HAMMONTON—On January 5, town council held its yearly organization meeting via Zoom teleconferencing software. The meeting had originally been scheduled for January 3, but was rescheduled due to inclement weather.
During the meeting, Mayor Stephen DiDonato began his annual address by thanking his fellow council members.
“I know you take a lot of time from your families, and I want to thank you for your commitment to our wonderful town. We are blessed to have such a tremendous representation of strong individuals, so thank you all,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that it was his honor and privilege to serve as Hammonton’s mayor and to be a part of his 13th reorganization meeting.
“We’ve had a stable budget, new ratables, we have concentrated on the roads, contributed to the arts and culture in our community, supported businesses—both large and small—and polished the gem of South Jersey we are all very proud of. Shopping downtown, with music being piped throughout, eating a sausage and pepper sandwich on the 16th of July, watching a show at the Eagle or Kathedral, shopping at small businesses, markets, spas and salons on the Pike, Bellevue Avenue and throughout the town, the pride that we have as Hammontonians is contagious and is why everyone wants to call Hammonton home,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato made several commitments for the next four years.
“We will continue to improve our roads. We have made great strides, and will work towards improving School House Lane, Valley Avenue, Vine Street and Union Road this year, and many more in the future. We will: continue to work with our fantastic police department to get the drugs out of the community and keep everyone safe; focus on housing in Hammonton, including the comfort and livability of rentals to ensure that our properties are kept neat and clean; improve the quality and playability of all our fields, and we will design and build inclusive playgrounds so that all the youth of Hammonton can play; upgrade Channel 9 with a green screen and have a person dedicated to its content, ensuring that it’s easy to access and provide information to our town,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that it is the responsibility of all forms of government to “leave our job better than when we got here.”
“Just as this council is making the commitment to concentrate on making our community the best it can be, I challenge the school board and schools to do the same. We must all be held accountable. We have many excellent and committed teachers in our community; let’s support them as they do the most important job—educating our youth to be academically, socially and physically successful,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato challenged all residents of Hammonton to do the same.
“This year, in 2022, I ask that every Hammontonian, no matter the path that they are on, the job they are working, the career they are working toward, try to leave a better place than when you got there,” DiDonato said.
The meeting itself opened with a video showing the administration of the oath of office to the mayor and three councilpersons-elect. The swearing-in ceremonies had been pre-recorded in council chambers on December 29 and 30, 2021.
Judge Frank Raso administered the oath for Mayor Stephen, who was accompanied by his wife, Debbie, their son, Matthew, their daughter and her husband, Christina and Drew Dillon, and their two children, Filomena and Luke.
“Congratulations to our longest-serving mayor in the town of Hammonton,” Raso said.
Retired Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson administered the oath for Councilman Thomas Gribbin, who was accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and their children, Grace, Brynn and Paige. Gribbin was also sworn in as the town’s deputy mayor.
“I’m thrilled to be able to be able to do this for the sixth time. It says a lot about the people of Hammonton; they’re pretty smart to keep reelecting you,” Johnson said.
Councilman Jonathan Oliva, who was joined by his wife, Amanda, and their son, Carmen, was administered his oath by Raso.
“It’s kind of amazing that you have a son. I have a grandson. You’re going to have another child—they’re all going to grow up together the way we did,” Raso said.
Johnson also swore in Councilman Edward Wuillermin, who was joined by children, Sara Wuillermin and Edward Wuillermin III.
“Ed, I’m delighted to see that the voters of Hammonton had the wisdom to bring you back out of retirement,” Johnson said.
Later in the meeting, Gribbin expressed his appreciation for being reelected.
“I would also like to thank the residents for placing their trust and confidence in me to continue my service as a councilman for this wonderful town that we call home. I’m humbled by it, and I assure you that I will always put the best interests of this town at the forefront of all my decisions, just as I have in my previous 10 years on town council,” Gribbin said.
Oliva also thanked the residents, noting that he was honored for the opportunity to serve another term.
“I find myself saying that word—honored—quite a bit, but, as a person who’s not typically lost for words, I have a tough time finding another word to express how I feel when I talk about my council responsibilities and the gravity of the residents of the town of Hammonton electing me to this role. I would just like to thank the residents of the town of Hammonton for entrusting me to bring positive change into our community,” Oliva said.
Wuillermin noted his gratitude for the opportunity “to return to office and to serve.”
“I know elections are all about getting the majority of votes, but once you take the pledge in that oath of office, you’re here to serve all the citizens of the town, and I would hope that that would be a mission that I could accomplish at the end of my term, and say that I did that to the best of my ability ... I’m really, really looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and helping to accomplish the goals that we need to achieve in order to be able to keep moving the town forward,” Wuillermin said.
Wuillermin also echoed the sentiments of his colleagues.
