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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Council meetings return to town hall

New Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee formed

Town council held its first regular in-person meeting since October 26, 2020 when they met in town hall at 7 p.m. on April 26. (THG/Kristin Guglietti)

HAMMONTON—Town council held its first regular in-person meeting since October 26, 2020 when they met in town hall at 7 p.m. on April 26.

Mayor Stephen DiDonato opened the meeting by saying that it was “nice to be back in the saddle again.”

“It’s nice to be in-person, instead of Zoom. If you see me without my mask on tonight, yes, I have been vaccinated, and yes, I have had both shots, and I am very blessed to have had that done,” DiDonato said.

DiDonato also held a moment of silence for Frank Scola.

“Frank was an employee of the town of Hammonton for years at our transfer station, and a tremendous gentleman, and will be very missed by the town of Hammonton,” DiDonato said.

DiDonato also took a moment to recognize Councilman William Olivo.

“This is his first meeting in town hall that he was so adamantly for on this location years ago ... thank you, Councilman Olivo, for standing up for Hammonton years ago,” DiDonato said.

Later in the meeting, Olivo said that it had been a long time since he sat on council, and that it was “a little different, the way it was.”

“I’d just like to thank the people of the town of Hammonton. Back then, there were some trying times that we went through. We stuck with it. People say, ‘thanks for that,’ but I always thought that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It’s just nice to be here; I’m just happy to be here,” Olivo said.

After the meeting, Olivo told The Gazette how it felt to be serving on council in town hall.

“Words cannot describe how excited I was to be here. It was just a thrill. I’m glad to be back; I’m glad to be in this building,” Olivo said.

During the mayor’s report, DiDonato announced the formation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, a new eight-person committee created at the behest of the Hammonton Health Coalition, Allies in Caring and their connectors.

Councilman Jonathan Oliva explained further, noting that one of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that “when our community unites to achieve a common goal, really anything is possible.”

“The goodwill and harmony among all residents of our town is incredibly important, and this committee is going to help drive that unity, both now and in the future. This committee will be dedicated to fostering an atmosphere in our community that is understanding and accepting, and help continue to strengthen Hammonton as a welcoming, exceptional place to live, work and grow—as we all know that it is,” Oliva said.

Oliva said that the committee will also help “to celebrate the cultural heritages and the various backgrounds of the residents of the town, and help us all learn from one another.”

“Hammonton has always been a warm and welcoming place, and this committee is going to help us be sure that, as a community, we continue to preserve the great traditions and heritages of our town, while we also grow and adapt to new,” Oliva said.

Oliva said that the following individuals—several of whom were in attendance—would be acting members of the committee, effective immediately: Kelin Galvez, Ivette Guillermo-McGahee, Mandee Measley, Ocie Norman, Alejandro Ramirez, Copelia Ramos, Myrna Santiago and Joshua Trepiccione. Oliva, as chairman of the Quality of Life Committee, will also serve on the committee.

“I’d like to sincerely thank each of you for coming here today, and for your willingness to serve this committee, and really serve our community. I’d also like to take a second and thank Allies in Caring, the Hammonton Health Coalition and the connectors, whose guidance and initiative during the creation of this committee has been—and really continues to be—a driving force that fosters collaboration of others within our community ... I look forward to seeing what this committee can—and what they will—accomplish,” Oliva said.

DiDonato thanked all those who volunteered for the committee.

“This is a tremendous step in Hammonton’s history. Thank you very, very much,” DiDonato said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Trepiccione thanked DiDonato for his appointment to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

“I’m really looking forward to this, and I think that it’s a great step in the right direction, because we have such a great community with incredible traditions. I look forward to preserving them, and to keep improving on them in the future,” Trepiccione said.

While presenting the report from the Business and Industry Committee, Olivo said that the town is implementing the next phase of the mapping and database project with Civil Solutions to address the impact of COVID-19 on businesses, community groups and residents of Hammonton.

Olivo said that there are four parts to the project; the first is the Back to Business web application.

