NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

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The Mayors Corner: What Has Been Accomplished & What Needs To Be Done

When first elected in November 2006, this administration promised to address several issues that we thought needed immediate attention in order to move into the future with an improved quality of life for the citizenry.  “Work is the soul of progress” and your Mayor The Mayors Corner and council have been working long diligent hours and days to provide our promise to you.  The four years seem to have flown by and we all have learned much. We’ve learned that we don’t have all the answers but that surrounding yourself with good people and listening to ideas and suggestions is a much easier and successful road to travel.  We’ve learned that governmental agencies are merely roadblocks for success and that it’s not necessarily what you know or what you want to accomplish but it’s who you know and what professionals you employ to complete the task at hand.  We’ve learned that there is no such thing as free money, there are always strings attached, and somehow there is never any left over when the jobs complete, someone is always there standing in line, to collect for a change order that should have been documented when the job began.  We’ve learned there’s too many rules and mandates in this state that are costly but never funded.  We’ve learned that governing is a difficult task and that sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made.  These type decisions affect us all personally and they are not made arbitrarily but are made after long hours of contemplation and reflection.  We’ve also learned that experience is the best teacher and it’s imperative to become a student of the game, because at times that seems to be what it is.  So as we move forward a yard and a pile of dust at a time, we hope that what we have learned in the past will make us more successful in the future.  Some of the projects we have accomplished shine a light on what we have learned and what direction we intend to move into the future.

Housing and related problems associated with the influx of out of town landlords and unruly tenants into established neighborhoods.

Mayor, Police Chief , Housing Department and City Administrator walking neighborhoods addressing quality of life issues, talking to neighborhood residents to identify problem properties and residents and documenting concerns for timely investigation, aggressive response and follow up.  This is done every two to three weeks.

Institution of yearly inspections of every single rental property in the community on a continuing basis.  This program has had much success and has resulted in the identification of countless tenant and landlord violations resulting in corrective action and or substantial fines or rental revocation for non-compliance. In the research we’ve conducted since the inception of this program we have determined that it is working. We identified a trend that shows rental properties are for sale and are being vacated because the landlords don’t want to spend the money to make the repairs.  Of the 120 properties for sale in town 43 are rental properties and 20 of them are vacant.  Of properties sold to date in 2010, which totaled 59,  7 are vacant title transfers, 9 were rentals and 43 were owner occupied and with Certificate of Occupancies issued.

 Purchase and installation of the ENFORCER software program that enables Police, Fire and Housing to identify existing problematic housing situations and to document and enter them into the program as targets for further action.  This enhances our ability to create an actual historical record of all problem properties and all problem landlords and tenants.  This type of communication between departments was non-existent before and has become a valuable tool in addressing quality of life issues in affected neighborhoods.

Purchase of the 100 rental unit Chatham Square apartments which was crime ridden and drug infested with an uncontrolled tenant population and absentee management and landlord.  The Socio-Economic impact this complex had upon our  Public Safety Depts, our Housing Dept. and our school system was nothing short of devastating and if allowed to continue unaddressed would proliferate into and eventual tragic consequence.  Construction has begun in an effort to turn these 100 rental units into 50 for sale 3 bedroom 2 bath townhomes.  Ride by or stop in the progress is remarkable.

We have a new senior citizen/community center, using a grant we purchased the Gloucester Heights fire hall and renovated it into a multi use facility and source of new revenue.  The building which still houses #4 fire company also got a facelift thanks to the volunteer firemens organization at #4 and with the income generated from rentals we will continue to support our seniors and the buildings needs at no cost to the taxpayer.

First impressions are lasting impressions and mayor and council along with the business association saw the dire need to clean up our entryways and to keep them attractive and neatly trimmed.  This program was also implemented at no cost to the tax payers through a sign sponsorship solicitation and thanks go out to all involved.  This program has just recently been upgraded by the volunteer members of the Beautification and Community Garden committee and their worked is appreciated by all.

Back when we were thinking about changing the names of our streets from the counties of the State of New Jersey to the names of all of our war heroes who gave the supreme sacrifice we were met with a lot of concern regarding the impact on peoples lives.  The project was turned over to an advisory group of diverse citizenry  that researched and identified a way that we could honor our heroes without impacting any one.  Banners were purchased and installed along Broadway during the months of May and November bearing photos, military status and dates of significance.  The work is still ongoing and hopefully all who gave the sacrifice will receive their recognition on Broadway.

Along this same area of interest, the war monument at Broadway and Monmouth displayed significant signs of deterioration from neglect and we were deeply concerned that it could tumble.  Over months we worked to determine the extent of the damage and the estimate for repairs.  Having a cement masons apprentice union in town was a blessing and they were contacted and offered their assistance which was labor and materials free of charge.  The monument is now restored, thanks to everyone who helped.

For the first time in over 20 years Freedom Pier at the old coast guard base will be open to the public at the completion of the continuous walkway along our waterfront.  Construction has begun on a brick walkway with lighting , railing, trash receptacles and landscaping for all to enjoy.  This is phase one of this project which will be followed by repairs to the sheathing that surrounds the pier, the installation of  a floating finger slip boat docking system in phase two and a phase three restaurant at the end of the pier.  This first step in the redevelopment of this area brings to you the opportunity to enjoy one of our most precious resources our waterfront.

