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July 30, 2015

States are understandably eager to grab bragging rights for whatever beauties of the natural world are found within their borders, and things are no different when it comes to counting lakes. But it’s tough to settle disputes when there’s no definitive ranking of lakes by state -- or even an agreed-upon definition as to what constitutes a lake.

Alaska is commonly given the top spot, claiming 3 million lakes. New Jersey has [link:http://newjersey.hometownlocator.com/features/physical,class,lake.cfm|366], at least according to HomeTownLocator.com, but another website -- disagreeing as to what constitutes “lakehood” -- knocks that number down to 202.

[link:http://lakehopatcong.com/|Lake Hopatcong], New Jersey’s largest freshwater body, covers 2,560 acres (about 4 square miles) and boasts 45 miles of shoreline. It’s located between Sussex and Morris counties. Second-largest is Hunterdon County’s Round Valley Reservoir, at 2,350 acres. It’s also the state’s deepest lake, going down 180 feet.

Sadly, none of these lakes even cracks the country’s Top 100, with the last-place holder, Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, being 40 square miles larger than Lake Hopatcong.

July 29, 2015

The Christie administration announced Tuesday that it would spend [link:http://nj.gov/oag/newsreleases15/pr20150728a.html|$4 million] to outfit the New Jersey State Police with body cameras as part of an effort to strengthen community policing, as well as fund a grant program to provide cameras to local police.

In conjunction with that announcement, acting state Attorney General John Hoffman released a policy for body cameras. It doesn’t dictate that local police departments must deploy them, but encourages them to do so and provides a set of best practices for guidance. For instance, the state does not set the procedures that must be met when deploying body cameras but says when local communities do determine procedures they must be based on objective criteria and be the same for the entire department.

Under the plan, the state will purchase 1,000 body cameras to be worn by state troopers, at a cost of $1.5 million. All troopers on the road will be equipped with them at one time.

Local communities will be encouraged to apply for a part of a $2.5 million grant pool to obtain body-camera “packages,” which include related equipment.

Recent state regulations require newly purchased patrol cars to be equipped with mobile video-recording systems. Because the statutory requirement can be satisfied if an officer in the car is wearing a body camera, and body cameras are more versatile, the state expects police departments to acquire body cameras instead of dashboard cameras.

July 28, 2015

If you’re the sort of swimmer who spends most of your time standing on shore worriedly scanning the surf for dorsal fins, you can relax: There have been [link:http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/isaf/2014Summary.html|zip, zero, zilch] shark attacks reported in New Jersey coastal waters this year, according to the International Shark Attack File, “the only globally comprehensive, scientific shark attack database in the world.”

Residual nervousness is to be understood though: There have been 10 unprovoked shark attacks off the Carolinas since May of this year. And a video of Australian surfer Mick Fanning [link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmavmlGJSLs|fighting off a shark attack] bare-handed went viral on the Internet.

Still, there have been those pesky shark sightings off Shore points, including Margate City and Avalon.

So are more shark sightings and attacks along the Jersey Shore to be expected?

Not so much. While global climate change will ultimately raise ocean temperatures, it’s not a trend that will have any short-term effect on the shark population. Meanwhile, the International Shark Attack File points out that more people are spending more time than ever in the ocean, and tracking technology continues to improve, which means fewer sightings and attacks go unreported.

If that’s not enough to get you back into the water with the boogie board, you may want to download the global shark tracker app from [link:http://www.ocearch.org/|Ocearch.org] and keep tabs on tagged sharks from Cape May to Cape Town.

July 27, 2015

North Jersey -- considered for this study as the counties of Bergen, Passaic, Sussex, Essex, Hudson, Union, Morris, and Warren -- has more than 4.1 million residents, according to a recent report by the Regional Plan Association and North Jersey Partners, an eight-county collaboration affiliated with Together North Jersey. About [link:http://library.rpa.org/pdf/TNJ-North-Jersey-Partners.pdf|18 percent] of those residents don’t own cars.

