On October 20, 2022, SCTA held a “Meet the Candidates for Surf City Borough Council 2022” event at the Surf City Hotel.
In the registration form for the event, we asked recipients if they had questions for the candidates. We received 15. At the event, we handed those questions to the 3 attending candidates to address when they could. On Tuesday, October 25, we emailed the list of questions to all 5 candidates, asking them if they would respond with written answers.
Here are the questions and the submitted answers from the candidates. Answers are presented in the order they were received. Candidates Lydia and Jack Bashwiner submitted a joint response. Other responses are from incumbent candidates Peter Hartney, Jackie Siciliano and John McMenamin.
1. What is your position on the Wind Turbines and to what extend will you initiate any contact with appropriate lawmakers?
Bashwiners: We support a responsible approach to wind energy and alternative/renewable energy sources, like many of our fellow island residents. We also know that a major argument against the current plan by Atlantic Shores concerns the visibility of the turbines from the shore because the plan allows 200 turbines with up to a maximum height of 1048 feet. We believe that Surf City needs to lead the discussion – or at least participate with the other island communities – to work with our elected representatives on the state and local level to reach a compromise to move them further offshore without the necessity of protracted litigation.
Hartney: From the first notice of the wind turbines in the summer of 2020 the Borough was the first to pass a resolution against the turbines; began and continue to have on-going dialogue with Bob Stern and what was to become Save LBI; convened a meeting of LBI mayors, public officials from Cape May County, Congressman Van Drew, the NJ 9th District delegation, and the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance. We continue to monitor the developments of the wind turbine projects and have conversations with other public officials as the need arises.
Siciliano: While I believe in an “all of the above approach” when it comes to supplying the energy needs of our nation/state/community (we’ve had solar panels on our home for some 16 years), I firmly believe that the proposed wind turbines will be detrimental in terms of the fishing and tourism industries which are both so very important for LBI. Furthermore, studies have shown that shoreline property values are impacted. Oil is needed for lubrication of gear boxes and other moving parts. How will any spilling or dripping of that oil impact migrating fish, especially the whales that so many of us have enjoyed in recent weeks. It seems to me that there are more questions about the harm wind turbines will create rather than the benefit that may be received.
McMenamin: No to wind turbines off the Jersey coast. Communication with Congressman Jeff Van Drew, 9th District Legislators, all Mayors of LBI and other representatives have been ongoing.
2. Over the past year there has been countless questions about having mats on the ramps to the beach. We have been told they are too expensive, in the way of the beach rakes, etc. However, I see that Harvey Cedars has them. It is becoming increasingly difficult for seniors to navigate the ramps to reach the beach. If elected will you support this initiative and push to make this to become a reality?
Bashwiners: We believe that access to our beaches for all who want to enjoy them is important. We will work with the Department of Public Works to make sure that the entrances are safe and clear of ruts and debris as well as exploring the opportunity for grants from the federal, state, and county governments for the purchase and maintenance of mats on as many beach entrances as possible.
Hartney: First, the beach in each municipality is distinct in the number of beaches, the design and topography of the beach, the dynamics of the sand erosion on the beach so making a comparison between municipalities is comparing apples to oranges. Surf City has a total of 28 beach entrances-of which N 12th street is the beach entrance designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act which includes a beach mat. First, the cost to purchase 27 mats is prohibitive. Secondly, the beaches north of 19th street regularly experience erosion during storm events so mats would have to be removed and replaced on a regular basis. Third, each day during the seasons Public Works has three hours to prepare and clean the beach each morning (6-9am) mats on the beaches present an obstacle to maintaining the beach and would make it almost impossible to get the beaches ready each morning. Recognizing the challenges senior have navigating the beaches the Borough instituted and continue to evaluate and refine the gator program.
3. Where do you stand on lids on public trash cans.
Bashwiners: We need lids on public trash cans. Period.
Hartney: I am currently working with ALO to develop a plan and study to address the issue of the illegal dumping of household trash at public trash cans as well as trash on the beach.