Marketing our waterfront was a concern of ours as we got into our plans for riverfront development and there was no better way to do it then to purchase the Northwind Schooner. This 75 foot two mast sailing vessel is the pride of Gloucesters riverfront redevelopment plans and is quickly becoming a self sufficient and successful endeavor.  The vessel is operated by the Gloucester City Sail Board of Directors and is coast guard certified with an all certified volunteer crew.  The Board of directors, again all volunteer have a developed curriculum for educating the youth of our community and communities beyond and schedule several trips a year giving the youth a lifetime experience of being on the river that they previously only saw from land.  A ride on the schooner is an enlightening and enjoyable experience and Captain Charles Reed and I invite all naysayers to at least try once. This vessels  appraised value was over 400,000 dollars and was purchased using Urban development action grant monies at close to half it’s value.

Also related to our waterfront development was the much needed promotion of our existing marina.  This year alone we had several fishing tournaments based at the marina and this has greatly enhanced our revenue and has brought people to town who never knew the marina existed.  These people have now become customers of ours as well as being customers of local businesses.  This effort was spearheaded by the Gloucester City Business Association and Mayor and Council with the institution of our annual catfish tournament on the river.

For the first time ever the city is in it’s third year of distribution of our Community calendar.  The calendar is designed to contain all of the necessary information a resident would need to learn of events and meetings of government and social organizations, identify a business, contact a governmental entity for service or to clip coupons for the shop local campaign.  

A lot of work is being done throughout the town with streetscape projects on Broadway, Market St. and Burlington Street.  In an effort to beautify our community the sidewalk replacement, brickwork inlays, trees and street lighting will be installed at all three locations.  A phase two and three are planned for Broadway going north from Monmouth to Hudson and then Hudson to Mercer St. is scheduled for the near future.

Southport redevelopment is underway with the investigation of all properties in the area to determine the extent of remediation on each.  The Ampsec property has been acquired asbestos abatement is complete and the building is being scheduled for demolition.  As the area has been identified as a Brownfields Development Area the city has access to 5 million dollars a year for investigation of the sites and 75% of the remediation of same.  An agreement with Develcom our developer identifies them as responsible for the other 25% of remediation costs.  The other property in the area that the city owns is the old Vanguard Vinyl property. Presently the property as well as a portion of Amspec is being used to stockpile DEP inspected and authorized dirt which will be needed for capping and raising the property above the flood plain.  We are getting paid for this dirt which is going back into the projected redevelopment so that we don’t have to borrow to move forward with our plans.  We have full support of the NJDEP on this plan and they are assisting us in whatever way they can as they realize the importance of not only the cleanup but also the economic impact the development of this area could have upon our town.  We are working on acquiring the other properties on this site with the plan of doing what every previous study and master plan recommended,  creating  good paying jobs to sustain the community .  We are talking with many interested end users and are working on needed infrastructure plans to present them to the United States Economic Development Authority for assistance in this regard.

We now have a new state of the art water treatment plant.  Unlike other communities who have privatized their most precious of resources Gloucester City stands in control of it’s future as it relates to water rate increases unlike the uncontrolled private sector.  This plant was designed to supply all new development in the community and enhance fire protection services.  The old plant was over 100 years old and I commend the men of our environmental utilities for providing excellent service with such antiquated resources.

In an effort to keep everyone informed as to what is going on in the community, we placed the Council Meetings back on Channel 19 and will continue to provide you with this service.  So everyone knows there is presently a clitch with Comcast that we are working on as we have recently not provided this service.  Just another uncontrollable entity we have to deal with.

Construction has begun on replacing railroad crossings at Nicholson Road, Hudson Street and Koehler St.  These were identified as the worst three crossings and we will continue to stay on top of the Conrail Executives to continue this project throughout town.  The grass cutting situation along the railroad is constantly addressed with Conrail and they have improved their efforts through the development of a schedule for cutting.  Thanks to Public works for their efforts in this regard.

Construction will soon begin on the new bridge between Brooklawn and Gloucester City which is in a state of deterioration.  A interconnect water supply with Brooklawn will also be a part of this project in the event a shared service need is required.  This bridge will enhance the entryway into town and your city officials are fighting to get the type of improvement we deserve from the County.

We have entered into several shared service agreements with Camden County including but not limited to purchasing, snow removal, the RCA Program and upcoming Animal Control.  We have also begun sharing public works resources with the Boro of Bellmawr with much success and hope to branch out to other communities as well.  Our next effort will be targeting trash removal bidding.

We continue to work on street repair and have addressed Joy, Barnaby, Amon, Saint Mary and Orange Street.  Several other streets have been identified and are on the list for attention.  Atlantic Street is scheduled next.

Our stop sign/ street sign/line painting program is ongoing throughout the city neighborhood by neighborhood.  The end result will hopefully be uniformity and proper installation of all signage within the community.  The little things mean a lot and this also goes a long way towards a safer atmosphere for both vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic.

