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Cape Issues member Peter Jespersen.

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As our nation works through our response to COVID-19, the conflict associated with ingrained racism, and what it means to the quality of life in the U.S., Cape Issues wants to encourage the citizens of the county to weigh in on these issues and the ongoing challenges we face. 

The Cape Issues team was established in 2008, as a non-partisan volunteer group, to advocate for the betterment of life in Cape May County, a very broad goal. We have met monthly since and been fortunate to have the support of the Cape May County Herald from the beginning.

An early, informal survey revealed the number one issue in the county was the burden of municipal, county, state and education taxes. In 2014, we prepared our Vision for Cape May County - 2020 that sought to address not only taxes, but also economic development and public safety. 

Now, we want to present a small number of issues we feel should be the emphasis for improvement of the county in 2020 and beyond, but know we can’t do this without addressing what is happening.

1.   Economic Development – While nothing will ever challenge the number one position tourism occupies in leading our economy, there needs to be economic development designed to support other existing businesses and attract new ones (e.g. wind energy), especially those that provide year-round employment at a living wage.

With its beauty and relaxed lifestyle, why shouldn’t it be promoted as a great place to live if you can work from home? Why shouldn’t there be, for example, call centers providing hundreds of good jobs at the industrial parks at our two airports?

2.   Education – Cape May County has 16 public school districts serving about 12,500 students.  Recent rankings show the best public high school in the county ranks 154 in New Jersey.  The rankings need to improve for all of our schools.  This is further emphasized by the fact that more than 60% of incoming Atlantic Cape Community College students require one or more remedial education classes. 

If college is not the student’s preferred career path, they should have an equal opportunity to pursue skills in the arts, industry and the trades while in school.  The county education community should get behind the idea and explore the options of school district coordination or consolidation to address cost and curriculum issues.  This may be the number one issue since the state’s school funding formula has not been kind to our districts.

3.   Government Spending – As with school districts, there are opportunities for cost containment in shared services and consolidation, a perfect example being the county’s decision to implement a central dispatch system. We think more municipalities need to join the county’s solution this year to improve emergency response and save taxpayer dollars. 

As with schools, do we need 16 municipal governments? If municipalities can’t see the wisdom of combining along sensible geographic boundaries, perhaps they could see the benefit of merged EMS, fire, police and public works departments.

4.   Infrastructure – Cape Issues met with the county last November and was told there is a county solution for the maintenance/reconstruction of the county-owned bridges connecting the barrier islands to each other and the mainland. This needs to be fast tracked and negotiated with the state and federal government to ensure the county is recognized and reimbursed for the tourism taxes it sends to Trenton. 

Likewise, we need to pressure our state and federal representatives to work with the county’s political and economic leaders to move ahead with the long debated completion of Route 55 in a way that acknowledges objections of environmental groups. At some point, they need to acknowledge that two-thirds of the area of Cape May County is already preserved and that the public safety and economic development needs of the county’s residents, second homeowners and visitors need to be prioritized.

These four broad issues encompass many more specific items like affordable housing, coastal protection, health care, worker protection and all the things that support our tourism economy. In addition, we do not know the coronavirus impact on government budgets which support public employee unions, infrastructure, existing services to the public, the arts and other non-profit organizations.  

These issues and the relationships between our public safety employees and minority communities need to be on the agendas of our governing bodies. We ask for your input on the options we know we have and those not yet proposed to make Cape May County an even better place to live and visit.

Please send your thoughts to capeissues@cmcherald.com. If you have interest in joining our effort, please let us hear from you.