This State of the Borough message was delivered during the Mayor's Breakfast at the First Presbyterian Church on January 18, 2020.
Photos: EG Quinn Photography
MAYOR NEAL ROCHFORD
Thank you and good morning to everyone.
I would like to thank the Lions Club for once again hosting the Mayor’s Breakfast. Thank you as well to The Rev. Bill Getman for making this venue available, and for the blessing today.
This event is a favorite of mine since I get to see so many of you who help make Haddonfield such a fantastic place to live. It also gives me a chance to recap 2019 and to look ahead to 2020.
Anyone who has been around for a while would agree that 2019 was a year of significant change for the Board of Commissioners. Having three commissioners come and go in one year would make even Elizabeth Haddon’s head spin.
First, John Moscatelli resigned, to relocate his family to Vermont. John oversaw Public Works and did a wonderful job in a very demanding portfolio. We wish John and his family the best in their new home in Vermont. After John left the board, Bob Marshall was selected to fill in as interim commissioner. Bob had a long resume of civic engagement and brought a wealth of knowledge to the board. A heartfelt “thank you,” Bob, for serving on the Board of Commissioners. In November, a special election was held in which Colleen Bianco Bezich was elected to the board. She will fill the position until the next general election in May 2021. We welcome Colleen to the board – you will hear from her in a couple of minutes.
Just to keep things interesting, I choose to move over to Public Works and Colleen took over Public Safety. Both portfolios have significant impact on the quality of life here in Haddonfield. (Just as an aside, my first job as a teenager was working for Public Works one summer program, on a clean-up crew.)
• PUBLIC WORKS
The biggest event that hit the borough in 2019 was the storm on June 20. It caused a considerable amount of flooding throughout the borough, and major damage to both private and public property. This was not only in Haddonfield storm event – it affected surrounding communities as well. The borough sought funding from the state and the federal government to help in the recovery, to ease homeowners’ out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the storm. Although the borough put a lot of effort in to secure flood aid, the state and federal governments did not grant any relief.
The commissioners took two major actions after the storm. First, we hired an outside firm to investigate the storm water improvements that were made to Concord Drive, to ascertain if the design of the system was flawed and/or contributed to the flooding that took place. Those results are pending; we expect to have that report before the end of the month. Then, after meeting with neighborhood groups, we asked Remington & Vernick to provide action plans for four areas of Haddonfield that are prone to flooding. That report will be released shortly.
I must warn you that the fixes will not come cheap. Preliminary numbers have put the improvements at $35,000,000. The path forward to relieve flooding during severe storm events will require sacrifices in other areas in need of improvements, and a hit in the pocketbook. Public meetings will be set up in the future to share these plans and cost with Haddonfield residents.
The redevelopment of Bancroft continues. In the early part of 2019, the commissioners introduced an ordinance and follow-up resolutions to set up a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for the townhouse project of 80 units. Because of community concerns, the PILOT was put on hold. The commissioners continue to work with the developer on several new plans that could accomplish more ratables for the borough.
During this period the commissioners have been working with the judge to end the lawsuit with HERD (Haddonfield Encouraging Responsible Development). In order to move forward, the commissioners agreed to seek an age-restricted project. The commissioners explained to the judge that there were many major hurdles to achieve this outcome.
In her ruling, the judge acknowledged that a final agreement still has many issues to overcome. I heard from a lot of people who thought the judge’s ruling meant the project was approved. That is not the case. At this time, there is no agreement between the developer and the borough for age-restricted housing at Bancroft. We continue to negotiate a resolution to the redevelopment of the campus that is in the best interests of the borough.
Steps are being taken to protect Lullworth Hall from vandalism and deterioration. All of us wish we were further ahead on the resolution of Bancroft and that old buildings can be torn down and historical buildings can be preserved. It is our intention to sell Lullworth Hall to someone or a group willing to preserve the structure. The commissioners would like to see this property back on the tax rolls.
The land swap between the borough and the Board of Education should be completed in early 2020. This swap will be a win-win for the borough and the board. Radnor Field will become protected green space that will never be used for development, while the school district will control a valuable piece of property adjacent to the high school.
While negotiations on Bancroft continue, the bonds that were floated to pay for the property are now coming due. Last year, $500,000 went towards bond payments. Continued delays will cost Haddonfield property owners – it’s time to finish this project. The commissioners will be meeting shortly with the developer and the HERD group to get this project jump-started and finished.
At this time I am going to turn it over to Colleen to give some remarks on Public Safety.
