Incumbents Robert Jakubowksi and Robert Lee are joined by retired Audubon Police Captain Jeff Whitman in the new-look local government.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 13, 2021
For the first time in 12 years, Audubon will have a new mayor at the helm of its local government.
It’s just not clear who exactly that will be yet.
After Mayor John Ward opted to not run for a fourth term, incumbent borough commissioners Robert Jakubowski and Robert Lee recruited retired Audubon Police Captain Jeff Whitman to run with them on the Audubon Stronger Together ticket.
The trio faced no balloted opposition in Tuesday’s election, and, at the upcoming local government reorganization meeting on May 19, will officially nominate Ward’s replacement as mayor.
To the commissioners-elect, the lack of a race indicates that residents feel the town is in good hands.
“We had a very good four years, and we want to continue a lot of the same,” Jakubowski said.
“[We’ll] focus on quality-of-life issues, improve infrastructure where we can, maintain the taxes as low as we can, and see how we can continue to make Audubon the great town that it is.”
Continuing improvements to community amenities, like Audubon Family Park and the recently completed Francis J. Ward Recreation and Community Center, are on Jakubowski’s agenda, as is finding ways “to open up the open space for everyone,” he said.
The new commission will also have to work to manage the rising costs of sanitation and public works, as shifting global markets for waste disposal and recycling are expected to drive prices up.
“Recycling is going to be a very expensive operation in a couple years when that contract reopens,” Jakubowski said, “so we need to continue to educate [residents], and be on top of it to make sure we have good, clean recycling, and reduce how much is being put in our waste stream.”
One way in which the borough has insulated itself against some of those cost increases is through shared services agreements, such as that under which its Department of Public Works (DPW) serves both Audubon and neighboring Haddon Heights.
Jakubowski pointed to Audubon’s shared court operations with Haddonfield as another example of effective shared services, and noted that local leaders will continue to seek out similar opportunities to cut back on operating costs.
“If there’s a chance to cooperate that benefits all parties involved, and there’s an economic benefit, we’re going to explore it every chance we get,” he said. “We still see the same high level of service from our DPW guys, and the agreement has helped our budget.”
Jakubowski also said the borough will be seeking out ways to help its downtown business district rebound from the negative impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Among ways to help revive the local economy, he said the Greater Audubon Business Association hopes to bring back monthly celebrations on Merchant Street starting next week.
“Sadly, it is going to be a recovery that’s been slowed,” Jakubowski said. “We’re going to continue to support our businesses as best as possible.”
Most of all, he said, the local government will look to its people to help band together as the community rallies during the anticipated reopening of the state.
“Audubon’s success always comes from the residents being involved,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Lee, who’ll retain his assignment as Commissioner of Public Safety after the borough government reorganizes, said Audubon is expecting to get a boost from some $875,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds. Officials continue to await guidance on how those dollars can be spent; Lee believes the borough could dedicate at least a portion of them to infrastructure improvements in the downtown business district.
“One of the little hot-buttons in town is clear signage for public parking at The Kove,” he said. “I think we’ll take a look at that. That will assist the business district in feeling comfortable expanding, if possible.
Like Jakubowski, Lee said he’s proud of the work the local government was able to do under the prior administration, and said he’s looking forward to keeping the momentum going.
“I know it sounds trite to say we’ll continue doing what we’ve been doing, but it’s been working so far,” Lee said. “I do think that running unopposed was a statement of our success for the past four years.”
He also touted the success of the shared services agreement with Haddon Heights as having driven savings that helped Audubon retain borough employees during the financial strains of the pandemic.
“We’ve taken positive steps, and we want to continue to see those things work, expand, and include other sharable services if possible,” Lee said. “It’s nice to be in the driver’s seat with a lot of those discussions instead of feeling like you’ve got to react to what somebody else’s proposal is.”
Joining Jakubowski and Lee on the local governing body is Commissioner-elect Jeff Whitman.
An Audubon lifer who’s served in the local police department and on the Board of Education, Whitman said his hometown is “a tight-knit, small community” that’s still “like a big family,” and that’s what inspires him about working in its local government.
“Everybody here, for the most part, has each other’s backs,” he said.
“That’s a huge strength,” Whitman said. “I’ll always be looking to put the town first and do whatever I can.”
As the Commissioner of Revenue and Finance, Whitman said he’ll be working to keep taxes down and guide Audubon’s pandemic recovery. In addition to addressing parking concerns in the Merchant Street business district, Whitman said he’d also like to take a look at some eyesore properties along the White Horse Pike, and address other infrastructure concerns, from road repairs to water and sewer maintenance.
Acknowledging that his role on the commission was created by Ward’s departure, Whitman said, “it’s big shoes to fill.
“[The former mayor] did a phenomenal job for 12 years,” he said. “We want to continue what he did. He kept the taxes down for residents, and at the same time, got some projects done. He was always about what’s best for the town.”
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