first_imgCity Hall, 861 Asbury Ave. By DONALD WITTKOWSKIOcean City officials confidently predicted Thursday night that the resort town will come roaring back as strong as ever once the coronavirus pandemic is over and an “invisible enemy” is conquered.The inspirational words from Mayor Jay Gillian and members of City Council came during an unusual backdrop – a public meeting devoid of any in-person audience. The Council meeting was held without anyone from the public in attendance as part of social distancing requirements to help stem the spread of the lethal contagion.“Everybody, we’re going to do our best to get through this, under the circumstances,” Council President Peter Madden assured members of the public who listened in by teleconference.Madden pointed out the “unique nature of this meeting” as it got underway at 7 p.m. The public was allowed to participate by calling in, but only two residents spoke during the public comment session later on. Both residents thanked city officials for their efforts to protect the community from COVID-19.The coronavirus crisis dominated Council’s discussion from start to finish. The mayor began the meeting by praising the city’s first responders and other employees for their work during the outbreak.Gillian also thanked the residents for their patience during a time when the beaches, Boardwalk, schools, government buildings and other public facilities remain closed during Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home order.“We all know the virus is here in Ocean City. It’s been here,” Gillian said.Urging the entire community to remain united, Gillian said he has no doubts that the city will recover and live up to its slogan as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”Mayor Jay Gillian, shown at a City Council meeting in February, believes the city will bounce back.Council members joined with Gillian in praising the city’s first responders and other government employees. They also thanked the “unsung heroes” who work in the supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and other key businesses that remain open during the pandemic.“Thank God for these people, because we would be in a real jam if they decided not to risk it,” Councilman Michael DeVlieger said.In other words of caution, the Council members urged the public to continue practicing social distancing guidelines and to remain at home except to make essential trips or to go outside for exercise.They also stressed that out-of-town visitors and the owners of vacation homes should not come to Ocean City during the pandemic. Gov. Murphy and Cape May County officials fear that visitors would spread COVID-19 at the shore if they traveled here now.“We’re all dealing with an invisible enemy,” Councilwoman Karen Bergman said of the virus.Councilman Tony Wilson said city officials have received “countless calls” from local residents about the possibility of sealing off the island to visitors. But Wilson noted that the city lacks the legal authority to close the bridges or to check the identification of drivers heading into town.Referring to perceived divisions between local residents and Ocean City’s visitors, Councilman Bob Barr said everyone should instead focus on the fight against COVID-19.“It isn’t us versus them. It’s Ocean City and the world versus the coronavirus,” Barr said.Members of City Council, pictured at a meeting in February, are looking for a strong recovery.As hotels, motels, rental properties and other tourism-related businesses remain shut down, Bergman pointed to the economic impacts of the coronavirus. Bergman, who works as the director of catering at the Flanders Hotel, said a number of weddings have been canceled there.However, Bergman noted that the wedding parties plan to reschedule at the Flanders, a sign that the local economy is poised to bounce back once the pandemic is over.“I just hope that we can all get through this and people will come back here and we’ll have an awesome, awesome summer,” she said.Echoing Bergman’s sentiments, DeVlieger expressed confidence that the city will rebound to have “the greatest summer we’ve had in my lifetime.”“There’s no better place to enjoy yourself with your family than Ocean City, New Jersey,” DeVlieger said.DeVlieger also reminded the public about a nonprofit organization – called OCNJ CARE – that is focused on helping the local community cope with the COVID-19 crisis, including providing free meals to residents suffering from financial hardship.“Don’t let your family go hungry,” DeVlieger said, alluding to people who need assistance from OCNJ CARE.He added, “Believe me, we’re ready to help.”More information on OCNJ Care is available at OCNJ CARE was originally formed to help the community regain its footing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.“We did it with Sandy. We’ll do it again,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said.OCNJ CARE is a nonprofit organization formed to help the local community in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.Hartzell, DeVlieger and other Council members urged residents to patronize the local businesses to help sustain them and their employees while they deal with myriad economic challenges now.“Tip them like you’ve never tipped before,” Hartzell said, referring to the service industry employees who depend on tips for their income.DeVlieger said one way to support local businesses is for people to buy gift cards or certificates that can be redeemed when Ocean City’s stores reopen and the economy begins to recover.“It’s an opportunity for them to keep their doors open,” DeVlieger said of the businesses.Also at Thursday’s meeting, Council approved a series of resolutions and contracts for city business.One contract, for $193,600, will continue a summer program that uses falcons and hawks to scare away aggressive seagulls that swoop down to steal food from beachgoers and people on the Boardwalk. The seagull abatement program began last summer under another company, but a different vendor submitted the low bid for the contract this year.Council also approved a $60,513 landscaping contract for 35 city-owned garden plots and public grounds scattered throughout town. Under the contract, eight of those sites will be landscaped using environmentally friendly “organic” methods, meaning there will be no chemical pesticides or fertilizers.In another matter, the mayor told Council that he plans to rework the proposed 2020 municipal budget and the city’s five-year capital plan because of the coronavirus crisis. He will present the budget and capital plan to Council next month.Gillian explained that the city “will not be immune” to the economic impacts of the pandemic.last_img

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