State of the City Address – March 14, 2024

State of the City Address
 Mayor Jay A. Gillian
 March 14, 2024

Good evening, Councilmen, city team members, and my fellow Ocean City residents and taxpayers. It’s an honor to be here tonight and to deliver this annual State of the City address for the 14th time. 

In many ways, it’s the easiest job in the world.

Our city is packed every summer. Our beaches and boardwalk are filled with families having fun. Our season now stretches year-round. Our downtown is booming. Real estate values are soaring. Living in Ocean City remains an incredible bargain in terms of our tax rate.

The city team works tirelessly to maintain infrastructure, expand services, protect public safety and preserve the quality of life that draws us all to Ocean City.

For 14 years, we have faced every sort of challenge. Having to catch up on long-forgotten road and infrastructure improvements, hurricanes, a pandemic. And now rising costs from inflation. We’ve been prepared every time. I will always remain committed to making Ocean City better.

Our aggressive capital improvement program continues to take care of the beach, boardwalk, bay, the downtown, city facilities, and all of our roads and neighborhood streets. 

Innovative flood mitigation and pumping station projects have changed the way of life for many residents in flood-prone neighborhoods. We can’t stop all flooding, but we can do a lot to help. 

We expect to complete West 17th Street in the spring with all new utility lines, a pumping station and paving. I know the residents there have seen a lot of construction over the past few years, so it will be great to see this project completed. 

Work on Merion Park and streets nearby has begun. We have a shared services agreement with Cape May County to add Roosevelt Boulevard, an important gateway and evacuation route.

Plans for another major project for 18th to 26th Street along Haven Avenue are in the works. 

In addition to these major projects, our regular paving program continues throughout Ocean City. We still have to catch up on alleys, but most streets in Ocean City have been improved since I took office 14 years ago. 

On the beach, replenishment projects at the north end and south end were completed last year. We’re using stockpiles of sand from those projects to fill in areas that have eroded since then. The federal and state governments paid about $28 million for the combined costs of these projects. 

On the boardwalk, we just received a $4.8 million grant to make repairs and improve accessibility from St. Charles to Fifth Street.

On the bay, we’re continuing our annual maintenance dredging, using $1.7 million worth of grants to help offset the cost. We’re experimenting with a groundbreaking concept that is a first in New Jersey. A deep sediment trap outside the mouth of Snug Harbor is designed to help reduce the frequency of re-dredging.

We’re continuing to invest in public safety with construction of a new police substation on the boardwalk at Eighth Street planned to start later this year and with a complete renovation of the existing police station on Central Avenue to follow.

Expanded services touched on every part of our community. The city is now operating a vastly improved Senior Center and attendance is soaring. I want to thank Cape May County for their partnership. Our goal is to have the Senior Center fully grant-funded by the end of the year.

We reopened the Community Center Café. We’re planning a complete rehab of the pool there for 2025. It will include an ADA ramp into the pool. 

We started a program that allows residents to drop off trash and recycling at the Shelter Road Recycling Center on Sundays from 11 to 7. This convenience serves residents who may not be at their Ocean City homes during the regularly scheduled trash and recycling pickup days during the week.

We installed a new artificial turf field at Shelter Road for our school and recreational sports teams and the champion Nor’easters soccer club. We’ve added grant-funded EV stations for electric vehicle owners.

We hosted a series of Special Olympics events and we continue to work to make Ocean City a hub for these events. Our annual Special Olympics swim meet at the Community Center is scheduled for Sunday at 10 a.m.

We also worked to preserve all of the things that define “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” 

Ocean City is still a place where you can enjoy performances by Kristin Chenoweth, Judy Collins or Jackie Evancho with our own Ocean City Pops. I want to thank Vince Lee for his great work leading the Pops, and I want to thank Karen Mahar for leading the Friends of the Pops. I’m looking forward to the 95th anniversary season this summer.

I also want to thank Bob Rose, who has promoted our Summer Concert Series at the Music Pier for more than 30 years. The series brings acts like George Thorogood, Bruce Hornsby or Kenny G to Ocean City each summer.  

