By Maddy Vitale
Economic development, making improvements to infrastructure, and maintaining services while keeping the budget lean, are just some priorities for the Somers Point City Council in the new year.
“We had a great 2017. The opening of the Gateway Theater and acquiring grants. We have the dredging of the Higbee Pier and the completion of the bike path in the works,” Mayor Jack Glasser said Sunday. “As city officials we must constantly work to ensure that we are giving the best services to the residents and keeping the cost of the services to a minimum. It is tough in this current economic climate.”
The mayor said he knows the city council is up to the task.
“They are hard-working, and very frugal in their thoughts of how to run the city, yet they understand we still have to provide and maintain the best services,” he said.
The mayor noted that the city provides full services to its residents including police, volunteer fire companies which save the taxpayers a lot of money, ems which is contracted, trash pickup and public works.
Republican incumbents Councilmen Kirk Gerety and James Toto were sworn in to three-year terms on council and Councilman Sean McGuigan was once again chosen by council to be council president, at the annual reorganization meeting Friday night at City Hall.
Like the mayor, the council members spoke Sunday of important projects and improvements to the city that top their list of to-dos for 2018.
“The main thing is to look at our budget right now. The county is being hit with Atlantic City’s tax appeals,” said Gerety, a Ward 1 councilman in his sixth term on council as well as a member on the council’s budget committee. “We want our budget to stay as lean as possible and still provide all of the services.”
A preliminary budget is expected to be completed in February, officials said.
Gerety said gaining ratables is key. Somers Point, like its neighboring communities, was hit hard by tough economic times, and has only recently seen an upswing.
“I’m looking forward to working with economic development and hopefully getting new businesses in town. The opening of Gateway Theater was great to see. My hope is there will be new businesses coming in this year,” Gerety said.
Toto, who filled the unexpired term of Freeholder Maureen Kern three years ago, said he is excited about his second term on council representing Ward 2. He has a lot of goals for the city he hopes to achieve.
“Somers Point is growing. Our economic development committee has done some phenomenal things. Bayfest has gotten back to being for families with food vendors, arts and crafts. Gateway Theater is rebuilt,” Toto remarked. “We have the beach concerts every Friday night. We have the restaurants, boating and fishing. And we have grocery stores and small service companies. If you can’t find it in Somers Point, you can’t find it.”
Toto, a member of the public works and infrastructure committee, said while increasing businesses is a top priority, his focus is improvements to infrastructure. He said the city can only do this by keeping up with the paving program and purchasing new equipment for the pumping station.
“Infrastructure is vital to the town. If we let it go, it could be a problem. The pumps are 20 years old. I would like to purchase pumps and rebuild the old ones to use as a back-up,” Toto said.
With businesses slowly moving into the city of roughly 11,000 residents, and more and more people retaining their homes, as the economy slowly improves, there is a lot to be happy about, officials said.
“I have seen a lot of positive change in the last 10 years on council,” Council President McGuigan, a Ward 1 councilman who sits on the budget committee, said. “I am glad to see the opening of the Gateway Theater. It really warms my heart and it will be an excellent asset.”
The project to open the Gateway took nearly 10 years.
McGuigan said there have been a few businesses that have opened over the last couple of years and other businesses that are slated to open including a brewery under construction off New York Avenue.
“There is definitely an upswing in the ratables. There are a lot of things outside of our control when we address the budget like the ratable base, but we continue to go after different ratables,” he said. “We are as business-friendly as possible.”
Somers Point has been aggressive with a marketing campaign to promote the area with its slogan, “Somers Point, The Shore Starts Here.”
“One of our goals is to continue to get out the word that Somers Point is a great place to raise a family, and also a great place for businesses,” McGuigan remarked.
And in addition to trying to attract new homeowners and businesses, the city is hoping to generate interest for property owners to beautify their homes with tax incentives and tax abatements, McGuigan said.
“We have a program in place for people to improve their homes. We want to encourage people to enhance their homes, which will continue to improve the city,” McGuigan said. “Our big focus is economic development and keeping the place looking sharp.”