“This app will map and catalogue all the businesses in the town and all the information about them, their addresses, hours of operation, options for delivery and much more. It has been created in part during the COVID-19 pandemic to help our businesses and residents know more information about what is and not open at given times. We are currently expanding on this data to an actual web application that will keep current our residents and businesses,” Olivo said.

Olivo said that the second part of the project is an address data model.

“All the properties and buildings in the entire town, along with their characteristics, will be collected in one secure database for access by town staff, professionals and others involved with serving the residents, businesses and community organizations in Hammonton,” Olivo said.

The third phase, Olivo said, is enhanced citizen engagement and information access.

“The initiative was started in 2020 with the creation of the town’s planning and zoning data viewer, which is live and operational on the town’s website. Using the same ArcGIS online template, the town will create easy-to-navigate search tools and maps that are available to all our residents to answer questions about the town’s neighborhood services, trash pickup, parks and trail locators,” Olivo said.

The fourth phase will augment the current zone map.

“This project will take the current planning and zoning data viewer to the next level. It will allow residents to search for specific sections of town codes that is relative to the property or properties in question. This will help our residents find information and answers they would like, like how tall does your fence need to be, do I need a variance, or how far from the property line must my shed be?” Olivo said.

The budget for the project, Olivo said, would be $29,220.

“We’re looking to get partial or most of this money back through either FEMA or the COVID grant money,” Olivo said.

Olivo made a motion to approve the $29,220 for Civil Solutions. Oliva seconded the motion, which was approved.

During the report from the Law and Order Committee, Hammonton Police Chief Kevin Friel said that, as of April 9, the department had two new officers graduate from the police academy.

“Both are now out with their Field Training Officers, learning how to be a town of Hammonton police officer. That’s great news, to get more feet back on the street,” Friel said.

Friel noted that two officers have been deployed through the Air National Guard for a duration of six months.

“We will be without them through until September. That does create a strain for our department, but, as many hands make light work, we all work together to pull through shifts to meet up where we’re a little bit short,” Friel said.

Friel said that the department would be looking to hire several new officers over the course of the next several months.

“We’ve recertified our state civil service list for our municipality, because we’re probably going to have a couple more retirements by the end of the year, and we would like to have people well-trained to cover our streets, so we don’t have any lapse in service,” Friel said.

DiDonato said that the town was trying to “build the department.”

“When someone retires, for every retirement we’re hiring two back. Our goal is to have 34 officers fully employed by the town of Hammonton within the next six months to a year,” DiDonato said.

Friel also noted that the capital investment for the 911 system is “fully functional.”

“It has everything in the system so that we can actually track a 911 call mobiley through rapid SOS, and will update continually through that call to get an exact GPS location of where that call is coming from. That’s integrated with our GIS mapping of the town,” Friel said.

Friel said that the new system also includes the locations of all fire hydrants in the town of Hammonton.

“When we do have a fire call, immediately, at dispatch’s disposal, they can see the immediate locations of fire hydrants to be able to prepare the fire department responding where they can attach to—or if they need to call out a tanker, because there isn’t something open in that area,” Friel said.

Also during the report, DiDonato spoke about a residential fire in the 300 block of South Egg Harbor Road on April 24 in regards to the possibility of “some lack of water on the site.”

“What happens when you have a fire of that magnitude, you have a bunch of trucks come in and pull in, and they all hook up to hydrants. Without the GPS information, we can take a main and draw all the water out of it and draw that main dry. What you have to do is know that, OK, hydrant 101 is on this six-inch main, but two blocks over I’ve got to maybe grab that and run a pool if I have to to feed this fire, to get enough water, because you can put enough trucks on that system to drain that line. There was a question of lack of water; well, it wasn’t lack of water. We were trying to pull too much off of one main, and ran the main dry,” DiDonato said.

Councilman Joseph Giralo said that DiDonato was “absolutely correct.”

“When you get other companies come in, and they see a hydrant, and they’re just hooking to the hydrant and running down the street with a hose—because, I mean, it was blazing—it’s tough ... some of them dropped 1,000 feet of line to hook to hydrants,” Giralo said.

