2011-2012 Editorial Blog Entries

October 28, 2012


Pemboro.com Editorial Board Endorsements for the 2012 Borough Council Election

Next week, registered voters in Pemberton Borough will have the opportunity to elect 2 members to the Borough Council for 3-year terms.  There are 3 candidates:  incumbents Norma Ward and Robin Mosher, plus challenger Cliff Rutherford.

The easy choice is Norma Ward.  She has been a welcome addition to the council the past couple of years in terms of professionalism, civic responsibility, and was instrumental in obtaining the parks grant.

The other decision is a little more difficult.  Robin Mosher would not be a bad choice.  He's contributed in a number of positive ways and showed a great deal of generosity in paying for a large portion of the new plaques on the veteran's memorial.  However, we have not been pleased with the direction our little town has been taking over the past years, and some of Mr. Mosher's votes have been disappointing.  Mr. Mosher has stated that he votes in a way he believes is right.  We believe that changes need to be made in the borough.  Cliff Rutherford is no stranger to council meetings, has been an advocate for Hearthstone and other borough issues, and has provided advice to the borough regarding emergency generators.

Readers may note that a split ticket is being recommended:  Ward & Mosher are Republicans, Rutherford is a Democrat.  The thought here is that political party means very little at a municipal level (for example, there's no party platforms) and that the candidates we feel will be the best in representing the needs of the Borough's residents are the ones we should vote for.


Emergency Generators

After a lengthy power outage last year in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, one would presume that expediting procurement of emergency generators for the Borough would be at the top of the administration's to-do list.  Backup generators are needed during electrical outages both to power the municipal building and to pump water from one of the Borough’s wells into the water tower.  If the power had remained off slightly longer last year, we would have been out of water.

However, little action was taken until recently, and the sole bid was rejected at the October 15 Borough Council meeting due to the price being significantly higher than expected. Splitting the bid into 2 separate bids - one for each generator - was recommended and acted upon.  Note that getting to this point took over a year (Irene hit in late August 2011), and even if the first bid had been acceptable, it is doubtful the generators would have been in place for the impending Hurricane Sandy.  We sincerely hope for the best in the upcoming days and that everyone stays safe and no one suffers property damage, but if the worst occurs, the administration's inaction could potentially lead to hardship for residents.


More on the Parks Grant

At the October council meeting, the mayor was asked if there was a deadline for spending the grant money and if there had been any progress.  His respective answers were a year, and essentially nothing, but don't worry as there's plenty of time.  He elaborated that a lot of attention had been needed for the Fall Fest and that some items may be weather dependent.  A follow-up concern was raised that a plan is needed to ensure that we don't run out of money and/or time to complete a big-ticket item (like the track at School Park) while focusing on smaller items.  With this, the mayor resorted to his almost-trademark testiness; rather than giving a reassuring answer that there will be definite progress soon, with a plan to be available to the public.  A second resident also expressed concerns, especially as the emergency generators have taken so long to procure. Council Member Stockton asked that the public keep inquiring to keep the mayor and council on their toes.  Pemboro.com has learned that another source will provide a list of grant items at the next meeting, which will make this task easier.

 The Burlington County Times published an article on 10/25 about the success of 3 rounds of the county’s Municipal Park Development grants (note that Pemberton Borough has only participated in one).  An interesting point was made regarding municipalities extending their grant money with volunteers.  Despite at least several residents offering to volunteer (including 2 members of the Pemboro.com editorial board), we are not aware of any attempt to engage them, or even discuss what could be offered.

  

September 7, 2012

Parks Grant

As of Monday, 8/20, Pemberton Borough was waiting for direction from the county regarding the Burlington County municipal park development grant.  It’s fantastic that we were awarded close to the maximum $250,000 ($234,250) for long-needed improvements to Mill Creek Park (on Hanover Street, on the east side of the bridge) and School Park (next to the old school on Early Street).  Per Council Member Norma Ward, some of the ideas suggested by Pemboro.com were submitted in the grant application.  Funds were granted for renovation of School Park’s track, addition of some playground equipment and perhaps exercise stations, plus a new pavilion at Mill Creek Park.  Hopefully replacing the rusty monkey bars there is also on the list.  Kudos to Municipal Clerk Donna Mull for obviously doing a nice job with the grant submission.

