This State of the Borough message was delivered during the Mayor's Breakfast at the First Presbyterian Church on January 19, 2019.
MAYOR NEAL ROCHFORD
Good morning. I guess it’s time for us to earn our keep.
Along with Commissioner Jeff Kasko and Commissioner John Moscatelli, I am pleased to be here this morning to give you all the pulse of the Borough, and thoughts about 2019.
First, I would like to thank the Lions Club of Haddonfield for hosting the Mayor's Breakfast today, and The Rev. Bill Getman for his prayer.
Haddonfield is blessed to have so many of our residents, organizations, services organizations involved in the wellbeing of the borough. It is indeed a pleasure to see so many of you here this morning.
I will be giving a brief review of public safety, the construction office and various other items. John will give a brief review of the public works department. And Jeff will speak about revenue and finance as well as to the health of our business district.
Let‘s start out with some good news: Haddonfield was designated the most charming community in the United States by Reader's Digest. What an honor! I received a very nice text from Governor Murphy, congratulating us on the recognition. In reply, I told him that we are indeed gratified by the recognition and he is welcome to visit Haddonfield at any time. More recently, Haddonfield was recognized as the best place to live in New Jersey, by 24/7 Wall Street. Our business district and school district continue to receive reconnections for excellence as well. More on that later.
If I had to sum up 2018, it would be the year of personnel change. Within in the borough, the following retirements took place: Police Chief Ted Stuessy; Construction Official Steve Walko; Chief Financial Officer Terry Henry; Chief Purchasing Agent Ann Fry. Our borough family will miss them and we wish them well in the new phase of their lives. I am happy to report that all these positions have been filled either by current employees or new hires.
Let me comment on our new Police Chief Jason Cutler. Jason is a 24-year veteran of the Police Department. He has hit the road running with our continued efforts to promote community policing in Haddonfield. May I introduce you to Jason Cutler. In January we will begin a new activity called the Chief’s Corner where the Chief will be available at a local establishment to discuss residents’ questions and concerns. The first one will be at Jersey Java on January 29 from 9:30am to noon. This will be a quarterly event.
Several years ago, in conjunction with the Municipal Alliance, we purchased a prescription-drug depository. It is located in the lobby of the Police Department. With that we also received a portable unit that we will begin to take to various locations and events during 2019.
The newest member of our Police Department is a canine. Officer Blue will begin his training immediately by getting used to interacting with the public and riding in Officer Sorg’s vehicle. In approximately eight months, Officer Blue will begin his formal training which will take eight weeks. Let’s bring out Haddonfield's new super star – Officer Blue – with his handler, Officer Jake Sorg!
Community Policing Committee – This new committee will be a sounding board between the police and community to share information and discuss community concerns. Here is the breakdown of the committee: Police member, School member, Partnership member, second business member, Two resident members, Council of Churches member, and Civic Association member. We will be advertising for the second business member and the two residents members.
The borough plans on installing and upgrading cameras in certain areas of the business district and other borough property as a deterrent to criminal activity.
I would like to thank our police for the many community based intuitive that continue, including: Police Community Day, Police Explorer program, and community outreach programs. I would also recognize our Auxiliary Police for the excellent job they do and their long tradition of keeping our citizens and visitors safe during public events.
I would like to update you on the Bancroft site. In 2018, the commissioners continued to work with our planners, engineers, appropriate boards, and our affordable housing experts so that we can move forward in 2019 to begin the redevelopment of the site. Several lawsuits will also have to be settled in order to move forward.
Jeff, John and I, as your elected commissioners, have been steadfast in our vision for the site which is: Use a portion of the site for age-targeted housing; promote open space; and protect the historic buildings on the site.
We are also aware of and supportive of the school district's desire to use the site for future education needs. It is also our commitment to accomplish all of these goals in a way that the tax burden for the purchase of the property will not fall on to the backs of our residents.
