The borough will define the futures of a couple of properties in the coming year, continue with its infrastructure work, and look for some key personnel replacements.
By Matt Skoufalos
‘Visions for 2016’ is a series of tone-setting conversations with local leaders as they define government priorities for the coming year.
First in the series is a chat with Haddonfield Mayor Jeffrey Kasko about the municipal agenda for his borough in 2016.
For Haddonfield residents, the most significant news of 2016 may come in the earliest days of the year, said Mayor Jeffrey Kasko.
Talks among borough commissioners and real estate developer J. Brian O’Neill have been thick in recent weeks, as both sides try to broker an agreement for the future of the Bancroft parcel.
O’Neill’s plan to situate an arm of Recovery Centers of America, his inpatient addictions treatment center, on the property has been countered by the borough government, which is moving towards designating the site as a redevelopment area.
Although no bargain has yet been struck, both sides are “really close,” Kasko said, and anticipate an agreement may be formalized this week. Once a deal is outlined, the borough government will work with residents and the Haddonfield Planning Board to craft a redevelopment plan for the property. Kasko said he expects the board will hear a proposal from borough planner Philip Caton of the Trenton-based Clarke Caton Hintz at its January 5 meeting, and could finalize a recommended plan for the site in March.
“For many years, we’ve talked about either acquiring the property or seeing something else be developed there,” Kasko said.
“It never got done, and hopefully, finally, this year, we’ll get something done.”
The deal could include a provision that would allow O’Neill to develop a portion of the property—seven or eight acres on the eastern side, Kasko estimated—or to grant him the first right of refusal for the same. That land would likely be dedicated to the construction of 55-and-older townhomes, with the borough determining the outcome of the remainder of the property for public use.
“I think we have to have that conversation with the residents and with the school board as well,” Kasko said, “and then we have to have a conversation among ourselves about whether we want parks or fields, or some type of facility use that would be public.”
The Bancroft property is certainly the most significant piece of land to be redeveloped in Haddonfield, but it is by no means the only local acreage headed for some changes.
In 2014, the borough acquired Boxwood Hall (65 North Haddon Avenue) for $1.8 million to settle a commercial development lawsuit. This year, commissioners will focus on getting some return for that investment.
“I anticipate that we will subdivide the property,” Kasko said, “and there will be some public use in the back and some private or commercial use in the front.
“We might keep a portion of the back so we can have a little pocket park or nature area, but the front of the property, where the building is, is not something I anticipate we want to keep as a borough asset,” he said.
In March or April, renovations to the Haddonfield Public Library should be completed, and the original building, which had temporarily relocated to a pop-up location on Kings Highway, will be rededicated and re-opened, Kasko said.
The newly upgraded library will reopen without the services of Library Director Susan Briant, who stepped down at the end of 2015 after nine years in charge of the facility.
Briant’s replacement will be named in 2016, as will those of Haddonfield Fire Chief Joseph Riggs and Partnership for Haddonfield (PfH) Secretary/Administrator Arlene Fiorilli.
Fiorilli will continue to work with the borough information center, and will still coordinate popular PfH events, like the Haddonfield Crafts and Fine Art Festival, but the Partnership “[is]going to have to redefine that role for whoever’s next,” Kasko said.
All three roles “are big, personnel-type items,” Kasko said, the recasting of which will be “important.”
Efficiency audit, website overhaul, wellness campaign
In the coming year, Kasko will also get to roll out a trio of initiatives that he said had been delayed from 2015: a local government efficiency audit, a new borough website, and a mayoral wellness campaign.
The first of these is designed to improve the quality of services delivered in Haddonfield by surveying borough residents and employees to see what’s working and what isn’t.
“It’s a quick audit of how are we doing, what are we doing that’s good, and where can we make improvements,” the mayor said.
Kasko stressed that the intent of his investigation is not to find ways to trim staff, but to improve service delivery and resident experiences with local government services.
“Are there things that we can look at that can make residents’ interface with government quicker and more efficient?” he said. “Are we providing services that we can share with more towns? Are there things that are better outsourced or better kept in-house?”
On the heels of that efficiency exercise will be the roll-out of a revamped borough website that Kasko promised will be “a lot more user-friendly, a lot easier on the eye, and [offer]a lot more capability for people to do things online,” from bill payment to applications and licensing procedures.
“Everywhere else in people’s lives, they’re doing things online, and government is just a little behind on that,” Kasko said.
The Mayor’s Wellness Campaign will be modeled on a statewide initiative crafted by the New Jersey Healthcare Quality Institute. Kasko said it is intended to help borough residents lead more active lives and to help combat childhood obesity. Early partners include an advisory board comprising staff from the Haddonfield Farmers Market, Haddonfield Running Company, and others.
“We’ll get people thinking about using the car less, being environmentally friendly, [and]what they eat,” Kasko said.
Infrastructure improvements, school bond referendum, taxes
Although Haddonfield enjoys the allure of a healthy canopy from its shade trees, their upkeep has financial implications for borough infrastructure; namely, public sidewalks.
Kasko promised that the borough government would tackle the issue with a new ordinance requiring public sidewalks to be repaired every time a property changes hands.
“A lot of other towns do it that way, and it seems to be a better method instead of badgering people or citing them for a summons,” he said. “It’s going to be a requirement for a C.O. (certificate of occupancy).”
Kasko said that repairs to the borough water and sewer infrastructure begun by its new owners, New Jersey American Water, will continue apace in 2016, with local roadway improvements on a parallel track. Kasko said he anticipates about $1 million in cash will be invested to that end in the 2016 budget, with some state grant aid or bonding to cover any additional costs.
“We’re obviously going to be spending more money,” he said. “We have to catch up on streets, especially.”
In calculating the 2016 municipal budget, the mayor said borough leaders are doing everything they can to reduce the local tax burden, particularly as the Haddonfield school district heads to a multi-million-dollar bond referendum in March.
“If the county’s raising taxes and the school board has to raise taxes, then we don’t have to raise taxes, or [we can]keep it at a minimum,” he said.
At the same time, borough commissioners will be looking to accomplish as much as they can without kicking the can down the road for future generations, Kasko said.
“We’re attacking problems that need to be addressed and not pushing them off,” the mayor said. “Whether it’s sidewalks, the library, the street, or Bancroft, we’re going to get a lot done in 2016 to make sure that we don’t neglect issues.”
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