Cherry Hill is no stranger to change.
After all, the township has embraced many transformations over the years, by way of working through challenging economic times, adapting polices and practices to make the township more sustainable and most recently, questioning the need for a charter school and exploring the impact of merging with a nearby municipality.
But the most noticeable change was felt earlier this week, as Chuck Cahn was sworn in as mayor of Cherry Hill, succeeding longtime Mayor Bernie Platt, who announced his retirement in April.
Cahn said he is ready to get down to business.
He said one of his main areas of focus, as the township’s new leader, will be to work with the community to address its business needs.
“I see the difference as being involved in all decisions on all levels, giving strong leadership to department heads and being able to react to the business needs, while being involved in the community,” Cahn said.
Cahn, a semi-retired businessman, took over his father’s document-imaging company, Stewart Industries, and after 30 years, sold it in 2007.
While campaigning last year, Cahn highlighted his business finesse and promised residents he would use his experience to better Cherry Hill.
“I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman, but a compassionate businessman. I’m willing to make tough decisions and I have to be creative,” Cahn said. “I’m looking for smart ways to improve services while keeping an eye on the bottom line.”
Next up on Cahn’s agenda, he said, is to take a hard look at the municipal budget.
Last year, the council adopted a $64.5 million budget, with a tax levy of $45.1 million, which added about $14 to the tax bill of average-assessed homes.
Cahn said he plans to continue to look for ways to keep spending low, while generating additional income for the township.
“One of the first things is looking at the budget and every line item to save money and consolidate without depleting any services,” Cahn said. “We’ll look at every line item and question every expense.”
Another priority as mayor is to keep the township moving forward in becoming more sustainable, Cahn said.
Cherry Hill put its greenest foot forward last year, with a bevy of news on the sustainability front.
Last summer, the federal Department of the Interior announced the trails at historic Barclay and Croft Farm sites had joined the ranks of more than 1,100 previously designated trails across the country.
Route 70 welcomed 8.3 miles of wildflowers from the Pennsauken to Marlton borders on the busy township thoroughfare.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Hoboken, chose to deliver news about his Sustainable States Act of 2011 at the Camden County Environmental Center Parks Department building in Cherry Hill and, by the end of the year, the township, through its partnership with Sustainable Cherry Hill, achieved Sustainable Jersey’s highest designation.
Cahn said he plans to continue and improve upon the previous administration’s strides toward sustainability.
“I have a very strong affection for sustainability. I’m looking at the partnership between the township and the board of education to have an educational workshop to teach our children in Cherry Hill about sustainability,” Cahn said.
Cahn said he has spoken with school officials about implementing sustainability into the curriculum district-wide.
The district recently received grant funding to enable students at the middle-school level to learn about sustainability in the classroom, district public information officer Susan Bastnagel said.
Cahn said he also wants to get Sustainable Cherry Hill more involved at town hall, by possibly broadening the community development department to include a group of volunteers.
“We’d like to broaden community development to include sustainability and give Sustainable Cherry Hill direct access into the township,” Cahn said.
Maintaining and increasing shared-service contracts is another goal for Cahn in the coming year.
Last year, one of Platt’s biggest successes was a trash-disposal deal, which saved the township $265,000.
Eight towns in total signed on to the deal, including Voorhees, Haddon Township, Winslow, Merchantville, Collingswood, Somerdale and Gibbsboro. The eight-town consortium collectively freed up about $950,000.
“Mayor Platt has done an excellent job in saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in shared services,” Cahn said.
Cahn said he plans to maintain all current shared services while adding more to the list. His initial ideas for shared services include road paving and maintenance services and also finding new avenues to share costs with the school district.
Other pressing issues in the township, including a looming charter school and a municipal merge, will require the continued leadership of the mayor.
The Cherry Hill-Merchantville joint commission recently put out an RFP to solicit companies, non-profit organizations or academic institutions to study a merge between the two municipalities.
Cahn said the commission would have a busy few months ahead, with finding ways to study the merger and move it forward.
“My hope would be for the commission to come to both government bodies for input before deciding,” Cahn said.
The charter school issue continues to linger in Cherry Hill, with the imminent arrival of Pastor Amir Khan’s Regis Academy Charter School at 99 Burnt Mill Road next fall.
Cahn said he is not opposed to charter schools in general, but says there is no need for one in Cherry Hill, where students already receive a quality education from the public school system.
“My opposition is two-fold. We don’t need a charter school to serve Cherry Hill, and I’m very concerned about the cost to Cherry Hill’s taxpayers,” Cahn said.
Cahn said he plans to continue to work with the district to determine how the charter school received state Department of Education approval.
“The township is in the appeals process,” Cahn said. “The school district is doing an excellent job in studying the issue. The effect will be felt broadly among our taxpayers. We need to take a strong, hard look (at the charter school).”
The town council will also see a few changes with the departure of Councilman Dennis Garbowski.
In the November election, Council Vice President Sara Lipsett and Councilman John Amato were re-elected, along with newcomer Melinda Kane.
During his campaign, Cahn pledged to be Cherry Hill’s full-time mayor. He said he will take no salary in office and will be available throughout the week at town hall.