GLOUCESTER CITY NJ (January 4, 2008)--Gloucester City Mayor William James, who is beginning his second year in office, delivered his State of the City address at the January 3rd reorganization meeting held in Council Chambers. It reads as follows:
The year 2007 has swiftly passed and as I reflect back upon the reasons I ran for public office and the issues I promised to address, I can say that the year went by too quickly and that governmental processes seem to be designed to move at a snails pace. I as your Mayor can honestly say that your City Government has been hard at work over the past year with an undying enthusiasm in our efforts to obtain our targeted goals. These goals, which we identified throughout our campaign were clearly identified and prioritized in a manner to make them both manageable and attainable.
Giving City Government back to the people - In first order we made it
quite clear that we were humble enough to know that we do not have all of the answers and that we would use whatever resources available to assist us in attaining our objectives. The first resource we tapped was our most valuable, the people within our community. We did this through the establishment of several advisory committees from which over 50 volunteers assist your city government with investigations and identification of problem solving techniques.
There presently exists a Mayor Advisory Committee dedicated to Fire Department Overtime expenditures, operations, scheduling and volunteer recruitment, training and retention. This committee is made up of retired paid and volunteer firefighters. It is not your city governments intention to make arbitrary decisions that directly affect the public safety of the community and we feel there exists no better source of intelligence and information, coupled with the input of Fire Department Administrative and Supervisory personnel, that will result in the timely solution to a situation that has been allowed to exist and perpetuate over the last several years. A report issued by this committee will be made public after meetings with the fire department union and administration are conducted regarding the reports contents and recommendations.
There exists a Mayors Advisory Committee on Housing, excessive rentals and identifying best use of properties that the City presently owns. This Committee is made up of two prior Mayors, a prior Police Chief, a supervisory member of our paid Fire Department, The President of the School Board, a teacher in our school system, a city engineer, a college professor, three representatives of our youth programs and other community organizations, a marketing consultant, a Veterans representative, a Historical representative, a Senior Citizen and a rental tenant. These individuals, all volunteers, have been hard at work over the last several months investigating the present housing situation and have identified obvious areas of concern. Presently they are initiating a course of action in a target area of King St that will undoubtedly compliment the city's efforts to initiate an infill housing program.
There exists a Mayors Advisory Committee on redevelopment of the Broadway Corridor and existing business district. This committee is made up of several local businessmen along Broadway and off Broadway as well as representatives of the citizenry. Their efforts are being directed in the areas of identifying needs for planning and zoning changes as well as business recruitment, marketing and retention. The other important area they are investigating is the citizenry identification of needs, and review of recommended business façade and signage improvements as well as the continuity and historical significance of those recommendations.
There exists a Mayors Advisory Committee on the redevelopment of Southportand Freedom Pier. This committee is made up of several business community representatives as well as members of the community who have knowledge of the history of the redevelopment efforts of these areas over the past 20 years and those with knowledge of the history of the contamination of the lands and buildings associated with these sights. It is the specific assignment of this committee to investigate past agreements entered into by the City and presently identified developers and to identify why it is that the promised development has not even begun or whether it could ever, in all reality, come to fruition. Alternatives to residential development are being investigated inclusive but not limited to recreation, and wind and solar energy alternatives.
There exists a Mayors Advisory Committee on the issue of Feral Cats. This committee investigated the existing condition throughout the community and supplied a report back to Mayor and Council regarding their recommendations. This report was made public in the City News and was released to the public for review; it was also reviewed by members of city government. It is our intention to take action on some of ,not all of , the recommendations made in said report in the early part of 2008 as budgetary constraints limited action this year.
In January we will be looking for volunteers to sit on a Formal Advisory Committee as it relates to whether or not the need for a new school exists and or whether the reality of attaining a new school exists. This is an issue that was placed on the back burner this year in hopes of receiving good news from the state regarding the now vacant lands in what was once a neighborhood. This issue now has identified itself as a priority of ours since the recent issuance of new school funding formulas and state indebtedness. Feel free to contact me through city hall or at 856-229-2043 if you are interested in this or other committees.
I personally want to thank all members of the aforementioned committees and commend them for volunteering their time and expertise towards identifying problem solving techniques in these related matters. The dedication and commitment of these individuals is a high water mark for the new efforts to involve the citizenry in local government and an example for all Gloucester Citizens to emulate as this City Government is not afraid or too proud to rely on the assistance of a community's best resource, "It's People".
Another people related project that your government implemented with the dedication and financial commitment of the business community and social organizations for the betterment of the city was the entryway cleanup and sign campaign. One of my biggest pet peeves was unkempt and trash strewn city entryways. The first impression is a lasting impression and now a sense of pride instead of depression overcomes me when I enter town at these locations. It was also our efforts to cleanup the railroad which consistently year after year becomes a trash dumping ground overgrown with weeds and brush. This year's efforts included the cutting down of weeds, the trimming of trees and the cutting of grass. Being a centrally located fixture within the city it is important that the railroad is kept clean and clear of debris not only for the purpose of public safety but also for the purpose of making the area as pleasing to the eye as possible. The railroad is here to stay and clearly makes themselves known as a not neighbor friendly entity. It is this government's intent to deal with the hand we've been dealt in this regard and to some how and some way hold them as accountable to the standards afforded to the rest of the community.
One of the projects that were initiated over the past year was the identification of an existing grant for a Senior Center and the fact that the project had fallen from its rightful place on the governments agenda. This grant opportunity was resurrected and after a long and difficult negotiation with the Department of Community Affairs the project has just recently been given DCA approval and the Gloucester Heights Fire Hall will be renovated into a daily accessible Senior Citizen Center. I and the City Council commend the Seniors for their persistence and their patience in working with us on this project. The Contract for sale has been authorized to be written and executed by Mayor and Council, design and a competent contractor selection process will follow in the immediate future.
