Calling it a case of “the good, the bad and the ugly,” Stafford Mayor John Spodofora said 2013 will be a rough one for the township at last Thursday’s meeting.
“The good was the people,” he said. "We were very blessed with employees, who worked tirelessly and then came back to volunteer more of their time; neighbors helping neighbors clean up and gut their homes or work in the shelters and relief center and volunteers that came from all over the country to help after Sandy."
The bad, he said, "were the few people who - no matter what we did - felt it was not enough, but they were few and far between."
But it was the ugly - the damage caused by the storm - that is going to make 2013 a “rough year,” said Spodofora.
The current tax base is certain to drop with an estimated 4500 homes and business having their current assessments adjusted due to the damage they suffered, said Spodofora.
The township is making blanket reassessments in some areas, but individual property owners are encouraged to file appeals with the tax assessor’s office, he said.
Forms and instructions are available at the assessor’s office, but the deadline to file an appeal is Jan. 10, said Business Administrator James Moran.
A reduction in revenue is not an option at this point as the township suffered severe infrastructure damage to roads, bayfront areas, the Beach Haven West Community Center and the water and sewer system among other areas, said the mayor.
That tax revenue will probably need to be made up with rate increases on the rest of the taxpayers, the mayor said after the meeting. “Until the township can bounce back, and I am sure it will, there needs to be some type of increase to keep us going,” he said.
In addition, the township could still be responsible for nearly $7M of clean up costs, he added. County officials and Gov. Christie’s office are appealing to FEMA to cover the entire clean-up, but at this point they are only committed to 75% of the cost.
The FEMA-subsidized clean up will ending shortly, said Moran. “All debris needs to be out to the curb by Jan. 3 for the last pass of the clean up,” he said. After that, property owners will be responsible for the cost of removal.
Water and sewer rates are also likely to rise as the user base is decreasing with damaged properties disconnecting from the system by “cutting and capping” their lines at the meter, said Spodofora.
At the same time, the township’s utility has to replace the pumping stations on Cedar Bonnet Island and Mallard Island/Mud City that were destroyed by Sandy. Currently, crews are using pump out trucks to provide septic services for those residents, added Moran.
“We have bonded $885,000 for the project and will need to wait for FEMA to reimburse us 75% of the cost,” said Moran, who also heads the municipal water and sewer authority.
Spodofora said he is certain that Stafford will come back stronger and better going forward. "Beach Haven West and other areas will be rebuilt and our infrastucture will be restored," he said.