2013 Editorial Blog Entries


December 22, 2013


Municipal Clerk Salary Increase

At the December 16th Pemberton Borough Council meeting, the prime item of business was Ordinance 2013-11.  This ordinance increases the salary of the municipal clerk from $73953 to $89731 and treasurer from $6206 to $6827 (total from $80159 to $96558).  Both positions are held by Donna Mull, so she receives a raise of $16399, slightly more than 20%.  The raise was offered to prevent her from taking the municipal clerk position in Hainesport.  Despite numerous public comments at the meeting indicating strong opposition, the ordinance was passed.

The controversial and very unpopular garbage collection fee (basically a tax) was instituted earlier this year.  Per Mayor Kochersperger and council member Wilson, they had no choice as our financial situation was dire.  The Borough was having a very difficult time trying to make ends meet.  Despite instituting the garbage collection fee, the Borough offices remain shut down on Fridays and other employees are still laboring under a 10% salary cut.  But somehow several elected officials felt that giving a 20% raise to one employee was something they should support.  Basically, about 3 months worth of this fee is paying for the salary increase.  The combination of the fee and raise amounts to unnecessary tax-and-spend behavior, supposedly anathema to fiscal conservatives.

Anyone voting for this kind of raise has lost credibility, especially in regard to being fiscally responsible.  Who offers a raise of 20% in any economic climate, let alone today's?  It is also ludicrous that the salary increase does not include reinstatement of a 40-hour work week.  It opens up the possibility of resentment on the part of the Borough's other employees.  Mayor and council were elected to serve the people of the Borough, not its employees (or one specific employee).  To this extent, they have failed - badly.

At the November Council meeting, Gail Lake mentioned that the extreme closeness of the council election should serve as a wakeup call - many people are unhappy.  Apparently some council members hit the snooze alarm.  The next elections will not be as kind to those incumbents.

Read more on this issue from Bonnie Haines.


October 19, 2013


Sewer Main Replacement

Pemberton Borough is working on a Small Cities Grant for replacement of the sewer main on Hanover St.  This would redirect to the main trunk in Pemberton Township, which extends to the sewage treatment plant in Birmingham.  $303K is needed; the Borough would need to match 5%, or $15,150.  The matching funds will need to be in next year’s budget.  Besides needed replacement of an aging pipe, this would eliminate a siphon that is a maintenance nuisance.


School Site Redeveloper Indicted

Trenton developer Robert Kahan was indicted in July on 25 counts for allegedly diverting funds from three affordable housing projects for his own use.  See the official US DOJ press release here.  Kahan’s company, Tara Builders and Developers is working with The Salt and Light Company to redevelop the Borough’s old school site on Early St.

While Kahan has not been convicted, and Salt & Light is proposing a restructuring of the development agreement, it raises concerns that Tara Builders is still proposed to be the contractor for the project.  See this report on the status of development.


Burlington County Parks Grants

36 Burlington County municipalities applied for a parks grant 2013, and all 36 were awarded at least $50,000.  To no surprise here, Pemberton Borough was one of 4 municipalities that did not apply.  The Borough’s failure to apply, for what was essentially a guaranteed minimum grant of $50K, was extremely disappointing and has cost residents the possibility of significant improvements.

This fits a disturbing pattern:

  • As of September’s council meeting, there had been no progress on the $234,250 grant awarded in August 2012.  In over a year, the best the mayor can provide is, “We’re working on it.”  At this point, it would be a stretch to have anything significant accomplished before winter.  14 months have passed, people have volunteered to assist (but have not been contacted), and yet there are no shovels in the ground.
  • It’s been about 2 years that obtaining a portable generator has been in the works.  It took months to even get initial bid requests out. When bids came in too high, the idea of putting a small generator on a trailer was broached.  Additional months have gone by, and still no generator.
  • Also for about 2 years, statements have been made that the sidewalk in front of the municipal building will be fixed.  While a drain was installed to eliminate puddling, large holes in the sidewalk still have not been repaired.  This is a negligence lawsuit waiting to happen, not to mention an embarrassment.
These issues are almost never brought up at Borough council meetings, except by residents during the public portion.  A monthly status report should be provided, possibly as part of the old business portion of the agenda.

There’s no legitimate excuse for lack of applications and progress.  Hopefully this will not be the case with the sewer main replacement grant. These jobs are not getting done, our water supply is in jeopardy if there is another lengthy power outage, and the residents of the Borough are being shortchanged on park improvements.  The buck stops with the mayor, who needs to either step up and get things done now, or step down.

See the latest editorial cartoon - Cartoon20131019.jpg.

