Post-storm needs focus of hearing in NJ

Post-storm needs focus of legislative hearing in New Jersey

Associated Press

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey shore towns hard hit by Superstorm Sandy want extra financial help from the state as they struggle with rebuilding costs and property values.

The state Senate Budget Committee invited mayors and emergency management officials to testify Monday in Toms River about their storm-recovery needs. The hearing is the first of several that will focus on helping residents recover.

Democrats who lead the Legislature have pledged bipartisan cooperation with Republican Gov. Chris Christie on storm-related issues. The superstorm is expected to financially strain hard-hit towns due to lost tax revenue.

Toms River municipal administrator Paul Shives said his town needs three to five years of extra state aid to help it rebuild from the storm, which may have wiped a third of the township's property value off the books.

"We have 225 homes in Ortley Beach that are gone or can't be occupied right now," he said. "That's significant. That represents 30 percent of the town's assessed valuation. We're going to need help bridging the gap financially."

Shives said afterward that Toms River needs increased direct financial aid from the state, not loans that need to be paid back. The township has passed a $35 million emergency appropriation to cover storm-related expenses.

Brick Township Mayor Stephen Acropolis said 109 of his community's homes burned in the aftermath of the storm. He said $400 million worth of taxable property on or near the township's barrier island section was damaged by the storm, and estimated it will cost $50 million to clean up the damage town-wide.

He is trying to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to advance Brick Township the money it will eventually get for storm reimbursements.

Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty said his community is about to approve $26 million to rebuild its boardwalk, and install a sea wall to lessen damage from future storms. He said work should begin before the end of the year and be completed by Memorial Day weekend.

Several senators floated ideas to help affected taxpayers, including assistance with mortgage down payments for people who have lost their homes, and some form of property tax relief, but did not offer details.

While the hearing was under way, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the state would consider whether to buy out homes in chronically flooded areas.

"They can't be rebuilt the way you always did," he said. "We do the same thing year in and year out. As we rebuild, we have to do it in a different way."

In some places, that might mean prohibiting the rebuilding of flood-damaged properties; in others, it might mean imposing stricter building codes to better protect the homes from flooding.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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