NJ lawmakers get firsthand look at storm damage
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers got a firsthand look Thursday at storm-wrecked coastal towns from Seaside Heights to Mantoloking that remain uninhabitable a month after Superstorm Sandy, as they heard from local officials about what it will take for the most severely damaged towns to recover.
The Assembly lawmakers asked to see the damage up close as they set to work on rebuilding and storm protection issues.
Gov. Chris Christie has requested $36.8 billion in federal storm aid for New Jersey. But mayors said they will face other, sometimes daunting costs.
They'll be left to shoulder whatever portion of cleanup costs that the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn't reimburse. As of now, one said overtime costs are running 10 times above normal. They'll also have to make up for lost property tax revenue from homes that have been destroyed or damaged and businesses that won't reopen, perhaps by raising taxes for those who remain. And, if next summer's tourism season is abbreviated or slowed, they'll also lose the revenue that comes from vacationers. The state's budget will also be impacted by the lost revenue.
"We face significant fiscal challenges," said Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, who represents parts of Monmouth County. For example, she said, the state will now be asked to assist shore towns that had been revenue producers for New Jersey.
"I don't know where the money's going to come from," Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Vincent Barnella told the lawmakers. He said it will cost $4 million to replace the boardwalk decking and supports taken out by the storm, a job he'd like to see completed by Memorial Day. "But that's a big price tag for 5,000 people."
He said the municipal building sustained $9.3 million in damage, three-quarters of his town's total yearly operating budget.
What the Assembly members saw shocked some — houses ripped off their foundations and knocked sideways, or into one another, boats strewn on lawns and a temporary sand road where Route 35 used to be. Speaker Sheila Oliver was brought to tears by the decimated amusement pier on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
The lawmakers, who spent the day touring the shore by bus, heard a chorus of local officials say their municipal budgets have been shot by the storm.
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