PUBLISHED Monday, January 14, 2013
Both Jay and Nick recently have left City Council due to the increased responsibilities of their employment as well as the furtherance of their education in their respective fields of employment. Both will be greatly missed on Council but thankfully have committed to remained involved by volunteering on the planning and zoning board, Nick will also be a member of our newly developed Economic Development Committee (EDC) and Jay will remain Chairman of the local Democrat Club.
As I do every year, I release the following information relating to projects underway, projects completed and projects planned for the upcoming year. In these difficult economic times we are not sitting back feeling sorry for ourselves or crying to the state for bailout monies. Instead we are remaining positive and are aggressively pushing forward with redevelopment projects that will make us a more self sustainable community in the future. We realize that not everyone is welcome to change and or the risks associated with project development but projects such as the redevelopment of Chatham Square, the redevelopment of Freedom Pier and the redevelopment of the Southport area of town are absolutely necessary if we are going to sustain during these difficult economic times and embrace the inevitability of future self reliance. We will continue to aggressively look for new opportunities to share services, to identify new sources of revenue and to closely monitor all cost saving opportunities for rates of success or failure. With reduction in state aid the continuing practice of state government always in mind, it remains this administrations inherent responsibility to provide Gloucester City’s taxpayers with the best possible services within a reasonably presented budget. Department heads have submitted their budget requests and will be individually meeting with the administration and finance committee. These submitted budgets will be examined line item by line item, keeping in mind the 2 percent cap and its’ implications on day to day operations throughout the city. Only items such a Capital related 5 year infrastructure and or equipment related projects and Health benefits are excluded from the 2 percent cap, but the steadily increasing costs of health benefits continues to have a crippling and uncontrollable affect on all local government budgets.
Regarding Chatham Square/Meadowbrooke Mews, the housing market remains slow and difficulty in selling units has continued. We were fortunate to realize the need to continue to rent some of the units to assist with paying the on the bond used in the purchase of the property and the project remains afloat with an interest of a local business and other developers.
Regarding Freedom Pier, all stabilization work has been completed and the pedestrian walkway, lighting, benches and trash receptacles are installed as well as a video monitoring security system. Work is continuing and so is our relationship with Don Bigley the owner of Ott’s restaurants. We are ready to submit our application for a waterfront development with the DEP and as soon as we get the authorization to move forward with the project we will begin the necessary infrastructure improvements (Water, Sewer and Electric). Hopefully after 30 years of talking about such a project, shovels will be in the ground this year.
Regarding the Southport area of town, this is 150 some acres of mostly contaminated land and wetlands. The Department of Environmental Protection issued NFA’s (No Further Action) letters to most of the property owners who contaminated and abandoned their properties. This was basically a fence and forget solution and this has been the existing condition for the past twenty some years. We are working with Organic Diversions to further their project on the BP Arco site and most recently Council voted to remove our developer (Develcom) from the project and to work with Organic Diversions directly on this single project. We are in negotiations with Chevron (Harshaw Chemical) and Amspec the former owners of the Amspec property which the city now owns, to pay for the necessary cleanup of the site for future development. We are negotiating with CBS Viacom/Gloucester Titanium to acquire that property and have that cleaned up for potential development. We are negotiating with GAF to remove their contaminated buildings and have charged them with various construction code violations to move this forward, All of these property owners are sitting behind the NFA’s issued by the DEP who have yet to enforce the institutional controls listed in the NFA’s. The City has consistently claimed that these properties were in violation however the DEP has not taken any enforcement action to date. We will continue to aggressively police these areas for violations and will continue to pressure the DEP to act. It is this administrations opinion that no other properties will be taken unless they are clean and no project monies will be spent unless an end user is in place.
With these projects in full swing there are also many other projects in motion as well as those that have been completed.
- The Brooklawn/Gloucester Bridge on Broadway is now under contruction.
- The South Water Tower has been painted both inside and out.
- The replacement of infrastructure from Broadway to Brown Street on Monmouth Street has been completed and this year the project will move onward from Brown Street to Johnson Blvd.
- New railroad crossings have been completed at Essex St. and Monmouth St. the next to be done will be Hudson, Koehler and Market St.
- The creation of a new playground on Park Ave by the old Highland Park School.
- Continuation of our traffic slowing and safe routes to school program that has proven very effective in the reduction of accidents and injuries in the areas of our schools , parks and playgrounds.
- The continuation of distributing our informational city calendar to every residence in the municipality.
- The continuation of our monthly grant monitoring program
- The successful implementation of our brine manufacturing and distribution program where we share this service with several other neighboring municipalities
The continuation of our Broadway Streetscape plan. This year the project will move north from Monmouth to Hudson St.
- The continuation and expansion of our Housing stock monitoring program where we have revoked the right to rent property in Gloucester City from 13 landlords. All incidents that lead to diminished quality of life in any neighborhood are thoroughly investigated by Police, Housing, Fire and Courts. Landlords are then notified of the violations and pending court proceedings. If the landlord does not cooperate or take necessary remedial action to correct the situation he and his tenants are formally charged and then sent to a hearing in front of Mayor and Council for a possible revocation of their rental registration. We are now in the process of instituting and ordinance requiring the registration of and inspection of all vacant properties, the primary offenders of this problem are speculators who simply sit on properties waiting for pricing to change , banks who have foreclosed on properties and people who have just picked up and left, leaving their trash and animals behind.
- The continuation of our hands on approach of the Welsbach cleanup at our Johnson blvd ball fields shows that by communicating with all the involved parties and by including them in the decision making processes, great strides can be made. The success of the project can be seen at the northern fields and drawings of the southern complex are equally impressive. According to the contractor cleanup work is about 90 percent complete and that will be followed by field reconstruction. Hopefully all will go well and the fields may be available mid summer or before.