Pemboro.com was astonished to hear that at least one member of the borough council did not feel we needed a grant.  With the condition of our parks, it can only be surmised that there’s a lack of attention to some important facilities in town by at least one of our elected officials.  If confirmed, this will be discussed here further.

Walking the Town (or Borough)

That leads to a suggestion:  every elected official should take it upon themselves to periodically walk (or bike, drive, ride) the entirety of the Borough.  We’re just 0.7 square miles, so this can be done in just a few hours by walking, less if using a vehicle.  There’s a perception that many things are overlooked; these would be much more apparent if only a little time was spent off the usual routes.  This not only allows the mayor and council the opportunity to see things from another perspective (not just hearing about them at the public portion of monthly meetings) but also reach out more to us, their constituents.  Doing this once a month does not seem too much to ask, and should even be at least somewhat enjoyable.

To our elected officials – if you don’t feel you have the time to do this, perhaps you should examine if you have time to perform a thorough job in your elected position.

Special Meetings and the Borough’s Official Website

A public notice was published in the September 7, 2012 Burlington County Times regarding a special Borough Council meeting on September 11.  However, the official municipal website makes no mention of this meeting.  The public notice, buried among many others, can be easily overlooked, and most residents interested in attending the meeting would not know about it until mentioned in the next regular meeting’s agenda.  A cynic might think that Borough officials prefer most of the public not attend.

It was impressive to see all the information regarding the annual Fall Fest on the official website, including the very modern use of Google Maps and QR codes.  This must have taken far longer to do than the minute or so that would have been needed to post notice of the meeting.  Pemboro.com urges the Borough to post future notices on the official website in a timely manner, and would be glad to post any future public notices here (send to notices@pemboro.com).

An aside - someone should check for typos:  there are at least 2 on the main page:  “Spetember” and “Vendor’s”.

For the latest attempt to poke fun at our officials, view Cartoon20120825.jpg.

Pemberton Rail Trail

Not much has changed since the editorial below on February 5.  The Museum and Rail Trail are still closed, the railroad cars are still there, Pemberton Township Mayor David Patriarca is still acting like a petulant child, and the Pemberton Historical Trust is still being stubborn.

The Burlington County Times ran an editorial and 2 articles regarding this issue in the past couple of days.  Pemboro.com strongly agrees with the BCT editorial.  Patriarca's statements to the BCT are basically interpreted here as, "I don't care if my constituents want the trains to stay and the museum and trail to reopen - I won't change my mind.  I'm going to continue to litigate even though it is costing lots of money."  Wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars is an unconscionable act, especially in this economy.  One wonders what essential service in the township will suffer as a result.

Patriarca provides no justification for the continued closure of the trail.  (Fortunately for Borough residents, we can still use the south branch of the trail starting behind Clark's Canoe Rentals.)  The perception here is that he is punishing people for supporting the Trust.  Pemboro.com hopes that Township voters remember this when their mayor is up for re-election.



July 8, 2012

Professionalism

Professionalism is something most of us expect from our elected officials, especially during public meetings.  This isn’t the first time unprofessional behavior has occurred (see the December 19, 2011 editorial); in fact, it has been chronic.  Spirited debate is a staple of American democracy, and while not to everyone’s taste, it is viewed here as a positive, and even as having some entertainment value.  However, public displays of disrespect, talking while another elected official is speaking, and similar unprofessional, or even immature, behavior is neither expected nor desired.

Despite members of the public calling out this behavior in the past, two members of the Borough council persist in regular displays – specifically, William Wilson and Stewart Thompson.  Mr. Wilson’s despicable slur in December has already been mentioned here.  Anyone sitting in the audience near these council members during meetings can frequently hear somewhat low-volume remarks Mr. Wilson makes to Mr. Thompson, or vice versa.  It’s rude and distracting, although only a portion of the council and audience can hear it.

