TOMS RIVER – Consistent with New Jersey's emergency declaration regarding actions to be taken as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, public access to Ocean County Government buildings is restricted for nonessential business but Ocean County officials want to assure constituents that services are still available and the government is at work.
"The coronavirus outbreak may cause us to do things differently in the way we serve the public," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. "But rest assured we are here to help you and assist anyway we can. We have not closed the county government we have just limited access to buildings in an effort to curtail the spread of this virus.
"We have taken these measures for the safety of the public and also our work force," he said. "We want to make sure we can continue to staff our offices so we can help you. We are working closely with the state, its Department of Health and the county Department of Health on all matters relating to the coronavirus outbreak."
From the increased use of drop off boxes to strongly encouraging citizens to call the main switchboard at 732-244-2121 or access information through the Ocean County government website at www.co.ocean.nj.us, the steps taken are being done to promote social distancing and to reduce large public groups – both highly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and health experts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
"These are unchartered waters," Vicari said. "Things are changing hourly and we have to adjust with the changes."
On Monday, Vicari along with Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy, signed an emergency proclamation that in part closes Ocean County government buildings to the public for all non-essential county business.
For instance, citizens needing help from the Office of Senior Services, the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs, the Ocean County Veterans Services Bureau and the Ocean County Human Services Department should call the offices for assistance. All those offices are located at 1027 Hooper Ave., Toms River, Building 2.
The telephone numbers are Senior Services, 732-929-2091, Consumer Affairs, 732-929-2105, Veterans, 732-929-2096 and Human Services, 732-506-5374.
"The public, under the emergency proclamation, will not be allowed access to Building No. 2 at 1027 Hooper Avenue," said Ocean County Administrator Carl W. Block. "Staff will be working in their respective departments and available to answer your calls. But the public should not try to access the building."
The situation is the same for the buildings in the same complex occupied by the Ocean County Board of Social Services where face to face interviews for benefits and programs have been waived.
"We know that all of these offices have a high volume of the public seeking services," Block said. "And let's be clear we are not stopping anyone from getting services we are just adapting to a new way of doing business."
"Ensuring citizens receive their benefits during this ongoing coronavirus concern is a top priority for us," said Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director Gary Quinn, liaison to the Board of Social Services. "In an effort to make it easier for you to apply or receive your benefits, a number of temporary changes have been put in place regarding social services that are administered at the Ocean County Board of Social Services.
The Board of Social Services is encouraging county residents who want to apply for SNAP food assistance, or cash assistance under the Work First New Jersey program to do so online at NJHelps.org. During this public health crisis, interviews can be done by phone, so there is not a need to come into the office to apply for benefits.
Work First New Jersey cash assistance clients who are due for their case to be reviewed in March or April automatically will get a 60-day extension. They do not need to come into the office. In addition, applications for NJFamilycare Medicaid which is medical assistance for families and those who are aged, blind and disabled can be done online at NJFamilycare.org. Building restrictions are the same at the Board of Social Services satellite office in Manahawkin.
Additional information regarding social services is available online at www.co.ocean.nj.us/OC/SocialServices or by calling 732-349-1500.
There are also public restrictions at the Ocean County Southern Service Center in Stafford Township and the Ocean County Northern Resource Center in Lakewood.
"I cannot emphasize enough to the public to please call the department or the county switchboard for help," Block said. "This will help immensely."
To assist citizens using the services of the Ocean County Board of Taxation and the Ocean County Clerk's Office, drop off boxes have been located outside and inside the lobby of 118 Washington St., here.
"In an effort to protect and keep residents safe from the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), there will be no public access to the Ocean County Board of Taxation, effective March 17," stated Chelsea Skuby, Ocean County Tax Administrator, on behalf of the Board of Taxation. "The office employees are still reporting to work and remain available to the public via telephone or email."
She noted that as of this time the regular tax appeal deadline has been extended to May 1, 2020. Any municipalities that underwent a municipal wide revaluation or reassessment for 2020 has a filing deadline of May 1, 2020. Instructions, as well as tax appeal forms, can be found and printed from the tax board website www.tax.co.ocean.nj.us .
To accommodate taxpayers wanting to hand deliver appeals, they can use the County Clerk's drop box located on the sidewalk, to the right of the front entrance of the Ocean County Courthouse at 118 Washington Street, Toms River. The drop box will be checked several times a day. Appeals should be placed in sealed envelopes and clearly labeled Ocean County Board of Taxation before being submitted.
Residents are encouraged to contact the Ocean County Tax Board's office via telephone at (732) 929-2008, or via email at TaxAdministrator@co.ocean.nj.us for any assistance.
Director Vicari noted that residents can reach the members of the Board of Freeholders by telephone or email.
"All of our emails are listed on the Ocean County website along with our office telephone numbers," he said. "This situation will not last forever but in the meantime I want everyone – the public and our employees - to be safe. Limiting personal contact is one of the ways we can help curtail the spread of the coronavirus."