• Joseph F. Berenato

No tax increase for town budget

Council outlines spending plan

Town council presented Angela Donio with a plaque in appreciation for her long service to the Hammonton Environmental Commission and to the town. (Left to right) Terri Caruso-Cafiso, Councilman Jonathan Oliva, Donio, Dan Bachalis, Martha Matro and Dr. Michael Hozik. (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—At the regular meeting of town council, held at 7 p.m. on May 24 in town hall, Mayor Stephen DiDonato announced that the 2021 municipal budget would represent a zero percent increase to taxpayers.


“There’s no increase for water, sewer or the general fund,” DiDonato said.


At the top of the meeting, DiDonato began by calling for a moment of silence.


“Mayor Ranere passed away—former mayor Peter Ranere—passed away a couple of weeks ago, and also, approximately two weeks ago, John Aloisio, the building inspector and longtime town employee. A moment of silence for both of them fine gentlemen,” DiDonato said.


Council then dispensed with the regular order of business for two presentations.


The first was given by Councilman Jonathan Oliva in recognition of Angela Donio, whom, Oliva said, is “a tremendous volunteer in our community.


“Really, [she’s] a person who’s continued to go above and beyond—and not just for a number of weeks or years, but for a number of decades; or, at this point, half of a century,” Oliva said.


Oliva said that December of 2020 represented the last time that Donio attended a meeting of the Hammonton Environmental Commission as one of its members, but still holds her position as the chairperson of the Historic Preservation Commission.


“She also taught me the difference between ‘commission’ and ‘committee,’ which is very important; she’ll never let me forget it,” Oliva said.


Oliva said that Donio has been a “driving force for the environmental commission in a number of ways.”


“In her time before the environmental commission was created, when it was the Shade Tree Committee, she’s done a tremendous job in helping further forest preservation and helping be an ambassador of the Pinelands and our community. She’s done a spectacular job, and we want to take a second to just recognize her for everything she has done, continues to do and, we know, will continue to do in the future,” Oliva said.


Oliva called Donio up to the dais; she was joined by environmental commissioners Terri Caruso-Cafiso, Martha Matro, Dr. Michael Hozik and commission chair Dan Bachalis.


“On behalf of the mayor and council and the town of Hammonton, we would like to thank you. I, personally, would like to thank you. Being a first-time councilman last year, with a brand new baby in the middle of a global pandemic trying to learn my responsibilities, it was not easy. Anytime I needed to pick up the phone and call you and ask you a question, you were always there to teach me—not just the way that it was, but always the way how we got there, and how we got to where we are, and, ultimately, where we need to go. Your vision has been absolutely extraordinary,” Oliva said.


Oliva then presented Donio with a plaque.


“Commissioner Angela Donio has served as an important member of the Hammonton Environmental Commission since 2009, and a valued member of the Hammonton Shade Tree Commission before that. She has assiduously engaged in the work of the environmental commission, and always advocated for professional training for its members to bring cutting-edge best practices to the commission in pursuit of environmental excellence. Angela has shared her experience in assessing the health of trees, her knowledge of community history and her deep and abiding interest in preserving and improving Hammonton’s physical and natural environment without reservation over the years. Her main contributions have enriched the decision-making of the organizations in which she has been a member, and have helped to ensure that their deliberations were substantive and balanced. Angela’s lively wit and wisdom have enlightened and enhanced the decisions held by the commissions, and have deepened the bonds among its members over the years, creating a strong sense of community,” Oliva read.


For her part, Donio expressed gratitude at the unexpected honor.


“Thank you very much. I really appreciate this. It was a surprise. I should have known something was going on; Dan had a jacket on,” Donio said.


Oliva conceded the difficulty involved therein.


“I was most impressed that I was able to keep this a surprise. Angela is in so many different commissions and organizations. I think that was the most impressive part. Congratulations, Angela, and thank you again for all of your continued support,” Oliva said.


DiDonato expressed his thanks to Donio for her service to the community.


“Angela, thank you for all you’ve done for the town of Hammonton and continue to do. You truly are a tremendous role model for the town. Thank you, and God bless you,” DiDonato said.


Councilman Thomas Gribbin concurred, and noted that Donio recently had another special day.