The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $3 million contract for a complete replacement of the bridge lights along the Ninth Street Causeway. The new system will be state-of-the-art, and it should be in place by the end of the year.

We will launch a campaign this year to let everybody know that there is “Always a Spot” to park in Ocean City. We will let people know where to park and how many spots are available. We also plan to invest in technology to let people know in real time how many spaces are available in the municipal surface lots.   

We will continue to work toward completing the new terminal building at the Ocean City Municipal Airport. I want to again thank Leon Grisbaum for his generous donation toward this facility.

We’re also working with the county on plans for a new Bayside Center. The improved facility will serve as a hub for educational and bayfront activities. 

A big part of our success is our focus on public safety. Our police and fire departments are second to none, and they face additional challenges with each passing year.

Part of our efforts to maintain public safety included the addition of police officers, firefighters/EMTs and Public Works employees. While some other towns have eliminated seasonal police officers altogether because they can’t attract candidates, our seasonal force is one of the biggest in the state and helps us keep our town family-friendly. Our Fire Department just achieved a Class 1 ISO rating shared by only two other departments in the entire state. I believe we need to keep public safety as a top priority, but we need dedicated employees to make it happen. 

We signed new agreements this year with all of the unions representing city team members. The contracts were fair to the city team and responsible to taxpayers. The salary increases reflect the inflation we’ve seen over the past few years. They are one of the biggest factors in this year’s proposed budget and they include new employees in Public Works, Police Dispatch and Social Services.

In a moment, Finance Director Frank Donato will pass along a draft budget that anticipates a tax rate increase of 3.7 cents. 

Insurance costs are up by $1.2 million. Pensions are up. Utility costs are up. Trash and recycling is up. We face the same increases that everybody else does.

Gains in ratables and revenues will help. Our fund balance increased this year, and we’ll be able to use a good portion of that to offset taxes. With the price increase in beach tags, revenues came in at a record $6 million, so we can budget more for next year.  But these revenue increases are not enough to balance out the increased costs – not without major cuts to the services and amenities that Ocean City residents have come to expect. 

We continue our efforts to acquire open space. We turned abandoned gas stations into a park at the Ninth Street gateway. We were able to acquire an entire city block adjacent to the Community Center.

We’re going to own this land forever, and it will create a corridor of public space that Ocean City has not seen since the Lake Brothers preserved a block-wide corridor from beach to bay between 5th Street and Sixth Street for what became parks, schools, public buildings and the Tabernacle. That was 140 years ago in 1884.

Our capital plan anticipates significant investments in improvements and acquisitions each year, and we have always maintained fiscal responsibility. When we set out a decade ago to fix flooded streets, pave roads, acquire open space, rebuild the boardwalk, dredge the bay and do all the other things that our residents deserve, our Finance Department outlined a schedule that would cost about a penny a year on our tax rate – or about $75 a year for the owner of a home assessed at $750,000. 

While paying an extra $75 a year for this work, the owners of the same home have seen the value of their home increase by hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Ocean City has beaches, bayfront and a boardwalk, a wonderful downtown, top-notch schools, our own airport and golf course, spectacular new bridges leading to town. Our Community Center alone is a gem – with the Aquatic and Fitness Center, one of the best libraries in the state, the Arts Center, Historical Museum, Senior Center and Community Center Café all under one roof. Few other towns can compare.

That’s really the most important thing to remember when we talk about the state of the city. Owning a home here remains the best investment anybody can ever make. And there will never be a better place to live. 

In 1880, Ocean City’s founders sold the first lots in town for $30. By the second year, the average price rose to $340.

The words of William Wood in the first Ocean City Association report still ring true today:

“If God sends us financial success while maintaining moral integrity, we shall accept it thankfully at his hands.”

I want to thank City Council, the city team, the Chamber, local businesses, veterans, volunteers, and most of all, our taxpayers and guests for working so hard to make Ocean City such a special place.

The state of the city is strong, and I look forward to making it even better. 


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