What’s more, the share of households that have only one car has increased from 35 percent to 37 percent. Approximately 55 percent of households have only one or no vehicle.

There’s no surprise then that use of public transportation to get to work has increased -- to 16.5 percent. About 9 percent carpool. A significant change is how many people now work from home -- 3.3 percent in 2012, up from 2.6 percent in 2000.

However, commuters now spend more time traveling to work than they did in 2000. About 48 percent of commuters spend 30 minutes or more on their commute, up from 43 percent in 2000.

July 24, 2015

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush suggested this week that the nation needs to [link:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeb-bush-medicare_55b11e41e4b0a9b94853e9eb|“phase-out” Medicare], and although he said it needed to be preserved for those now in the program and those soon to be eligible, he did indicate that it should be swapped out for something else for the next generations.

Given that stance, it’s interesting to note that 1.37 million New Jerseyans -- or [link:http://kff.org/state-category/medicare/?state=NJ|16 percent] -- are currently enrolled in Medicare. That’s the same percentage as the country as a whole; 49.4 million Americans were enrolled in the system as of 2012.

In New Jersey, 85 percent of those on Medicare are elderly, and 15 percent are disabled.

Interestingly, the first two states to hold primaries or caucuses have an even higher percentage of people on Medicare. Iowa has 17 percent and New Hampshire has 18 percent. Bush’s own state of Florida has 19 percent enrolled in Medicare.

July 23, 2015

There were [link:http://www.state.nj.us/highereducation/documents/pdf/statistics/fallbylevel/Enr2014.pdf|130,868] full-time students enrolled in New Jersey’s four-year public institutions in the fall of 2014, with another 81,524 full-time students enrolled in community colleges.

All told, there were 212,392 full-time students in the state’s public higher-education system, including 38,068 graduate students.

Additionally, there were 138,294 part-time students enrolled in New Jersey’s public colleges in 2014.

The largest school was Rutgers, with 66,013 students -- 53,291 of whom were undergraduates. The next largest was Thomas Edison State College, which offers online and self-directed courses. It had an enrollment of 21,495, almost all of whom were adult part-timers. Montclair State with an enrollment of 20,022, had the second-largest number of undergraduates -- 15,253, followed by Rowan and Kean University.

Bergen Community College had the largest enrollment of full-time students among the two-year colleges and largest overall. But Brookdale Community had the largest number of part-time students.

July 22, 2015

New Jerseyans complain about ticketing in this state, but according to Wallethub, the financial services website, the Garden State is pretty lenient when it comes to penalizing people for speeding and reckless driving. New Jersey ranked as the [link:http://wallethub.com/edu/strictest-and-most-lenient-states-on-speeding/14211/|12th] most-lenient state when it comes to penalties for those violations.

Which states are the most lenient? Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. And in which states should you be the most careful to slow down? Colorado, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, and New Mexico.

July 21, 2015

Those New Jersey beachfront-property owners who are hoping they can forestall coastal dune projects are going to have to provide easements fast or go to court. The state has initiated eminent domain proceedings against [link:http://www.state.nj.us/dep/newsrel/2015/15_0062.htm|244] property owners seeking a total 388 easements.

About 90 percent of beachfront owners have agreed to the easements -- which total 4,279 -- in order for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct coastal-protection projects now underway. But there are still holdouts. So the state Department of Environmental Protection and attorney general’s office have announced they have filed their first eminent domain action in Ocean County court. It involves a property in Ocean City.

The bulk of the remaining easements are in northern Ocean County; ironically, the area hardest hit by Sandy. Of the 326 outstanding easements needed there, 123 are in Bay Head and 68 are in Point Pleasant Beach, according to the state DEP.

Some homeowners thought they would be well compensated for the easements but that idea disappeared last year after a couple who had been fighting the borough of Harvey Cedars for years was awarded only $1 by the state Supreme Court for their easement, saying they weren’t entitled to a windfall for a project that would protect the community. Since then, most homeowners have voluntarily signed over the easements.

Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the DEP, completed eight post-Sandy beach-repair projects, returning roughly 45 miles of previously engineered and constructed beaches along the New Jersey coast to their original protective construction design at a cost of $345 million.

The Army Corps and DEP are currently undertaking a $128 million beach-and-dune construction project on Long Beach Island; a $57.6 million beach-and-dune project in southern Ocean City, the Strathmere section of Upper Township, and Sea Isle City in Cape May County; and a $38.2 million project to build beaches and improve infrastructure in the areas of Loch Arbour, Allenhurst, and Deal in Monmouth County.

July 20, 2015

The average cost of home healthcare in New Jersey is [link:https://www.genworth.com/dam/Americas/US/PDFs/Consumer/corporate/130568_040115_gnw.pdf|$48,506], among the lowest in the Northeast (Massachusetts is $57,200) but higher than the national average of $45,760, according to a new study by Genworth Life Insurance Co. of New York.

The least expensive type of care for the elderly is an adult daycare center, which is typically required for only part of the day. In New Jersey, the annual cost of adult daycare is $22,165; nationally, it is $17,904.

Those who not need hands-on care but do need help with tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and running errands are probably best served by homemaker services, which in New Jersey cost nearly the same as a home health aide. The average in-state homemaker service costs $46,332; nationally, it is $44,616.

Assisted-living facilities are also pricey in the Garden State, costing an average of $68,700, among the highest rates in the country -- something that’s also true of Delaware, Washington, D.C., Alaska, and Connecticut. Nationally, assisted living costs an average of $43,200.

And then there are nursing homes. A private room in a nursing home costs $127,750, less than Alaska’s $281,415, Connecticut’s $158,775, Massachusetts’ $139,580, and New York’s $136,437 -- but still much higher than almost everywhere else and higher than the national average of $91,250.

July 17, 2015

Are things finally turning around for New Jersey’s economy? Maybe. Although still higher than most of the country, New Jersey’s unemployment rate dropped to [link:http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/lwdhome/press/2015/20150716_Unemployment.html|6.1 percent] in June -- the lowest it's been since 2008.

The total unemployment rate nationally is 5.3 percent.

The state is touting the 4.275 million private-sector jobs as the highest in its history, and points to job growth in the leisure, information, and manufacturing sector.

Despite the drop in unemployment, however, the market actually lost 7,400 jobs last month. But since the rate is based on the total number of people reported looking for work as a percentage of workers, the rate for Junes still dropped 0.2 percent.

What’s more, it's important to note that boasts about private-sector jobs do not mean total employment. New Jersey Policy Perspective, the Princeton-based liberal-leaning think tank, released a statement that the state has still only recovered 69 percent of the jobs it had before the recession, while the country has regained 140 percent of its jobs. Our neighbors to the north and west can also boast of better statistics: New York has regained 258 percent of its job; Pennsylvania, 117 percent.

July 16, 2015

Medical marijuana remains a controversial topic -- and treatment -- in New Jersey, but the number of physicians and patients registered with the state program appears to be slowly growing: As of last year, [link:http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/new_medical_marijuana_dispensary_in_cranbury_gets_permit_to_start_growing.html|364] Garden State doctors had signed on to recommend patients to the program. And 3,400 patients had registered.

Most likely, they’ll still be traveling a fair distance to fill their prescriptions: The fifth dispensary to receive a permit to grow and sell cannabis, Compassionate Sciences, Inc., has built a dispensary and indoor grow center in Bellmawr.

It joins Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center (Cranbury); Garden State Dispensary (Woodbridge); Greenleaf Compassion Center (Montclair); and the Compassionate Care Foundation (Egg Harbor).

July 15, 2015

Pretty much every driver in New Jersey knows that the state’s roads and bridges are in need of repair, and the U.S. Department of Transportation agrees. On Tuesday it released a list of all states and their infrastructure needs for motor-vehicle transportation.