Giralo gave credit to the Hammonton Fire Department for saving the house next to the fire.

“The houses are 10 feet apart, and that was a great save. Our fire department did a phenomenal job of saving it. Had the wind been blowing like it was the night before, it would have been history,” Giralo said.

Town engineer David Cella, of Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates (ARH) included the following information items in his report:

Hammonton Bike Path Connector (ARH #11-40052): The contractor has completed a majority of the project. ARH will be working on punch list items and close out activities, including funding reimbursement.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee chairperson Alicia Murphy, Hammonton Town Engineer David Cella and former Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee chairperson Dan Bachalis stand at the entrance to the Hammonton Bike Path Connector. Read more about the Bike Path in the print edition. (THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

School House Lane – 3rd Street to Rt. 54 (ARH #11-40060): As authorized, ARH has started to prepare base plans for design purposes. At present, they need to finish the survey field work. Once complete, they will proceed into the design. Separately, the town has a contractor lined up to video the sewer lines. Once the video is complete, ARH will be able to evaluate the condition of the pipe and set a scope of work for bidding and construction purposes.

Boyer Avenue Pump Station Design (ARH #11-50144): The alternatives analysis for the collection system and pump station location has been approved to the Pinelands Commission. The NJDEP TWA application was prepared and submitted and is currently under review. ARH is preparing an application for the Cape Atlantic SCD. Once permits are in hand bidding can occur. Please note there is one easement acquisition required to service one of the dwellings.

Lake Park ADA Playground/Small Cities (ARH Propsal#21-50144): As requested, ARH is currently preparing a proposal to complete the design, permitting and construction oversight for a new playground area at the Lake Park. The project is funded in part by Small Cities and will have a focus on ADA features. Once the proposal is finalized, ARH will provide and seek authorization to proceed.

During his report, Public Works Manager Robert Vettese informed council about a letter that the Public Works and Transportation Committee received from Atlantic County regarding improvements to Columbia Road.

“They need an additional right-of-way or dedication of like 97 square feet on a parcel of ground that abuts near the airport and near the Cedar Branch Stream crossing. I sent the information over to Mike [Malinsky, town solicitor]; Mike took a look at it. We’re asking for approval of that particular request from the county, subject to the solicitor reviewing the agreement and the other documents that came along with that request,” Vettese said.

Malinsky said that he had already reviewed the request, and that everything was appropriate.

“You’re good to make the motion,” Malinsky said.

Councilman Sam Rodio made the motion, which was seconded by Councilman Steven Furgione and approved unanimously.

Vettese also gave an update regarding the town’s stormwater utility feasibility study.

“That was something we authorized Princeton Hydro to start. He’s gathering information, and he’s setting up his steering committee. Probably sometime in May we’ll have the first meeting, just to gather information and to seek opinions from the town residents on which drainage projects they should continue with, and they would advise the town on where to go from there, if the town so chooses. The town is looking at various drainage problems throughout town,” Vettese said.

DiDonato later clarified some of the intentions of the study.

“We took a grant to see what was out there. That doesn’t mean the town’s going to set up a stormwater utility; that means it was a grant to study that. That doesn’t mean we’re going to raise taxes or have a new tax, but we’d be remiss in not doing our homework in finding out what’s out there, what we need to do and all the issues with stormwater, so we’re doing our homework. By taking the grant, in doing this study, it possibly could enable us for grant money to solve some of the problems in Hammonton with this infrastructure money coming up, because we’ll already be in the queue,” DiDonato said.

DiDonato said that this was a “proactive move, not a move to start a new utility.”

“Let’s make that crystal clear. That’s not on Steve DiDonato’s mind, and I don’t believe it’s on anybody who’s sitting up here, to make a new tax. It’s to get the grant money, find out what issues we have, find out where we can get additional grant dollars and how we can move forward to save the taxpayers of Hammonton money—and get our fair share of state and federal dollars,” DiDonato said.

