Referendum approved, council delighted

Medford Township residents approved a referendum to retain trash collection and increase property taxes by $325 for the average homeowner on Tuesday, April 17, representing a 25 percent increase above the state-mandated 2 percent cap.

Unofficial results had 3,574 residents voting “yes,” and 2,729 voting “no.”

There are 17,138 registered voters in Medford.

The township was waiting on the results from the absentee ballot as of Thursday, April 19, but municipal clerk Kathy Burger said that those votes would not sway the outcome of the vote.

Mayor James “Randy” Pace said the trust residents placed in the town council humbled him.

“I’m very pleased that the residents of Medford had the opportunity to express their opinion at the polls,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Frank P. Czekay, Councilman Jeff Beenstock and Councilman Chris Buoni expressed similar sentiments.

“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been happy over a tax increase,” said Buoni. “I don’t like taxes. I don’t think anyone does.”

“Having to pay more in taxes hurts,” he said, but Medford is aware of the deep-set problems at hand and the need for a solid solution.

“Medford residents want to address the problems in the town,” he said. “They want to correct the problems.”

The good news, Buoni said, is that the potential removal of trash collection as a municipal service would not be sent to the polls in the near future.

“Trash will never be on the table again,” he said. “At least not during my four years on township council. That would be an absolute betrayal of trust.”

Czekay was pleased that more than 6,000 residents voted.

“Passage of the referendum allows our community to turn the page on almost a decade of financial mismanagement and neglect and start a new chapter,” he said. “Our focus from this point forward will be to seek out more efficient and cost-effective ways to provide services to our residents and aggressively encourage new business development in the village and the Route 70 corridor.”

Medford is still on the mend from years of mishandling, said Beenstock..

“It is important to remember that, even with the successful referendum, it will take some time for the public works services, such as brush collection and bulk trash, to begin again,” he said. “We also need, as a community, to do whatever we can to continue to tighten our belts and reduce municipal expenses. This will mean that the public works services to be provided will not be at the previous levels, but will allow for proper treatment of all residents on a responsible basis.”

“The vote (on April 17) is the first step in making Medford financially healthy again,” Beenstock said.

Pace said the outcome of the vote gives the committee “breathing room” for dealing with town issues, calling the approval “one step in a hundred mile journey.”

As a response to Gov. Christie’s glaring disapproval of the referendum, Pace said, “Let him be governor — and I’ll be mayor.”

“The problem doesn’t lie in Medford,” he said. “It lies in government waste and government fraud and abuse, and nobody seems to be addressing it. All I want to do is give the governor the facts. There’s 566 municipalities. He’s got other things to do.”

Resident Donna Symons, who attended numerous council meetings prior to the vote, said she was happy with the results.

“It wasn’t all about trash,” she said. “Attending the budget meetings presented by council and the township manager provided insight as to where we stand fiscally. This information enabled us to make an educated decision.”

Pace urged residents to not fall asleep to the issues facing the town now that the referendum passed.

“It’s important that the public stay engaged,” he said. “If they don’t, it’ll never get fixed.”

The public should continue to monitor every level of government, he said.

According to township manager Christopher Schultz, the township has been able to “substantially close” the gap in the budget created by years of no tax increases and one-time fixes.

“As the tax rates have not been struck yet, and won’t be until late June (or) early July by the county tax board, I anticipate the percentage to increase from the current 11.66 percent residents pay to the local government of the overall tax bill,” he said.

From prior budget hearings presented by Schultz, services to be restored as a result of the vote include once per week trash collection, pick up of bulk trash once per quarter, Saturday yard hours once a month, brush collection twice each year, leaf collection once a year with the first zone being picked up twice — and Christmas tree collection.

Czekay said the financial health of the town would be more stable now thanks to the referendum.

As a still-new council, Buoni said he wasn’t sure if the public would trust the members yet.

“This early on in our administration, I wasn’t sure if we had earned it yet,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see that they’re willing to believe in us.”

He says he is delighted to be able to help make a dent in the town’s problems, as he reminisced on past years of sitting on his porch with Pace looking for solutions.

“In the grand scheme of things, this is one step in the right direction,” Pace said.