2020 Vision is a series of conversations with local elected officials about the agenda for their communities in the upcoming year. In this installment, we speak with Audubon Mayor John Ward.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 10, 2020
After years of false starts, construction of the long-awaited Audubon Recreation Center is set to conclude by the end of the summer, with a projected grand opening in September.
But even after work on the structure wraps up, the local government will still keep its eyes on improving the surrounding property with the aim of making it a local destination.
Little has been done to improve its grounds since the borough took ownership of the area in the late 1970s, and commissioners are working to address that with an infusion of cash from state grants.
“The building is one focus, but our focus is on everything surrounding that area,” Audubon Mayor John Ward said.
Among the new additions are an outdoor workout area, complete with circuit training equipment and instructions, and a playground full of oversized musical instruments. Preliminary plans have been drawn up to increase parking at the site, if necessary.
“We researched and researched, and the park was never named, [even] going back to even when it was a county park,” Ward said.
Once the center is officially opened, it will be managed by a 503c nonprofit entity.
Programming elements likely will include recreation leagues for sports and youth activity organizations.
The mayor hearkened back to the days when it once supported active basketball and hockey leagues, and was hopeful that more would once again fill its calendar.
Another key change for the borough in 2020 involves its recently finalized shared services agreement with Haddon Heights, which will see Audubon manage the public works departments of both communities.
In the early days of the agreement, which should net some $100,000 annually for Audubon, Ward said he’s going to be closely monitoring the service levels to make sure that both communities are satisfied with the results.
“We want to make sure that what we promised would happen is happening,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that it’s very equitable. I’m looking forward to this relationship.”
The additional revenue will be dedicated to keeping local costs of living low by managing expenses, but Ward said the agreement should also free up borough employees to take stock of “quality-of-life issues” that residents raise.
Those typically include infrastructure improvements, for which the municipal government could issue a capital bond in 2020. Otherwise, changes will be limited to “small bites at the apple,” he said.
“We have a working list of some streets that need to be done,” the mayor said.
“People want us to give a second look at some of the secondary streets, and we’re absolutely going to give that a look this year.
“Our goal this year is a zero tax increase,” Ward said.
“We had a run of three years without it; it’d be nice to be able to have another one this year.”
The mayor is also looking forward to the continued resurgence of the small Merchant Street business district, not only as a commercial enterprise, but as the backdrop for additional events in the coming year, from its Winter Fest to this spring’s Audubon Day.
“We’re talking about trying to do something on the street,” Ward said.
Also in 2020: residents can expect continued planning and study of the Rails With Trails project, launched in 2001, and recently revitalized with grant aid. The project aims to connect Audubon with neighboring Haddon Heights (and eventually, points beyond) via a multimodal path to be constructed along Atlantic Avenue.
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