Siciliano: I am looking forward to the results of the study that ALO (Alliance for a Living Ocean) has proposed so that the best workable, data-driven solution is achieved.
McMenamin: The problem we have is that household trash is being placed in the trash receptacles which are intended for litter disposal.
4. How do you plan for stricter rules and fines for people who allow their dogs to deficate on my and other’s property? I am grossed out by the smell and by having to pick up dog feces. Pet owners bring their dogs to my property to crap only because I have grass which I maintain and take extreme care of to beautify our island home. Only to be destroyed by careless individuals who give pets a bad name. Also, neighbors feed pigeons. Pigeons then crap on my and my tenants cars. Mess and disease prevail bringing disease and upset to people who cannot remove the mess from their car and windshield.
Bashwiners: We sympathize with your concerns. Public education and the placement of receptacles can only go so far. We also encourage patience and polite conversations with neighbors to solve these concerns. If that does not work, we have an Ordinance in place that addresses the issue of animal waste in pretty much every area in the Borough (Chapter 8 §8-2.2) which permits the Borough to appoint a Dog Warden whose duty it is to enforce this law. As far as we are aware, there is no one filling that position at present and, if elected, we will seek to have a person appointed and trained for the job.
McMenamin: Contact Borough Hall when the incident occurs so existing ordinances may be enforced. Call 609-494-3064 to report an issue.
5. Where do you stand on giving variances that prioritize profits to builders and developers over the value of the quality of life for existing homeowners and community.
Bashwiners: The Land Use Board’s authority to approve variance applications is rooted in the Land Use Ordinance (Chapter 30-1 et seq.). There is technically nothing in the Ordinance that requires any party’s interest to be prioritized over another. However, in practice, it seems that the Board oftentimes acts in a way that favors builders and developers, none of whom should be members of the Land Use Board or have the power of appointment to the Land Use Board.
Hartney: The Land Use Board is a judicial body which makes decisions, i.e. granting or not granting a variance, approving or not approving a site plan, based on fact of law and fact of application. The Land Use Board does not prioritize any application. There have been 20 land use board applications over the past two years of which 18 were homeowners and other 2 applications were from 2 different builders/developers.
McMenamin: In considering variances, the profit motive is never considered. Consideration is given to the homeowner and the effect on the town.
6. Where do you stand on making sure builders keep their sites clean and litter free.
Bashwiners: There is no question that builders have the obligation to keep their sites free and clear of debris. The Code Enforcement official has the power to investigate and enforce the Building Code Ordinances. Our suggestion would be to first contact the builder and ask that the site be kept as tidy as possible. In fact, we did so when the property next to ours was being built and the builder did comply with our request. Failing that, a call or email to Borough Hall with a request for an inspection of the offending property can and should be made. This is not a giant construction site We all live here too.
McMenamin: Sites are policed continuously. If there is a problem, the builder is notified to remedy it. Contact Borough Hall/Building Department to report any problems with uncontained trash. You may call 609-494-3064 to report the issue.
7. Where do you stand on preserving the environment.
Bashwiners: The Surf City Mayor and Council must be environmental stewards of this beautiful place we call home. We must all work together to meet that responsibility. We favor requiring that trees removed during construction be replaced before permits are closed. We must address the threat presented by runoff and flooding which is only exacerbated by overdevelopment. We must, as the Master Plan dictates, purchase available properties for passive recreation.
Hartney, Siciliano & McMenamin: The environment should be protected at all times. Surf City has actively engaged in environmental care/education by participating in the Barnegat Bay Blitz since it’s inception in 2010; 12 summers of Tuesday morning environmental education at the bay with hundreds of participants throughout the years as a result of a partnership with ReClam the Bay and the participation of Councilman Hartney. Annual street sweeping removes pollutants from our streets. Additionally, dune grass is available from our Public Works Department each Fall. Homeowners as well as organizations volunteer their time to plant the dune grass which strengthens our dune system of protection.
8. Question for Jacqueline Siciliano: Are there plans to replace the trees destroyed by super storm Sandy on Barnegat Avenue?