COMMISSIONER COLLEEN BIANCO BEZICH
Good morning. I am happy to report that to the best of my recollection, for the first time in many years, Lions finally outnumber Rotarians on the Borough Commission!
In all seriousness, I’m very excited to stand before you all today as Director of Public Safety. In the interest of time, and given that I’m only eight weeks into my tenure, I’m not going to share statistics with you today. Please know that I am always available to share statistics and public information with any of you as we move forward.
In the coming year, I look forward to working with Chief of Police Jason Cutler and Fire Chief Lou Frontino, as well as Linda Harrington, our Emergency Management Coordinator, to continue providing comprehensive, responsive, and proactive safety measures in our community.
Before continuing, I’d like to publicly thank Sam Trotman for his service to our Borough as Fire Chief, and for his ongoing service as a first responder. We are all very grateful for the many measures implemented by Sam, and for his leadership.
I’m also excited to oversee our community development functions, including the Zoning Board and Construction Office. This goes hand-in-hand with my role as liaison to the Partnership for Haddonfield. My goal is to continue the promotion of Downtown Haddonfield, including the retention and recruitment of businesses which will meet the needs of residents and improve our overall quality of life in an ever-changing retail and service-based landscape.
In closing, I’d like to thank the many volunteers in our community. Everyone who is here today, whether you are a member of the Auxiliary Police, a School Board member, or a member of one of the many other boards, commissions, or service organizations here in Haddonfield, our Borough is better because of ALL of you. This is especially true of our Citizen of the Year.
On Monday, we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of his quotes that has spoken to me since my childhood is this: “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” As we sit here today, I ask that you continue to serve our community and extend a hand to those in need, and those who can join in giving. And, I thank you for the opportunity to serve our community along with you. I look forward to continuing this commitment to service during my time as Commissioner.
Thank you all.
Thank you, Colleen.
• AFFORDABLE HOUSING
In 2019 the borough came to an agreement with Fair Share Housing over the Borough’s affordable housing obligation. The agreement calls for ten units at Bancroft which will be paid by the developer. In addition, a 28-unit building behind Borough Hall will be built using affordable housing fees collected by the borough. Other areas in Haddonfield were identified as potential sites for affordable housing in the future. This agreement will allow the borough to receive its Third Round Certification from the state, which protects the borough from potential builder lawsuits.
• OTHER TOPICS
- The borough will maintain an aggressive road program in 2019. Twelve roads were repaved in 2019. Another ten will be paved in 2020.
- Another concern that the borough faces is skyrocketing trash and recycling costs. Due to worldwide markets, tipping fees will rise significantly. We expect to incur steep increases when our current contracts expire.
- The Shade Tree Commission is working under the leadership of Robin Potter to protect and enhance the borough’s tree canopy. Over 80 trees were planted. About 200 were taken down. The borough maintains an aggressive program of tree protection during construction projects. Our efforts in maintaining borough trees has paid off. I receive many compliments from visitors and residents about how beautiful the tree-lined streets are in Haddonfield.
I’m going to ask Jeff to come up and talk about the borough budget and finances.
COMMISSIONER JEFF KASKO
Thank you, Mayor Rochford.
Commissioner Bezich, President Stedman, fellow Lions, distinguished guests, and fellow residents –
I am again very honored to be with you this morning and to share some remarks about the town’s municipal operations and finances.
Let me begin by saying that serving with Mayor Neal Rochford, Commissioner John Moscatelli, and Interim Commissioner Bob Marshall in 2019 was a positive and rewarding experience for me, because all three of them served with distinction and dedication last year, striving to do their best and make informed decisions on behalf of the residents of Haddonfield. And welcoming Commissioner Colleen Bianco Bezich as a member of the Board of Commissioners at the end of the year and switching some of our responsibilities has made me realize that while change might be unexpected, it is something that we should not fear – but rather celebrate and accept as we all work together to find common ground and address the many issues we face as a governing body and community.
2019 was my eleventh year as Commissioner of Revenue and Finance, and while some of the same challenges exist year after year, last year also presented with us with some new issues and tests that required us go beyond the usual ways of operating and addressing the needs of our town and its residents.
Some of the issues and problems we addressed came without warning, while others are ongoing or repeat challenges. But no matter what particular matter needed our attention, and may need our continued attention this coming year, all of us remain committed to working collaboratively with residents, professionals, and staff to find solutions that will benefit the residents of Haddonfield, now and in the future – whether addressing the redevelopment of the Bancroft property, complying with state and federal laws and regulations, or balancing the demands for increased government services with fiscal responsibility and a reasonable tax burden.