 

July 7, 2013

 

June Council Meeting

  • Only 4 council members were in attendance, for the first time in memory.  Sympathies to William Wilson on the loss of his father, and best wishes to Norma Ward, who was ill.
  • An ordinance to have a paint chart for allowable colors when repainting homes in the Historic District (which covers much of the Borough) came up for first reading.  Comments will be accepted at the next meeting.  Note that this will not apply if repainting the same color, but if you would like to change the color, you will need to select from a palette.
  • Public Works (aka Ray and Steve) will mow unmaintained properties and bill the owner, or a lien will be placed on the property.  There are currently 13 homes affected, 6 bank-owned.
  • The remarkable number of motor vehicle summonses issued has continued, with 539 the past month.  The Borough court has received just under $40K, and is $20K ahead of last year’s pace.
  • The Borough is still looking into repainting the water tower.  This will be possible without interruption in service.
  • Bids on a portable generator are still too high.  It was not made clear if the cause is insufficient solicitation of bids, unrealistic expectations, bad luck, or something else.
  • The Parks Grant is still being worked, with a pavilion, track, and ball fields all in planning.
  • The first phase of Rt 530 enhancements is scheduled to start in the fall.  This will extend Magnolia Rd behind Burger King to connect with Hanover St.  Overall, the project will result in a significant loss of ratables, though it may be possible to get federal or state aid.
  • The "naked guy" has been apprehended.
  • The Borough’s website now accepts online bill pay.  Kudos for adding this convenience.


June 16, 2013


May Ordinance and Resolution Votes

The 5/20 council meeting was not as lively, lengthy, or well-attended as the previous couple.  Major decisions included:

  • OPRA (Open Public Records Act) ordinance, which sets a fee for "special" requests.  This passed 4-3, with the usual sides being taken (Emmons, Stockton, and Ward against; Mosher, Thompson, and Wilson for; with Kochersperger casting the deciding vote).
  • Salary ordinance (setting rates for municipal employees) - passed 4-2 (Stockton and Ward voted against).
  • Resolution to designate the school site as a redevelopment area - this allows the proposed developer to get funding for COAH (affordable housing) units.  The resolution passed 4-3, with the typical voting split.  The plan is for 10 duplex homes to be built, with most being designated affordable housing units and several at market value.
  • Per a public notice published in the Burlington County Times, there will be a public hearing regarding the redevelopment plan (several variances are required for reduced lot sizes, setbacks, duplexes, and minimum 1st floor size), scheduled for the next zoning meeting at 7pm on Tuesday, June 25.  The notice was published by Early Court, LLC.  Hopefully this does not indicate that there will soon be both an Early Street and an Early Court.  We already have issues with Davis Street and Davis Court, and in a municipality with only 20 or so roads, it's amazing that anyone could blunder so astoundingly as to allow multiple roads to have the same name.


Other Items

  • There was an amazing total of 537 motor vehicle summonses written in the prior month.  At this rate, the court may bring in a sizeable surplus, and hopefully this may start dissuading speeders.
  • The Rancocas bridge replacement project may finally (after 13 years) be moving toward completion, with a consulting firm hired by Burlington County for final design.  A public hearing will be held at some point.
  • The Borough received a $4K Clean Communities grant.  We're still waiting to find out about the parks grant - perhaps after almost a full year, we'll find out something at the next meeting.
  • The Borough's Annual Drinking Water Quality Report has been posted, along with a Source Water Assessment Summary.  It's interesting that the former states the Borough has 3 wells, while the latter indicates 4 wells.
  • A member of the public noted that the council has $800K at its discretion from the sale of what is now the board of education building.  This money was supposed to be used to keep up the gym and field, but instead was squandered and both have fallen into disrepair.
  • A suggestion was made to do as several other Burlington County towns are proposing:  attaching significant fees to vacant properties.  This would be used for maintenance if the owner neglected the property (often an issue with bank foreclosures).  The response was that many do not pay fines.  It wasn't clear whether considerably increased fines would change this, but it seems that the Borough could benefit from forcing tax sales upon non-payment.
  • A suggestion to attempt to sell naming rights (Moorestown is doing this) for School Park was met mostly with blank looks from the mayor and council.


May 19, 2013


Budget Approved

The 4/15 council meeting was similar to the March meeting - in attendance, in tone, and in subject matter.  The controversy over the trash collection fee (basically a tax, but not deductible from your mortgage) came up again, but as expected, there was no change in outcome.  The biggest news is that the controversial budget passed, by the not-surprising 4-3 margin (see the latest editorial cartoon - Cartoon20130330.jpg).  The budget slide show presented at this meeting has been posted on the Borough website.  

While the overall picture is somewhat gloomy, one positive story is developing:  the court (with a new judge and a new prosecutor) pulled in approximately double the revenue from the same month last year.  A fully-staffed police force helps.


