Post Sandy legislation and Fort Monmouth Highlight “Ask The Senator”
As the three year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, New Jersey state Senator Jennifer Beck (R) representing the 11th Legislative District in Monmouth County, continues working on post Super storm legislation.
On Townsquare Media's "Ask the Senator" Wednesday night with host Tom Mongelli, Beck said she is hoping her recently introduced Sandy Homeowners Protection Act moves quickly for passage.
The proposal was spurred by complaints from constituents and includes some basic things, but Beck pointed the main purpose is to protect homeowners with state grants through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) and Low and Moderate Income (LMI) programs from fraudulent contractors and making project managers more accountable.
"One of the major things this bill does, it allows the Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) to have new powers under the Consumer Fraud Act. The vast majority of the 7,000 homeowners that are going through RREM have picked have picked what's called Pathway B, and Pathway B just simply means I pick my own contractor. The state of New Jersey does not pick them," said Beck.
She explained choosing that option limits the state in what it can do if the contractor isn't living up to the contract, especially if the actions are not criminal and are determined to be a civil case.
"The prosecutor can't help you, the Attorney General can't help you, the Division of Consumer Affairs can't really help, so we expanded just uniquely for the individuals in the RREM and the LMI program because this is a natural disaster recovery effort, that the Department of Community Affairs will be able to go after bad actors, bad contractors, if they're not meeting their time lines, if they're not building to code, if they in any way have put something forward that's fraudulent, they can be fined, they can be debarred and they can be kicked out of the state of New Jersey and not allowed to do work her again," Beck said.
Beck noted there's roughly 8,000 homeowners in the grant program and about 7,300 hired they're own contractor.
"Only about 700 went through the state program because for many reasons it was messy and slow," she said.
In drafting the legislation, Beck received input from the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group, the DCA and homeowners who came to her office with complaints about the RREM program.
Another key component of the bill would force project managers who responsible for overseeing how the federal grant money is being spent to step up their game, according to Beck.
"They have to come and visit the site at least three times. They've got to come initially while the project is underway and when the project reaches it conclusion, they've got to meet the contractor the homeowner hired, that at any time that the homeowner wants to meet the project manager, the project manager has to do so within five business days. They've got to return phone calls within 24 hours, they have to return emails within 24 hours, and if there's any change in the RREM program, they have to notify homeowners within 24 hours," said Beck.
Beck pointed out many times specifics were changed between the state and federal governments, but never communicated to the grantees, and that many times homeowners also were not informed when a project manager quit or was fired.
"So, this bill is going to require that at the time someone resigns or is fired, or whatever it is, within 24 hours the homeowner has to be notified and within five business days that individual has to be replaced and the homeowner has to be contacted and given the new person's name. It's so basic, it's insane," said Beck. She added, "Some of this communication is where the problems are."
Beck also discussed a possible gasoline tax, minimum wage, urban migration and what's currently happening at Fort Monmouth since its closure.
65 percent of Fort Monmouth's 1,100 acres have either been sold, leased or have gone out to bid, according to Beck.
She said the Department of Defense is helping oversee the transition and proudly shared that, "It is the most successful BRACC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) closing they've ever seen."
Beck also noted that although coming to grips with the Fort's closure is still tough, businesses are taking over the buildings and new developments are creating jobs, including a housing complex, a marina and restaurant and a golf course.