The 2019 township budget was introduced at $39,964,000, which is roughly a 2.4 percent increase from the previous year, according to Township Administrator Larry Spellman. For residents with the average assessed home value of $258,965, the budget is expected to increase taxes by $49, or approximately $4 per month.
“This was simply an introduction, and the budget is a work in progress,” said Mayor Michael Mignogna in a statement to The Sun. “We expect to adopt the budget in the middle of May, so we have time to continue to craft it.”
A public hearing regarding the budget is scheduled for Monday, May 13.
Included in the budget are numerous improvements and upgrades that are anticipated to be made around the township, such as $1.5 million being devoted to the continued maintenance of locally owned roads.
The township received nearly $200,000 in a municipal aid grant through the state Department of Transportation, according to Spellman, which will assist in the installation of a sidewalk along Kirkbride Road near the Voorhees Town Center. Spellman says the addition of a sidewalk along the street is needed, and the township looks forward to creating a safer way for residents to travel that road while biking, running or walking.
According to a statement Mignogna made to the state Department of Transportation, sidewalks along the road should have been mandated when the apartments were built, however the area has become much more congested over time, causing the need for the sidewalk.
“The new sidewalk will allow safe passage for students to get to school bus pick-up locations and for residents in this area to travel to the Voorhees Town Center shops and restaurants,” Mignogna said. “I have often observed parents pushing strollers along the edge of Kirkbride Road traveling to the Voorhees Town Center and have been concerned for their safety. This municipal aid grant may truly save lives.”
Additionally, the budget asks for $800,000 toward building a new inclusive playground at Connolly Park that will allow children of all abilities to play together. The creation of the Field of Dreams and Jake’s Place along Connolly Park is something that Mignogna highlighted in a previous interview with The Sun in January.
“I think it’s a wonderful concept that’ll allow kids of all abilities to play together. We’re really excited about that idea and it’s a wonderful place for it,” Mignogna said in a previous interview with The Sun. ““I hope that we can both break ground and complete it in 2019. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I don’t see that as being an unrealistic timeline.”
The proposed budget also includes the hiring of five full-time firefighters with the Voorhees Fire Department and one EMT, with three of the firefighters being new hires.
Deputy Mayor Michelle Nocito says this is all part of the five year plan for the fire department, developed at the inception of the Voorhees Township Fire Department after the Voorhees Fire District was dissolved a few years ago.
“We were aware that we were going to potentially need some additional hires,” Nocito said. “We wanted to wait, and we’re two years into the process now, to find out how many volunteer firefighters we had after the dissolution because we had the sense that some of our firefighters might not be around for as long as we’d like them to be.”
Nocito says she has been working on a project over the past 12 months, speaking with different organizations spanning the country, on how to address the need for additional volunteer firefighters. The dilemma is something not unique to Voorhees Township, as much of the country faces a lack of volunteer firefighters.
“There’s still a high percentage of volunteer fire departments in our country… and it’s deeply routed in American history,” Nocito said. “But today with a lot of competing priorities that families face and with working households, people just can’t put the time in that they would like to.
Nocito said the township has spoken with many residents that say they would like to volunteer, however two of the largest barriers that prevent them from volunteering are more rigorous training requirements for todays volunteers and an already packed work schedule to support their household.
The budget is comprised of nearly $1.2 million in grants received and revenues received through various shared services programs.