Column as submitted by Toms River Council President Maurice Hill:
The New Year — 2013 — will be a very challenging one for Toms River in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We still have debris cleaning (at one point in the operation we were removing over 17,000 cubic yards of debris per day), sand removal, screening and beach and dune replenishment, coordination with utilities as they repair their infrastructure and finally repair of the Township roads and bulkheads.
As our Town and residents start to rebuild we are faced with two main issues- how do we pay for the repair of the damage done by Sandy and how do we protect the barrier island and our Town from future storms? The budget process has been severely impacted by the storm and will be protracted this year as we deal with the clean up costs.
The Town has suffered the loss of an estimated 20 percent of our tax ratable base which translates to a 20 percent loss in revenues that fund our municipal operating budget and the school and county taxes we must collect. We are working with both the State and Federal Government to fund the cost of debris removal and loss of revenues. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been onsite since the storm and has indicated that they will reimburse us between 75-90 percent of our debris removal and repair to our Township infrastructure as a result of the damage from the storm. We have had several meetings with the State and are requesting increased municipal State aid to cover our costs and revenue losses as we rebuild and stabilize our ratable base. The estimates are that it will take between 3-5 years to rebuild our community. Our budget will depend on State aid and could be delayed until June.
The second issue is how to protect our barrier island and community from future storms. Communities like Seaside Park were protected by wide beaches and 20-foot dunes and sustained minimal damage on the oceanfront. We have contacted the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) regarding beach and dune replenishment to withstand the force of future storms. The ACOE requires that public access agreements be signed with the private landowners and condominium associations who own the oceanfront properties before they can use public funds to complete the project. We have contacted all the oceanfront property owners and supplied them with the access agreements required by the ACOE. We are working with their legal representatives to answer any questions they may have. The beach and dune replenishment is critical to the protection of not only the oceanfront properties but all of the properties on the barrier island and bayfront as well.
While there is a lot of hard work ahead of us the American spirit has always been one of optimism and a "can do" attitude which with persistence and perseverance can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. We will recover from the devastation of Sandy and emerge stronger and better prepared for a brighter future.