Siciliano: Barnegat Avenue owned and maintained by Ocean County. If there is a great demand for additional trees, I would propose one of the following: You may email me at email@example.com or call me at 609-494-3064 and I would then contact Ocean County decision-makers. Alternately you may wish to make your desire for additional trees known by communicating with the county directly. Your contact there would be Director John Kelly, Chairman, Roads and Bridges. His email is CommissionerKelly@co.ocean.nj.us and the office phone number is 732-929-2003. Remember, all emails should have your full name along with your street address in Surf City.
9. What is your plan to have all borough business (land use board, descriptions of proposed ordinances – not just referenced by ordinance number, be transparent and on the website?
Bashwiners: Transparency has been the hallmark of our campaign. Many of our residents are only here for part of the year and they need to be informed in the simplest way possible of what their Mayor and Council are doing. We believe that proposed ordinances should have explanatory statements so that residents can understand the context in which the Council seeks to act. Not only do we believe that all proposed ordinances and agendas should be on the Borough website, we also believe that Council meetings should be live-streamed, recorded, and posted on the website. We also believe that all email addresses for the Mayor and Council and Department heads should be on the website.
Siciliano, Hartney & McMenamin: Land Use ordinances, Surf City Stormwater Management Plan, Surf City Master Plan and Master Plan reviews, meeting minutes, procedures and applications are currently available on the website. Agendas and for consideration are placed on the website 10 days prior to each meeting. All the information mentioned above can also be obtained by calling Borough Hall at 609-494-3064.
10. Why does council say the borough has no debt when they issue bond bills for projects? Aren’t bond bills considered debt?
Bashwiners: The power to incur indebtedness, borrow money and issue bonds is vested in the Council pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:2-3. It is true that Surf City has no outstanding bonds but it has issued Bond Anticipation Notes (BANs) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:2-8.1. These are short-term interest-bearing securities usually for capital projects that are repaid from the issuance of long-term bonds. These BANs can roll over from year to year but must mature and be paid after approximately 10 years. We have heard from the Council that Surf City “borrows from itself.” When elected, we will examine the books and the practice of issuing BANs and determine if using current revenue to pay for capital projects is the best practice, particularly in light of current interest rates and the cost of money.
Siciliano, Hartney & McMenamin: Through judicious spending policies, Surf City is able to maintain a surplus fund that can be used for emergencies and repairs. Additionally, this surplus allows the borough to fund capital projects, interest-free, as we can “borrow from ourselves”. Even when Borough funds are used, state law specifies we must bond. (In other words, it’s the legal and proper paperwork trail to appropriate the spending.) Since the funds belong to the Borough’s, no interest is paid and it is not considered debt as stated by the Chief Financial Officer of the Borough of Surf City. No borrowing of funds from an outside source has occurred, thus the bonds are “non-issued”.
11. Should we move to a model where residential development is not permitted on commercially zoned property? Why or why not?
Bashwiners: We believe that a strong and prosperous business district is beneficial to residents, their guests, visitors, and other businesses. We believe that the only uses permitted in the existing commercial zones should be for commercial use or mixed commercial-residential use.
Siciliano, Hartney & McMenamin: The current zoning ordinance in the business zone permits commercial development, combined commercial/residential development and residential development. Changing to commercial only development will reduce the assessed values of the properties on the Boulevard thus reducing the tax base and causing an increase in tax rates. It also creates the very real possibility that when businesses are not able to be maintained, empty store fronts and the negative challenges that will present. Additionally, it infringes upon an individual’s right to use their property as they see fit. This change can not be made by amending existing zoning ordinances rather it must be considered as part of the 10-year Master Plan Review scheduled for 2028.
12. What can be done to change the tone and tenor from Borough employees in the office when we interact and do business with them?
Bashwiners: We believe that tenor and tone of employees is set by the people at the top. That means the Mayor and Council and Department Heads. We have witnessed varying degrees of courtesy and professionalism from those quarters. Polite and helpful customer service shouldn’t just exist in the business arena. It is especially critical when taxpayers, many of whom are senior citizens, need assistance. Proper training and accountability for conduct – good and bad – is something we promise to instill when we are elected.
