|Photo by Ryan Morrill|
Surf City Mayor Francis Hodgson answers
questions from taxpayers at borough hall.
The town came out to welcome new Surf City Mayor Francis Hodgson at the taxpayers association’s annual meeting at borough hall this past Saturday, June 25. It was the first time in 50 years that a new mayor gave an inaugural address, after former long-time mayor Leonard T. Connors stepped down last year.
With the town boasting one of the area’s lowest tax rates, $3.5 million in surplus and no municipal bonded indebtedness, Hodgson said he’s following in Connors’ footsteps as a thrifty mayor.
“I’m a Depression baby. I don’t like to spend money,” Hodgson stated. “Our duty is to supply the best possible service for the lowest possible dollar. I’m all about dollars and cents.”
A hot topic of discussion was the consolidation of the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City and the LBI Grade School in Ship Bottom. Hodgson said he disapproves of the school board’s plan to sell the grade school.
|Photo by Ryan Morrill|
William Hodgson and Jackie Siciliano,
both members of the town council,
listen from the hallway.
Ship Bottom borough wants to purchase the grade school property and keep it safe from development. The town has offered to pay $4 million of the $9 million asking price. The remaining $5 million would need to be paid for by the district’s four other sending municipalities – Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township and Surf City. The transfer of the grade school to Ship Bottom would necessitate a bond referendum among the municipalities for the remaining funds, which would be used to expand and modify the E.J. School to accommodate the district’s entire student body.
Hodgson expressed some skepticism, noting, “Nothing ever comes in at the price they bid it.
“It’s a bad business practice,” he said. “Everyone knows that when the government gets involved with building or any construction, it always runs over. So in addition to what it’s going to cost the towns, it’s going to cost them more money to build (onto the E.J.) School. It’s going to cost over and above what the school tax is now. I think if we got rid of the School Choice students we wouldn’t have that problem.”
According to the school board, Hodgson said, there are currently 178 students from the Long Beach Island School District and 43 School Choice students. Next year’s student enrollment is expected to drop by 25 students. While the school district receives about $13,000 from the state per Choice student, it costs roughly $25,000 to educate each child, he noted.
“I don’t know how we’re gaining money when it’s costing us $12,000 a (Choice) student,” said Hodgson. “As far as the local kids, God bless them. Let them get the best education they can. We don’t need to bring kids in that run a lot of costs. It’s a waste of money.”
The mayor said he believes the schools can house all of the students, especially considering the continuous decrease in enrollment, which he said is due to the fact that young families cannot afford to live on the Island anymore. He noted that the student to teacher ratio is currently 7-to-1.
“I am for the people deciding whether or not they want to spend the money. It’s up to them; it’s not up to me,” he said. “Me, personally, I’m against it. I’m for the people voting, but I’m against Surf City chipping in to buy the land for Ship Bottom. If Ship Bottom wants to buy it, fine, let them buy it. My position hasn’t changed. It’s been the same.
“If the people of Surf City decide they want to chip in and pay for the shortfall that Ship Bottom doesn’t come up with, then who am I? The voters speak. That’s the way personally I feel as mayor. I’ve got to look out for the people of the town,” he stated.
Hodgson has suggested making some repairs to each of the schools to keep them open and then revisiting the plan in a few years.
Throughout the meeting, Hodgson answered many other questions from the audience that ranged from beach badge checkers, lifeguards and dune replenishment to taxes, outdoor restaurant seating and town-wide yard sales, among other local issues.
Hodgson, a borough councilman for 46 years, served as president for most of that time. He also handled revenue and finance and sanitation. Prior to that, he served on the board of health for four years.
Along with his family, Hodgson also owns and operates Hodgson Construction, Sandbar Mini Golf and numerous rental properties as well as Island Realty.
In other meeting news, this was association member Ron Pergondo’s last meeting as president. Pete Williams, who is taking over the role, thanked Pergondo for his three years of service by recounting the time the former president stepped up and “acted as coach” when the position needed to be filled.
“When he stepped up and said he would be president, he had both his feet on the ground. And the whole time he was president, he’s had both of his feet on the ground,” Williams said, jokingly referring to him as the mayor.
Williams said one of the association’s main objectives this year is to increase membership. He encouraged residents to join and spread the word.
He also noted the association has teamed up with the police department as well as the Island’s realtors regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety.
The association will host its first informational meeting with local business owners at the firehouse at the end of August.
— Kelley Anne Essinger
This article was published in The SandPaper.