By Bill Cleary
COMMUNITY REPORT CARD-Every municipality in the state of New Jersey was required by October 1 to file a new form entitled Local Government Best Practices. This form, which will determine how much state aid a municipality will receive is part of the governor's reform Tool Kit. Towns will only receive 100 percent of their state municipal aid payment if they respond "yes" to at least 76 out of 88 questions listed in the governor's "Local Government Best Practices."
September 28 CNB requested a copy of the forms filed by the communities of Audubon, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, Gloucester City and Mount Ephraim via an email to each town clerk. The mayors of Brooklawn and Mt. Ephraim also received a copy of that request. As of this writing only Audubon and Gloucester City were courtesy enough to respond.
They were also asked if they thought the form was a good idea, if they had to spend additional money to meet the requirements (example update there website).
Audubon Commissioner William Gannon writes,
"We scored a 76 on the questionnaire which entitles us to 100%. I personally, for now, handle the website to avoid the cost of development which we just do not have the budget for. The cost is to me in time spent managing a website et al. The checklist in theory is not necessarily a bad idea however the way it is being done I strongly object to. In certain areas it would force us to spend money where we currently do not which would have a direct result in the possible increase in taxes. It would also penalize a community because of the sins of a past administration. This is counterproductive to what the Governor reportedly wants to accomplish. Also to be given this checklist with penalties is like being in school and given a test which you were not notified of, not given study material and will account for a significant portion of your grade. I think that imposing a penalty, especially in the first year, is absolutely wrong and is just another way to try and shift the blame of financial mismanagement and distress away from the state and onto the municipalities. It seems we have to have a good guy and a bad guy and the way the state is operating they want to be the good guy for whatever agenda of which I do not care to speculate. We have gone to enormous lengths to try and cut costs. We have furloughed employees, we have laid off officers, we have outsourced our borough clerks office, we are auctioning off assets, we are not replacing employees through attrition and we are in the process of a potential court merger with Haddonfield which will bring their court to Audubon. We are running a fine line here with the cuts in state aid already handed down and to try and take more money with this type of scheme is just unconscionable.
The City of Gloucester City answered yes to 47 questions and is eligible for 98 percent of state aid. Mayor Bill James said he did not like the new program as it is another burden on the local taxpayer.
From the New Jersey Policy Perspective weekly Monday Minute column...
"Yes" and "no" questionnaires have both value and limitations. They are like public report cards. If made public, they raise questions. The NJPP has always believed information should be provided to the public in an understandable way. "Yes" and "no" is pretty simple. And making municipalities answer the questionnaire or lose state aid is a pretty direct stick. But tying these "yes" answers to the allocation of state aid may not be the best practice when non-compliance is likely to amount to further increases in property taxes to make up for lost state aid.
UPDATE ON AMSPEC- The landfill project that began last month at the former Amspec Chemical property on Water Street has entered a second phase. The dirt is being hauled by dump trucks from the construction site of the new WalMart, in Somerdale. The City purchased the property in 2009 for $5 million.
City Solicitor John Kearney stated, " Right now the expectation is that the gross revenue will be in the $1.5m range. We have retooled our system to be hopefully more efficient. The City's remediation service management firm, GC Remediations Services LLC(an affliate of Develcom) will now be responsible for management of the dirt as well as the cleanup at Amspec. GCRS will get a call from a dirt customer, structure the deal, and present it to the Mayor for approval. If approved GCRS will be responsible for the testing and management of the dirt using RT Environmental for testing and Haines and Kibblehouse for dirt management. GCRS will pay these vendors out of revenue it collects from the dirt customer. All net proceeds will be used to fund demolition and cleanup at Amspec. The aesbestous removal was in the $600,000 range and the building demo will cost about $500,000. Then the cleanup is budgeted at $2.7m of which the State is funding 75%. So we need $675,000 for the cleanup. The Amspec cleanup and demo will run $1.8m and we want to pay for all of this out of dirt income. The alternative will be to borrow money. The other big advantage to the program is that we will need fill dirt and if we were not in the dirt business we would be paying for dirt driving up the cleanup costs."
Kearney wanted to make sure people understood that this money is dedicated to the cleanup of the Amspec. "This is not new revenue that can be used elsewhere."