This week marks my final week as the Mayor of Cherry Hill. This is a special moment for me, and one that’s been on my mind since April, when I announced I would not seek reelection. For the last 45 years, I have devoted my time and energy to the betterment of Cherry Hill, working hard to keep our neighborhoods strong and help our businesses thrive.
Nine years ago, as I prepared to begin my tenure as Mayor, I thought about how we could move this township into the 21st century, how we would adapt to a post-9/11 world. At the time, as I shared with all of you, I knew the future was bright, but the Township faced tremendous fiscal challenges. I promised we would face them head on, together.
Throughout these nine years, my administration has always adhered to a standard invoked by the renowned poet Robert Frost, when he wrote in “The Road Not Taken”:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I believe the “road less traveled” has made all the difference for the financial strength of our community.
Under my command our ship has been rebuilt, and now we are charting a course of solvency. This year’s budget makes Cherry Hill a beacon for other towns suffering under the constraints of the economic environment. This time last year, the Township was grappling with a large budget deficit, but we have persevered through those challenges and hardship.
Our sound fiscal policies have created a strong foundation for the next mayor, one that continues providing essential services without burdening taxpayers. This budget leaves us tied for the lowest municipal tax rate in Camden County, a distinction that separates us from other towns. Furthermore, New Jersey Monthly magazine ranked us as the best big town in New Jersey, and while I’ve always known this, getting statewide recognition is special.
My administration has worked hard to push innovation in our operations. We have created some of the largest cooperative purchasing agreements in the state, and realized a savings of nearly $675,000 this year on trash collection and disposal. Long-term planning has paid off in new revenue and savings from our investments in solar energy, cell towers, RecycleBank and new electrical contracts. This success is only achieved through imagination and innovation.
I have made it a priority to combine these initiatives with common-sense practices like negotiating reality based contracts, streamlining the overall workforce and eliminating sick-time payouts to protect the taxpayer. Purpose is more important than popularity in public policy, and that has been a guiding principle for my administration.
When I took office, this municipality was at a crossroads. Businesses were unsure of Cherry Hill’s 21st century landscape and on the fence about this town’s viability as a significant regional hub. My administration changed that attitude, by bringing more than $1 billion in new development and supporting policies that brought back investor confidence. The Route 70 corridor and Haddonfield Road were transformed into a destination for shoppers, and abandoned buildings have disappeared from our landscape.
Even as you read this, new investment is taking place. Farmers Insurance moved into 30,000 square feet of office space at the Garden State Park in October. Big and small companies now call Cherry Hill home because they agree that we are the spine of South Jersey. There is no longer debate on that subject.
Aristotle said, “men come together in cities in order to live, but they remain together in order to live the good life.” We have persevered through the some of the roughest times since the Great Depression so our residents can remain together and enjoy our shared special quality of life.
During my time in office, we have revitalized the Township’s recreational facilities and preserved more than 140 acres of open space for our children. We have created a wonderful place to call home, supported by strong neighborhoods and committed neighbors.
My tenure has also been a rebuke of the Trenton shell game that continues to be played under the Golden Dome. My recommendation to the next Mayor will be to work to better this town despite the spectacle our state capital creates. And my advice to anyone in local government is to never depend on Trenton.
At night I will sleep soundly knowing that we, as a governing body, have made purposeful investments in public safety and public works. We have gone above and beyond to ensure the health and welfare of our citizens now and into the future. My administration took the road less traveled and I can leave office knowing that fiscal responsibility won the day.
Our workforce is 20 percent slimmer and working smarter than in 2006. Our bond rating is A+ and always improving, and we have paid down $23 million on our debt during my tenure.
My goal has always been to facilitate effective and efficient government. This is the result of the road less traveled. I need to thank the men and women who serve our residents on a daily basis, because our success would not be possible without you. I have always found public service invigorating and satisfying. For the last nine years, I have been blessed to represent and be supported by the residents of this great Township. These years have been exhilarating and challenging, but helping people has motivated me.
This was a dream job for me and today I can say with total confidence, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.