Toms River lost 20 percent of its tax base after Hurricane Sandy struck in late October and it remains to be seen how the beachfront sections of the township will be rebuilt, Mayor Thomas Kelaher said.
Kelaher questioned whether properties could be insured, a key element to obtaining mortgages that property owners may need to rebuild.
Kelaher made his comments at a press conference on Friday with other officials at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center on Fischer Boulevard.
Gary Colton, public information officer from the Small Business Association, said the program is coordinating low-interest loans up to $200,000 for homeowners and businesses through FEMA. Loans are also being provided up to $40,000 for personal property, which would pertain to renters, Colton said.
One of the biggest concerns among homeowners is gaining access to properties in Toms River's beach front communities. Residents living north of Lavallette will be able to take their cars there this weekend, depending upon where they live. Ortley Beach residents will be able to take buses to certain zones of the township this weekend based on where they live, the township said on its Website.
"Every day the roads improve or they don't," said Paul Daley from the Office of Emergency Management. The conditions are very much in flux on the barrier islands, so it is not easy to plan beyond a few days for granting access, he said.
Praise for Public Works
Kelaher praised township emergency services and employees' efforts, particularly public works crews that brought heavy equipment to evacuate residents during the storm.
"This really brings out the best in people," Kelaher said.
He also singled out the efforts of Silverton's volunteer firefighters, many of whom have lost their homes, but continued with their duties.
Kelaher also mentioned cooperation with Toms River's school district, which housed 1,000 residents during the storm and provided the buses to get people to the peninsula. He also thanked the Edele Hovnanian, whose family provided the site for FEMA to conduct operations on Fischer Boulevard. Hovnanian said they will provide up to $1 million to help local churches and non-profits in Monmouth and Ocean Counties to help with storm relief.
Even with Toms River showing a great deal of community spirit during the crisis, the Mayor said the devastation affected him.
"One of the saddest things I've seen is people who brought an empty suitcase and they came back with an empty suitcase because there was no home for them to bring anything back," Kelaher said.