It is strongly requested that Council Members Wilson and Thompson examine their behavior and correct it.  To paraphrase what a prominent member of our community stated, “Be a man and speak up so everyone can hear.”  Address the entire room - not just your immediate neighbor, letting anyone who happens to be nearby overhear.  This of course should not be done while interrupting another council member.  Most reasonable people actually want to hear opposing views, but only if presented at the appropriate time in a proper manner.

There have also been several instances of testy remarks made by Mayor Kochersperger.  It is obvious there are major areas of disagreement between members of council, particularly evident between the mayor and Council Member Stockton, and sometimes between the mayor and Council President Emmons.  But even considerable differences in position need to be kept at a professional level, and it is hoped these incidents do not continue.

For a decidedly non-professional take on this, view Cartoon20120419.jpg.




April 17, 2012

Pemberton Borough's Budget

For this year's budget, revenues are projected to be down, which puts immense pressure on to cut expenses.  The major thing that residents will notice has already been implemented - a 4-day work week for employees, other than public safety (i.e., police).  This means four 9 hour days, and a corresponding 10% cut in pay.  Also to be implemented is a $100 annual trash collection fee.  The tax rate is increasing by $.057 (the maximum allowable increase is $.065) to $.672.  Kudos are due to the mayor and council, who are foregoing their stipends this year to help balance the budget.

Why are we here?  The current administration is severely limited by the state's 2% cap in municipal tax increases and lower revenues in tough economic times.  For several years, a rapidly dwindling surplus has been used to balance the budget, with $175K this year (about 1/2 of what was applied last year).  However, some of those in office now were serving when the 2007 budget lopped the tax rate from approx. $.072 to approx. $.062.  The tax rate today is still below 2006 levels, despite near-max increases this year and last.

This radical tax rate decrease was made with awfully short-sighted judgment and has had devastating consequences.  The excuse that no one had a crystal ball is a poor one, as revenues did not drop drastically between 2006 and 2007.  Apparently those in power either felt that revenues would soon skyrocket, or were trying to curry favor with the voters by impressing them with tax cuts.  (A sarcastic proposal to those who feel tax cuts should be the primary focus, with blinders on:  want an instant 39.9% tax cut?  Just eliminate the police force.)  The surplus is now down to $47,237 - a small fraction of what has been applied even this year.

When asked about using the surplus in March, Mayor Kochersperger acknowledged it was an issue, but stated he felt the budget being proposed was sustainable.  During the public portion of last evening's budget presentation, the mayor was asked how spending 78.7% of the surplus was sustainable, and where the approx. $128K (that would not be available in 2013) would come from.  The response was that some would come from the trash fee, which is projected to gross about $80K (it's unknown at this time what the net revenue will be) and he is continuing to look at shared services, such as bringing another municipality's court here.

This response did not sit well, as the feeling here is there will need to be further cuts to an already bare-bones budget without some unexpected and significant relief.  A recent statement made by a municipal insider to pemboro.com indicated that we lost a chance to get the Springfield Township court because the mayor dragged his feet on moving forward with a backup generator for the municipal building, including the court. This has not been verified, but if true, it is very disappointing.  There can't be many other towns within reasonable distance that would consider bringing their court to the Borough.

Possibly the only alternative would be to hold a public referendum to exceed the 2% cap.  Last year, 12 out of 14 such referendums failed, and only 2 or 3 are being held this year.  This includes Medford, which voted 84.4% against a referendum last year.  The mayor and at least one council member have expressed opposition to the referendum, which has been brought up by the public at least twice in the past; last night the mayor mentioned the estimated cost is around $13K, and if it fails, we'd need to make up that money.  Next year, the expectation here is that a referendum will be the only way to balance the budget.  

4/18 update:  Medford voters approved their referendum - unofficially with 56.7% of the vote.

Property Tax Reassessments and Appeals

One of the attendees last night expressed concerns about not having a reassessment.  He stated that his home in Hearthstone is approx. 30% overvalued, and the alternative would be a mass assessment appeal.  Both Mayor Kochersperger and Council President Emmons indicated the Borough wants to defer reassessment as long as possible.  It will cost about $50K, which we obviously do not have.

