Mayor Joann Gattinelli’s 2019 ‘State of the Township’ address

Gattinelli delivered the address at the Jan. 23 council meeting

I stand before council and the residents of Washington Township at the completion of this administration’s second year in office to present you with the current state of Washington Township. As I stated last year, there were many goals and objectives of my administration from the very beginning to improve the township and the services our residents expect and deserve. It is my intent, and will always be my intent to continuously make Washington Township a more exceptional place to live, work, and raise a family. I am pleased to announce that many of the goals of my administration have been accomplished and created new opportunities for the community. With the help of our Washington Township council, our department heads, their supervisors, and the rest of our dedicated employees, we are well on our way to making even more improvements in 2019.

Budget and Taxes

It has been my goal from the beginning to keep local property taxes stable. In both 2017 and 2018 there was no municipal tax increase, while at the same time improving services to our residents. We anticipate that there will be no municipal tax increase in 2019 either. As you also know, we introduced the Shop Washington program as a way for residents to save money on their property taxes and to help business owners keep business in Washington Township.

I am pleased to announce that this program, sponsored by Republic Bank, is a huge success here in Washington Township. $515,000 has been spent locally amongst the 40 businesses registered. All residents should have received a Shop Washington Township rewards card in the mail, along with your Washington Township calendars last year. These cards are also available in each department of the municipal building for residents.

We thought it was important to bring back the township calendar, and commissioned our elementary school students again this year to create the beautiful pictures that you will see when you open your calendar.

I would also like to mention some other important cost saving measures we’ve taken during 2018. The township entered into a three year energy contract with a company to provide greater energy proficiencies and over $70,000.00 in cost savings in our municipal buildings. The township has also entered into a number of shared service agreements in 2018 to help residents save money while still delivering the same or better level of services. These shared services agreements include the construction of the new turf field located at the Washington Township High School for use by all township youth and sports recreation programs, a shared services agreement with the board of trustees for the Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library and the continuation of the shared services agreement with the board of education for school safety and security. We have also bid the contract for our copy machines and printers both saving additional money and acquiring better equipment. This resulted in a 30% cost reduction for copiers and printers.

As I’ve mentioned before, Republic Bank is sponsoring the Shop Washington Township program. Not only have they generously sponsored our program, but they were also awarded the bid for municipal banking services in 2017. Republic Bank was the best option for the township as it has increased reliability and saved the town thousands of dollars.

I was also pleased to be a part of many grand openings of new businesses in Washington Township this past year. Some of these businesses include: Scarpinato’s, Burger Barr, the Walmart grand re-opening, Upscale Creations Hair and Barber Shop, Aquarius Supply, PM Pediatrics, South Jersey Lice Lady, Orange Theory Fitness, Kadar Orthodontics and many others. Washington Township added over 60 new businesses in 2018. It is wonderful to see Washington Township continue to expand and create new opportunities for all.

Public Safety and Security

Our number one priority is to make sure that our residents are safe and secure. Through the efforts of Chief Gurcsik and our dedicated police department, we have instituted many new programs including new forms of community policing to help keep our community safe and secure. We have a strong relationship with the board of education and have extended our shared services agreements to place additional police officers in our schools to make sure that our most important assets, our children, are safe and secure during their school day. We have also hired additional police officers where necessary including special law enforcement officers who are well trained while at the same time help save the township money. We will continue to keep public safety a top priority for 2019 and beyond.

Visual Improvements

You may have noticed some visual changes around the township throughout the year. There have been many updated and improved township facilities. This has really been a team effort by my administration including the public works department, parks and recreation, our town engineer and my team behind the scenes. I know that many of you have been noticing our efforts to keep Washington Lake Park clean and orderly. We have several renovations planned for the park this year including new roofs on park structures, new paved walking and bike paths as well as demolition of old structures to start the removal of blight at the Cedar Lake segment of Washington Lake Park.

The township has received many compliments from residents, as well as non-residents of Washington Township who have informed me that they come from out of town just to spend time in our beautiful park. Our public works and parks and recreation departments have really put a lot of effort in keeping the park immaculate and I appreciate their hard work and dedication.

This past year, there have been many paving and road work projects around town. I have had many residents calling and emailing regarding the paving of their streets. The town engineer, along with public works supervisors, have been compiling a list of streets that are in need of paving. We ask that residents continue to be patient as paving is an expensive renovation and there can only be so many streets repaved per year. The township has also recently finished completion of a project for the baseball fields including paving of the parking areas, installing a guide rail and safety flashers. In addition, fencing improvements will be seen through the winter as well. public works will be working with the baseball program for building improvements at the Hurffville Grenloch baseball complex. Residents can now see all of the paving that was also completed at the East Holly Micucci Field football complex.

We have also made improvements to various municipal facilities and infrastructure to better serve our residents. There have been substantial improvements to the Senior Citizen Center, the CAC Building, the new refurbished police storage building on Fish Pond Road and the Police Department Sallie Port.

New Initiatives

From the beginning, I have made it a goal to be open and friendly to any and all business owners that are willing to be a part of Washington Township. I want to continue to create a town that is business-friendly; essentially, a town that wants to keep and bring in new businesses. In order for this to happen, we needed to foster strong relationships with brokers, business owners, and developers. With that being said, my administration has made it possible for us to communicate and develop relationships that are important for the growth of Washington Township, by hiring an economic development consultant, Nancy Mozzachio.

We have designed brand new Washington Township Economic Development booklets to entice developers and bring business back to the town. We have established a Black Horse Pike Task Force Committee focused on an area in need. We have also started some new redevelopment projects with the efforts of our township solicitor and planner.

