Editorial>> Far too many questions remain on skate rink proposal

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Unbelievable is right.

At a recent City Commission meeting, in describing passing an ordinance to spend $1.3 million on a property on Pacific Avenue, Commissioner Pete Byron said “What we’re doing is unbelievable.”

We’re in full agreement. He went on to say the proposal for a year-round ice skating rink in the downtown is “The most dynamic idea that this town has seen.”

That is where the agreement starts to break down.

It seems clear that Commissioner Byron didn’t really want to talk about this dynamic idea quite yet. The ordinance approving the city’s purchase of the property saw several changes to its name, and was rescheduled more than once. Although it has already been approved, the ordinance has since been re-introduced at a sparsely attended meeting, and when residents at the public hearing asked for a copy of the ordinance up for a vote, they were told there was nothing in writing.

Unbelievable.

At that Aug. 22 meeting, commissioners approved the ordinance unanimously.

Commissioners told residents that the county Open Space Board was going to pay for the purchase, not to mention the millions of dollars more needed to transform the empty property on Pacific into a dynamic skating attraction. So far, no one from the county has confirmed this, but the city released a letter from the Open Space Board in response to Commissioner Byron’s appearance before the board on June 26, saying the board viewed the presentation favorably.

But far from a written-in-stone, ironclad lock on county funding, the letter goes on to present several conditions that would need to be met before the county would consider reimbursing Wildwood for the cost of the purchase, and made clear that this list was by no means exhaustive.

The letter, signed by attorney James Arsenault Jr., closes with the assurance that the Open Space Review Board awaits the filing of an application for the funds, and will take action after an application is filed.

So wait – the city hasn’t even formally applied for this money? Wildwood is preparing to spend more than a million dollars on a grassy lot downtown, and hasn’t even filed an application yet?

Commissioner Byron said he applied at the same time he made his presentation, but that’s not what the county letter states.

Wildwood, which has not yet adopted a budget this year as commissioners struggle to fill in a $3 million-dollar hole, just added another huge and apparently unnecessary purchase on the assumption that the county will reimburse the cost once an application is filed.

Wildwood commissioners – who in trying to avoid layoffs, beach tags or a tax increase are searching for any revenue source, from RVs on the beach to increased fees – approved a purchase this year that will cost more than a million dollars in the short term in addition to the purchase price.

Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, as far as we can tell, this is for an outdoor, year-round ice skating rink. This is great news for all the people who want to leave the beach to go skating in the summer on a polymer surface.

Never mind that the biggest draw to downtowns in Cape May and Stone Harbor is a rainy day. That is what brings visitors off the beach and to the county zoo, to the lighthouse in North Wildwood or to any of the other numerous attractions in Cape May County.

Add in the fact that the feasibility study stating that all this will work just fine has been called into question by the former director of the Urban Enterprise Zone, who claims Commissioner Byron asked for a more favorable report from the consulting firm. Byron denies doing any such thing.

Just the same, there are an awful lot of questions about this move, and no one on the governing body seems to be asking them, at least not in public.

Unbelievable hardly seems to cover it.


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