On one hand, it's certain that many in the Borough can sympathize with this property owner.  I certainly can, as my house, outside of Hearthstone, has also decreased in value about 30%, and that doesn't take into account extensive renovations made.  Undoubtedly most homes in the Borough have also experienced a dramatic decrease in value, as have most around the country.

However, there's a major catch to appeals.  If you are successful, and reduce your taxes by $1000, that revenue has to be made up somehow.   Even for a small municipality like ours, $1000 isn't much, but if 99 of your neighbors also successfully appeal, the Borough is now out $100,000.  It's one thing if your property's assessment is out of line with your neighbor's, but if everyone's experienced similar devaluation, there's really no where to go.

Municipal Park Development Grant

The first pemboro.com editorial, back in August 2011, lamented the Borough failing to apply for this Burlington County grant program.  Grants were awarded to a majority of the county's municipalities in amounts from around $20K up to over $200K.  Fortunately, the county is offering grants again this year, and one can hope that priority will be given to the 15 or so municipalities, like Pemberton Borough, that did not receive a grant last year.  Last night, Resolution 2012-35 was unanimously passed authorizing submission of the grant.

No mention was made as to what will be in the grant.  Suggestions have been submitted to both Council Member Norma Ward and Municipal Clerk/Administrator Donna Mull, including some ideas for improving Mill Creek Park, the area around Clark's Canoe Rentals, and the old school field.  Hopefully some or all of these, and other worthwhile development options, will be submitted, and the county will award a significant grant.  The Borough's few recreation areas can certainly use some sprucing up.

Please consider attending council meetings.  Especially in a small municipality like ours, your voice will be heard!

 

February 5, 2012

The following is a letter to the editor published in the Burlington County Times on 2/12/2012.  While the first part of the letter refers to the nearby train station in Pemberton Township, the latter part addresses damage to property in the Borough by the Township.

Mayor's feud wasted thousands of dollars

I'm incredulous at the statement Pemberton Township Mayor David Patriarca made in the Burlington County Times on Feb. 3: "I would rather move on to more important things here in the township and focus on redeveloping the Browns Mills Shopping Center, as opposed to the train station."

From all accounts, the Township Council and the vast majority of residents did not have an issue with old trains being kept at the historic station. Aside from Whitesbog Village, the station and trail were probably the township's only other tourist attractions.

The perception is that the only reason the train station became such a pressing issue to the mayor was because of an ego-fueled feud with the Pemberton Historic Trust and/or its former president. If Patriarca had actually focused on the township's "more important things" previously, he would not have caused the waste of thousands of township dollars on the station debacle.

The mayor's apparent personal vendetta resulted in locking the trust out of the station, leading to the loss and damage of some historic artifacts. Without the trust tending to the station and maintaining the trails, vandalism has increased. The adjacent rail trail has also been closed, for an extended period of time, for removal of track, ties, artifacts and, to be fair, a lot of junk.

Township Administrator Christopher Vaz indicated this work started when it appeared there was no progress on a settlement between the township and the trust. One wonders why the township was in such a rush to do the work, particularly when the ground was wet and heavy equipment would make a complete mess of the trail.

As part of the trail closure, a no-trespassing sign was posted at the end of the south branch of the rail trail, behind Clark's Canoe Rentals. One problem: This sign not only lies within another municipality (Pemberton Borough), at least a quarter-mile outside the township, but it's also in a private nature preserve owned by the Rancocas Conservancy.

To make matters worse, the township truck created a lengthy series of deep ruts on the trail. It is astonishing that municipal workers (or their bosses) either were incompetent and did not know their own municipal border, or had the arrogance to post a closure sign anyway. As a resident of Pemberton Borough and a member of the conservancy, I am outraged over the damage. An apology and full reparations are due.

There is one thing that's almost amusing. The opposite end of the rail trail, next to the Birmingham Post Office, does not have a closure sign. As a result, anyone accessing the trail from the west side would not be aware of a closure. If the closure is indeed to protect the public from the ongoing work, the administration has again shown its ineptitude.

I have walked the rail trail weekly for years and have visited the museum, but have no connection with the Pemberton Historic Trust. Although a member of the Rancocas Conservancy, I do not speak for the organization.

