Wildwood mayor sees budget questions as start of election season

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WILDWOOD – A heated argument between Mayor Ernie Troiano and Wildwood Watchdog member Dara Baltuskonis started Wednesday after Baltuskonis asked the Board of Commissioners when a municipal budget would be introduced.

The sound of the two shouting could be heard throughout City Hall after the May 14 meeting had adjourned.

According to the Department of Community Affairs, municipalities should have adopted their 2014 budgets by April 25. Wildwood commissioners have not yet introduced a budget.

Troiano said the board was waiting to see what new revenue the city could include in its spending plan this year.

“We have a number of issues we are still depending on, revenue sources,” he said. “We lost $1.7 million in tax income, which equates to 11 cents. But that 11 cents really doesn’t equate to anything because a lot of property values have dropped. So therefore, you can have an 11-cent tax increase and still see your taxes go down considerably.”

The city’s property values dropped by about $130 million after Wildwood recently completed a revaluation, city officials have said. Despite that, Troiano said a budget could be introduced as early as the next Board of Commissioner’s meeting, 3:30 p.m. May 28 at City Hall, 4400 New Jersey Ave.

Baltuskonis said that a potentially high tax increase from the city, in addition to an 8-cent tax rate increase in the Wildwood School District’s budget, was a hard blow to taxpayers.

“It’s too much, and it’s getting to the point where people can’t afford to live here or do business in this town,” she said.

In North Wildwood, the 2014 spending plan included a slight tax hike, which meant the average property owner would pay about $34 more in local purposes taxes. Wildwood Crest also included a 1.5-cent increase to its tax rate in its budget.

The tax rates in both those towns are significantly less than Wildwood’s. The local purpose tax rate was $1.103 per $100 of assessed value in the city last year. In North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, the rate is about 62 cents. That amount doesn’t include county, school or fire taxes.

“I have a property assessed double what my home here in Wildwood is and I’m paying half the taxes in North Wildwood,” Baltuskonis said. “The properties have been depreciating in Wildwood as compared to our neighbors.”

Troiano said the three towns are not comparable. According to the mayor, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest have more properties on the tax rolls than Wildwood, which makes for a lower tax rate in those communities.

“You can’t equate a bedroom community to an urban city center. You just can’t,” he said. “I will take exception, great exception, to you comparing us to other towns,” Troiano added later. “It would be like me going into your house and saying, ‘Dara, how much does it cost you to operate your kitchen as opposed to operating your bedroom?’ Night and day.”

The two also butted heads over infrastructure improvements. Baltuskonis claimed that road reconstruction and capital projects are frequently undertaken in other island municipalities, but “the streets are roller coasters” in Wildwood.

Troiano said that he didn’t want to put more stress on the taxpayers by paying to redo streets. Instead, he said the city has been actively looking for grants and low-interest loans to do some of the work, such as on Park Boulevard.

More streets are set to be reconstructed in the fall because the city had funding leftover from a USDA grant, city engineer Mark DeBlasio said at the meeting.

“Are you going to blame me for streets that have not been touched since they were repaved back in the 50s?” Troiano asked Baltuskonis. “I’ve done more street programs than they’ve done 50 years before me.”

Troiano claimed that Baltuskonis’ comments, as well as public questions the Wildwood Watchdog group posed earlier this week about funding for an employee Christmas party, are the start of the election season in Wildwood.

Baltuskonis ran against the current commission in 2011, when then-Mayor Gary DeMarzo lost his re-election bid to Troiano. Commissioners Pete Byron and Tony Leonetti, who ran with Troiano, were also elected.

“We understand politics, we understand the whole political scene here,” Troiano said.

Wildwood’s municipal election is in November of 2015.

Email Christie Rotondo at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at thewildwoodleader.com.

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