To the editor:
As we enter October, with less than a month until the upcoming election, I wanted to share another township update that, hopefully, will be helpful in understanding what lies ahead for council in 2013 and beyond. In essence, here is a consolidated view of the “state of our community” at this time:
Savings, Ratables, Revenue
First and foremost, let’s look at our financial health and the tax outlook going forward. It should be noted that Moorestown’s tax rate is low relative to comparable towns in New Jersey. Over the last four years, Greg Gallo, Michael Testa and I have worked hard—with our council colleagues—to instill spending discipline in our town, reducing expenses, with minimal impact on services and, thus, minimizing the tax impact to our residents in this uncertain economy. Operational expenses in our town are lower now than they were in 2008.
Council has remained steadfast in our perception that enhancing the revenue side of the budget is also essential to stabilize and sustain taxes at a fair and equitable rate in the future. New businesses, large and small, are moving to town, and some are making substantial investments to do so. Examples of new businesses, as I have mentioned in previous updates, are new retail sites accompanying our exciting renovations at the mall, the Virtua Health and Wellness Center, the skilled nursing facility that has begun construction at Main and Marter Avenues, and the pending occupancy of InterArch in the “Little Acme.” Additionally, other expansions at some of our existing local businesses, such as Lockheed Martin, are providing new jobs. Please note there is also a prolonged effort to further develop our commercial areas both along Camden Avenue and on Main Street and conversations are ongoing with interested parties.
All of these are important, because growing our commercial ratable value (i.e. commercial property that provides tax dollars to our township) as a percentage of our overall ratables will help offset the burden to the homeowner. We have worked hard to make this town more business friendly and the feedback we have received is very positive in that regard. Our expectation is somewhere between 700 and 1,000 new full-time jobs will come to Moorestown over the next two years.
Additionally, and not to be confused with annual revenue generated through taxes, we will experience a one-time influx of $5-6 million dollars from sales of liquor licenses at the mall and East Gate shopping center. Current and future councils must be strategic in their planning and use of that money, so the influx of revenue helps provide for long-term tax relief and capital improvements.
Our debt is low relative to similar townships. As we were assessing the impact of new capital projects, such as the town hall/library, the rec center and athletic field upgrades, with our financial officer, one important factor was that in 2014 and 2019, our debt was scheduled for notable declines. Our bond rating (Aa2) is very strong and remains unchanged after our recent review, at a time when many other communities are experiencing downgrades or a negative outlook. This strong rating positions us well for beneficial borrowing costs on the recently approved capital projects.
As you know, we are currently undergoing a reassessment, driven by the decline in the economy over the past few years and the escalating tax appeals the township has experienced. We anticipate the .
Although there are differences between governmental agencies and private businesses, there are principles involved in governing successfully that apply to both. Township manager Scott Carew is seeking to assure we have the right resources in place to manage and run our township effectively day in and day out. Together with Scott, we have been working to instill some management tools and processes that help achieve that goal. Instilling additional discipline in planning and financial reporting are two examples I can cite. Along with those changes, when Scott came aboard, council instituted an incentive compensation plan for him, similar to what is commonly used in the private sector, to reward exceptional behavior. Scott is committed to extending this plan to other key managers in the township, which we applaud. I am confident these changes will be helpful in years to come.
Thoughts on Open Space and the Council Race
It would be irresponsible for me to ignore the issue of open space that has received so much press and evoked so much emotion over the past few years. First and foremost, let me dispel the notion that the . That simply is not accurate. This fund was established and approved in three different referendums by Moorestown voters, for the express purpose of setting aside tax dollars to pay for needed projects within each of its intended uses. The logic behind utilization of this fund is to take advantage of it when projects surface that are deemed necessary and are eligible for funding from this source, as opposed to raising taxes to pay for those projects. The primary criterion is always deciding if the project is necessary. Once that decision has been made by council, the funding strategy is considered. As with a budget, when this fund is considered, council reviews the inflows and outflows to it under differing scenarios, looking several years out, before making its decision.
Without getting into further detail, please note Moorestown has neither diminished its ability to acquire or develop open space nor has it diminished its ability to help fund other authorized uses. While certain individuals or groups have their own ideas about how things should be done, it is council’s responsibility to use all tools at its disposal to serve the needs of all of our citizens. All five members of the current council are committed to acquiring and preserving open space. The new council candidates, from both parties, have indicated the same. I would urge you to not let this topic be the deciding factor in your vote. The emotions surrounding this topic have obscured what should be real issues, such as how and when we will resolve the water system infrastructure issues (which are being addressed, in part, in the utility budget); what should be the strategy for the new one-time revenue we will be receiving; or what additional steps we can take to successfully further our economic development on Main Street and Camden Avenue.
The following criteria will be important to me in determining my vote in the upcoming election: (a) What background/experience does the candidate have that is relevant to the town council role? (b) Does this candidate have a basic understanding of our township financial situation and key issues? (c) If the candidate is proposing specific actions, what are they proposing, how is it differentiating, and why should I have confidence that it will be constructive? (e) Will this individual be an effective communicator, both internally with our administration and with the public at large? (f) Do I perceive that this candidate will be an effective leader? (g) Do I perceive that the candidate’s commitment to the role will not be swayed by partisan politics?
Hopefully, you will find this information timely and helpful. Again, it is a distinct pleasure to serve on town council and, as always, for that opportunity I extend my sincere thanks.
Mayor John Button
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