2014 Editorial Blog Entries

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December 12, 2014


Track Reconstruction

The Borough finally moved ahead with the first project funded from the County grant awarded in the summer of 2012 (over 2 years ago!): reconstruction of the track at the old school field.  The good news is that the narrow, poorly maintained dirt track has been completely replaced.  The new track is much wider, and is no longer dirt.  The bad news is there are several problems, the most significant being flooding.  The entire southeastern area of the track winds up underwater (and sometimes under ice) even with moderate rainfall, and it does not drain for days.  With the heavy rains earlier this week, almost all of the southern portion of the track was underwater, and quite deep in the most susceptible area.

The cause of the flooding is obvious:  The track in most areas is lower, sometimes many inches lower, than the exterior side, and curbing on the interior side is also higher than the track surface.  Water has no way to drain.  The solution will apparently be installing a drain, but it remains to be seen how effective that will be.

There are several other issues, some easily rectifiable and others not so much:

  • In the northeast and southwest areas, there are large pieces of what appears to be a tarp (or part of one) sticking out through the surface.  It is not clear if this was in the track material or is supposed to be a barrier underlying the track, but it needs to be removed by the installer.
  • The entire interior of the old track was lined with a cement curb.  Portions of this looked fine, but others showed significant degradation.  Worse, much of the curbing was leaning outward at a considerable angle.  When the new track was installed, some of the curbing actually fell over onto the track surface.  These sections were raised, but the other curb issues remain.  The curb concern was brought up well before work started, and the response was that it's in good shape.  Replacing the curbing at reconstruction time would have been relatively easy, but now would cause major damage to the track, and be much more costly.
  • As mentioned above, the exterior of the track in some places is close to a foot higher (especially on the northern and southeastern areas) than the track surface, and in some places is essentially just a mound of soil.  This will erode onto the track surface.
  • The track surface is very soft.  While easy on the knees, footprints and paw prints are already an inch deep in places.  Imagine what bicycle tires or stroller wheels will do.
  • The track surface is uneven, partially because of use, but it appears leveling was not carefully performed.

Note that all of the above issues were brought up by Pemboro.com at the November Council meeting, but the problems remain a month later.  The lack of engineering oversight is apparent, and hopefully the Borough has learned a lesson for projects using the remaining grant funds.  It is also strongly suggested that the Borough ask for more input from residents before putting put bids, as at least some of these issues may have been avoided.


July 18, 2014


Quick Update

The June Borough council meeting was relatively uneventful.  A moment of silence, which will be a regular item on the agenda, was instituted.  Ordinances and resolutions passed included salaries, bridge weight limit (this will allow the Borough to keep revenue from violations), cell tower lease agreement, police chief contract, and hiring two part-time officers (given sufficient funds).


May 26, 2014

 

Change to Solar Ordinance Voted Down

As mentioned here in March, Council President Emmons introduced a change to the current (and very unfair) solar ordinance.  Unfortunately, it was voted down 4-2 (Emmons and Stockton voted for the change).  During the public portion, several attendees asked the other 4 members of council to do the right thing and reconsider.  A lawsuit is in progress, and there's probably a good chance a ruling will go against the Borough.


Other Items of Note from the May Borough Council Meeting

  • The Borough will be staying with a 4-day work week for the office after all.  Maintenance will work 5 days.
  • Pemberton Borough was awarded a grant of over $190K to repave Antis St. & Budd Ave.
  • The Parks Grant RFP (request for proposal to potential vendors) should be ready shortly.
  • Flowers and flags will be put up by Wed.  They are now back up, and really make a difference.


May 12, 2014

 

Pemberton Borough Violated State Law

On December 19 2011, council member Stockton brought up “illegal overtime”.  (Former) Mayor Kochersperger insisted it wasn’t illegal.  Stockton would periodically refer to this over the next year or more, and was repeatedly met with angry denials from the mayor and council member Wilson (whose responsibility is the police).  Pemboro.com inquired about this issue and Borough solicitor Serlin stated he would look into it.  His response was that the overtime wasn’t illegal or improper.