It is our goal to address the borough’s state affordable housing obligation and to receive our third-round certification in 2019. We have made progress in our mediations with Fair Share Housing and anticipate a settlement being reached in the early part of 2019. Once this is accomplished, we will be able to move forward with Bancroft and the affordable housing on Snowden Lot. I know affordable housing is controversial, but the New Jersey Supreme Court has decided all municipalities must provide a certain amount, and unless the Legislature steps in, which looks unlikely, we have to comply.
At this time I ask Commissioner Moscatelli to come forward to share with all of you comments on the Bancroft site as well as 65 Haddon Avenue and Public Works.
COMMISSIONER JOHN MOSCATELLI
Good morning. 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 Public Works and Property.
Roads continue to be one of the biggest challenges we face. In 2018 we continued our higher level of roads program spending, reconstructing 18 blocks of Borough roads at a cost of about $1.8 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 2019 we anticipate funding of the roads program at 2018 levels and reconstructing 15 blocks of roadway. The preliminary list of roads to be reconstructed through 2021 is currently posted on the Borough website.
At Public Works we continued to replace worn-out capital equipment, purchasing a new recycling truck, roll-off truck, and two replacement pick-up trucks in 2018.
In other capital work, the Borough made significant repairs to the PATCO deck on Euclid, as well as installing under-road drainage at the intersection of Avondale and Redman – an intersection right near Lizzy Haddon that had a history of retaining water and ice. We also reconstructed the Centennial athletic field. This project had a few unwelcome bumps along the way, forcing us to cancel fall play on the field, but it’s now back on track and we fully expect it to be open for use in the spring.
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. We continue to work with the construction office to ensure construction activities adequately protect our street trees, which prevents the taxpayers from having to pay to remove injured trees down the road. In 2018 we planted 85 new trees, and in 2019 we plan on two rounds of planting; 98 trees in the spring and 35 in the fall. Through the efforts of the Shade Tree Commission we were fortunate enough to obtain a grant for $27,000 to assist in planting trees.
At the Mabel Kay Senior Center, the programs continue to be well run and well attended. Mary Ann Bigelow retired from her position at Interfaith Caregivers and stepped down as the chair for the Senior Citizen Commission. I would like to thank Mary Ann for her leadership and service and wish her well in her retirement. Jo Pecorelli has kindly volunteered to take over the chair. I’m confident she will do an outstanding job. Seniors aged 55 and better are welcome to attend programs at Mabel Kay. We are actively working on increasing our programming to draw in younger seniors. To that end, Mabel Kay recently added a mahjong program. We hope more residents will come see what the Senior Center has to offer.
After the Boxwood Arts group decided plans for Boxwood Hall were not feasible, the Borough began looking at other ways to move forward. Our two main concerns about Boxwood are making sure whoever purchases the property honors the history of Boxwood Hall, and that the use is acceptable to the Borough. In order to facilitate this, the Borough, with the agreement of the Planning Board, declared Boxwood as an Area in Need of Rehabilitation. A formal Rehabilitation Plan will be coming to the Planning Board for review in early in 2019. After that we will be able to solicit proposals from interested parties and the Commissioners will be able to choose the proposal we think best fits the site. Without this designation the property would have been put up for auction and sold to the highest bidder.
I’d now like to take a few moments to update the status of the Bancroft property.
As the Mayor mentioned, we are moving forward with a land swap with the School Board to take ownership of Radnor Field and give the Board what we’ve unofficially been calling the “Hopkins Parcel.” This is the portion of the Bancroft site between the High School and Hopkins Lane, not including Lullworth Hall. Lullworth Hall will be subdivided and sold, most likely for office space. The balance of the property, including Cooley Hall, the Carriage House, and the Greenhouse will be swapped with the School Board and used for educational purposes. The Borough will take ownership of Radnor Field, where we will use our Green Acres Grants to protect that property as we continue to use it for recreational purposes. There are a number of appraisals and approvals needed for this to happen, and we are winding our way through them.
