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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Michael Perna honored

Joseph F. Berenato/THG At the June 26 meeting of town council, Councilman Steven Furgione (left) presented a plaque to Michael Perna (right), who is retiring from the Municipal Utilities Department after 38 years.

HAMMONTON—Longtime town employee Michael Perna, who is retiring from the Municipal Utilities Department after 38 years, was honored at the June 26 meeting of town council.

Councilman Steven Furgione said that Perna saw a lot of progress and change during his time with the town.

“He saw the overseeing of the building of the new sewer plant. He saw the renovation to all the town drinking wells. He was involved with everything involved with Boyer Avenue; when Mike originally started, Boyer Avenue was woods,” Furgione said.

Furgione said that Perna was also heavily involved with replacing water meters throughout the town, and more.

“He’s a dedicated employee. He’s been—38 years; I don’t know how many people spend 38 years at one job,” Furgione said.

Furgione extended thanks on behalf of the mayor and council, and read from a plaque.

“In recognition for your loyal and dedicated service to the people of Hammonton, we wish you all the best in your retirement. For 38 years, the town and its residents reaped the rewards of your hard work and tireless efforts. As you move on to a new chapter of your life, we—the mayor and council, and the residents of the town of Hammonton—wish you the best in your retirement with our sincere appreciation for all you have contributed to our community,” Furgione read.

Perna said that he has seen a lot in 38 years.

“What I miss are the people. From reading the water meters, we had to go in; when we started, there was not one meter outside. Every six months, we read the meters. The old Italians—all the meters were in the basement—they all had summer kitchens; that’s what I miss,” Perna said.

Perna expressed his appreciation for the recognition.

“Thank you. I don’t even know what to say,” Perna said.

In other business, during the open public comment portion, several residents addressed council regarding the request by High Maintenance Cannabis Company LLC for permission to open a recreational marijuana dispensary in Hammonton. The first was Joanna Conn of 529 Passmore Ave.

“Due to my employment over the years, I have experienced the dreadful consequences of addiction. It is not a pretty sight. I have witnessed families fall apart and/or violently react to the devastation of reliance on a foreign substance induced into a loved one’s body,” Conn said.

Conn said that voters have been “brainwashed.”

“Don’t listen to this fairytale of increased revenue and new businesses. Dispensaries and consumption areas are trying to demonstrate that vaping—among other things—is acceptable,” Conn said.

Conn referenced Colorado’s Amendment 64, added to that state’s constitution on December 10, 2012—which made that state the first to legalize the private consumption of cannabis.

“Since then, 19 states—including Washington, DC—have followed suit. Their latest report, since their approval to take on this addictive drug, has been increased. ER visits, hospitalization, impaired driving, fatal accidents, crime, DUIs; their scenario is this. By voting yes to legalize recreational marijuana, they opened the door to a score of unknowns,” Conn said.

Following Conn, Carmen Bartolone, of 701 N. Third St.—one of the owners of High Maintenance Cannabis Company LLC—addressed council.

“In 2022, there were 22 dispensaries in the state, which collected $555 million, which is around $16 million per dispensary—which means $320,000 for each town that had a dispensary with no investment for the town at all. Zero. All they did was allow a store to sell something that’s legal, now, in the state—just like alcohol, which is more addictive,” Bartolone said.

Bartolone said that having a dispensary would allow residents to access “a safe product.”

“Alcohol and opioids and cigarettes and vaping the wrong products; a lot of this stuff can be infused with fentanyl these days,” Bartolone said.

Angelina Capella, formerly of 500 Walnut St., echoed Bartolone’s sentiments.

“I had at least four friends growing up that were literal children; none of them died from cannabis. It was all opioids and alcohol ... it’s harm reduction, in a way. It’s a way to get safer, instead of getting it off the street because our town doesn’t have one—or wherever you have to go to get it—it’s harm reduction, in a sense, because you can get it safely,” Capella said.

Hammonton Planning Board Chair—and former councilman—William Olivo also addressed council.

“When I was sitting there—where Mr. Wuillermin is—approximately two years ago when we talked about cannabis in the town of Hammonton, we just thought it was not a good idea for the town of Hammonton. We all could have our own opinions; we all could feel whatever way we feel. I don’t see Hammonton as being a town where we should be selling marijuana products,” Olivo said.

Among the residents who addressed council was also Marco Galli, of 906 N. Third St. Galli said that a dispensary would not create more recreational cannabis users.

“The people that are smoking pot now are here; you’re not going to increase it because some facility opens up. The people are going out of town, spending the money and just coming back here and doing it. As far as bringing any bad things to Hammonton, that’s not going to happen. The only thing is you’re going to generate money for the town. I think it’s a great idea,” Galli said.

Town Solicitor Michael Malinsky said that, on February 22, 2021, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement, Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act went into effect.

“Towns had 180 days from that date in which to—if they were going to—pass an ordinance to prohibit the various license classes of cannabis, or else they were going to be required—under the statute—to allow all classes within industrial zones and classified retail uses as a conditional use in commercial zones and retail zones,” Malinsky said.

Malinsky said that, on May 24, 2021, Hammonton adopted Ordinance No. 004-2021, which amended Chapter 175, Section 145 and added subsection M related specifically to cannabis.

“All classes of cannabis establishments, cannabis distributors or cannabis delivery systems as said terms are defined in the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act are hereby prohibited within the town of Hammonton, except for the delivery of cannabis items and related supplies by a licensed cannabis delivery service,” that ordinance reads.

Malinsky said that, at that time, the state had not yet adopted regulations related to cannabis.