Several weeks ago, the state of New Jersey issued a report indicating that 14 local governments, including Pemberton Borough, awarded overtime or comp time in violation of state law.  In the Borough’s case, this was overtime given to Police Chief Hunter when there was a staffing shortage.

I brought this up at the April council meeting.  Mayor Griffin seemed defensive of his predecessor, referring to Kochersperger’s statement to a Burlington County Times reporter ("... we did the wrong thing.  It’ll never happen again.”)  In our opinion, it may be an excuse when no one realizes something improper is going on, but when you flat-out deny improper behavior when it’s called out, there’s no excuse.  Anyone involved in violating state law should resign, and the solicitor should refund a portion of his fee.  The mayor has resigned, but council member Wilson is still serving.

After the meeting, council president Emmons told Pemboro.com that the overtime came to his attention (stunning him) via a detailed accounting when the Borough was looking into court consolidation with Tabernacle.  He also indicated that what Kochersperger told the paper wasn’t completely accurate – council never passed a motion regarding the overtime.

Here’s an editorial cartoon with our take - Cartoon20140512a.jpg

 

Municipal Building Sidewalks (last word?)

In March, Mayor Griffin stated he’ll take another look at the cracks and holes in the sidewalk in front of the municipal building.  When asked about it, he seemed testy, indicating we’ll have to disagree, no work will be done, and wanted to quash further conversation.  When Borough clerk Donna Mull was asked what happened about a year ago when she stated that the sidewalk would be replaced, she said "it was vetoed" (obviously by the former mayor).  Here’s an editorial cartoon with our take - Cartoon20140512b.jpg.

 

Other Items of Note from the April Borough Council Meeting

  • The Borough will apply for the next round of parks grants.  Mayor Griffin would like to use a grant to fix up the old gym.  For the existing grant, an RFP will be prepared for the athletic field work.
  • The contract for patrolmen is up this year.  Bringing on a 6th full time officer is in the works.
  • An application for replacing the sewer line was submitted, and the Borough is looking into painting the outside of the water tower.
  • When asked about the Borough’s solar ordinance being reconsidered, Mayor Griffin said he’s researching it.  Council President Emmons reiterated that we should go to net metering, and that cost isn’t relevant – doing the right thing is.


March 23, 2014


Municipal Building Sidewalks


The hazardous (large holes and cracks) sidewalk in front of the municipal building that we've complained about for approximately 2 years was brought up again.  The mayor stated that the Borough's building inspector said it "meets standards".  I stated that we need a new inspector, as anyone who feels these sidewalks meet standards is either incompetent, has either extremely poor vision, or believes standards do not include safety.  
This is a negligence lawsuit in wait.  We sincerely hope no one gets injured.

Solar Power, Revisited

Council President Emmons brought up the solar power ordinance, and would like the Borough to reconsider.  He now feels that a homeowner with a solar array should be allowed to use what they generate, with the Borough purchasing the excess at wholesale rates. Council Member Haines asked what would happen to the (Borough-owned) electric company budget if everyone at Hearthstone put up solar arrays?  Emmons stated there comes a time when we should do the right thing.

We've covered this issue before.  The Borough needs to follow Emmons' suggestion promptly.  In addition, it needs to go further and allow net metering.  This will require transitioning away from using electric rates to heavily subsidize the budget.  Renewable energy is coming everywhere, and we shouldn't wind up on the wrong side of history.