First Aid Squad

The Borough is sending a letter to the Pemberton First Aid Squad #199 on Arneys Mount Rd informing them that it would be a violation to their contract with Lourdes in Browns Mills to support the squad as first responders.  Because of cost, having the squad be the backup is probably not feasible.  The real villain here is Pemberton Township mayor David Patriarca, who for less that $25K, decided to abandon quick EMS responses in the northwestern part of the township by withdrawing support for the squad's insurance.  The Borough also is put at risk as a result.  Hopefully no one will ever suffer because of a delayed response from Lourdes, or their distant backups, but it's clear where the blame will lie in that unfortunate event.


March 31, 2013

 

A Contentious Meeting

The 3/20 council meeting was perhaps the best attended, raucous, and contentious in years.  Approximately ¾ of the seats were occupied (sometimes ¾ have been empty), and there were a lot of new faces.

One of the main draws was a trash collection fee ordinance.  Narrowly voted in last year at $25/quarter per household (but never actually implemented), the amendment being voted on was to raise this to $30 (retroactive to January 1) in order to cover a budget shortfall.  Lengthy discussion ensued, with many spirited and even angry remarks – both by the public and council.  A number of good points were raised about this issue in particular, and about our budget in general.

In the end, the ordinance amendment passed 4-3, with council deadlocking (Mosher, Thompson, and Wilson voting yes; Emmons, Stockton, and Ward voting no) and the mayor casting the deciding yes vote.  As an aside, this particular 4-3 split is fairly common.  See this cartoon (coming soon) for our take.  The vast majority of the public in attendance appeared to side against the ordinance.


Pemberton Borough Website

The Monmouth University Polling Institute and Graduate Program in Public Policy released a report on 540 NJ municipal websites studied.  Pemberton Borough came in 535th.  Websites were not rated on having pretty visuals, but on user experience – how information is conveyed to the audience.  The Borough can do much better.


March 2, 2013


Special Budget Meeting

A special budget workshop was held on 2/26.  It was contentious at times, but an excellent forum for the Borough Council and public to air and exchange ideas.  The ample opportunity for attendees to express their opinions was appreciated.  One hopes this trend continues.

A budget shortfall of approximately $66K was the main item of discussion.  Returning full-time employees to a 5-day week, the rapid decline of the surplus, potential savings (view some ideas furnished by Council Member Stockton), and selling our available liquor license were among other topics.  [View a memo regarding flower baskets.]

The outcome was a vote to have a $30/quarter garbage collection fee.  This is essentially an allowable tax to work around the cap on property tax increases.  It would close the budget gap, but not provide for the 5-day week.

This idea for fundraising (Cartoon20130302.jpg) wasn’t considered – at least not yet!


February 5, 2013

Best wishes to Mayor Kochersperger as he recovers from a serious illness.


Emergency Medical Squad

Pemberton Township will discontinue funding for the EMS squad closest to the Borough (#199) as of 4/1.  A number of squad members appealed to the council at the meeting for assistance in covering their insurance.  Without aid, they would be forced to close, and that would result in longer response times in emergencies, especially if Browns Mills was not able to respond.


Respect and Professionalism - Again

This issue has been raised in this space on more than one occasion (see July 8, 2012 for example).  While the discussion regarding the EMS was taking place, and continually during the public portion of the meeting, Council Members Thompson and Wilson were repeatedly engrossed in private conversation.  Prior to this, Mr. Thompson let out a loud exclamation apparently in protest of another council member’s statement.  While the latter is just a sign of disrespect and lack of professionalism, the former is essentially contemptuous of the public.  If elected officials cannot be courteous enough to at least pretend to listen (and one hopes this is not really the case) to their constituents, there is no basis for them remaining in their positions.  For a related editorial cartoon, view Cartoon20130205.jpg.


Doing the Right Thing

Since 2011, the Borough’s sewer utility was charging one of our homeowners for a 2-family unit even though the residence was approved as single family.  After a protracted battle to get the erroneous charges reversed, the council voted 4-2 to partially right the wrong and refund almost $1000.  Not refunded were interest and penalties, which seems absurd given that the charges should never have been levied in the first place.  The council may reconsider this.  Also disturbing was having 2 council members (Thompson and Wilson) vote against the refund.  No reason was given by either.  It’s hard to imagine them not clamoring for a refund if they were the ones being overbilled.


Updates

There has been no movement on an emergency generator.  The Borough’s engineer stated he would have something for the next meeting.

The parks grant is apparently a reimbursement grant – that is, the Borough would have to pay up front to complete work, then the county would compensate.  How a small municipality like ours can be expected to front about 20% of its entire annual budget is puzzling.  Council Member Norma Ward is looking into what options, if any, are possible.  Burlington County has indicated we have 2 years to spend the money, so there is time to consider options like floating a bond.

Balancing the municipal budget is going to be a struggle and will most likely get contentious.  Please consider coming out to upcoming council meetings so you can voice your opinion.


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