This State of the Borough message was delivered during the Mayor's Breakfast at the First Presbyterian Church on January 20, 2018.
MAYOR NEAL ROCHFORD
Good morning, and "Happy 2018" to everyone here today for the annual Mayor's Breakfast. I am pleased to make a few remarks and excited to announce the Citizen of the Year for 2018.
I would like to thank the Presbyterian Church for once again hosting this event and Fr. Pat Close from Grace Church for filling in for our absent host, The Rev. Bill Getman, and leading us prayer. You all know my fellow commissioners, Jeff Kasko and John Mosacatelli. I'd like to give a shout-out to our wives Laura, Terry, and Beth. Without their guidance and patience we could not serve on your behalf.
The biggest developments in 2017? Well, let's just say it's now possible to hoist a beer legally on Kings Highway – for the first time since 1873. New state laws allow micro- and nano-breweries to open in dry towns like Haddonfield. And in case you haven’t heard – a new president of the United States was sworn in this time last year. If you didn't know then what Twitter is, you certainly know now.
Our borough also had an election – for the Board of Commissioners in May. All three incumbents were reelected, unopposed. The only change was in the seating arrangement. I would like to compliment Jeff and John, and thank all of you who felt we deserved another term as your commissioners. We are honored to serve you and this great community.
The three of us have worked very hard to build consensus and make sound decisions for the good of the borough. And we have all commented on the invaluable contributions our resident volunteers make to keep the borough running smoothly. Many of you here today serve on boards and service organizations and help out in other ways. You work long hours for the betterment of the community we live in. This is your Haddonfield and you certainly make the best of it. Jeff and John and I thank all of you for your dedication and passion.
During 2017, we worked on:
- The re-development plan for Bancroft
- New ideas for Boxwood Hall
- A whole lot of road and utility construction
- Improvements to the Borough website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram platforms
- Outdoor sculptures. A few new ones have come in and some old ones have left. Margaret Bancroft is in her new home in Mt. Laurel.
- Improving recreation areas – repaving Centennial tennis courts and a new pavilion at Crows Wood Gardens, for example.
Our Borough Administrator has been working on a new strategic visioning initiative in which your input on the Borough's strengths and weaknesses is being evaluated so that in the future we can serve you better. Our employees are continually looking at ways they can provide services in the most cost-effective manner. Townwide surveys were sent out and small group discussions were held for your input. The results of the data collected will be released in early spring. Your thoughts and suggestions will help us make government more user-friendly in the future.
Keeping Haddonfield taxes low is always a priority as we work to improve the borough, so I’m going to ask Commissioner Jeff Kasko, our Director of Revenue and Finance, to review his portfolio.
COMMISSIONER JEFFREY S. KASKO
Thank you, Mayor Rochford. I would like to thank everyone for being here this morning and especially thank my fellow Lions for again hosting this annual breakfast. It is a great privilege to be with you and I am so honored to be able to share some remarks about the Borough’s operations and finances.
Let me start by saying that it is a pleasure to continue working with both Neal and John on the Board of Commissioners. The three of us bring different perspectives, and sometimes voice differences of opinion, but we share the same desire to find common ground, work as a team, and do our best for the residents of Haddonfield. After last year’s election, we are now in our fifth year of serving together, and I am grateful that both Neal and John are dedicated and serious about working with me and others on the issues and challenges in our great community.
2017 was my ninth year as Commissioner of Revenue and Finance, and while there have been budget and operational changes over that period, we still face some of the same challenges as the day I was first sworn in with a determination to preserve what was working in our town government and fix what needed improvement.
When the fourth grade students come to visit Borough Hall each year, I explain to them how important the municipal budget is, that everything we do – from providing police and fire services, running a library, collecting trash and recycling, plowing and paving streets, managing parks, trees and playing fields to collecting taxes, licensing dogs and cats, and issuing construction permits – can only be done when authorized as line-items in the budget. And so the function of planning these services and raising enough revenue to pay for them is among the most challenging things we face every year.
Last year was no different, although I think it’s fair to say that some of the decisions we have made in the past have helped us financially while the state provides no increases in funding and we strive to not raise property taxes, which fund almost 70 percent of Borough expenses. I try not to complain when it comes to state aid and some of the decisions that are made in Trenton, because I know that others in this town – members of the Board of Education – have an even tougher time with budgeting, since almost all of our school funding comes from property taxes.
As many of you may know, our Borough's Finance Office collects the taxes for the Borough, the School District, the County, and our Business Improvement District – approximately $67 million annually. I am happy to report that our tax collection rate in 2017 was 99.13 percent. I want to thank every tax-paying business and homeowner in this room and throughout town for making that happen! I am also happy to report that our ratables increased by almost $16 million last year, for a total town-wide property valuation of approximately $2.27 billion. That helps us when it comes to the budget, so I am working with our Borough Administrator and Chief Financial Officer to craft another zero percent property tax increase for this year’s municipal budget.
