As the Shamong Township Committee has a contested election this year, with two open seats and four candidates running in the November 2016 election, the Shamong Sun newspaper is hosting a Meet the Candidates series, where candidates are given a series of questions having to do with Shamong Township so residents may get to know who could possibly be on the council for next year.
This week the candidates answered two questions: 1.) What are your feelings on the recent municipal budgets and tax rates in Shamong? 2.) What do you think can be done to attract new families to move to Shamong?
1.) I think how we craft our municipal budget is one of the most important issues committee members face each year. Our budget has grown year after year as we’ve seen taxes slowly increase. We need to make sure that our town’s budget doesn’t see increase after increase for no reason.
A clear example of our current committee failing the residents of Shamong was demonstrated on Jan. 5 through Ordinance 2016R-2, when the committee voted to increase its own pay. The percent of the budget that is spent on committee members’ pay is minimal, but it demonstrates a larger principle. It’s unacceptable for committee members to tell local residents that we need to run our municipal budget like an individual household’s budget, while voting to increase their own pay for the last six years is totally unacceptable. The township committee voted to increase the salary budget for committee members by more than 17 percent from 2010 to 2016.
When I am on the committee, I will make sure that any increase in the budget is directly tied to a tangible benefit for the residents of Shamong. I’ll make sure our town’s budget isn’t wasted.
Editor’s Note: In the print edition of the paper, a note said that Rinaldi did not submit answers for deadline. There was a technical issue, where he did send it in on time and we did not receive it. We are running his answers online and in the next edition of the paper, coming out Oct. 19.
2.) Attracting new families is key to increasing prosperity for Shamong. Keeping taxes lower than the surrounding towns is key to attracting families. Along with keeping taxes low, our township needs to provide a host of improved municipal services to the residents of Shamong.
The development of a modern Internet infrastructure would attract families and businesses to Shamong. Turning Shamong into a leader in Internet service, both wired and wireless, will be one of my top priorities as a Township Committee member. Reviewing the past year of minutes for the Township Committee meetings makes it clear that the current leadership is uninterested in developing Internet infrastructure of our town.
Lastly, I think an active and up-to-date township website is key to attracting new residents to Shamong. Go to Shamong.net, and look at the lack of updates the website has received. The website isn’t one of an active town. It’s not the best Shamong can do.
I’ll work tirelessly to make sure of all these methods are done to attract new families to Shamong.
1.) First, feelings don’t come into play when we talk about budgets and tax rates. The numbers will always tell the story. I recently went back to take a look at our municipal budget from 10 years ago, I wanted to see how different the numbers looked from an aid perspective. Since 2006, the amount of financial aid Shamong receives from the state has dropped by almost 50 percent per year, and the amount of money will continue to decline for the foreseeable future. Financial decisions at the state level continue to put pressure on all of us…as you have recently seen, the state transportation fund, empty. The future gas tax increase by 23 cents; I am not sure when any of this will end. This is why we will continue to manage our budget on a daily basis. If we can’t figure out a way to pay for it, the right way, it will have to
2.) Unfortunately or fortunately, depends on how you want to look at it…we have very little open development land/new home construction, available within our township. For the most part, one family moves away, a new one moves in. With that, our two best assets become our biggest selling points: 1) The Shamong Township/Lenape Regional School districts. When families look to move into a new area, the first thing they look at is the quality of the school system. We are always fortunate to be at the top of this list in this category. 2) That “quiet country-community, feel” that we enjoy. However, we’re still close enough to drive to the office, in Cherry Hill, the Walmart in Marlton or the action in Philly. We have great places to play, the Wharton State Forest, Atsion Lake and the Dingletown Sports Complex. And we are surrounded by people who truly care about their neighbors and the town in which they live… it’s a pretty easy sell.
1.) Shamong’s taxes remain one of the lowest in all of New Jersey, and I am committed to keeping it that way. It’s important to realize that the great majority of our local taxes go to the county and schools, nearly 96 percent of our taxes are mandated and beyond our control. We run Shamong Township on the small percentage remaining. With that said, I believe that we are all taxed too much, at every level of government. Generally, I believe that the problem is overspending, not under-taxation. I will continue to work to bring new business into our town so that we can broaden our tax base and help our residents’ taxes remain constant, or dare I say, even reduced?
2.) We have one of the lowest crime rates and we are one of the safest towns in New Jersey. Our EMS, State Police and volunteer firefighters are first-class and respond within minutes to any emergency. Our school system and teachers are excellent. Our roads are snow cleared in the winter and we now have a 10-year road refurbishing program underway. We have recently updated our ball fields, tennis courts, new lights and play areas for younger children, all from grants without using local tax dollars. Our neighbors care for and respect each other and are responsible people without needing, or wanting, unnecessary government intrusion into their lives. Our horse farms, churches, awesome restaurants, our winery, Atsion Lake, Wharton State Forest, Historical Society and Native American history make this a little “slice of heaven.” Soon, we will have a new revenue raising cemetery, so you can always stay in Shamong!
1.) I’ve lived in Shamong Township for 20 years as of this month. For the large majority of that time, Shamong had no municipal tax. Those days are gone and our taxes have been creeping up. Yet, our township has been sitting on a surplus of more than $1 million since at least 2009. That’s a lot of money for a town with a total budget of $3 million, which includes $380,000 in reserves for uncollected taxes. I should point out that although there are close to 30 vacant homes in Shamong, the mortgage companies will often advance the taxes to retain their position as a first lien holder. I know this from 27 years of experience as a bankruptcy lawyer. The reserve figure of $380,00 is much too high. Realistically it should be reduced 50 percent. Our taxes were raised again this year. I want to stop these increases and, carefully and cautiously, roll them back.
2.) New families are already here and more are coming. Nine families have moved into my neighborhood during the past year. Six of the homes had been vacant. Seven of the families have very young children. In fact one is just 6-weeks-old. Children are outside playing and riding bikes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people out walking their dogs before. We live in a great community. However, there is a common thread with these property sales (including the three that were occupied). They sold for less than their assessed values. The assessments are not consistent, even within neighborhoods.
This isn’t the fault of our tax assessor. There was too much pressure to reassess our township too quickly.
Now it’s a hardship for many folks, and fixing the issue may help fill these vacant homes.