According to the report, New Jersey’s poor road conditions are costing motorists $3.476 million a year in extra repair costs, which works out to [link:http://www.transportation.gov/policy-initiatives/grow-america/road-and-bridge-data-state|$601] per driver. That’s because the US DOT says 66 percent of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

[related]Bridges didn’t far much better, with 35.5 percent of them (2,334 of 6,566) considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

What was surprising was that New Jersey is not the only state with severe infrastructure problems. Six states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin all had a higher percentage of roads in need of repair.

But only Connecticut and Rhode Island could compete with New Jersey’s double whammy of roads and bridges in such bad shape. Connecticut has 35 percent of its bridges rated as structurally deficient or obsolete, and 73 percent of its roads seriously in need of repair. Rhode Island has 56.5 percent of its bridges rated as “poor” and 70 percent of its roads in need of repair.

July 14, 2015

Businesses never tire of telling state officials that New Jersey has some of the highest energy costs in the country. And that may be true, if you consider electricity rates before the advent of fracking and cheap natural gas. But a recent report by Wallethub, the online financial services firm, found that New Jersey ranked [link:http://wallethub.com/edu/most-least-energy-expensive-states/4833/#methodology|30th] (with 1 being the cheapest) for energy costs among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

The average New Jersey household spends only $307 per month on energy, according to the study, the largest portion of that going to electricity ($118), ranking the state 21st in that category. The same family would spend only $105 in motor fuel -- the third lowest in the country. The average household spends $65 each month on natural gas -- and we are big consumers of it. We rank 47th among states for natural-gas consumption per total housing units. We also have some of the highest home-heating-oil prices (48), averaging $20.52 per household. (Of course, far fewer New Jerseyans use home heating oil rather than natural gas.)

July 13, 2015

The things Atlantic City casinos have to deal with. The state has indicted a North Carolina man who came to gamble at a Borgata Casino with millions of dollars in counterfeit poker chips.

Christian Lusardi, 43, of Fayetteville, NC, was caught out after Harrah’s Casino Hotel discovered a leak in its sewer pipes and found that [link:http://nj.gov/oag/newsreleases15/pr20150708b.html|$2.7 million] in counterfeit chips had been flushed down the toilet.

The Borgata had to shut down its Winter Poker Open Tournament after only three days -- it had been scheduled to run for three weeks -- after an audit discovered that 160 $5,000 counterfeit chips had already been put in play. The Division of Gaming Enforcement ordered the Borgata to distribute the prize funds and refund entry fees.

Allegedly, Lusardi ordered the phony poker chips over the Internet from a manufacturer in China and affixed the counterfeit Borgata logo stickers to them. There was no word as to why the chips were flushed down the toilet at Harrah’s, as well as at the Borgata. (A total in $3.6 million in phony chips was recovered.)

If convicted, Lusardi faces up to 10 years in prison for second-degree trademark counterfeiting, second-degree theft by deception, and third-degree criminal mischief.

July 10, 2015

According to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey is home to [link:http://www.fws.gov/endangered/map/ESA_success_stories/NJ/NJ_story2/index.html|135] bald-eagle pairings. That impressive number -- in 1982 the state had only one bald eagle nest, which failed to produce eaglets for six consecutive years -- is due to the efforts of New Jersey’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

DDT contamination was the main reason for the precipitous decline in the eagle population. The toxic pesticide saturated the area around the Bear Swamp nest, and caused the eggs to develop abnormally thin shells. As a result, the ENSP had to remove them from the nest so that they could be raised in a safe environment, which was accomplished by carefully switching the eggs in the nest for fake ones, while the real items were taken to a Maryland research center.

Eventually, this program produced eagles uncontaminated by DDT who were capable of laying and hatching eggs normally. The ENSP also managed to replenish the eagle population by bringing in wild eagles from Canada and releasing them in New Jersey. The birds still face disturbances and habitat loss, but their status as a protected species and the banning of DDT have helped them recover.

July 9, 2015

New Jersey residents and tourists alike looking for a few minutes of high-speed, high-decibel fun should be happy to learn that the Garden State is home to [link:http://rcdb.com/r.htm?ot=2&nm=na&st=93&pl=14116&page=1|39] roller coasters, many of them located in Jackson Township’s Six Flags Great Adventure.