“And a happy belated birthday, as well,” Gribbin said; Donio’s birthday was May 22.


During the Quality of Life Committee report, Oliva gave an update from the Hammonton Environmental Commission.


“I’m excited to report that the town has been accepted by the National Arbor Day Foundation to be part of Tree City USA. This is a recognition that really shows Hammonton’s commitment to a healthy and sustainable environmental program, and we now join over one-quarter of New Jersey townships that are designated Tree City USA,” Oliva said.


Council also entertained a presentation about AtlantiCare LIFE Connection from Susan Brown, the manager of enrollment and community relations, and Erin Williams, the director of quality and enrollment. Brown said that the purpose of the presentation was to explain the program, stating that LIFE stands for “living independently for the elderly.”


“We are a Medicare and also Medicaid waiver program for individuals who are 55 and older who live within our service area who meet a medical level of care that fits what could end up being in a nursing home. The objective is to keep them out in the community ... An individual has the care of the primary care physicians, social work, physical/occupational therapy, dietary, RNs, certified home health aides, someone to schedule all their appointments, transportation, medication—and all of that comes from us,” Brown said, noting that the program allows patients to live at home or in other familiar surroundings while receiving the care offered.


Brown said that those with questions may call (609) 572-8588 or email lifeconnection@atlanticare.org.


Council resumed the regular order of business with Resolution No. 056-2021, Self-Examination of Budget.


“This self-examination happens every year ... It’s something that we have to do for the state of New Jersey,” DiDonato said.


The resolution was approved.


Council then held the introduction of Ordinance No. 006-2021, an ordinance to exceed the municipal budget appropriation limits and to establish a CAP bank.


According to the ordinance, the Local Government Cap Law, N.J.S. 40A: 4-45.1 et seq., provides that “in the preparation of its annual budget, a municipality shall limit any increase in said budget up to 1.0 percent unless authorized by ordinance to increase it to 3.5 percent over the previous year’s final appropriations, subject to certain exceptions; (and it) provides that a municipality may, when authorized by ordinance, appropriate the difference between the amount of its actual final appropriation and the 3.5 percent percentage rate as an exception to its final appropriations in either of the next two succeeding years.”


The language of the ordinance indicated the necessity to increase the 2021 budget by up to 3.5 percent in the interest of “promoting the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.” The total dollar amount reflected in a 2.5 percent increase is $260,333.59 over the previous year’s appropriations. The resolution authorized a final appropriation increase of 3.5 percent increase, or $364,467.03.


Councilman Steven Furgione offered an explanation of the increase for the edification of residents.


“This allows us to expand our budget to cover our increased costs with no increase in taxes ... our pension contribution went up $67,000 this year, and our health insurance went up $160,000, so that’s quite a bit of money,” Furgione said.


Council then entertained Resolution No. 057-2021, which introduced the 2021 municipal budget.


“Basically, what we have is a zero increase to the taxpayers. We have, over the next year, we’re going to build the police force to 34 members. We have additional patrol cars for the police and their equipment. There is some money to do roads in here. There is money for a new phone system for town hall,” DiDonato said.


DiDonato then deferred to the town’s business administrator, Frank Zuber.


“We’re only using $1,000,820 in surplus. Last year, our surplus, we added $2,931,952.98, and that’s an increase of $146,050.41. In the capital program, which the mayor mentioned, we have a new phone system for town hall; Channel 9 upgrades to the studio; the road program; the building next door, we hope to take care of that; recreation upgrades; ADA playground equipment, we got a grant of $400,000, and our match is $40,000, which is in this budget; Skinner/Mazza remediations is also in the budget; and also a new security system for town hall,” Zuber said.


Zuber told The Gazette that the total amount allocated for capital improvements is $3 million, with a down-payment of $150,000, but that specific allocations within the capital program had not yet been finalized.


“This is just an estimate of what mayor and council may do. We could do something else with the funds if they decide to do that. Nothing is set in stone. We did this to estimate the down payment money we will need if we do these projects. The down payment amount is a requirement that is five percent of each project listed,” Zuber later said in an email to The Gazette.


The estimates Zuber sent are as follows:


• New phone system for town hall: $240,000; down payment: $12,000.