TD Bank is up and open for business.  The site improvement of the Broadway and Cumberland Street location is wonderful.  This was a long and involved process first soliciting them and then working through all the site acquisition difficulties.  The once dilapidated and vacated bar that sat at that location is gone and a vibrant business sits in it’s place.

In an effort to increase our volunteer fire department ranks we have instituted a Length of Service Awards Program which never existed before in town.  This is an incentive designed to reward volunteer firemen through a type of retirement plan.  Jobs equal points and points equal monies placed in individual retirement accounts rewarding their service to the community.

Even in these difficult times we continue with our seasonal celebration and enhanced community involvement program.  Every organization that has a coin drop in town is required to fulfill certain obligations which included volunteerism and participation in events.  This has enhanced several dying celebration events and we will continue to improve upon them.  

 One of the celebrations we brought back was the family oriented Gloucester Day held in October.  This is a family style celebration with great entertainment, games, crafts, rides and lots of family fun with no alcohol involved.  The event ran at Matins Lake in October was reinstituted last year and was a great success again this year.  We hope to build upon this event making it bigger and better with every year and have reached out to some of the original organizers of the event to have them come on board and assist in replicating some old time enjoyment for all.  Maybe the old soap box derby.

Good government is best to realize that they don’t have all the answers or all the solutions and our promise to involve the community in the decision making process continues to this day, with the ongoing support of our Advisory Committees.  All volunteer, these committees have put in countless hours, working hard for our citizenry with great input, research, recommendations and program implementation.  New committees in the Arts, the light rail train and another working on community beautification are now added to a list of 11 others and we thank them for their genuine concern for our community.  As for those already in existence, thank you for all your work, you truly make Gloucester City a Better Place to Live.

In recent years Gloucester City has been the recipient of a diverse range of regional, state and federal grants.  Since taking office, one of my goals was to;  (1) identify the myriad of grants that had been received; (2), determine the status of those grants in terms of progress in implementing; and (3) have a clear understanding as to the level of drawdowns, another measure of performance, and an important resource for the City since most grants require an upfront expenditure by the City and a subsequent reimbursement from the grant program.

When I took office we had Triad Associates develop a Project and Funding Matrix to include community and economic development grants secured by the firm as well as other grants secured by various departments in the City including police and transportation/public works grants.  At that time there was no single database tracking the various grants that had been awarded to the City. However once the Matrix was in place, we quickly discovered that there were 29 open projects valued at 18.6 million dollars in varying stages of design and implementation as well as projects that were completed for which the City was entitled to substantial reimbursements. This is a staggering amount of money, more than the total annual budget.  What we discovered through this process was that certain projects were delayed because of the lack of formal commitment from the grantor agency while other projects required review and evaluation to modify the scope of work or resolve a technical matter that would allow the City to move forward to complete the project.  In other instances we discovered projects were complete, however the City had not been reimbursed for substantial upfront investments made.

It is important to note that the City’s ability to pursue grants is dependent upon it ability to demonstrate performance in carrying out existing approved grants.  So our mission in setting up the Matrix was to have a clear understanding as to the status and scale of the projects open and to better position the City to be able to pursue new grant funding opportunities that might otherwise have been precluded due to performance issues.

This Administration has been focused on completing projects that were identified in the Matrix and seeking reimbursements oftentimes long overdue.  In this regard, and keeping with my commitment to accelerate our grant program activities and grant expenditures, members of City Council and myself, City Administrator, Chief Financial Officer and our Grants Consultant have met on an average of once a month to review projects in progress and to resolve issues that might otherwise hamper our progress.  As a result of this effort, I am pleased to note that we have reduced the project inventory from 29 to 11 projects and the amount of funds (unexpended) from 13.7 million to 3.5 million.  This represents a 74% reduction and an increase in production through the implementation of approved projects.  I believe this will better position the City as it pursues new grant funding opportunities for street improvements, storm sewer, sanitary sewer and water line improvements, park and recreation activities, housing rehabilitation and our extensive agenda for economic development.

It is our intention to maintain this Project and Funding Matrix as a working tool to keep track of projects and maintain a high level of performance in the future. Our message to regional, state and federal grantor agencies is and will continue to be one that asserts we have a need and if given the opportunity to address this need with grant funding we will do it in a timely manner in accordance with the guidelines.

I could go on but this statement would probably turn into a book so in closing I’ll mention some other things quickly,  We cut all Mayor and Council Compensation 20%, We asked the same of all our professionals, Legal, Engineering and Consultants who agreed, We entered into Shared Service agreements, We cut all department operating budgets 10%, we instituted 7 furlough days,  we cut our legal expenses and overtime budgets, we reduced our workforce and combined some positions, we went to laptops instead of paper reducing man hours for copying and paper waste, we now sell firewood instead of taking it to the dump, we are instituting a public employee drug testing policy, we have a single stream trash recycling program, we have a citizen complaint venue in place that requires follow up for customer satisfaction and we continue to investigate new ways to more efficiently provide you with the services you need at an affordable rate.

Without all of the present Mayor and Council not even half of these achievements could have been accomplished and I ask you to vote on November 2 for William James, John Hutchinson, Bruce Parry and Kellie Ferry.