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2020 was not the year anyone thought it would be back in January and now looking back on what was, we can look ahead to what could be in 2021 with hope and optimism.

In Ocean County, Freeholder Director Joe Vicari had a vision in January for keeping the tax rate down, pleading with the Governor to return money to senior funded programs and new construction work getting done in 2020 among other issues.

Then came the Covid-19 pandemic and like a domino affect, everything was altered and changed because of it.

"This has been a very difficult and challenging year," Vicari tells 92.7 WOBM News. "We deal with many difficult challenges everyday and the most difficult one, of course, is people that are dying. In Ocean County, we lost over 1,100 people because of Covid-19 and tens of thousands have been infected with it. It has taken affect on the health and lives of many people but also on the businesses and life in general."

Residents struggled to earn a living and pay bills this year and businesses either closed temporarily or for good leading to an increasing amount of people filing for unemployment due to the pandemic itself and all the restrictions that followed.

One of the goals for 2021 in Ocean County, as the vaccine becomes available to the general public down the line, is helping residents and businesses recover.

"The first thing to do is get the vaccine out to as many people as possible and once we get to that herd immunity, than we can look at one thing that's very important, it's to get the economy back on its feet," Vicari said. "We have a very comprehensive program working with the federal government as far as grants to small businesses. We want to focus in on the small businesses in Ocean County, 98-percent of all the businesses are small businesses. Right now, one-third of all the restaurants and food industry businesses may not be back next year and we want to make sure they come back because they're a very important part of our economy. We probably lead the state of New Jersey in the percentage of small businesses."

The summer tourism season, which is where Ocean and neighboring Monmouth County make a large share of revenue every year, is at the core of important and must have parts of the local economy up and running.

It remains a continued focus in Ocean County where 2021 and the years that follow will have to be bounce back years to recover financially.

"We must get that restarted, we have over $5-Billion a year from tourism, which is important to us," Vicari said. "We want to make sure that people throughout the state of New Jersey and the Northeast realize that we have some of the best beaches in the country with the 44-miles of beaches that we do have."

One of the other goals for 2021, as it has been in years past, is to keep the tax rate down.

"Last year, for the 5th straight year, the tax rate in Ocean County dropped and we want to try and continue that next year as much as possible," Vicari said.

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You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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