• Channel 9 upgrades and studio: $50,000; down payment, $2,500.


• Road program: $1 million; down payment, $50,000.


• 224 Vine St./Mazza property: $240,000; down payment, $12,000.


• Recreations upgrades: $1.2 million; down payment, $60,000.


• ADA playground equipment: $440,000, less $400,000 grant, for a total of $40,000; down payment, $2,000.


• Skinner/Mazza remediations: $150,000; down payment, $7,500.


• New security system for town hall: $80,000; down payment, $4,000.


• Total amount: $3.4 million, minus $400,000 grant money, for a total of $3 million. Estimated down payment funds: $150,000.


During the meeting, Zuber said that state aid has “remained consistent at $1,272,714.”


“I believe it hasn’t increased since 2009. The reason, as Councilman Furgione said, is the increase in our health insurance and the pension costs are what caused us to do the COLA [cost of living adjustment] orders this year. As the mayor said, this is with a zero increase to the taxpayers,” Zuber said.


Councilman Sam Rodio commented on that latter statement.


“I think it’s well-noted to say, Frank, that you mentioned there, to have a zero increase and a million-dollar road project, possibly... some of the numbers are well-noted, and not to have an increase, we’ve done very well here,” Rodio said.


Furgione said that, as far as utilities are concerned, the town is “finally starting to realize substantial debt reduction.”


“We go from $1.745 million debt last year to $1.21 million in bonds and loans, so our debt was starting to drop off significantly,” Furgione said.


Furgione said that council will have the town auditor at the next meeting of town council to discuss the budget in detail for second hearing.


The resolution passed.


The budget will be published in the June 9, 2021 edition of The Gazette. A hearing on the budget and tax resolution will be held at town hall on June 28 at 7 p.m., according to the ordinance, at which “time and place objections to said budget and tax resolution of the Town of Hammonton for the year 2021 may be presented by taxpayers or other interested persons.”


The summary of the general section of the budget is as follows:


Current fund: municipal purposes within caps, $10,780,186.90; municipal purposes excluded from caps, $2,701,876.59; reserve for uncollected taxes, $1,135,945.53. Total general appropriations, $14,538,009.02. Less: anticipated revenues, $4,773,158.12. Amount to be raised by taxation, $9,764,850.90.


During the town engineer’s report, David Cella of Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates presented the following action items:


• Lake Park ADA Playground/Small Cities (ARH Proposal No. 21-0230): As previously reported, ARH was requested to prepare 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. Currently, ARH has prepared a proposal for the town’s consideration. The project funding is $400,000 grant with a $40,000 match by the town. As part of the proposal, ARH will complete survey field work, design activities and construction oversight. Action Requested: Authorize ARH Proposal for professional services for the Lake Park ADA Playground project in the amount of $42,000.


• NJDOT — Local Aid Grants (ARH Proposal No. 21-0297): The NJDOT has announced that applications for FY2022 funding are due July 1, 2021. After discussing with the PWTC the following applications are intended to be prepared and submitted for funding consideration: Municipal Aid, Old Forks Road from the WHP to Town Line; Bikeways, Termination of current path to the Lake Park; Safe Streets to Transit,Flashing Beacons on 11th street at the Bike Path crossing and improvements to the Train Station. ARH typically completes these applications and supporting documentation for around $2,500 per application. Action Requested: Authorize ARH to prepare FY2022 NJDOT Grant Applications for the projects noted in the amount of $3,000 (for up to three applications).


• K&K Linens Property / 224 Vine Street (ARH No. 11-01094.01): The HDSRF grant application has been submitted and is under review by NJDEP. The grant request has an initial NJDEP review. ARH will work with the town to provide some additional information related to the grant opportunity. Specifically, there is some clarification needed to set the eligible items under the grant program. The “safety” issue that exists due to the condition of the existing floor in the building, may allow the demolition activities to be funded. It is ARH’s understanding the town would like to move forward with demolition activities on the site. Environmental investigations (preliminary site assessment and hazard material assessment) was completed in the areas that were accessible on the site. In addition to the demolition activities, it is their understanding in discussion with PWTC that the town would like to have a parking lot installed behind town hall on the K&K site. ARH has prepared a proposal for the town’s consideration related to demolition activities and preparation of a plan for the proposed parking lot. Action Requested: Authorize ARH proposal for professional services for the preparation of plans, bid documents and construction oversight in the amount of $27,000.


