August 24, 2010
Letter to the Asbury Park Press Editor:
Thank you for your August 21, 2010 editorial endorsing legislation proposing a stormwater authority in Ocean County.
Typically, the Asbury Park Press rails against the hundreds of authorities, boards commissions and agencies – their high salaries, pension abuses and terminal buy-outs – that drive up property taxes across the state.
This bill, sponsored by North Jersey legislators, envisions an autonomous authority to construct a new infrastructure system to collect and process untold billions of gallons of rain and floodwaters from roadways. The authority would be empowered to impose new property taxes, fees or other charges, on all residential and commercial property in Ocean County. The taxes, according to the bill, could be charged to both property owners and occupants.
The proposed taxes, fees or other charges would be established by Trenton bureaucrats in the DEP, not the Ocean County officials.
To make matters worse, 5 percent of the tax revenues would be siphoned off by the state as a cash cow for the DEP, under the bill.
Imagine that, this proposed authority could raise hundreds of millions of new taxes in Ocean County, while sending Trenton a check for 5 percent of those revenues.
The authority would have the power to hire employees, with pensions and benefits and to issue bonds for the construction of projects to collect, store, treat or dispose of stormwater.
The legislation contains zero funding from the State of New Jersey.
This bill clearly bypasses the spirit of the 1999 constitutional amendment passed by the people of New Jersey known as state mandate-state pay because it provides no funding.
Ocean County considers our stewardship of Barnegat Bay, Little Egg Harbor Bay, our ocean marine environment and our Pinelands as a foremost responsibility.
In 2008, Ocean County received the Governor's Environmental Excellence Award from former Gov. Corzine for retrofitting 1,557 storm drain inlets, including treatment devices to remove sediment and floatables, and for installing additional treatment devices in the county's stormwater collection system along C-1 waterways and tributaries.
Our taxpayers have invested about $100 million to preserve open space, coastal marshlands and forests and farmlands. Including the Forsythe Refuge, state parks and forests, the county's Open Space Program and the Pinelands Forest area, about 57 percent of Ocean County's 408,000 acres are permanently protected from development to safeguard our watershed and environmental future.
Ocean County works closely with many partners including Trust for Public Lands to acquire critical watershed lands in the Barnegat Bay Watershed as identified in TPL's Century Plan.
Our Ocean County Health Department works closely with the educational community to promote best management practices for the watershed region including brochures, web announcements and PSAs on watershed and fertilizer use.
Our education community and Ocean County College, with county support and funding, are also expanding their curriculums to include new science programs, some of which are targeted for our coastal estuary.
Our taxpayers invested nearly $12 million dollars to create the Ocean County Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Sciences, one of the finest such institutions in America.
Ocean County worked cooperatively with leaders under the Clean Vessel Act through the 1990s to facilitate the installation of more than 65 pumpout unites in our marina facilities.
With CVA grants and in partnership with OCUA, Ocean County purchased five mobile pumpout boats and continues to provide the annual funding for operational costs to help reduce marine discharges into our bays and estuaries. As a result of Ocean County's work with the CVA Program, a no discharge zone was established in Barnegat Bay.
Recently, Ocean County lent our support to the DEP regulatory efforts that led to the C-1 protection designation for the Metedeconk River and the Toms River.
Our Health Department also maintains a coastal water testing program for nearly 100 ocean, bay and river beaches and a domestic well testing program, the first of its kind in the state.
Ocean County is meeting and exceeding the requirements of the NJDEP stormwater regulations and has spent millions of tax dollars on this effort. We've been assisting our towns in regional shared services, spending millions to construct vehicle wash pads and truck washes and to implement storm drain cleaning and street sweeping activities.
Our county road department maintains two specific crew teams, each with six workers, that are dedicated to stormwater management. These 12 stormwater management employees tag, inspect and clean our 10,000 stormwater inlets and inspect, mow, clean and excavate our 800 water management basins to make sure they are functioning properly to protect our water quality.
Ocean County has earmarked well over $2 million for the restoration and reconstruction of state-of-the-art raingarden stormwater management basins. Additionally, we have included about 20 new raingarden projects in the designated engineering specifications for various highway projects, a program that we will continue into the future as part of our ongoing stormwater infrastructure planning.
Including the $800 million to construct our state-of-the-art sewerage system, Ocean County taxpayers have invested well over $1 billion to keep our coastal waters clean and safe.
To editorially say the Freeholder's position is that "it's entirely the state's responsibility to clean up Barnegat Bay" is an affront to our taxpayers.
To editorially say, "the primary responsibility should rest with those who use the bay and who profit from that use," is disingenuous at best.
Each year, Ocean County pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the state tax coffers generated by our tourism industry. Ocean County tourism produces $3.5 billion each year with about 70,000 jobs. This economic engine is taxed by the state with income taxes, sales taxes, alcohol taxes, cigarette taxes, business taxes, motor fuel taxes, reality transfer taxes that are all tourism-related.
The North Jersey legislators, who represent Middlesex and Essex counties, say there are more than 2,000 malfunctioning or non-operating stormwater facilities in Ocean County.
They fail to identify who owns these facilities, but, perhaps, they might first look at the thousands of stormwater inlets along state highway corridors including routes 9, 37, 72, 70, 35, 166 and 88, all producing among the highest volumes of stormwater runoff into our bays, rivers and estuaries.
These legislators might also want to take a hard look at the stormwater runoff from their home counties into Newark Bay and Raritan Bay. All of us here at the Jersey Shore are outraged each time we get hit by a stormwater tide of debris, personal hygiene items and other floatables from North Jersey.
These Trenton politicians are looking to spend someone else's tax dollars because of the state mandate-sate pay amendment. This is the same Trenton crowd that has been in charge for years. The same crowd that has driven our state debt to $35 billion, under funded the state's pension fund, bankrupted the Transportation Trust Fund, and raided the Unemployment Trust Fund and the Temporary Disability Fund to the tune of tens of billions of tax dollars for state spending instead of their intended purposes.
Ocean County will continue our longstanding commitment to protect bays, estuaries and rivers.
Gerry P. Little