For aficionados, 36 of New Jersey’s coasters are steel, while three are wood. Traditionalists may prefer to boost their adrenaline levels on one of the state’s 35 sit-down coasters. New Jersey also boasts one standing coaster, two inverted coasters (with the seats hanging under the track), and one flying coaster (in which passengers are harnessed in a prone position).

In 2010, NJ Spotlight reported that the state hosted [link:http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/10/0701/2226/|47] coasters -- second only to California’s 79. New Jersey has since fallen to sixth place, outpaced by Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and California. The Roller Coaster Census Report indicates that the United States has a total of 692 coasters.

New Jersey still boasts the country’s fastest roller coaster: the 128-mph Kingda Ka at Six Flags. The speed record is not a worldwide mark, however; Abu Dhabi’s Formula Rossa coaster has been clocked at 149.1 mph.

July 8, 2015

New Jersey ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to gardening -- or floriculture -- sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

In 2014, the state sold $196 million in floriculture products, which was up 4 percent since 2013.

New Jersey has 258 floriculture producers with sales of $10,000 or more, and there was an increase in the number of producers in the $100,000 to $499,999 sales range.

NASS recently released the 2014 Annual Floriculture Survey, which showed that only New Jersey and Florida earned increases in value of sales of the 15 leading states surveyed. Nationally, the wholesale value of floriculture crops was down 4 percent from 2013.

Officials noted that given New Jersey’s small land mass, the state is more than twice as devoted to floriculture than any other state.

The survey found New Jersey ranks third nationally in sales of herbaceous perennials ($53 million) and cut flowers ($15 million). Sales of bedding/garden plants were $123.3 million, potted flowering plants were $34 million, and poinsettias were $8.4 million.

New Jersey also ranks third in floriculture acreage on open ground at 4,720 acres. The Garden State has a total of 26.7 million square feet of covered area for floriculture crop production.

Floriculture crops include annual bedding plants, cut flowers, Easter lilies, chrysanthemums, hostas, and flowering plants for indoor use. Floriculture is part of the horticulture industry, which is the largest component of New Jersey's agriculture sector.

July 7, 2015

An average of 954,740 people per weekday took trips on New Jersey public transportation in 2014, according to [link:https://www.njtransit.com/pdf/FactsAtaGlance.pdf|data] published by the New Jersey Transit. The numbers were markedly lower on weekends, with an average of 456,592 trips on Saturdays and 317,151 on Sundays.

Buses were the state’s the most popular means of public transport, with 570,310 of the weekday trips being by bus. Rail was the second-most popular, with an average of 295,173 trips per weekday. Rail trips, however, accounted for the greatest portion of miles traveled by NJ passengers - a whopping 2.2 billion passenger miles for the year; the total for buses, rail and light rail was 3.4 billion passenger miles.

New Jersey has 12 commuter rail lines, 262 bus routes, and three light rail lines. A total of 205 of these bus routes are operated by NJ Transit, while the remainder are contracted. New Jersey’s bus service encompasses 30 stations and over 18,700 stops. A total of 386 of New Jersey’s municipalities have bus service, while 117 have rail service.

July 6, 2015

A total of 21,486 people incarcerated in New Jersey prisons at the end of 2014, according to a [link: http://www.state.nj.us/corrections/pdf/offender_statistics/2015/Entire%20Offender%20Characteristics%202015.pdf|report] by the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

A total of 15,193 were housed in regular prisons, while 3,415 were incarcerated in youth complexes. The South Woods State Prison was the facility with the largest population: it housed 3,368 at the end of 2014.

The median total term for inmates was six years, while 37 percent of inmates had sentences longer than 10 years, 5 percent were serving life sentences with parole eligibility, and 78 inmates were serving life sentences without parole.

A total of 57 percent of these inmates were incarcerated for crimes committed against other people: crimes such as murder, attempted murder, robbery, assault, sexual assault, and so on. Another 18 percent of the incarcerated population had been committed for drug offenses, with 82 percent of these offenses being related to sale or distribution. Ten percent were committed for property crimes such as theft and embezzlement, while 11 percent were imprisoned for weapons possession, and 4 percent were committed due to public policy offenses such as gambling or corruption.

