Medford looks ahead, with budget deficit on horizon

By AUBRIE GEORGE

As a $6 million budget deficit stares Medford in the face, Mayor Bob Martin said officials continue to work on trimming costs and creating revenue in an effort to close the gap.

He pointed out several goals and initiatives in the works for 2011 that aim to assist the township in delivering quality services while controlling the tax burden for residents.

Martin said the township’s biggest challenge this year, in addition to balancing the budget, will be to figure out how to provide the same services Medford has always provided with dwindling funding to do so.

“It’s always a challenge to provide the best possible services for the least amount of money,” Martin said. “That’s what is confronting Medford as we speak.”

One project Martin said he’d like to see move ahead in 2011 is an expansion of a solar energy initiative that began at the sewer treatment plant on Fostertown Road in 2010.

Under a power-purchase agreement, the township has been working with SolarWorks NJ, LLC to construct a solar energy system that will offset the majority of the plant’s electricity costs. The project is expected to save the township more than $7 million in energy costs over the course of 15 years. The township will also benefit from ownership of Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, which are expected to bring in an additional $675,000 per year in income in the later years of the agreement.

Martin said he’d like to expand on the current initiative so that all township-owned buildings throughout the community are equipped to provide solar energy, allowing an additional decrease in energy costs and long-term savings for taxpayers.

In addition, Martin said he would like to continue toward creating a welcoming environment for commercial, tax ratable properties as a means to generate revenue for Medford. Doing so includes simplifying the process of opening up shop in Medford to make it more attractive for businesses that may be interested in coming to town.

Along the same path, Martin said he is looking forward to the Medford Crossings project at Route 70 and Earystown Rd. getting off the ground. The multi-use, redevelopment project is expected to bring in more than 600,000 square feet of commercial and mixed residential uses, including single-family homes, townhouses, and upscale apartments. The plans also allow for a new municipal building and township library.

In addition to bringing in tax ratable properties, the project also satisfies part of the township’s affordable housing obligations and implements the use of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements, which allow the township to receive a larger portion of the local purpose tax than normal.

Officials continue to work toward establishing a formal agreement so the project can move forward in 2011.

Another project Martin said he is looking forward to completing is the long-awaited plan to improve the intersection at Route 70 and Hartford Rd.

“That’s a big issue for Medford because it’s a hazardous intersection,” Martin said.

The project includes plans to add left-hand turn lanes with left-turn signals to each side of the intersection. The township has been planning to make improvements at the troublesome intersection for a couple of years, but final approval of the plans had been held up due to a delay at the state level.

The improvements aim to eliminate congestion that occurs at the intersection, which doesn’t allow space for cars to get around another vehicle making a left-hand turn.

Officials awarded a $726,288 contract to South State, Inc, for the project in October. It is being funded, in majority, by $440,000 in grant money from the state Department of Transportation as well as $100,000 in developer money.

Martin said the township is waiting on some final approvals as well as cooperation from the winter weather to proceed, but expects the project will be shovel-ready early in the year. Once started, the project should take two to three months to complete.

Martin encourages the community to come together and head into 2011 with one, common goal — the betterment of Medford.

“Let’s work hard for success and achievement for everyone,” Martin said. “That’s all I want out of Medford — to keep it a good, safe place where people come to live and enjoy safety, great schools, the open space we’ve always had and continue to work toward keeping, and the nice shops throughout town. I think Medford has an awful lot to offer.”