I am pleased to report that the state of the borough’s municipal finances is strong, even as we face additional mandates and challenges year after year. While we needed to raise an additional half million dollars in last year’s budget to fund debt payments for the purchase of the Bancroft property, the remainder of the borough’s government spending remained relatively flat. Our property tax collection rate improved from a very strong 98.34 percent in 2018 to an even better 98.63 percent in 2019. That positive news means that we will not need to increase the reserve for uncollected taxes this coming year and it resulted in fewer tax liens and foreclosures throughout town.
In addition, we realized an increase in townwide property valuations of about $17,000,000 last year, which is welcome news as we finalize this year’s budget and property tax rate. While we will need to continue addressing some rising costs, including investments in property improvements and public infrastructure, it remains my goal to keep any increase in property taxes to a minimum – or even flat over the amount we needed to raise last year – while maintaining the level of service and investment that residents expect and deserve from their town government.
Last year’s municipal spending totaled approximately $19,000,000, which was a slight increase over 2018. The largest items to fund continue to be salaries, capital improvements, health insurance costs, debt service payments, the reserve for uncollected taxes, pension contributions, and operation of our public library. Some of those categories increased last year, in addition to a significant hike in the tipping fees we need to pay for trash disposal. I anticipate this coming year’s municipal budget to have some slight increases in those same categories.
Last year’s capital improvement spending, which is a mix of current budget appropriations, debt, and grant funds, included $2,500,000 for roads, and more than $1,300,000 for storm water and drainage, public works vehicles and equipment, improvements to facilities, fields and grounds, police vehicles and equipment, computer equipment, and library improvements. I expect this year’s capital budget to plan for about the same amount of spending.
In addition to Budget and Finance responsibilities, I also served as the commissioners’ representative on our downtown Partnership for Haddonfield board and the Municipal Alliance board last year. Both of these boards and their programs have continued to meaningfully contribute to our community, and I want to thank those who volunteer with both of them for their time and efforts. This year, we made the decision to have Commissioner Bezich serve on the Partnership Board, while I have joined the Planning Board and will continue to serve on the Municipal Alliance board in 2020.
In closing, I would like to thank all who have dedicated their time and their talent to helping me and the other commissioners in our roles overseeing municipal government in Haddonfield. This includes our borough staff, our professionals and consultants, and the many residents who volunteer on the borough’s boards and committees. I am confident that in the year ahead, we will continue to address issues and problems that come our way, as we did in 2019, and try our best to prepare for the known and unknown challenges of the future.
Thank you for granting me time to address you this morning and for the honor and privilege of serving as a borough commissioner.
Thank you Jeff.
As I stand here today, Haddonfield continues to thrive.
- Our school system continues to produce the best students in South Jersey. The best in academics! The best in sports! The best in the arts! And the New Jersey Teacher of the Year – Kim Dickstein Hughes! The school’s construction is complete and students, faculty, and staff are able to use newly updated facilities. I thank the school board for the long hours and dedication they provide to educate our children.
- Our library is a hub for information and programs to serve our residents, young and old. If you haven’t been to our library lately, I urge you to check it out.
- Haddonfield’s business district continues to thrive, with many new restaurants opened in 2019. Make your reservations early for Valentine’s Day!
- The housing market is strong. Haddonfield has become the go-to community to move to, in the region.
The coming year is full of possibilities:
- Installing more outdoor sculptures to line Kings Highway.
- Enhancing our programs for senior citizens.
- Lullworth Hall brought back to its past splendor so that we can all be proud of our historic past.
- Turning 65 Haddon property back onto the tax roll.
- Improving recreational facilities for our youth and families.
- Continuing the process of improving storm water management.
- Welcome existing residents and new residents to new homes on the redeveloped Bancroft campus.
- Moving from state-certified silver to gold in Haddonfield’s efforts in sustainable programs.
- Bringing a renewed effort of inclusiveness to all residents of Haddonfield.
It is my hope in 2020 and in this new decade that we will all work on the values that tie us together as a community. Let’s up our game and foster a heightened spirit of community – friendliness, compassion, and caring for one other.
I always tell people that Haddonfield didn’t get this way by accident – it has taken a lot of work by your local government, as well as volunteers and organizations to make Haddonfield such an amazing place. I thank all who serve on our boards and committees for your time and talents to keep Haddonfield the envy of South Jersey.
As your board of commissioners, we will continue to provide the leadership and services that will continue to make Haddonfield flourish.
Thank you. It is an honor to serve you.