These figures are based on the inmate’s “base offense,” the most serious offense attributed to them at time of incarceration.

July 2, 2015

This holiday weekend’s a good time to think about the remarkable job done by the lifeguards who patrol New Jersey’s beaches. An estimated 2,694 people were rescued by Garden State lifeguards in New Jersey in 2014, according to a [link: http://arc.usla.org/Statistics/public.asp|report] by the United States Lifesaving Association.

That number was far greater than the number of rescues in 2013, when 1,158 people were saved by lifeguards in New Jersey.

A total of 5,551,380 people visited New Jersey beaches in 2014, and the year in general was a safe one, with only three deaths reported among beachgoers: two drownings at unattended beaches and one other fatality of an undisclosed nature.

However, the number of fatalities was still up from 2013, when only one drowning was reported.

Most lifeguard rescues last year involved riptides: 1,762 rescues were riptide-related, while 503 were surfing accidents and 62 were described as “swiftwater-related.”

The USLA has calculated that the chance of someone drowning on a lifeguard-monitored beach at one in 18 million.

July 1, 2015

In Chris Christie’s first year as governor, he surprised many New Jerseyans by [link:/assets/15/0630/2239|cutting $7.5 million] for women’s health clinics – money that would be matched by the federal government 9 to 1. At the time, Christie said the issue was budgetary – and although Democrats refused to believe it, many female Republican legislators said they had to stand with the governor due to the budget crisis.

Christie has cut the money every year since then, resulting in the closure of six family planning clinics around the state. And contrary to what he says in New Jersey, he is telling Republican primary voters that his cutting of the funds is evidence of his pro-life commitment. Despite this, female Republican legislators such as Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), and Assemblywomen Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) and Nancy Munoz (R-Union) voted with the governor.

In a written statement, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said “The governor’s claim that his veto is the result of budgetary issues is an insult to the women and families of this state who have lost access to family planning and preventive health care services because of his funding cuts. This has nothing to do with funding, but rather the governor’s need to pander to a national audience.”

Weinberg has been battling with the governor over this issue since his first veto.

June 30, 2015

Strawberry season is already over in New Jersey but the state blueberry harvest is just beginning. Last year, New Jersey farmers sold $79.5 million worth of blueberries – a 40 percent gain over 2013. Farmers are predicting an even bigger crop this year due to beneficial rainfall, according to the NJ Farm Bureau.

New Jersey is known as a leading producer of the Highbush blueberry, considered a superior commercial blueberry.

Strawberry season is already over in New Jersey but the state blueberry harvest is just beginning. Last year, New Jersey farmers sold $79.5 million worth of blueberries – a 40 percent gain over 2013. Farmers are predicting an even bigger crop this year due to beneficial rainfall, according to the NJ Farm Bureau.

New Jersey is known as a leading producer of the Highbush blueberry, considered a superior commercial blueberry.

To find a list of pick-your-own blueberry farms, go to the [link:http://www.visitnjfarms.org|Visit NJ Farms website].

June 29, 2015

Only 54 percent of private companies in New Jersey offer health insurance to their employees, but that’s significantly higher than the national average, which is 50 percent.

For the most part, the lack of insurance coverage for employees relates only to small businesses, since 95.6 percent of companies with 50 employees or more offer health insurance. That’s about the average nationally.

When it comes to companies with 50 or fewer companies, however, the story is different. Only 44 percent of these companies in New Jersey offer health insurance. Yet again, that’s significantly higher than the country in general; nationally, only 35 percent of companies with fewer than 50 employees offer health insurance.

June 26, 2015

Gov. Chris Christie has warned that he’s sharpening his knife to cut the Democrats’ $35.3 billion budget and accompanying tax hike on incomes of more than $1 million. But according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank, the tax hike, and an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage earners that the Democrats passed, wouldn’t do all that much for income inequality. The top 1 percent of earners, according to NJPP, will see their taxes increase 0.4 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of income earners will pay 0.3 percent less.