Hartney, Siciliano, & McMenamin: All Borough workers should be polite and responsive. Anything to the contrary should be reported to the Governing Body.
13. What are your plans for flooding remediation in Surf City?
Bashwiners: The maintenance of our beaches and dunes is a top priority in planning for catastrophic storm events, as is the immediate hardening of our wells, water supply system, and sanitary sewage assets. But we must also commit to engineering studies to identify the sources of encroachment and drainage failure from the small storms that we experience every year. Once we know where the water is coming from, we simply need to correct (and maintain) our patchwork drainage system, install new or maintain existing check valves and bulkhead drainage. and continue to stay ahead of he problem. Every flooded home is a personal tragedy that we need to be concerned about as a community. We can’t stop the catastrophes, but we can reduce their impact and, certainly, deal with the “usual” flooding issues.
Siciliano: With diligent attention by the Borough of Surf City’s department heads, office staff, along with our Borough Engineer applying for available grants, Surf City has been able to totally reconstruct numerous road surfaces over the years. Road reconstruction, which includes drainage improvements as well as the raising of roads, is a top priority for Mayor Hodgson and the entire governing body. Furthermore, a substantial percentage of the cost for each improved road project is covered by Department of Transportation grants which is a huge “win” for the Surf City taxpayer. In addition to road surfaces, as bulkheads are replaced, they too are raised to help mitigate flooding. At present, we are in the process of working with the county to discuss road improvements for Central Avenue as well as a portion of Barnegat Avenue.
Hartney: In addition to the raising of roads the Borough, through the participation of staff and Councilman Hartney, have been active participants in Resilient LBI and other flood/sea level rise mitigation planning and studies.
McMenamin: Preparations have been ongoing. Most roads are in the process of being raised. Barnegat Avenue, Central Avenue, and Long Beach Blvd. are county roads. Conferences have taken place and are going to take place with respect to flooding.
14. What capabilities do you believe Surf City EMS should have? Do they have those capabilities now?
Bashwiners: The most important “capabilities” in Surf City EMS are the volunteers who serve our community – the people. Rather than force them to endlessly raise funds while responding to emergencies, we, as residents of this Borough, need to properly fund them. As candidates, we will not pretend to tell them what they need. They know best. They say that they need a new ambulance. We should listen and step in to make that a reality.
Siciliano, Hartney & McMenamin: Surf City Fire & EMS is a volunteer organization which is always looking for volunteers in all areas: Fire, EMS, and support services to serve the community. All Surf City EMS personnel are funded, trained and qualified to perform their job efficiently and effectively They have all of the equipment necessary to perform the quality of service they continue to provide. We are proud of their dedication to the public.
15. With the surplus of tax revenue the town has received over the past years from massive building grow, why haven’t our property taxes gone down?
Bashwiners: And here is the ultimate question for local government: If we are not spending our tax revenues on planning for future flooding events, hardening our infrastructure, upgrading and increasing our recreational assets, supporting our downtown business district, responsibly funding our volunteer fire and EMS services, but instead collecting more taxes to create an enormous surplus, shouldn’t we be cutting the municipal tax rate? We believe that if Surf City isn’t using it, the Borough shouldn’t take it in the first place.
Siciliano, Hartney & McMenamin: Boroughs are not immune to the rising costs that you have been witness to. Fuel, vehicles, utilities, state mandated wage increases and so forth have also increased in cost for the Borough of Surf City. It should be noted that your municipal tax rate for the current fiscal year remained flat. This was accomplished by not only making wise budgeting decisions but also by utilizing a portion of the Borough’s surplus to offset an increase in taxes on the municipal portion of your tax bill. We try to balance out the increase in expenses with other services; to name a few, dumping fees, new equipment, maintenance and repairs, continuing commercial trash collection, twice weekly trash pickup (all year), weekly large item trash pickup, recycling pick up, free appliance pick-up (other towns charge $25 each), free snow removal from driveways of the elderly and handicapped, etc.