“It was a moving target; nobody knew what was going to be out there, so, in order for the town to make an informed decision at a later date, we decided to prohibit it—which would give us free reign to do what we want to do in the future,” Malinsky said.

Malinsky said that, in order for the town to permit any license classes, the General Ordinances of the Town of Hammonton would have to be amended, which would involve determining which classes of license would be permissible and how many of each would be allowed, as well as which zones and locations would allow the permitted uses.

“We’d have to come up with a municipal licensing process with an application for us to review because, as part of the requirements, when someone applies to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission—who is the state commission in charge of issuing licenses—when they apply to that, under the statute, they need what’s known as a resolution of support from the governing body or municipality indicating that the site is suitable for this use,” Malinsky said.

Malinsky said that an ordinance would be required for such changes, and council cannot take action to permit use without one.

“You could listen to what everyone has to say regarding the issue, and then you as a council would have to make a decision as to how you want to proceed,” Malinsky said.

Councilman Edward Wuillermin said that it was a matter of process.

“The process is defined, and it is elongated, and we just cannot take it and pull it out of the air and pass a resolution because we have a code that we’ve adopted that prohibits that right now,” Wuillermin said.

Mayor Stephen DiDonato commented further.

“I know cannabis is a hot issue, but I think what we should do—as a community—is to put it in Law and Order, in conjunction with the chief, and have some discussions amongst council, and see what the committee wants to recommend in the tutelage of the chief, and see where we go. I’m not saying yea; I’m not saying nay. I’m saying it’s a process we have to start and see where we feel the town needs to go,” DiDonato said.

In other business, Business Administrator Frank Zuber presented the following under the town clerk’s report:

1. Accept new members Michael Busch and Anthony Mazzagatti to Fire Company No. 1. Police Background check completed and approved at Fire Company meeting held on June 21.

2. Approve hiring of Abby Moriello as a part-time dispatcher. No benefits, 26 hours a week, $18/hour effective May 22. Contingent upon civil service rules and regulations.

3. Approve hiring of Kenneth Gerhing as a Class II Police Officer Part-time, 26 hours a week, $30/hour, no benefits effective May 22. Contingent upon civil service rules and regulations.

4. Approve hiring of Michelle Ficken as an intern in the Municipal Utilities Department. $18/per hour for six months or 160 hours, effective June 6.

5. Accept retirement of Audrey Boyer from her position in the clerk’s office effective April 1, 2024.

6. Approval to hire Michael P. Berenotto as a Police Officer effective September 11. Salary to follow step guide in contract. Pending civil service rules and regulations.

The items were approved.

Council also entertained the following resolutions:

• Resolution No. 081-2023, Approval to apply for a LEAP Implementation Grant with Atlantic County

• Resolution No. 084-2023, Approve Transfer of Liquor License from Hammonton Fortunas, Inc. to Rodio Restaurant Group

• Resolution No. 085-2023, Authorizing New Year’s Eve Bash on December 31 from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

• Resolution No. 086-2023, Authorizing Downtown Trick or Treat on October 21st (rain date October 28) from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

• Resolution No. 087-2023, Authorize Hispanic Heritage Kick-off Event on September 15

• Resolution No. 088-2023, Authorize Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 2 (rain date of December 3) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

• Resolution No. 089-2023, Authorize Sale of Surplus Property, including a 2002 Ford

Excursion, a 1997 Dodge Power Wagon, 500W lights with twist-lock plugs, a 12-inch saw and various Hurst tools

• Resolution No. 090-2023, Approval of Amusement Games for Mt. Carmel Festival

• Resolution No. 091-2023, Authorize Issuance of a duplicate Tax Sale Certificate

• Resolution No. 092-2023, Approval to waive Business Registration Fees for 2023

• Resolution No. 093-2023, Establishing a $25 fee for Tax Sale Notices

• Resolution No. 094-2023, Authorize Tax- Water - Sewer Refunds

•Resolution No. 095-2023, Approval to submit Grant Application to US DOT for Bellevue Ave Corridor

• Resolution No. 096-2023, Adopt US DOT Zero Roadway Deaths Initiative

• Resolution No. 097-2023, Approval Grant Application NJ DOT 13th Street

• Resolution No. 098-2023, Approval Grant Application NJ DOT Egg Harbor Road

• Resolution No. 099-2023, Approval Grant Application NJ DOT Old Forks Road

The resolutions were approved unanimously.

Before the conclusion of the meeting, DiDonato discussed the sale of town-owned property at Block 1602/Lot 3—149 Golden Eagle Dr.—which was authorized by Ordinance No. 005-2023, adopted at council’s April 24 meeting.

According to the ordinance, the minimum amount for the lot will be $22,300

“We had an offer of $8,000 to sell that parcel on Golden Eagle Drive … It’s a substandard, non-buildable lot. It’s only useful to the person and/or persons that it’s adjacent to; in this case, it’s only a person,” DiDonato said, and asked for a motion to accept the offer,

Malinsky commented further.

“It’s subject to an executed agreement of sale and closing; that’ll be later approved by mayor and council,” Malinsky said.

Wuillermin made a motion to approve the sale, which Councilman Sam Rodio seconded. Councilman Thomas Gribbin inquired further.

“This will all come back before council in a formalized agreement of sale?” Gribbin said.

Malinsky affirmed that assertion.

“A final agreement of sale, you guys will approve and discuss the terms in closed, if we need to, for negotiation. We will come out of closed; if you are acceptable to the terms, it will be approved in open,” Malinsky said.

DiDonato commented.

“I won’t sign anything until it’s approved,” DiDonato said.

Gribbin commented.

“And it will be on the agenda,” Gribbin said.

The motion was approved unanimously.

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


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