Ocean Township’s handling of COVID-19 ‘Dodging bullets’

COVID-19

By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr

Ocean Township – “Dodging bullets,” is how Christopher Siciliano, mayor of Ocean Township, puts it. He added that he never imagined that life would be as it is now as a result of the pandemic.

“We are following all the state and federal guidelines, shutting down all the places where gatherings could occur. That means we closed all the ballparks, tennis courts and now conduct virtual council meetings,” said Siciliano.

He sent a letter to all the religious and community leaders, which was stern in content. “As you know, our nation, our state and our community of Ocean Township are fearful and fighting to stave off the spreading of the virus. Many people in Ocean Township are making great sacrifices and adhering to all guidelines and declarations set forth by all authorities from the federal level to the local level. We all know that if we work together, then and only then can we minimize the impact on our community and start to enjoy life as we knew it sooner than later,” wrote Siciliano.

Ocean, like many shore area communities, has residents of New York who own and or rent properties in the township. New York has been deemed the hotspot in the United States and some governors are restricting access to their states from anyone arriving from the Empire State. “The council and I have asked as many community members as we could to remind our friends that have arrived in the township from New York to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. As I said, we have all been making great sacrifices to keep each other safe and cannot risk anyone to comprise what we have done so far,” added Siciliano.

The mayor stated that his police, fire and first aid responders have been busy. “We have to be careful and protect those that protect us. For those folks that know they are infected, they must inform our police department so they and other first responders can be prepared in the unlikely event they must respond for help,” said Siciliano. The mayor and council have halted all certificates of occupancy and inspections. “I cannot stress the urgency in this request and how devastating it would be for an out of town visitor, family member or second property owner to come down and breach our safety. All second property owners are advised and asked to stay in New York until this is over.”

Siciliano stated that people are protected under the Constitution, however he and the council have created a declaration that would give them the power to enforce fines on those second property owners who have not complied.

The mayor is also keeping an eye on legislation which could have severe effects on the school districts.

On March 25, the New Jersey Assembly passed A-3902 with a vote of 79-0. The bill would allow a delay of quarterly tax payments to school districts. This bill would allow a grace period for the quarterly payments during the gubernatorial declared emergencies, such as our state is in now. The bill, is waiting for a vote in the NJ Senate.

On average, local property taxes constitute 60 percent of school districts’ revenue. A delay in quarterly payments would pose serious financial disruption to school district operations. “In Ocean, our quarterly income is about $5.5 million, of which the township only keeps 20-pecent, the rest goes to the county and school district. This would be a trickle-up effect that would be devastating,” said Siciliano.

Ocean Township also has three major locations that are drawing thousands of people to during this pandemic. BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco and Wegmans have been struggling with the social distancing, but are working closely with the township on creating a safe environment for their staff and customers.

“On a positive note, we are in the process of organizing an Ocean Township Drive-In movie night. We will use the same guidelines set forth by federal, state and local folks having to stay in their cars and bring their own snacks and drinks. We will have ushers to maintain the aisles and ensure that people stay in their cars,” added Siciliano. It will be a family movie night, during the week of April 5-9, with the best forecasted weather night. “We will offer a top five choice and take an online pole for the selection. I consider this a much needed mental health night for the entire family, while practicing social distancing.”