Route 9 improvements, Lower Tax Rate among Ocean County, NJ goals for 2022
Two of the positive takeaways from the Covid-19 pandemic that benefitted Ocean County are more people having staycations and more people working remotely from their summer homes.
They are among the reasons sparking optimism in the crystal ball for 2022 in Ocean County and why things could be even better.
Before we ring in the new year in a few days, let's take a look back at what 2021 was like in Ocean County and then what could be in 2022.
Here are the biggest takeaways and things to look forward to.
1. Taxes, Finances, and Budgets -- oh, my! Or, is it oh, good?
"At the county level, we're going to see a decrease in our tax rate once again this year (2022) which is something we're very proud of," Ocean County Commissioner Director Gary Quinn tells Townsquare Media News.
Ocean County had an overall budget amount in 2021 of $470,356,177.00 and in the midst of a Covid pandemic which as a result included some federal CARES Act funding.
With a healthier economy in 2021 than 2020, there is optimism heading into 2022 that things will be even better financially for everyone.
"Last year, '20 was definitely a much different year, and going into '21 this year we were concerned, there was a lot of unknowns out there -- what was going to be going on with the pandemic, were we going to continue on the path where hopefully we were going to get back to more normalcy in our everyday lives and throughout the operation of the county itself," Quinn said. "I'm happy to say that as time has gone on this year, things have gotten better, the pandemic is still here and is something that we're dealing with on a daily basis but it's much more under control now and because of that we've seen a lot of changes over the last 12-months."
There have been challenges over the course of 2021 even with improving pandemic conditions and heading into 2022 the economy should continue trending upward which also means some financial relief for taxpayers.
"The federal money that we got to offset a lot of the unknowns that we had to deal with for certain. The county has had a decrease in their tax rate of a half-a-penny for the last five years -- consistently it's been happening -- and going into '22, our anticipation is that we're still going to be able to reduce the tax rate once again," Quinn said. "Having said that, we're also looking to continue to go with the programs we have in place, continue to expand programs, continue to do infrastructure improvements throughout the county."
Quinn also feels the county has been able to overcome thanks in part to the tourism economy with more people staying or living here while working remotely for their jobs in New York City or elsewhere.
2. The growing impact of Summer Tourism in Ocean County.
There is a possibility that Ocean County may continue to grow and expand in size and population in 2022 after many people worked remotely from here since the pandemic began including even moving to their summer homes or buying and renting residences here to enjoy all beaches and other amenities this part of the Shore can offer.
Along those lines, it also has led to more cars on Ocean County roads.
The tourism industry is one of the biggest reasons why Ocean County has survived financially and economically in the last two years during the pandemic.
"There's no doubt that tourism has been a major, major change compared to what it was back in 2020," Quinn said. "This year was a banner year as far as the amount of people visiting the county -- Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant, Long Beach Island, the barrier islands -- did a tremendous amount of business in terms of people spending money. We had pretty decent weather as far as summer goes, our beaches were crowded all the time."
The labor shortage prevented businesses and the tourism industry in Ocean County from having an even better year in 2021, something Quinn hopes can change for 2022.
"There's been such a shortage of people who are willing to go back to work and go and apply for jobs. Pretty much, any business throughout the county is looking for help at this point. A lot of people were getting money from the federal government whether it be through unemployment, whether it be through grants being given out by the federal government and that's kind of holding people back from trying to re-enter themselves into the working market," Quinn said. "If we can try and find a way between now and next summer to try and get more of these people back to work, I think that you'll see an absolutely fantastic summer next year in '22 as far as the overall tourist industry goes. Not only that, but I think you'll see a lot more people being able to start getting back into shopping locally in our stores, being able to go out to our restaurants."
3. Roadway Improvements/County Projects could be addressed in 2022?
There have been many roads under construction and are many roads in need of construction or repaving in Ocean County heading into the new year.
The county fields all kinds of requests from towns who want to see improvements as well, Quinn explains, including for Long Beach Boulevard down on LBI and further up in the northern part of the county.
"There's a lot of stuff on the drawing board right now to continue into 2022 as far as improvements go, as far as installation of traffic lights go -- (in) the northern part of our county, we've got tremendous traffic congestion in Lakewood, Brick and the areas on the north which we're looking at doing a lot of improvements in some of our major intersections up there," Quinn said. "You also have to consider the growth that is happening. A lot of these larger towns have major development going on when it comes to their commercial hubs and a lot of the roads that these are on are county roads so we work hand in hand with developers to try and build turnarounds and make these areas not only safer but be able to move more traffic and be able to take and still have the towns develop the commercial bases that they're looking to do."
The biggest project that is on their radar, is one that the county has been pushing for but one that was delayed, is Route 9 which is a state road.
"We've been pushing for that for years, a lot of Freeholders prior to my time on the board have been fighting that fight and we thought we had a shot at it this year, unfortunately, recently the money was taken out of the federal budget and realistically it was only the study of taking and improving and widening Route 9 from Lakewood all the way down to Toms River," Quinn said. "That section alone would give a tremendous amount of relief to people traveling up and down Route 9. We're going to continue to fight that fight because we believe that's probably the most important improvement that we can possibly see in the county. It's a state road, so we have to deal with the state on that issue."
4. Flooding, Storm Surge, Beach Erosion are concerned -- how they'll be addressed in 2022.
There continues to be a concern and growing frustration by Ocean County municipalities waiting for help solving environmental issues particularly with addressing flooding concerns, sea-level rise as well as those along back bays among others.
Quinn explains that it's an issue they've been monitoring for some time and want to address.
"Things are changing, the tides are much higher than they used to be, flooding is getting much more serious than it used to be. We've experienced over the last couple years, especially from Bay Head all the way through Seaside Park and Long Beach Island when we see high tides, full moon -- everything comes together, we're looking at a tremendous amount of flooding," Quinn said. "It's a very, very difficult thing to take and resolve not only because number 1: the fact that you have to figure out a way when you have the water so high and the storm drains are pushing back up to the streets, there has to be some way to alleviate it. Not only do we have difficulties in finding ways to alleviate it but the other problem we have which we've spoken to the state about and hope to continue to work with the state on is the permitting to be able to take and get permits to be able to do the things that we'd like to see done. We are looking at different plans right now, we've done a lot of studies along Long Beach Island, in Seaside Park we have a lot of serious issues along the back bays along the bayfront roads and it's not only on the waterfront homes themselves, it works its way right into the streets."
Quinn adds that the county is continuing to look for ways to address these issues and replenish beaches as well and some federal funding coming in soon will help in that effort.
"Let's face it, the bottom line is people come here to use the beaches and that's the one thing we have to take and always rely on to make sure we have these things ready to go by Memorial Day every year so that people can come down and really enjoy it," Quinn said.