We continue to meet with and work with the county on road repair of county roadways and flooding issues along the King St. corridor. The county has agreed to and has budgeted monies to address the problem by purchasing pumps which will be strategically placed to lessen the impact of storms during high tide.
For the second year in a row we have resurfaced several streets they include Sparks Ave, Cherry St. Harvard Ave Paul St. and a portion of Johnson blvd. Other streets are on for this year with the continuation of roadway replacement in the 900 block Monmouth St as well as badly needed road and infrastructure work on both Cumberland and Hudson Sts.
We are teaming up with the new Superintendant of Schools Joe Rafferty to bring channel 19 programming back to the viewing public and making it an available educational opportunity to our students who are interested in the field and related technology. In conversation with the Superintendant he related that they are presently in the stage of curriculum development, this will be followed by equipment purchase. The city has set aside the funding for this project and the program will function as a shared service agreement where both the community and the school benefit. Mr. Rafferty also related that he feels optimistic about the direction we are heading in securing the project funding for the new school but the unfortunate situation at the state regarding hurricane Sandy could cause further delay.
In a negotiated contract with the CWA (Clerical Workers) we will be testing a four day work week with extended hours starting in March of this year. We have been trying to get this done for awhile as a cost saving measure. After comparisons of cost during winter and summer months are made, a permanent decision to keep the new hours or revert to the old hours will be made. The new hours of business will be widely publicized, I will tell you the offices will be open till 7 pm on Thursdays and offices will be closed on Fridays.
We are selling off city owned non-buildable lots to adjacent property owners thereby returning them to the tax rolls and lessen our burden of maintaining them, especially during the summer months. The process is open and legal and all adjacent property owners are notified and have the right to bid on the land.
We are jointly working with the Saint Josephs Carpenter Society to work on infill housing for our buildable vacant lots and on refurbishing residential properties that are now in the city’s hands. The Society and Gloucester City together will provide mandatory attendance, educational programs for all who are interested in home ownership and assist the interested parties in acquiring their own home. The Society has 90 % success rate with their program and has built or refurbished over 500 homes.
We are working with the State of New Jersey to release the funding for the three new homes the city wants to build on the property of the old Gannon building and it’s garages on Market St. One of the requirements to purchasing these homes will be the completion of the aforementioned courses. Triad Associates has advised us they have already received several applications for ownership.
We have not lost our Urban Enterprise Zone designation but we have dissolved the UEZ Board and instituted an Economic Development Committee. The EDC is comprised of local business men, private citizens, past governmental representatives and a member of City Council. The purpose of this change was to move forward with projects that will have the greatest impact upon Economic Development such as the Monmouth Street business district. This area has long been struggling and property owners were not keeping the properties in repair or effectively marketing them for occupation. Sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns and that is exactly what is being done. The EDC has already acquired two of the properties and have already begun work with preparations for façade improvements, interior repairs and marketing.
We are working on plans to repair the sea wall at Proprietors park, the wall was damaged during the cleanup of the Althos oil spill several years ago and most recently sustained more damage during the hurricane causing undermining and a collapse of a portion of walkway. FEMA was onsite doing inspections when this incident occurred .
We are working on a dredge maintenance project at the city Marina, this is a necessary action and should have been recommended at the time the marina was built. Engineering at the time should have taken into account the area it was built and the amount of silt build up that would likely occur over the course of time. We have been carefully watching our depths inside the marina at low tides and have realized a significant change. This has to be addressed in order to have a useful facility for years to come.
The schooner Northwind has been pulled and placed in storage for winterization and repairs. The program designed by all volunteers ran 42 educational excursions over the past two years and is constantly working to become more involved in educational opportunities for our youth and the youth of surrounding communities and is also approaching self sufficiency. The Northwind is also available for charters with a 50% discount to Gloucester residents and organizations.
We continue with the maintenance of our entryway signage and extend our thanks to the Gloucester City Beautification Committee and Micky Glassman for all her hard work throughout the year in decorating the city and entryways for all the Holidays, Great job!
I hope everyone was pleased with the new Christmas Decorations I know I was, the Celebrations committee worked hard on this project and the many other Celebrations during the year, Gloucester Day, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, Little Miss and Mister, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. This is a volunteer group and there is an open invitation for anyone who wants to join.
We have completed our Highway of Heroes Banner program with the final purchase of last 20 Banners and they have been placed away with the 50 others to be displayed again during the months of May and November. These banners identify and honor all Gloucester City residents who gave the Supreme sacrifice dating back to the First World War.
Our memorial monument at Broadway and Monmouth has now been fully restored in a project that lasted two years. The missing plaque has been ordered and will be paid for by the insurance company of the business who lost it while it was in their possession.
We have received a $25,000 grant from the County of Camden that will go towards the resurfacing of the Johnson blvd basketball courts built over 30 years ago they are in need of repair and are used on a consistent basis.
The vote that was taken to change the way residents vote for their councilman, easily passed, supporting the idea to have three councilman elected at large has been forwarded to our State Senators Office for advisement and now has to be forwarded to the State Legislature for final determination, hopefully all will be ready for the next election in November.
Our walks throughout the neighborhoods in town have been very successful and they will continue throughout the year. These walks are done periodically with the purpose of identifying issues that impact the quality of life within the various neighborhoods. Along with the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the City Administrator, the Housing Inspector, the Public Works Supervisor and members of Council, problems and other situations are documented, prioritized and addressed immediately and all identified issues are followed up upon to determine if proper corrective action was taken.
In closing I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous new year and I want to thank all of our volunteer committees and organizations for all your time and help you have given this administration over the year. It is through your efforts and commitment to community that makes Gloucester City a great place to live and makes our job that much more worth doing.