With the assistance of the Business Association, Mayor and Council were able to solicit Commerce Bank into their genuine interest in coming to town at the Old Dooley's Pub sight at Cumberland and Broadway. The fine details are being worked out by the Planning and Zoning Boards and the City Solicitor. Commerce has indicated that it hopes to be up and running by mid 2008.
Your government has be identifying new ways to promote our City Marina and park and this year along with the Business Association the first annual catfish tournament was ran with great success and participation from as far south on the River as Salem and as far north as Rancocas Creek. This year's tournament is projected to be one of the largest River Tournaments on the Delaware. The marina is now identified by an anchor that will be supplemented by a beautiful sign and lighting that is presently under design.
With the assistance of the UEZ and various clubs and organizations an annual Car Show and an Irish Festival were held and will continue to be held at the park/marina area. New projects include a barbeque cook off and a day long music concert which are presently being investigated.
Fort Nassau Playground has been brought up to code with new equipment and repairs to existing fixtures. Realizing the significance of keeping some of the original construction, it was not feasible to overlook the safety and security issues that were more pressing. Working with the original committee and Public Works, Mayor and Council came to what we believe to be amicable solution for all involved. A separate and dedicated maintenance account has been established for future needs.
A Community Calendar has been established through the UEZ, the Business Community and Mayor and Council and the Calendar will be mailed to every household on a yearly basis. The calendar that took months to organize and create is a wealth of information at your fingertips on a daily basis. It will be a work in progress with additions every year as deemed necessary. This is a first for our community and I want to personally thank all the volunteers involved.
The city has just recently been notified that we have acquired Brownfield's Designation for the South Port area and we will now be able to get the needed Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Funds and an assigned case manager to move forward in this area. We have established the need for bi-weekly meetings with the proposed developers and will continue to meet with them and monitor their progress.
This month an agreement will be signed with Scarborough Redevelopers to build 29 homes on the King Street Side of the Coast Guard Property this new plan is more realistic then prior development plans and it will also open up the other areas of the base inclusive of the pier for future development such as a restaurant and other retail establishments.
In the same regard Requests for Qualifications are going out for interested developers to engage in an infill housing program. Vacant lots and city owned properties in the area directly associated with the Coast Guard Base have been identified as the initial phase of the project and we hope to break ground on this endeavor in the spring.
The Housing Department has been relocated to the old Keep Well Station on the municipal parking area by the Train Station Depot. The building was acquired from the county for $1 and Housing has moved in with much success. This year we will be hiring additional personnel to accomplish the inspections of every rental property in town and this will be funded by the increase in rental registration that was introduced this year. Also Mayor and Council want to make it ever so clear that we will use whatever resource at our disposal to afford tenants their entitled right to live in a safe and clean environment and landlords the protections they deserve from bad tenants and the destruction of their properties.
A summer basketball league was established for young men and women 18 years and up. This project was a great success and my hat is off to all the organizers and volunteers who made this possible. Mayor and Council fully supported the efforts of these young people and look forward to supporting this program in the years to come.
We are continuing to meet with our County and State Representatives and are received warmly by all. They have been very supportive, informative and helpful in whatever endeavors we approach them with. We will continue in this effort and also with efforts to forge shared services agreements with neighboring communities.
We have committed along with the UEZ to further provide the citizenry with more information through a financial support program with Channel 19. This effort will move us into the digital age with new equipment, providing you a more enhanced picture and sound quality and will also benefit the Business Community with newly televised opportunities to bring their product to the public.
Over the past year we have identified the need for a citizen complaint venue and a follow up system for quality control. Our present system of compliant handling is simply not working and there has been no follow up system in place. Accountability will be the word for 2008 and success will be measured by customer satisfaction.
Mayor and Council have met with several neighborhood groups in their homes to discuss problems associated with their particular neighborhoods. These sessions have been informative and I feel they are a necessity if people are going to have faith in their government. In this regard prior to City Council meetings on the 4th Thursday of each month the Mayor is available to meet with any citizen in whatever regard at 6:30 PM as not everyone wishes to air their issues on television.
Bringing Council Meetings back to Channel 19 has been good for the community; the response from the public has indicated so. Council Meetings will remain televised and in an extended effort to keep citizenry informed the monthly bills will also be released to the local news forums for public viewing. . It has been and will always be our intent on keeping the public informed as to what is going on with your City Government and the use of your hard earned tax dollars should be a primary source of your concern. I know it is of the Mayor and of City Council.
Because of the need for a new water treatment plant we have investigated alternatives and have determined that it is best for Gloucester City to control our own destiny as it relates to our resources. To give up this right would subject us to the same form of monopoly that exists in other services such as cable TV, electric, gas, oil etc. Decisions regarding resources should not be made in haste for the purpose of quickly solving a problem of today. They should be made with our eyes and minds on the possibilities and probabilities of what the future has in store for us. I feel as though your Government, considering the expense of this project today (Ten Million Dollars), has made the right decision for tomorrow.
An important element of government is managing its money. Grants and loans are the lion's share of most infrastructure improvements. This year after being denied grants for the existence of outstanding grants and loans with no action taken, a Matrix was created identifying all city grants and loans to track their source, availability and project progress. This effort has not only afforded the city further grant opportunities but it will also allow for simple referral and more effective management.
As I said your city government has been hard at work this year and on their behalf I want to thank the Department Administrators, their staff and all City Employees whose efforts over the past twelve months have truly made Gloucester City a better place to live.