June 25, 2015

You know summer is here when towns in New Jersey start hosting their own farmers markets. The Department of Agriculture says there are about 150 community farmers markets this season, most of which are only open one or two days a week. But each features local farm produce and often provides displays from local stores and crafts organizations.

Many of the markets will accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) electronic benefit-transfer (EBT) cards, as well as Women Infants Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) coupons, which provide $20 vouchers for locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs

More information and a list of the markets are available on the state Department of Agriculture website.

June 24, 2015

On average, students at New Jersey’s four-year colleges owed $28,109 in student loans when they graduated in 2013, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About 70 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees owed money from student loans.

Surprisingly, the four-year institution with the lowest amount of debt was Princeton University. Only 24 percent of its graduates that year had student loans, and the average was $5,552.

Students with the highest amount of debt went to Georgian Court University in Lakewood, a private Catholic institution, with $37,499 in debt and 87 percent of graduates with loans. Next highest was Rider University in Lawrenceville, with $34,837 in debt and 82 percent of graduates carrying loans.

June 23, 2015

New Jersey Transit is adding four round-trip, one-seat-ride trains from New York to the Jersey shore this summer at a cost of $273,000.

The express trains will operate from New York to Bay Head, with no change required in Newark. Two of the round trips will be geared to beachgoers, one to early-morning travellers, and one to late-evening passengers.

The express service will serve Penn Station New York, Secaucus Junction, Newark Penn Station, Elizabeth, Rahway, Aberdeen-Matawan, Red Bank, Long Branch, Asbury Park, and then all stations to Bay Head, without the need for a transfer in Long Branch. A travel-time savings of approximately 25 minutes is expected from the normal travel time between New York and trains such as Belmar, Manasquan, and Point Pleasant.

The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) authorized the funds through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ).

June 22, 2015

Preliminary U.S. Labor Statistics show that New Jersey added another 10,000 jobs in May, bringing nonagricultural employment to 4.012 million jobs. That’s the highest its been since the Great Recession, and it’s inching closer to the high-water mark of 4.092 million jobs in 2008.

But liberal-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective points out that this is only 72 percent of the jobs lost since 2008, compared with neighboring New York (275 percent) and Pennsylvania (113 percent). Nationally, the country has regained 135 percent of jobs lost.

June 19, 2015

New Jersey has the dubious distinction of being home to 17,000 “zombie” foreclosures as of the second quarter of 2015, the greatest number of any state, according to a report by housing-data website RealtyTrac. A “zombie” occurs when a home is foreclosed on and the occupants move out, but the foreclosure is abandoned or never completed by the bank, leaving the empty home still legally in the owner's possession. This often happens in low-income areas, where lenders do not want to assume responsibility for the property and take on the taxes and upkeep.

These foreclosures cause numerous problems. For example, homes often end up in a state of disrepair because no one is maintaining them, which lowers property values. The owners can also find themselves liable for taxes and other charges on a property they do not even know they still legally own.

The number of “zombies” in New Jersey has climbed 40 percent since the second quarter of 2014. Nationally they were down 10 percent over the same period. One reason for New Jersey’s high “zombie” rate is that the state has the country’s longest foreclosure timeline: Nolo.com reports that New Jersey’s timeline lasts 1,103 days -- more than three years.

There were 70,000 foreclosures in state in the second quarter of this year, out of 527,047 countrywide.

June 18, 2015

There have been [link:http://njsp.org/info/fatalacc/pdf/swfcs2.pdf|221] fatalities related to motor-vehicle accidents thus far in 2015, according to the latest statistics published by the New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit. Those deaths include drivers (119), passengers (37), bicyclists (2), and pedestrians (63). All told, there have been 208 fatal crashes this year, 14 fewer than 2014’s 222 (down 4.7 percent). There were eight more fatalities in 2014 (232) than in 2013 (224), an increase of 3.6 percent.

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