After the meeting, DiDonato told The Gazette that he felt additional explanation was necessary, as the study had not been discussed fully during the meeting.

“I’ve been trying to have a little more depth on everything we’re doing. Some residents have questioned things a year ago, and then with Zoom and all we weren’t in person, so I’m making a concerted effort, now that we’re back in person, to try to clear up and clarify everything, and make it as transparent as possible,” DiDonato said.

During Vettese’s report, Furgione spoke regarding a letter sent to New Jersey Transit regarding the condition of the railway.

“I’m happy to report something’s actually getting done. From Fairview Avenue, working toward Bellevue Avenue, they’ve been clearing out all the brush. I know our public works guys are bringing cans for them to fill up as they cut it down. I wanted to thank Mr. Vettese for this one. It’s a long overdue project, and I’m glad New Jersey Transit’s starting to tackle it. It was unsightly,” Furgione said.

Vettese said that another letter was warranted regarding repairs to New Jersey Transit’s fence, and council concurred.

“The fence needs to be replaced,” Rodio said.

Vettese also said that Friel had been in contact with New Jersey Department of Transportation regarding the road project involving Central Avenue, Route 30, Pleasant Mills Road and Seagrove Avenue.

“At least they’re making inquiries about that also, so we can update council as we get information on that,” Vettese said.

Vettese said that bulky waste pickup for the month of May is from May 3 through 7, and brush pickup will be the following week, May 10 through 14. Recycling for the county is the first and third week of May.

DiDonato noted that May’s bulky waste pickup is also junk week.

“Every year, we do it twice. For the residents of Hammonton, junk week you can put unlimited bulky out the first week in May,” DiDonato said.

At the top of the meeting, Mingui Garcia of Tacos al Carbon LLC appeared before council regarding the renewal of their license. DiDonato said that, per local ordinance, Tacos al Carbon is required to appear before council annually regarding their food truck at the corner of Egg Harbor Road and Peach Street. Their renewal was approved.

The second public reading was held for Utility Bond Ordinance Bond No. 003-2021—Utility purchase of Equipment. This ordinance provides “for various 2021 utility capital acquisitions and improvements, by and in the town of Hammonton, in the county of Atlantic, state of New Jersey; appropriating $1,575,000 therefore and authorizing the issuance of $1,496,250 bonds or notes of the town to finance part of the cost thereof.”

According to the ordinance, the financing breakdown is as follows:

• Purchase and installation of a centrifuge for the Utility Department; Appropriation, $700,000; Authorization, $665,000; Down Payment, $35,000; Useful Life, 15 years.

• Purchase of a Jet Vac Truck and all related accessories for the Utility Department; Appropriation, $455,000; Authorization, $432,250; Down Payment, $22,750; Useful Life, 5 years.

• Purchase of a UV Disinfection System for the Sewer Plant; Appropriation, $420,000; Authorization, $399,000; Down Payment, $21,000; Useful Life, 20 years

• Total: Appropriation, $1,575,000; Authorization, $1,496,250; Down Payment, $78,750.

The ordinance was adopted and published.

Frank Zuber presented the following items during the town clerk’s report:

• Accept Justin Day as a junior member of Fire Company No. 2. Approved by the Fire Department at their April 14 meeting.

• Approve Contract for Fire Protection Sub Code Official.

• Approval to go out to bid for a 750 Diesel Cab Base Truck for the Highway Department.

The items were approved.

Council voted to approve the following resolutions en masse:

• Resolution No. 047-2021 – Authorize National Night Out and Fireworks Display on, Friday August 6, 2021 (Saturday August 7, 2021 rain date

• Resolution No. 048-2021 – Naming Scott Rivera as Certified Recycling Professional, and authorizing grant application for recycling tonnage grant for year 2020

• Resolution No. 049-2021 – Various Refunds: Sunrun Installation Services , $287, Permit Fee; Sunrun Inc., $250, Permit Fee; Tesla Energy Operations, $719, Permit Fee