• Mazza Muffler Site / 104 S. Egg Harbor Road (ARH No. 11-01102): As previously reported, the HDSRF grant application valued at approximately $31,000 has been submitted for a preliminary assessment and site investigation. Application is currently under review by NJDEP. Concurrently; it is ARH’s understanding the town would like to move forward with demolition activities on the site. In order to proceed with demolition activities there are a couple of items that will be needed. An environmental assessment, inclusive of a preliminary site assessment and a hazardous materials assessment will need to be completed. These assessments will allow for bidding documents to be prepared for demolition activities. To that end ARH has prepared a proposal for the town’s consideration. Action Requested: Authorize ARH proposal for professional services for the environmental assessment, bid document preparation and construction oversight in the amount of $20,500.


• 2021/2022 Water Capital Projects (ARH #21-0078): Previously, the town and ARH have worked together to prepare a plan to meet the N.J. Water Quality Accountability Act. As part of the plan there is a required annual capital improvements plan to reinvest into the existing system. Using the recommendations previously provided with the Water Quality Accountability report it is the town’s intention design in 2021 and construct in 2022. Over the past couple of months, we have worked with town officials to define the proposed scope of work and anticipated budgets for the projects. It is planned to have the following projects enter the design phase in 2021: Rt. 54, First Road to Second Road; S. First Road, Tenth Street to dead end (in the vicinity of Birch Drive); White Horse Pike and Seagrove Avenue, a portion of main at the WHP and extension along Seagrove. Action Requested: Authorize ARH proposal for professional services for the survey fieldwork and design activities in the amount of $108,000.


Furgione noted that he spoke with Cella after the last meeting of the Public Works and Transportation Committee (PWTC).


“His original price was $118,000. I said, ‘We did multiple projects; can you help us out?’ He got it down to $108,000,” Furgione said.


Furgione noted that the project has been in the works for some time.


“Route 54 has been a thorn in our side for years. It’s a small, undersized line. We have ruptures in the winter, frequently; I’ve personally experienced four or five myself. The idea here is that we’re not cutting into a brand-new road that the state’s going to do, and we get the proper sized pipe. At the time when they built the lines, it didn’t matter, but a two-inch line just doesn’t cut it anymore, size-wise,” Furgione said.


Furgione also discussed the proposed work on First Road.


“Believe it or not, that’s one of the oldest water lines in town, and that needs to go. There may be a public discussion in the future as to if some of the residents in that area want to participate and get off their wells. Maybe we’ll extend that project a little bit. We’ve identified about 20 or so parcels that are on well in and around that area that, if we get enough positive public feedback, we may be able to extend that water line and offer water service to additional residents,” Furgione said.


Furgione also commented on the proposed work near Seagrove Avenue.


“That’s just a dead-end on the White Horse Pike where the line stops. Mr. Cella, in his investigation, did find a way to hopefully save substantial money on construction. Instead of snaking it all around Main Road and Seagrove, we may be able to go right through the parking lot of the sewer plant; that’s kind of the idea here. If we do that, the project would be much, much less in construction,” Furgione said.


The five action items were approved, bringing the total authorized expenditure to ARH to $200,500.


Rodio commented on the financial authorizations.


“For months, because of COVID, we didn’t spend many dollars, but we talked about this, month after month, in different committee meetings. We want to move forward now. Yeah, we’re spending a lot of money here tonight, but if you look back at a lot of council meetings, there were a lot of nights where I know I didn’t have any action items, and there were a lot of different ones, I’m sure, where Steven didn’t either. One thing I will tell you: if we spend dollars for the town, we’re going to spend them as wisely as we can,” Rodio said.


DiDonato also said that some of these funds come as a part of the American Rescue Plan.


“The town of Hammonton received $1,360,000 over the next couple of years. We’re going to parlay that money into doing a lot of projects,” DiDonato said.


The next meeting of town council will take place at 7 p.m. on June 28.