Our annual debt service payments of about $1 million remain manageable, thanks, in part, to the proceeds from the sale of our water and sewer utility. We have authorized an additional $13 million in notes to pay for the purchase of the Bancroft property, but I am hopeful that the Bancroft redevelopment plan we have put in place will allow us to pay that debt and have some money left over to fund some public amenities on that property in the future.
In addition to finance responsibilities, I am also the Borough’s representative on our downtown improvement district board – the Partnership for Haddonfield. In 2017, the Partnership continued to fund and sponsor many successful events and marketing and public relations initiatives, including the annual craft show, sidewalk sales, food truck nights, Small Business Weekend, Candlelight Shopping, professional networking breakfasts, special events like Girls' Night Out, and the townwide gift certificate and property tax rebate card programs. At a time when Internet sales, shopping malls, and big-box-stores continue to compete with small town businesses, I am pleased that the Partnership for Haddonfield remains an essential asset in keeping downtown Haddonfield a vibrant and successful destination to visit – and to walk, eat, and shop.
Finally, I would like to comment on one of my new areas of responsibility, which I swapped with Mayor Rochford – working with our Municipal Alliance to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. I have asked the Municipal Alliance board – and will be presenting a proposal that includes funding from town organizations, individuals, and the Borough – to lead an effort to raise awareness and educate residents about the horrible opioid crisis we are facing. Some may think this crisis doesn’t touch Haddonfield or its residents, but it does. Opioids – which include prescription drugs and street drugs like synthetic Fentanyl and heroin – are being used by people in this town as we speak, and killed at least four young people in Haddonfield over the past few years. That's four human beings too many, in my opinion. I have learned that there is a significant amount of ignorance and sometimes a total lack of awareness of what opioids are, where people get them, and how easy it is for someone you know to become addicted. We cannot stand by and just watch this happen. I hope this proposed campaign will increase knowledge, let residents know where and when to get assistance and treatment, and help save lives. And I hope we can count on the entire Haddonfield community to be supportive of this effort.
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak with you this morning, for the trust you put in me and Neal and John, and for granting me the great honor of serving on our town’s Board of Commissioners.
Before I ask John to come up, I would like to speak about what’s going on in the public works area and I would like to talk briefly about our school district.
It has been a challenging year with the construction projects at all of the school buildings, but even with all the construction Haddonfield sports teams continue to excel, with football, field hockey, and boys' cross country leading the way. There's nothing like a fire truck parade down Kings Highway to bring smiles to our athletes' faces. Our students continue to excel in academics and the arts. Two of our schools in recent years have been given the prestigious Blue Ribbon designation. I'd like to thank all the coaches, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, teachers aides, bus drivers, crossing guards, and staff for giving our children a safe, nurturing safe place to learn. To the hard-working parents – you work so hard to keep our kids motivated, homework, car pools, game attendance, the late dinners, the doctors' visits … you make it happen. We should have a fire truck parade for you!
We say good bye to Dr. Rich Perry, and wish him well. We thank him for his commitment and dedication during his time here as superintendent. Many goals and objectives were achieved during his time here. We welcome the interim superintendent to lead our school district until a new superintendent is chosen. I would like to congratulate the school board and the teachers union for coming to terms on a new contract. And I would also like to commend everyone in the borough for their patience in dealing with the inconvenience that the construction has imposed upon us.
I'd like to invite John to fill us in on a very busy year at public works and also on the Bancroft project.
COMMISSIONER JOHN MOSCATELLI
Good morning. First, I’d like to thank the Lions Club for inviting us to this wonderful event.
Since the Mayor has hit most of the main issues, I’ll be brief in giving specific updates on a few issues in my portfolio of Public Works, Parks, and Property.
Road conditions continue to be one of the biggest challenges we face. In 2017 we continued our higher level of roads program spending, reconstructing 21 blocks of borough roads at a cost of about $2 million. I would like to thank all the residents and businesses impacted by the roads construction for their patience. Construction is always inconvenient. For those living on streets currently in poor condition – we are getting to them, in order of need, as quickly as we can with the resources we have. In 2018 we anticipate funding of the roads program at 2017 levels and reconstructing 25 blocks of roadway. The preliminary list of roads to be reconstructed through 2021 is posted on the Borough website.
At Public Works we continued to replace worn-out capital equipment, purchasing a new recycling truck, a leafier, and a much-needed street sweeper in 2017. We will take delivery of the street sweeper this week, and you will see it out on the roads frequently.
Shade trees remain a challenge for the Borough. Diseases continue to decimate our red oaks, pin oaks, and ash trees. As I’m sure everyone has seen, we are taking down trees all over town. I would like to thank the Shade Tree Commission for all their efforts managing our shade trees, as well as the branch managers who assist us by volunteering their time pruning trees. You may have noticed that construction sites around town have fencing around the Borough's shade trees. This fencing is to protect the trees roots and help the trees survive the construction process. Looking at data from past years, we have found that construction activity often kills unprotected trees, leaving the removal cost to the taxpayers. In 2017 we continued planting new trees to the extent we could. I would like to strongly encourage all residents to consider planting large shade trees on their private property. The Borough is doing everything it can to maintain our canopy, but most land is privately owned. If we want to maintain the canopy Haddonfield is known for, we need to have shade trees on more than just the streets.