“I wish the best of wishes for a New Year to all the citizens of the town. Hopefully we can turn this pandemic into an endemic and put it behind us, because it really—there’s no other word for it—it sucks,” Wuillermin said.
Michael Malinsky of Fox Rothschild LLC was appointed as solicitor for the town of Hammonton for a term of one year. The solicitor has agreed to provide the legal services for the sum of $125,000 with extraordinary services (including litigation) billed at a rate of $300 per hour at an anticipated annual total cost of $40,000 for services rendered.
Raso, who administered the oath to Malinsky live via Zoom from council chambers while Town Business Administrator Frank Zuber held the Bible for Malinsky, noted his appreciation for Malinsky’s “efforts this past year in keeping the Hammonton Joint Municipal Court in Hammonton.”
“Everybody knows that we’re now five municipalities, serving the entire western end of Atlantic County, and I want to thank you. Thank you, mayor, and thank you, council members, for all of your help,” Raso said.
Malinsky was quick to share the credit.
“It would not have been possible but for mayor and council giving me the latitude to do what needed to be done to get it done,” Malinsky said.
Council also voted to appoint Sean Macri as Fire Chief and Dominick DiGiovannangelo as Assistant Fire Chief for a term of one year, per Fire Company elections.
The council unanimously voted to adopt the rules of council, and DiDonato made the following council committee appointments (first-named individual is that committee’s chairperson)—Administration: Gribbin, Councilman William Olivo, DiDonato; Business & Industry: Olivo, Gribbin, DiDonato; Education: Oliva, Wuillermin, DiDonato; Finance: all; Law & Order: DiDonato, Councilman Sam Rodio, Olivo; Public Works & Transportation: Rodio, Councilman Steven Furgione, Wuillermin, DiDonato; Quality of Life: Wuillermin, Giralo, DiDonato; Water & Sewer: Furgione, Rodio, Wuillermin, DiDonato.
DiDonato said that the committees that are comprised of four or more people will be open to the public.
“Water and Sewer, along with the Public Works and Transportation and Finance, will all be advertised since they exceed the three mandatory,” DiDonato said.
Mayor and council also made their annual appointments. For a complete list, see below.
There was no one appointed to serve as the Conflict Court Prosecutor.
“We don’t have a name for that yet. We’ll come back and revisit that in late January,” DiDonato said.
Additionally, Oliva was appointed to the position of Planning Board Class III Member for a term of one year, and Rodio and Gribbin were appointed to the Obscenity Review Board for a term of one year.
“Sam, I guess no one knows an obscenity like you and me,” Gribbin said.
“I was going to say, Rodio gets an A-plus in this,” Furgione said.
Zuber presented the following items under the Town Clerk’s report:
• Accept resignation of Rusty Milazzo from his part-time position as Landfill Attendant effective November 1, 2021.
• Accept resignation of Sierra A. Scola from her position as Public Safety Telecommunicator effective January 13, 2022.
The items were approved.
The following resolutions were approved en masse:
• Resolution No. 010-2022, Defer School Tax, with the amount remaining at $9,921,708.50.
• Resolution No. 011-2022, designating U.S. Bank and Ocean First Bank as official depositories of the town of Hammonton.
• Resolution No. 012-2022, authorizing contracts with certain approved state contract vendors.
• Resolution No. 013-2022, designating The Hammonton Gazette as the official newspaper for the town of Hammonton for the year 2022, The Hammonton News and Press of Atlantic City as secondary newspapers and The Newark Star Ledger as the newspaper for publications requiring statewide distribution.
• Resolution No. 014-2022, Authorize Temporary Budget for 2022.
• Resolution No. 015-2022, Fixing Interest rate for Nonpayment of Taxes or Assessments at eight percent per annum on the first $1,500 of the delinquency and 18 percent per annum on any amount in excess of $1,500 and allows an additional penalty of six percent to be collected against a delinquency in excess of $10,000 on properties that fail to pay the delinquency prior to the end of the calendar year.
• Resolution No. 016-2022, Adopt Cash Management Plan.
• Resolution No. 017-2022, Appointing Assessor as an Agent of the town of Hammonton.
• Resolution No. 018-2022, Budget Transfers, authorizing the following transfer from the 2021 budget appropriation reserves; $39,000 from Group Insurance Premium Expense to Legal Operating Expense.
Before adjournment, DiDonato addressed the topic of the next council meeting.
“We’re not going to say we’re definitely going to be Zoom at the end of January, although it appears that way. We’re hoping to be back in late January, early February in council chambers, so we’ll just play it by ear. We’re going to do the responsible thing and try not to—we want to make sure, God forbid, we don’t get somebody sick and we don’t get our families sick. We’re just going to do the responsible thing, and just err on the side of caution,” DiDonato said.
The next regular meeting of town council will be held on January 24 at 7 p.m.