The fate of New Jersey’s most rural township remains uncertain.
In 2005 I predicted that Downe Township NJ could be among the first indirect municipal casualties of sea level rise in the US . This was the forecast I made as part of a private client investment report based only on projected future municipal cash flow. It had nothing to do with the analysis of the cost of government services by the Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group was announced in February 2018 by New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.
The driving force behind my forecast was the observation of a shocking combination of water level rise and ground sinking of more than 7 inches here since the 1970s. This translates to the erosion and loss of many aces of previously usable shoreline property. Shore homes became uninhabitable and destroyed more by erosion than severe storms. While this isn’t the only obstacle this local government faces, it is the primary insurmountable issue given the other resources available. It wasn’t difficult to predict the decrease in land values, the loss in tax revenues, the depopulation of the area and the inability of government to adequately address the issues. A town that loses its shore homes loses a significant portion of its tax revenue. That long term trend continues today. Since 2005, however, the rate of water level rise seems to have decreased. There is no widely accepted explanation of the changing water level rise pattern as far as I know.
Downe Township NJ is the most rural township in the most rural county of New Jersey with more than 36 square miles of land per person living here. We are situated on the southwest corner of the state where the roads end on New Jersey’s Delaware Bay. There are reportedly about 440 households (probably less than 1200 total population now) that are older, poorer and less educated than state averages. We have been dragged down by a long history of governmental problems. Just since superstorm Sandy the deputy mayor made a written complaint to state or federal investigators alleging Sandy recovery fund fraud by the mayor. Many of the homes, including my own, were erected with incomplete building permits decades ago. That makes it more difficult to get repair permits now. The township’s auditor and federal auditors found issues that led to the issuance of adverse audit reports.
In 2017 I heard from two sources , one in county and one in state government, people that I personally deem reliable that have provided accurate information in the past, that the Downe Township government will disband. No time frame was given and that action did not happen as told. One source said that two of the five communities in Downe Township will be absorbed by Lawrence Township and two will be absorbed by neighboring Commercial Township, according to one source.
The fifth community, my community of Money Island, would lose most of its residences under a controversial state purchase program but will remain as a commercial working waterfront. We are New Jersey’s second most productive seafood landing port and there seems to be no motivation to disrupt this strong sector of the economy. Money Island appears to be positioned to grow into the state’s leading aquaculture facility supporting the oyster and crab industries.
Now a draft reorganization proposal calls for the elimination by merger of smaller municipal governments statewide. Downe Township is among them. Senate President Steve Sweeney seems to be pushing the idea but the fate of this proposal is uncertain.