Steven Fenster
Pemberton Borough

[printed with permission of the author]




December 19, 2011

Tonight's council meeting was interesting, to say the least.  Whenever one Council Member (Stockton) speaks of "illegal" overtime, the mayor (Kochersperger) says testily, "Are you done?", the Council President (Emmons) asks the mayor if he's serious about his behavior/attitude, and another Council Member (Wilson) makes a snide/nasty remark about said council president needing to take a restroom break, the observer knows this is the most contentious in years.  During the public portion, 2 people commented about the unprofessional behavior.  [The 2010 and 2011 Borough salaries, as provided by Council Member Stacy Stockton, are available for view as a public service.  Pemboro.com takes no position on the accuracy of these figures, and does not endorse the use of the term "illegal" pertaining to overtime.  Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4 ]

On the positive side, the Borough Clerk, Donna Mull, is now reading ordinances and resolutions.  She also stated that the Borough is participating in the state's energy conservation program.

The biggest issue facing Pemberton Borough is the budget.  For at least 4 or 5 years, a significant amount of surplus has been used to balance the budget - in 2011, $379,000 of surplus was used.  This is particularly alarming when the total budget is approx $1.1 million.  There is now only $250,000 of surplus remaining, so somehow a $129,000 "shortfall" needs to be made up next year just from the lack of surplus.  In addition, a $97,000 Emergency Appropriation was approved tonight, and the understanding is that this comes from next year's budget,  This now increases the shortfall to $226,000.  The following year, the entire surplus will be gone (unless things change drastically) and the shortfall will be $379,000.  With tax increases limited to 2% by state law, the only solution - other than gutting most services and other draconian measures - is to have a referendum approving a higher increase.  Years of fiscally irresponsible tax decreases and reliance on surplus have left the borough with no choice.  At least one Council Member (Wilson) has stated that "referendums cost money".  But he and others have not offered an alternative.  One of the biggest concerns of residents, expressed at almost every meeting, is police coverage.  Without a referendum, there appears to be no way the police force can stay at its current level, let alone increase to the desired level. The mayor and council need to step up and fast with solutions, and start the process for a referendum before it's to late.

Please consider attending council meetings.  Especially in a small municipality like ours, your voice will be heard!
 

August 14, 2011

From discussions with a number of residents, Pemberton Borough used to be a great little town.  It still is in many ways, but things have been slipping in a number of areas.  It's certainly not too late to get things moving in the correct direction, but there has not been enough support by the current administration.  Residents have been vocal at recent borough council meetings (3rd Monday of every month, 7pm, except Jan. & Feb. at borough hall), and hopefully the message has been getting across.  Some items residents voiced opinions on at recent meetings include the municipal budget, finding a way to hire an extra police officer, prior plan for not having hanging flower baskets, moving the municipal court to Tabernacle, and enforcing codes.  Please come to a council meeting at your earliest convenience and let your feelings be known!

In Pemboro.com's opinion, the mayor and council can do a few easy things to improve in several areas:
  • Listen better to residents (ok, maybe this isn't so easy for some people.  However, one member of council (Emmons) has publicly changed his opinion based on public concerns, so there is hope here!)
  • Allow public comment on resolutions before they are voted on.  Second, how difficult is it to have the mayor, clerk, or member of council give a sentence or 2 explanation of each resolution?  Finally, be prepared to discuss these and have correct numbers.  A couple examples:  at a recent meeting there were several different numbers mentioned by council regarding the court move that conflicted with the clerk's numbers.  When asked what the NBCG and P Plan was (Resolution 2011-39), no one was ready to answer.  In both of these cases, what is council voting on if they are not certain of numbers or content?
  • Apply for grants.  Last year, a resident brought a Burlington County program for park improvement grants to the mayor and council's attention.  They were not aware of this, and did not apply.  Approx. 2 dozen county municipalities were awarded grants.  Just within the past week, state open space grants were awarded - none to the borough, and it would be a surprise if we applied.
  • Update the website more frequently.  This has improved greatly from over a year ago, but there's still room for improvement - more complete and timely information.

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