On the other side of Hopkins, the developer has been working hard to bring an application fully in conformance with the approved Redevelopment Plan. We expect we will be executing a Developers Agreement and a Financial Agreement in the next few months. We also expect the developer will shortly begin the approval process for the plans; starting with the Shade Tree Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission, and eventually to the Planning Board. Once these approvals are granted, the developer will purchase the property from the Borough, approximately 8 acres, and begin the development process.
I thank you for your time and attention, and I’m happy to turn things back over to Mayor Rochford.
Thank you, John, for your efforts in these areas. A lot of hard work and significant time has been spent for the betterment of our borough. Speaking of hard work and a time-consuming commitment, I would like Commissioner Kasko to share his thoughts on his areas of responsibility, Revenue and Finance, and the health of the business district.
COMMISSIONER JEFF KASKO
Thank you, Mayor Rochford.
I am pleased to report that the financial state of our borough government is very good, and I would like to highlight some of the local budget concerns of interest to people this morning, as well as touch on some of the challenges we face in the coming year.
Last year's municipal budget of approximately $18 million included $11.4 million raised through local real estate taxes. That amount continues to represent about 17 percent of a resident's property tax bill, with the remaining 83 percent dedicated to county and local school spending. A one-cent tax increase for municipal purposes, to 50.46 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, equaled about $50 for the median assessed property value in town last year.
Some of the new and increased investments we made in 2018 – through the annual municipal budget and our capital budget – included additional staff, police security equipment, firehouse and library building improvements, public works vehicles, maintenance and replacement of shade trees, more than a dozen local street paving projects, miscellaneous drainage work, and a new abandoned-home program.
We were also faced with increases for employee wages, pension contributions, utility costs, and principal and interest expenses for debt related to the acquisition of the Bancroft property.
On the revenue side, we had some modest, positive increases in fees and fines, and for construction permits, and additional money from capital surplus funds. But, for the seventh year in a row, we received flat funding from the State of New Jersey. The good news is our tax collection rate remains at a very healthy 98.3 percent.
The borough hall functions under my portfolio, including the tax and finance office, tax assessor, borough clerk, administration, and borough registrar, continue to perform all of the duties required by state and local law. Staff in these offices oversaw the collection of millions of dollars in taxes and fees and issued hundreds of event permits, pet licenses, death certificates, marriage licenses, tax refunds, and public records requests, among other things.
We had several changes in these offices due to the retirement of longtime employees Terry Henry, Anne Frey, and Steve Walko, which resulted in new hires and new roles for some existing staff, including the positions of Chief Financial Officer, Tax Collector, and Finance/Payroll Clerk.
In addition to these municipal functions, I continue to represent the board of commissioners on the business improvement district board – the Partnership for Haddonfield – and on the Municipal Alliance on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
The Partnership continues to operate with a budget consisting of the same business tax rate since its inception 14 years ago. That amount has been supplemented by significant revenue from our annual Crafts and Fine Art Festival, which has grown in popularity and brings thousands of visitors and shoppers to town each summer. The Partnership's efforts to market our downtown as a premier destination, sponsor special events, and recruit new retail and professional businesses in Haddonfield continues to be successful. In these times, when so much shopping and retail purchasing is done online, we are grateful to have a downtown that is vibrant and attractive, with one of the lowest vacancy rates in the area.
Our Municipal Alliance also continues to operate with the same budget, funded by government grants and contributions from community groups like the Haddonfield Rotary Club. Efforts to educate young people and parents, and partner with our schools, on the ongoing challenges of substance abuse and personal responsibility, remain the focus of the Alliance's programs, publications, and outreach. This is something I hope will remain a priority in our community.