Other Items of Note from the March Borough Council Meeting

  • The next regular meeting is Wednesday, April 23 at 7pm
  • A voluntary program is being put into place for seniors living alone, and others that want to be checked on.  A form is available on the Pemberton Borough website
  • Flushing of fire hydrants will resume on the first Wednesday of every month
  • Goodwill Fire Company received a $101K grant
  • The Borough has applied for the Sustainable Jersey program
  • Recreation Grant - an RFP should be ready to go out around the end of the month


March 3, 2014


A Citizen’s Resolution for More Transparency in Pemberton Borough Government - Mayor's Response


Mayor Griffin started the public portion of the February Borough Council meeting with his response to the resolution posted here on January 26.  The mayor's responses (and other responses) are paraphrased below each of the following:

  1. All Borough council workshops shall be held in the main meeting room; council shall vacate to the backroom only for personnel matters.
    Mayor Griffin:  workshops have been held in public for several sessions and will be from now on.
  2. There shall be a public portion before every council vote on resolutions.
    Mayor Griffin:  a public portion was added for the February meeting, and will remain on agendas.
  3. There shall be a clear explanation of all ordinances and resolutions.
    Mayor Griffin:  Will provide explanations.
  4. Mayor and council shall understand exactly what they are voting on, and have background information on hand to answer public questions.
    Mayor Griffin and Council President Emmons:  Believe this is being done already
  5. Meeting agendas, including the full text of all ordinances and resolutions, shall be posted on the Borough website before council meetings.  If, and only if, an emergency resolution does not allow time for this, there shall be hardcopy available for the public at the meeting.
    Not specifically addressed.
  6. All approved minutes, including Planning & Zoning Board meetings, shall be posted on the Borough website in a timely manner.
    Mayor Griffin and Borough Clerk Mull:  Website has been kept more up to date, including all approved minutes.
  7. Special meeting announcements shall be posted on the Borough website in a timely manner.
    Not specifically addressed, but the Borough website had budget workshop dates posted (not as timely as should be, but a good start).
  8. All mayoral appointments shall require a majority vote by council.
    Mayor Griffin:  Appointments will be made with advice of council.
  9. All appointments, including to the Planning & Zoning Board, shall be for no more than one year.
    Mayor Griffin:  P&Z appointments are, by law, 4 years.  Other appointments were not specifically addressed.
  10. Council members (and the mayor, as applicable) are strongly encouraged to make a brief statement on their vote for contentious matters.
    Mayor Griffin:  will ask anyone who votes no, why - but they don't have to answer.  [At the February 27th Budget Workshop, the mayor made a point to explain his two tie-breaking votes.]
  11. In general, the Borough’s website needs to have more information on a more timely basis.
    Mayor Griffin and Borough Clerk Mull:  website will be maintained in-house.  [Hopefully this will help with item 5 above.]

These responses are a big step forward, and the mayor has our appreciation for his willingness to change some practices.


The Mayor's Goals


Mayor Griffin listed his goals for the year.  These include:  restoring a 5-day work week for Borough employees, rescinding the trash fee, purchasing a new police car, hiring a 6th police officer, repairing and maintaining the water tower, securing the sewer line grant, using the parks grant, replacing trees on Hanover St & Elizabeth St (at least 10/year), and guaranteeing we'll have flowers.

Most of these have been proposed for the 2014 budget (see below).

Borough Puts the Kibosh on Solar Power


The Borough council unanimously voted to remove the word "excess" from the Electric Ordinance.  This sounds insignificant but has the effect of the Borough mandating purchase of ALL power generated by anyone with a solar installation, before they can use it, at the wholesale rate.  The solar power owner would have to purchase this power back at the retail rate, even though they generated it.  This of course defeats the purpose of paying for solar panels, as the homeowner cannot recoup the expense.  The obvious intended consequence here is to strongly discourage anyone from generating solar power.  The council may or may not be against solar power, but the dirty [not-so-] little [not-so-] secret is that the Borough-owned electric company (which is not state BPU regulated) provides a major portion of the Borough's income.  If many people went with solar power, the Borough would probably be bankrupt, as taxes can't be raised more than 2%.