We are continuing our resident outreach programs such as my ‘Coffee with the Mayor’ meetings, eight small budget meetings, two open budget hearings, ‘Employee of the Month’ awards, and bi-weekly department head meetings. I find it imperative that I keep all department heads on the same page when it comes to the services provided for Washington Township residents. When we are all informed of new procedures and improvements, we can better serve the community. As for budget meetings and ‘Coffee with the Mayor’ meetings, they were designed to open the lines of communication between municipal government and the residents. We find that many residents have questions or concerns they would like addressed face to face and we have fostered these opportunities. The meetings were created in the hopes that residents bring constructive ideas that will help better the town. When it comes to the budget meetings, I feel as though we introduced a way for residents to ask any questions or provide any concerns they have in regards to the township budget.

In 2018, township council adopted a “No Knock” Ordinance to give residents an opportunity to prevent door to door sales and peddlers from coming to their homes. We have received excellent feedback from residents, especially our senior citizens who are most vulnerable to scams which unfortunately sometimes occur from door to door sales. Recently, the township also received a $20,000 sponsorship from Jefferson Health/Kennedy Hospital to initiate our new bike share/rental program in Washington Lake Park for all residents to enjoy.

New Events/Banding Together

There have been many events that have brought together our first responders, the police department, fire department, EMS, and the municipality. I feel it is beneficial for the town as a whole, for all of our public service representatives to work together in order to make our community better and safer for all who live and work in Washington Township. Community outreach events like National Night Out, ‘Fishing with a Cop’, ‘Coffee with a Cop’, ‘Battle of the Badges Blood Drive’, Movies in the Park, ‘Shop with a Cop’, Concerts in the Park, ‘Cool Off with a Cop’, the 4th of July Parade, 1st Annual Police K9 Charity Car Show which raised over $10,000.00 and the annual Christmas tree lighting to name a few.

I am happy to report the D.A.R.E. Program was well received. We are planning to host an opioid overdose awareness & reversal training that has been very successful in neighboring towns. I believe it is crucial for young children to be aware of the dangers of drug use. With the threat of opium use increasing, it has become more of an epidemic than ever before. This past year alone has brought to light the effects of drug use in our community, as well as around the state.

Our local emergency planning committee has also been hard at work when it comes to the safety of our residents. They have been a part of many different drills to prepare for real emergency situations such as active shooter, suspicious package situations, bomb threats, and fire. In December 2018 our emergency Planning Committee worked with Jefferson hospital and the county office of emergency management to simulate a very successful drill for a building collapse which involved Washington Township police, fire and EMS. We have made some changes to the members of the committee, as well as the organization of this group to be more effective and reliable in real emergency situations.

Community

I am pleased to report through the efforts of the environmental commission and the green team, Washington Township was recognized for the second year in a row as a Certified Sustainable Community by Sustainable Jersey! We can count ourselves among the more than 200 New Jersey municipalities who have achieved this status. I am proud that Washington Township has taken these steps to “Go Green” and take care of our community.

Along with reaching this wonderful status, there have been other initiatives established to encourage Washington Township residents to “Go Green”. We have continued to host shred day events twice a year, as well as the environmental commission’s annual clean up day. I am also excited to announce we completed another “Go Green” initiative to partner with a state grant to help fund replacing all the lights in the municipal, public works and police building with low use LED lighting that requires less energy usage and helps to save money on cost. As part of this grant we also replaced all of the air conditioning units in the police department with higher efficiency units.

I would like to acknowledge the dedication and huge efforts of all the volunteers in Washington Township who help make a difference in our town. I had not realized the large amount of selfless individuals who offer their free time to help the less fortunate. Organizations like Mother’s Cupboard, Mothers Matter and the Christmas Angels are among these amazing groups. I was honored to be able to contribute my time to most of these organizations. It makes me proud to know that when there are people in need, there will be volunteers to offer help.

With the help of our township solicitor and engineer, we were able to accomplish the demolition of the Watson Turkey Plant which has been an eyesore for many years and has been the subject of resident complaints since before I took office. The cost of this project will be the responsibility of the property owner and has been partially subsidized by grants. We have already met with a number of potential redevelopers for that site and are hopeful that it can be redeveloped and be a positive commercial ratable for the Township once again.

We have continued to improve transparency between our residents and the township. Besides our creation of many township social media platforms, open public budget meetings and multiple Mayor and Chief of Police programs, we introduced the Washington One app which will allow residents to register any complaints or issues with the township and follow the progress of their concerns.

We also have continued with the Washington Township Saves Lives Programs which was started in 2018 and provides free rides for all township residents from township bars and restaurants to their homes. This program was initiated with much fanfare to help reduce drunk driving accidents and save lives and keep our roads safer. The numbers speak for themselves as Washington Township has had a 6% decrease from 2017 to 2018 in DWI arrests and a 30% decrease from 2017 to 2018 in DWI arrests involving township residents.

Closing

I would like to thank our dedicated township employees and volunteers for all their hard work day in and day out to help our township grow and improve. I also want to especially thank our police and first responders for risking their lives for our residents and visitors each and every day. We will continue to do what is in the best interest of the township and we will continue to work with other government agencies and pursue new initiatives for our community. We ask that you follow us on social media as you will receive frequent updates. Thank you to township council for working with my administration and helping improve the township. Finally, I would like to end by saying thank you to all Washington Township residents for your continued support as my administration works extremely hard every day to make Washington Township a better place for all to live, work, and raise a family.