Finally, I would like mention some of the challenges we face in the year ahead. The cost of providing local government services is not getting any cheaper. Staff and professional expenses. Equipment and vehicles that need to be replaced. Old buildings and facilities that require constant maintenance. Streets that are deteriorating and need to be reconstructed. Increases for trash and recycling disposal fees. Legal costs for litigation and lawsuits. Moving forward with redevelopment plans so we can pay back the debt acquired for purchasing the Bancroft property.
We must face these and other significant financial challenges by continuing to economize where we can and watching every taxpayer dollar spent, considering options for outsourcing, streamlining and changing the way programs and services are provided, aggressively seeking grants and private funds, and finding additional ways to share costs with others.
Our town is fortunate to have so many residents dedicated to our community and our local government, and to giving their time and talent to help me and the other commissioners face these issues and move Haddonfield forward. Thank you for the opportunity to address these thing with you today, and for the privilege of serving on the board of commissioners.
Thank you Jeff.
It is our commitment to continue to keep our local tax rate as low as possible while still giving our residents the municipal services they deserve.
I have several additional items I would like to share. I will try to keep them brief so we can move on to the naming of the Citizen of the Year 2019.
In 2018, we saw the change of guard at the superintendent position. Long-time superintendent Rich Perry left the district and a new permanent superintendent was named. Larry Mussoline was coaxed out of retirement to lead our school district.
Our school district continues to receive national recognition in academic excellence, STEM education, and Arts and Drama. Recently one teacher, Kimberly Dickstein, was recognized as teacher of the year by her peers for her efforts in helping Garang Buk Buk from South Sudan in his efforts to continue his education in the United States.
Our athletic programs continue to rack up state championships. In 2018 the athletic program received the prestigious ShopRite Cup. It looks like 2019 will be another banner year for our student athletes. Our Fire Department stays very busy giving our student athletes fire truck parades following their state championship wins.
Speaking of our Fire Department, Fire Chief Sam Trotman continues to do an outstanding job running our volunteer fire department and paid EMT services. The borough remains committed to providing the department with the resources it needs to effectively carry out its mission. Thank you, Sam, and to all the volunteers of Haddon Fire Company #1 who give many hours to safety training and fire incidents throughout the year.
Construction Office and new zoning for 2019
Many staff changes have been made within the construction office this year. We anticipate that this will lead to shorter turnaround time for permits and responses. The workload has been divided up among a number of new employees including a full-time Construction Official/Building Inspector; a full-time Zoning Officer; a full-time Enforcement Officer; and three part-time Subcode Officials. New software has been installed which will help in productivity as well.
The Land Use Committee has made recommendations to change certain residential zoning designations and mass and scale requirements. The Commissioners have had their planners review the recommendations and anticipate moving forward with many of the recommendations next month.
Our goal is to keep development appropriate to the character of the community. To that end there will be changes made to the mass and scale of new development as well as protection from inappropriate subdivisions. Many public meetings took place in 2018 and will continue on this very important issue.The commissioners encourage you to attend future public meetings as we roll out final regulations.
Borough Survey recommendations include possible referendum of liquor sales. Other recommendations in regards to borough services also will be evaluated and incorporated into future decision-making.
Several additional items of interest
- I had the opportunity to tour Haddonfield with a representative from the state Motion Picture & Television Commission for the possibility of future movie production here in Haddonfield.
- A shout-out to Stuart Harding and the Outdoor Sculpture Trust.
- Kudos to the Human Relations Commission for sponsoring a well-received round-table forum on gun violence. I am proud to sign off on a Mayor's Commitment to Stop Gun Violence, in coordination with the South Jersey Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense group.
- Many thanks to all those who serve on our boards and commissions.
- Our library stays busy and vibrant.
- A heartfelt thanks to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the parents involved in these two organizations.
Jeff, John and I are so fortunate to have wonderful spouses who support us and believe in us. Terri, Beth and Laura –there is a special place in heaven for allowing us to serve this great community.
2018 was a challenging year in the borough, the country, and the world. At the local level we have risen to those challenges and we will proceed to work in good cheer in this place that I am proud to call home – Haddonfield.