Other Items of Note from the February Borough Council Meeting


Parks grant - a proposal should be ready to be put out for bid shortly.

The Borough is looking into a weight limit ordinance for the Hanover Street Bridge.  This would enable the Borough to keep ticket revenue.

Mayor Griffin will look into the Sustainable Jersey program.  This is a non-profit "green" program which provides towns with resources, support, and rewards for pursuing sustainability programs.  Over 400 municipalities in NJ have registered, including over 2 dozen in Burlington County.


Municipal Budget Workshop


special meeting was held on February 27 for a budget workshop.  Some of the highlights in the proposed budget and discussions:

  • Returning to a 5-day work week for Borough employees, which restores their 10% salary cut.
  • A 2% raise was proposed for Borough employees.  By 4-3 vote, this was reduced to 1.5%.  3 council members (Emmons, Mosher, Wilson) wanted it to remain at 2%, while 3 (Haines, Stockton, Ward) wanted less than 1.5%.  The mayor broke the tie on both votes - once against 2%, the other for 1.5%.  In addition, there is a contract step for police (including hiring a 6th officer), with the chief's contract up for re-negotiation.
  • These raises do not apply to Borough Clerk Donna Mull, as her salary was previously increased over 20%.
  • Rescinding the trash fee.
  • Restoring pay for council and the mayor.  This generated a lot of discussion among council members, with 3 (Haines, Stockton, Ward) against it, but the vote was to leave this in the budget.
  • Taxes will be raised $.007.  The maximum they can be raised this year is $.029.
  • The court pulled in $280K, although only $150K is anticipated.
  • Approximately $400K of surplus is being used, a little less than half of the current surplus.  There was a lot of discussion about this, including public comment, but it appears that this plan is being adhered to.  The concern here is that the Borough blew through a $900K+ surplus in a few years, and had severe budget issues the last couple years as a result (this was at least a major component).  It does not seem sustainable, but Mayor Griffin indicated there are some things coming in the near future that will mitigate this.
  • Approximately $1M in ratables will be lost from Rt 530 expansion, but Burlington County may provide some relief.  The county will move the electric poles, which would have been a large expense for the Borough.
  • Flowers and water for them are included in the budget.
  • A new police vehicle will be bonded.
  • Professionals will take a 10% pay reduction and go on retainer.
  • Approximately $96K of state aid will be provided (the same as last year).
  • The $7 electric service charge is not being removed.  This proposal was tabled at a previous meeting, and not resurrected.
  • Water tower repair or maintenance is not included.  It will be a separate bond issue.
  • A second workshop is scheduled for Thursday, March 13 at 5pm, but will be canceled if council is ready to vote on the proposed budget (with changes discussed).

January 27, 2014


Quick Update:  New Mayor, and more


Harold Griffin, the Pemberton Borough tax collector (until today) and a former mayor of Pemberton Township, was appointed mayor by the Borough Council  His term will run through the year.  This November's election will include a vote for mayor, serving the 1 year unexpired term.

The citizen's resolution for more transparency in Pemberton Borough government (see below) was read during the public portion.  Mayor Griffin asked for a copy, and stated that he will respond at next month's meeting.  He will not agree with all the points, but will state why.  This alone is an improvement.

Police Chief Hunter read off some crime statistics:  in short, it's down in almost all categories, while tickets are way up.

The mayor also indicated that the Borough has some tough issues to work out, and he'll need everyone's help.