• Resolution No. 050-2021 – Authorizing the Purchase of Electricity Supply Services for Public Use on an Online Auction Website “Lighting Accounts.” The town of Hammonton will utilize the online auction services of EMEX, LLC, waiver number EMEX LLC-1, located at; the mayor and council of the town of Hammonton be and [he/she] hereby is authorized to execute on behalf of the town of Hammonton any electricity contract proffered by the participating supplier that submits the winning bid in the EMEX Reverse Auction if the auction for the lighting accounts achieves a price of $0.0617/kWh or less for a 12 month term, a price of $0.0607/kWh or less for an 18 month term, or a price of $0.0617/kWh or less for a 24 month term; town of Hammonton may award a contract to the winning supplier for the selected term.

• Resolution No. 051-2021 – Authorizing participation in Cooperative purchasing agreement “Sourcewell.”

Council also voted on Resolution No. 046-2021 – Authorize NJ ABC to Renew Conflict Liquor License. This was for License No. 0113 33 006, DiDonato’s Bowling Center, 1151 White Horse Pike; Stephen DiDonato, license holder.

Councilman Thomas Gribbin introduced the resolution for vote, from which DiDonato recused himself. The resolution was approved.

During the second public comment portion of the meeting, several members of the Garden State 2A Grassroots Organization spoke to council regarding a proposed resolution. Among those was Sandy Hickerson, of Absecon, who had previously addressed council via Zoom during their March 22 meeting.

Hickerson said that the objective of the organization is “to turn each county into a grassroots hub to defend our right to keep and bear arms.”

“We provide resolution kits, education, advocacy and information about New Jersey firearm laws. The resolution is based on case law and fosters awareness and support of the Second Amendment community and New Jersey. By working with our local governments to adopt the resolution, we the people send a clear message to our state government that we will defend our rights,” Hickerson said.

Hickerson brought with her a copy of a sample resolution for council’s perusal, and was directed to provide them to Malinsky for review.

Council also heard from Mark Santora of 385 Old Forks Road regarding retention ponds on that street.

“They drilled the retention pond behind my mother’s home. I had heard that there was clay, and there’s one across the street and that isn’t working either ... The water in the basin for Carriage Way isn’t working either. It’s being pumped across Third [Street]. It’s winding up back behind Mr. Melendez’s residence. Right now, it’s dry, but it is forming a very large lake that doesn’t go away. It’s not making it to the woods, to what’s been called in the past the downstream corridor. The elevation doesn’t permit it. It’s just a huge lake,” Santora said.

Santora noted that a pipe has been run across Third Street to channel the water.

“It needed to be fixed; somebody was going to get hurt. But now, we do have a very large lake that’s accumulating, and it’s not going anywhere; it’s stagnating ... The impact that I’m afraid of is that this is going to affect, due to lateral drainage, the septics in the area,” Santora said.

Santora noted the installation of a grinder pump in the area and asked that the town consider similar action when construction on Old Forks Road takes place.

“When they do resurface the road, please, please, I’m asking that we put the lines in for the grinder pumps, so—if the septics do fail, as I’m afraid they’re going to do—we have a recourse ... while we have it torn up, please, can we look into it?” Santora said.

Santora also mentioned the lack of depth in the cleanouts along Old Forks Road.

“If we can get those addressed, because I was told with the cleanouts at that depth, and the laterals running at that pitch, that number one, you couldn’t tie into the sewer with the cleanout being that shallow, and number two, the water would outrun the paper with a lateral at that pitch and there would be some problems,” Santora said.

Santora also requested, should Old Forks Road not be due for resurfacing in the immediate future, that the quality of the lines and markings on the street be improved.

“It says ‘school’ up by the Pike; I would like to see ‘school zone’ painted on the road, and also the 25 m.p.h. limit. The little signs are up. Maybe they’re not being seen; maybe they’re not being noticed. If we could paint ‘25 m.p.h.’ on that road until it can be resurfaced, it might go a long ways to saving a bad accident,” Santora said.

DiDonato said that Friel would look into the matter, and that the town would look into the drainage issues.

The next meeting of town council is scheduled for May 24 at 7 p.m.


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