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 some new ideas or approaches that you can bring to Township Committee, and how will it benefit the town? 2.) What can be done to attract new businesses to the town, and how does keep the businesses it already has?
1.) The Garden State has again led the nation in outward migration for the fourth time in five years. Why? High taxes and overbearing government intrusion. We need to continue to do what we can to control our part of the world…not easy, but a worthy goal. In Shamong, we continue to find new ways to do more, with less. One way we can do this is to continue to “share services” with other surrounding towns. For example, we merged our local Shamong municipal court with Southampton’s and changed a taxpayer debt into a surplus. We will continue to explore areas where we can identify potential savings in our school programs, the largest mandatory taxpayer expenditure, to discover areas of duplication or waste. Our school student population has been going down for years, but not the costs. Do we really need a $5 million new bond for school renovations now? Why? Let’s create an open forum where administrators, parents, teachers, students and taxpayers can make suggestions identifying all potential tax dollar savings to foster a climate for better living conditions for our residents and creating new learning opportunities for our children. To encourage all residents and local businesses, and any governmental spending we control, to spend money in Shamong first. Support our local Shamong businesses, such as our restaurants: La Campognola, Indian Mills Pizza, Shamong Diner, Mighty Joe’s and the Pic-A-Lilli Inn. Why not have your Christmas party or place an order for your next event locally? In addition to cutting spending, I want to increase revenue, not raise taxes. We can do this by building a bigger tax base and increasing business presence without changing the country setting we have. We need to be respectful of all of our residents, many of whom are nearing retirement, on fixed budgets, have lost a spouse or job, have children in college and are fighting hard to make ends meet in these very tough economic times. Lastly, as you already know, everyone is welcome to come to our town meetings, and we appreciate those who have made time on their Tuesday nights to share their ideas and suggestions, which are always welcome.
2.) I love our town so much that I opened my law office here in the old “Mac’N’Tot’s” building, utilizing a formerly unused and unappreciated beautiful property. With the Pinelands restrictions, it can be more expensive and onerous for new businesses to come to Shamong, and this scares many businesses away. We need to continue to be business friendly, encourage new responsible events, such as Valenzano Winery’s fireworks, while treasuring our special environment. We will continue to invite the outdoor and nature lovers: the bikers; equestrians; hikers; canoers; and legalized motorized sporters to visit us and spend time and money in our town. Let’s remember, and treasure, our farmers and our local businesses located in “downtown” such as Opici Wine (who employs approximately 25 workers), Metamorphosis Hair Salon, Shamong Nursery (I love the sunflowers on Indian Mills Road) and Oakshade Nursery, Absolute Pool Care and Zodiak and Cypress Insurance agencies, Dr. Roger Oliva dentist and others.
Lastly, unlike Philadelphia, I would welcome a few “Ubers” in town as well. Can we make Shamong a destination? Yep! How? By sharing our natural beauty and first-class businesses and residents.
1.) One of the most important things a community can do as a whole is take care of its young people. Keep them busy, keep them safe, keep them away from drugs and alcohol. We have great schools. We have great sports programs, Scouting programs, music programs and more — all thanks to the countless hours of volunteers. What we don’t have is a safe place for our older children to gather. The school dances and fun nights are well attended. If a place were established, at least on a semi-regular basis, for kids to gather, it would go a long way in keeping them entertained, busy and out of trouble. You’re thinking about the cost right? Well, we have a church in the township, some empty business space. These are just two possibilities that come to mind. Would you hand your child $5 or $10 for a safe night out? A Saturday evening dance perhaps? Let the kids give their input. What would they like? Besides Disney Land.
2.) We’re a rural area, so there is an upside and downside to new businesses. We have some empty properties. Some have been empty for a very long time while some are more recent. The type of business needs to be carefully measured with its location. I wouldn’t want to see an auto repair shop on Oakshade Road, but an ice cream place such as Leo’s would work just fine. It would also make hundreds of kids immensely happy.
Sand Stand in Medford Lakes is hugely popular. Therein lies the sales pitch and the focus of the pitch. Fill our town’s need and show them how it has worked elsewhere. Keeping the businesses we already have isn’t really within the control of a town of our size; for the most part, they simply didn’t fill a need for the long haul. The larger successful and the well-established businesses aren’t going anywhere.