January 26, 2014


With a new mayor about to be appointed, a new council member, and many major issues facing the Borough (including budget issues, Rt 530 construction, bridge replacement, water tower repair or replacement, the parks grant, garbage fee, etc.), it's an ideal time to evaluate how the Borough's government has been at sharing information with the public.  The short answer:  not very well, and with lots of room for improvement.  Here is one viewpoint on some things that can be done better:


A Citizen’s Resolution for More Transparency in Pemberton Borough Government

  1. All Borough council workshops shall be held in the main meeting room; council shall vacate to the backroom only for personnel matters.
    [This should be obvious for any attempts at transparency.  If anyone on the council disagrees, the public merits an explanation.]
  2. There shall be a public portion before every council vote on resolutions.
    [I believe both Pemberton Township and Burlington County do this, so why not the Borough?  The public should have an opportunity to comment before the council votes.]
  3. There shall be a clear explanation of all ordinances and resolutions.
    [
    No more of statements like:  “This resolution is to have the Borough be in accordance with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930”, with no elaboration.  The first question of public portions should not have to be “What does this mean?”]
  4. Mayor and council shall understand exactly what they are voting on, and have background information on hand to answer public questions.
    [
    No more of:  “I don’t have the numbers with me”, or not being able to answer basic questions regarding the ordinance or resolution.  If you don’t know EXACTLY what you’re voting, move to table or abstain.  Voting under these circumstances is irresponsible.]
  5. Meeting agendas, including the full text of all ordinances and resolutions, shall be posted on the Borough website before council meetings.  If, and only if, an emergency resolution does not allow time for this, there shall be hardcopy available for the public at the meeting.
    [The public needs to have access to be able to ask questions before a vote.]
  6. All approved minutes, including Planning & Zoning Board meetings, shall be posted on the Borough website in a timely manner.
    [Within 2 business days would be reasonable.]
  7. Special meeting announcements shall be posted on the Borough website in a timely manner.
    [This should be done as soon as meetings are arranged.]
  8. All mayoral appointments shall require a majority vote by council.
    [If this requires changing our form of government, then do so.]
  9. All appointments, including to the Planning & Zoning Board, shall be for no more than one year.
    [If this is not already the case.]
  10. Council members (and the mayor, as applicable) are strongly encouraged to make a brief statement on their vote for contentious matters.
    [“I’m voting no/yes because …”]
  11. In general, the Borough’s website needs to have more information on a more timely basis.
The mayor and council may not agree with all of these, and there could be legal reasons why all may not be implementable in the suggested form, but I believe this is a good starting point.


January 9, 2014


Mayor Resigns


Mayor Kochersperger submitted his resignation on January 6, due to ongoing health issues.  The local Republican club will meet and nominate 3 people to replace him.  At the next Borough Council meeting (January 27), the council will vote on the nominees, with the winner serving as mayor through the end of the year.  This November's election will include a vote for mayor, serving the 1 year unexpired term.

Even though Pemboro.com had some significant disagreements with the mayor, we wish him a speedy return to health.


Online Bill Pay Fee

While the Borough's website recently added online bill payment (which was given kudos here), it turns out there's a semi-hidden "convenience fee".  The fee is not announced until after you input all of your information, and is sizeable.  For example, a $10 payment has a $1.50 fee, a $100 payment has a $4.50 fee, and a $500 payment has a $15 fee.  There's no excuse to not have the fee mentioned as a footnote on the home page.


January 3, 2014


New Borough Council Member

At the January 2nd Pemberton Borough Council reorganization meeting, Stacey Stockton (re-elected) and Bonnie Haines (new member, replacing Stewart Thompson) were sworn in to the Borough Council.  The current Council membership is believed to be the first with 2 women serving.  Hopefully, the fresh perspective will bring positive change.

The mayor, Council members, and several other officials were asked about the priorities for the year.  Answers (in no particular order) included bringing pride back into town, having more communication among everyone, addressing poorly maintained homes, restoring a 5-day work week for municipal employees, ensuring a full complement of police officers, replacing the oldest police car and upgrading technology, repairing or replacing the water tower, finalizing the sanitary sewer rerouting, restoring the hanging flower pots, and addressing budget issues in a different manner, including repealing the trash collection fee.

There's a lot on the plate here.  With a little luck and cooperation among our officials, all of this can be accomplished.  We'll be here watching and reporting on developments.


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