Sweeping changes to town begin at meetings
Here are some council decisions—including government spending measures, many of which will impact taxpayers or municipally-owned facilities—that have either been approved or are under consideration at the present time:
• A stormwater utility.
• A television/social media studio on the third floor of town hall for Channel 9 (Access Hammonton).
• A proposed redevelopment zone that could include affordable low-income housing on town-owned land on 11th Street.
• Possible plans that could lead to the demolition of the Hammonton Public Works Garage and incorporate the 11th Street property and the redevelopment zone as well.
• A proposed project called “Central Piazza” that The Gazette asked for information about from the town—and was give minimal information regarding the proposed project, except for the fact that the town approved a grant application for $250,000 for the project earlier this year.
According to Wells Fargo, the big bank building next to Central Avenue will be closing permanently on October 5. Maybe it’s a coincidence.
• The July 6 council decision to grant the town approval to start negotiations with a company called West End Development Associates Urban Renewal LLC to build townhomes that could include more affordable housing on a large parcel of land bordered by Washington Street, Messina Avenue, Orchard Street and 13th Street (the council mistakenly referred to 13th Street as “Fairview Avenue” during the July 6 meeting.)
Meanwhile, at the school, the possibility of more government spending—including the potential for a possible referendum this year—is always looming.
Mind you, this is a school district that has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on constructing and renovating school buildings, funding programs, paying teachers and staff and more at the Hammonton School District during the last 20-plus years. Hammonton High School and the Hammonton Early Childhood Education Center were built in the early RS. Since then total renovations of the Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School and Hammonton Middle School were funded and completed.
How much more do they need? A turf field is already under construction. What’s next? Millions of dollars in additional spending in taxpayer money for luxuries we don’t need? The public has not been told anything yet, so these are just guesses on my part.
If you’ll pardon the pun, they are educated guesses.
Are we really going to entrust more spending of taxpayer dollars to the people who hid most of the view of Hammonton High School from Old Forks Road behind what I have christened “The Mento-Lyons Solar Array and Enclosure Project?” That solar array really has become an analogy for poor local government decision making. It just sits out there on the front lawn of HHS looking stupid—as stupid as a recently-announced county project I have christened “Denny’s Depot,” named for Atlantic County Dennis Levinson. The absurd fuel depot proposed for the front lawn of the county building on S. Egg Harbor Road is tied with the solar array at the school for the Hammy Award for “Bone-Headed, Tone-Deaf Project on Taxpayer-Owned Land.”
The county project and the town’s reaction is mostly a distraction from the important local stuff, though. Moving forward, the question must be asked: What do all these municipal and school spending projects mean for local taxpayers? They mean that, despite the inflation, the gas prices and the uncertainty with COVID-19 and its variants, the war in Ukraine and the social issues, this town and this school district just want to spend more of your taxpayer money on projects that aren’t necessary.
We’re just spending money.
Just spending money.
“Just spending money” has become a mantra for local government—and while grants may help defray some costs, they certainly won’t bear the complete burden of all these projects. Was there a big outcry by the public to move forward on these projects by that I missed, by the way? Or was it the “top-down” approach that has taken hold in recent years, with the push coming from the government side, and the funding coming from the taxpayer side?
Meanwhile, road projects languish, educational priorities suffer, parks mostly go without reinvestment throughout town and the sewer and water utilities are no longer self-liquidating. Meanwhile, the town budget includes a one-cent tax increase.
It’s not fair. It’s not right. The public needs to be informed and begin pushing back on these risky spending measures and the sweeping changes they will bring to our town before it’s too late.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.