At the Mabel Kay House we made some much-needed foundation repairs. The programs at Mabel Kay continue to be well-run and well-attended.
In other capital work, the Borough completely reconstructed the Centennial tennis and basketball courts. We also constructed a new parking lot in the downtown area off Stiles Avenue. We are just waiting for the lighting in this lot before we open it to the public.
In June of 2017, the commissioners agreed to allow Boxwood Arts twelve months to move an application for their proposed arts center through the approval process.
I’d now like to take a few moments to discuss the status of the Bancroft property. The commissioners will be releasing a more detailed statement updating the community on this issue, which will be available in the Sun and Haddonfield Today, as well as on the Borough website.
Bancroft has opened its new facility in Mt. Laurel, and will completely vacate the Haddonfield campus by the end of this month. Many of you are no doubt aware that the commissioners recently asked the Planning Board to review some proposed changes to the redevelopment plan, which was initially adopted in April 2016. The Planning Board had many concerns about the proposed changes. While the commissioners will be implementing most of the proposed changes to the redevelopment plan, we will take those comments very seriously as we move forward with an actual site plan. To that end, as the project progresses, the commissioners will hold a public meeting to get input on a site plan and building elevations. Based on this input, the developer will proceed with an application to the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Board.
One question I’m frequently asked is: "Why we can’t just get rid of the developer and select someone else?" Or, to put it another way, "We own the property – why can’t we do what we want?" I get this. For very understandable reasons, the developer is not particularly popular around town. But here’s the problem: After the developer entered into a contract to purchase the property from Bancroft, with the intent of opening a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, then-mayor Kasko did a remarkable job of negotiating with the developer to allow the Borough to purchase the property. However, the agreement was not entirely one-sided, and the developer does retain rights to develop the residential portion of site. Presently, the developer is NOT interested in walking away from the project.
This means that, short of a potentially lengthy and expensive legal action, the Borough is required to work with the developer in this process. If we did pursue terminating the developer’s rights, we would be required to start repaying the bonds during that period, which would result in a significant tax increase for borough residents. Therefore, it is clearly to the benefit of the borough to move this project forward. The commissioners feel the changes proposed to the redevelopment plan are minor, and well in keeping with the spirit and intent of the original redevelopment plan, and the commitment the commissioners made to the residents of Haddonfield.
I thank you for your time and attention, and I’m happy to turn things back over to Mayor Rochford.
Thank you John. Very busy indeed.
I want to very briefly update you on public safety – police, fire, and ambulance. All continue to perform at a high level of professionalism.
The fire company, under the leadership of Chief Sam Trotman, attracts first-rate volunteers. Many hours of training go into keeping the second-oldest volunteer company in the country in tip-top shape.
- The Fire Company has 40 volunteers
- A new Pierce fire engine replaced two other pieces of apparatus
- Fire call in 2017 = 505
- The Ambulance has 8 full-time EMTs
- Emergency medical calls in 2017 = 1,003
The Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Ted Stuessy, has implemented a rigorous hiring and promotion process in order to get the best possible candidates to serve our department. We anticipate a number of retirements and promotions in the Police Department in 2018. Through Project Medicine Drop, over 500 pounds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs were deposited for destruction. The department organized another successful Police and Community Day. The police also reconstituted their bike patrol as well as an explorer program for young people who may be interested in law enforcement in the future. Community policing is what we strive for in Haddonfield and that is something we will continue to work towards.
Our crime statistics look good:
- Burglaries – down 17%
- Larceny assaults – down 38%
- Car thefts – down 100%
- Arson – just 1 in 2017
We renewed the shared municipal court agreement with Audubon, saving Haddonfield taxpayers significant expenditures. The auxiliary police donated over 320 hours for major town events in 2017. They are always looking for new volunteers.
Under the leadership of Steve Walko, the construction office was very busy with permit applications and inspections.
- Construction permits – 942
- New home permits – 15
- Additions permits – 75
- Certificates of approval – 879
- Subdivisions – 4
- Historic District applications – 41
An initiative that should bear fruit in 2018 is a land use subcommittee reviewing our zoning ordinances to advise the commissioners on changes that could enhance the borough and protect it from over-development.
In closing, I would like to thank the Lions Club for the hard work they put into this breakfast and for all of their service projects throughout the year. 2018 is going to be a busy and productive time in Haddonfield. I thank the Borough employees for their dedication and hard work throughout the year. Our borough continues to get better day after day and I can think of no other place where I would like to live and raise a family.
Finally, I leave you with this: Go EAGLES. This is OUR year!