1.) I’m confident that I can provide new ideas and new approaches to the Township Committee. I’ve grown up using the Internet and I’ve seen firsthand the power of that technology. The Township Committee is full of good people who have accomplished a great deal. That said, the committee is made up of members who are all from an older generation. If we want Shamong to continue to move forward, we need a variety of viewpoints brought to the table. Let us look at Evesham Township, which partnered with Uber to reduce drunk driving. That type of modern, creative and innovative problem solving is what Shamong needs to strive for.
There’s a host of people living in Shamong who have grown up with the Internet. And there is another generation, that of my parents, who lived for awhile without it, but now use the Internet daily. For our town to refuse to effectively utilize this resource is truly a waste. Shamong is an excellent town, and we can do even more to improve it. Opening our government to people of different ages, economic backgrounds and genders is key to increasing involvement in our government.
2.) Shamong needs to attract new businesses. One thing we can do to attract new businesses and new families to our town is improve our Internet infrastructure. The Internet is key to so many businesses. Simply put, Shamong has not worked to keep developing our digital infrastructure.
Our town needs to create a new committee focused on attracting new businesses. I would encourage this new committee to reach out to the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce to interact with the business community to see what they would like to see Shamong develop. This committee can also consider offering new businesses property tax breaks, micro-loans and discounted fees and permits. Whatever the committee decides, it must be in the best interest of those living in Shamong. The committee should also look into using the media to highlight incentives and the impressive workforce that exists in Shamong.
Attracting new businesses is the key to Shamong’s growth, and we need to make sure those changes are beneficial to the community.
1.) First, I have always tried to look at the township more as a business than a municipality. One of the ideas that is always talked about across the state is, why don’t more towns in New Jersey share services? By definition, a shared service is a collaborative strategy in which business functions are concentrated to promote efficiency, value generation and cost savings. A fun fact, there are 565 municipalities and 586 school districts in our state, and most of them don’t talk to each other. Well here in Shamong, we talk to everyone. In 2014, our Shamong district court was bleeding money. We lost $60,000 because of increased costs and dwindling recoverable fees/fine money. So, we decided to outsource our court system to Southampton Township. With this decision, we have reversed our $60,000 loss into a projected $10,000-$15,000 gain for year ending 2016. This is a win/win for both townships. A few weeks ago, we entered into a new shared service agreement with another town, where by, they will utilize Shamong’s building code inspector/code enforcement official to provide services to both towns. This will create efficiencies for both towns and generate additional revenue for us. We will continue to explore these types of shared service relationships, where it makes business sense for us, without compromising services to our taxpayers.
Second, as many people may have heard or seen, we are looking into opening a cemetery in Shamong. For more than 15 years, some of our local residents, born and raised in Shamong, have been asking the committee about building a cemetery in town. After doing some research, we realized that people are offered limited options when making arrangements for themselves or their loved ones in Burlington County. We have also discovered from the research, that there could possibly be a revenue generating business for the town from this project. No decisions have been made; we are still working through the discovery phase. These are just a few of the ideas we are working on to carry our town forward for the next 10 years and beyond. As always, we look for input from you. We meet the first Tuesday and last Tuesday of each month.
2.) How do we keep the business we have? It simply starts with local people, supporting local business. As with any entrepreneur, the goal is to provide a good or service at a reasonable price that consumers are willing to consume. We have a tremendous base of small business in town. From Mighty Joe’s to the Valenzano Winery, from the Pic-A-Lilli Inn to Indian Mills Auto Repair. If we continue to support them, they will continue to grow and support our town. One thing the committee did at the end of 2015 was to create three local economic development zones within our town.
Each zone was designated at various locales, where most of our existing businesses reside. The goal of these zones is to possibly provide some local government assistance, in the form of possible tax incentives to help start a new business or to help an existing business, if they are looking to expand. We are also looking to grow our relationship with the Burlington and Camden County Chambers of Commerce, to help possibly drive new small business to Shamong.
Each member of the committee has been and always will be the biggest promoters of our town. However, we will never make changes that would affect our small town community environment. If you have any ideas that may help our business efforts, please come to one of our meetings.