Mt Laurel manager: Times are tough

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

That was the phrase used successfully by the Bill Clinton presidential campaign in 1992. It applies now as well.

Mount Laurel Township Manager Jennifer Blumenthal said things are bad all over.

She said there is less revenue with more expenses.

While the 2011 budget passed below the 2 percent cap, it was a struggle to put it together.

As for next year, Blumenthal said that right now they are looking at all operations and all services and seeing what they can afford. She said they will likely make service cuts next year.

“We really have to see what type of money we’re looking for that will have the least impact on the community as a whole,” Blumenthal said, noting assessments in the last couple of years went down $20 million. “We’re hoping in future years commercial businesses will be coming back.”

She pointed to the revised sign ordinance recently passed by township council that allows for bigger signs on properties.

“We’re looking at being more friendly to the commercial businesses, seeing what they need to come to Mount Laurel,” Blumenthal said.

Township manager since September 2009, she was deputy manager in Mount Laurel before.

With an MBA from Tulane University, Blumenthal was a labor relations counsel in Atlantic County and assistant comptroller for Avalon borough.

“I thought Mount Laurel was a great community,” she said, adding she was hoping to provide services to the residents and businesses but the economy tanked.

Blumenthal said the township is looking to have events at Laurel Acres Park to help make it the center of town.

She said residents want to have a town center, more bikeways, and more sidewalks but that all that is very expensive.

Blumenthal said she is trying to work with organizations like the municipal utilities authority, fire district, and library to put on events that foster community spirit. She said the Fall Fest was able to be put on because of volunteers from many organizations.

“I think right now what I’m seeing from our community is everyone really is pulling together to create more community spirit without using tax payer dollars,” Blumenthal said.

She said the most challenging thing is the budget, trying to increase services while reducing taxes.

“We’re at the point where we’re almost having to raise taxes and reduce services,” Blumenthal said. “When you’re dealing with a community of 42,000 people everybody has their own needs and wants and desires but right now we’re in survival mode.

“We simply don’t have the money to do everything that we’d love to do for this community,” she added.

And the most rewarding thing for her is working with “a great team” of people, council and department heads as well as resident volunteers.

“We’re all of the same mindset that we don’t want anybody to pay more taxes” while wanting to keep residents and businesses, Blumenthal said.