 million for the water and sewer utility, $657,000 for the beach utility, and $298,000 for the tourism utility. A permanent budget for the 2022 fiscal year will likely be approved in March or April.
State of the City Address
Mullock delivered the state of the city address, following it with “a few added points” that he later smiled and called a second speech.
Throughout all his comments, Mullock stressed the strong financial health of the city with added revenue from visitor spending on parking and beach tags, along with record-level revenues in occupancy taxes.
He pointed to a 99.12% tax collection rate, a threefold growth in the city’s banking interest rate, and the positive impact of a bond refunding effort that saved the city $1.89 million and shaved seven years off the debt service.
He called 2021, for all its challenges, the year the “Cape May community came together.” He urged residents to continue to support the city’s many ongoing projects.
He and other council members also stressed an “open door” policy, encouraging residents to share thoughts, concerns, and ideas with the governing body.
Mullock spoke of progress on a series of projects, including the construction of a new firehouse, the purchase of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and success in winning grant funding. He said the city would have an announcement soon on a new police station.
Mullock spoke on the legal and permitting issues that have held up the completion of Lafayette Park, noting that the city was active in all areas where it legally can be, so it’s ready when a resolution of issues allows the project to proceed.
The needs of the water treatment plant were included, with Mullock saying that the city is preparing to lay claim to the new infrastructure funding flowing out of Washington and had hopes that such funding would help offset the high expense associated with the expansion of the water treatment and distribution systems.
The mayor cited, as other accomplishments, the settling of the Sewell Tract litigation, the signing of a 25-year lease agreement with the Nature Center, and the resolution of many of the open labor contracts that faced his administration when it took office in January 2021.
Although a 2022 budget is weeks away from a council vote, Mullock told taxpayers that the city is planning on no tax increases this year.
Short-Term Lease Ordinance Introduced
After considerable debate and revision over the last several weeks, the council unanimously introduced a comprehensive short-term rental ordinance that seeks to regulate the rapidly expanding commercialization of residential housing stock in the city. The measure was pushed by the Municipal Taxation and Revenue Advisory Committee.
The ordinance sets a new fee structure, licensing and inspection requirements, and enforcement mechanisms. A public hearing on the ordinance is set for the Feb. 1 council meeting.
Future Council Meetings
Mullock polled the members of the council for an unofficial sense of how governing body meetings should be held going forward. A majority of council members indicated a preference for in-person meetings, saying that the city hall auditorium space allowed for protections and social distancing sufficient to the current Covid threat. No final decision was made.
The meeting adjourned in one hour and 10 minutes, without any member of the public offering comment.
To contact Vince Conti, email email@example.com.