Voorhees Township Year in Review Day One

2019 saw talk of redevelopment and coming changes within the township

After another quick 12 months, yet another year has come to a close. Voorhees Township residents have plenty to look back on from municipal and school events, as well as community events as well.

Let’s take a look back at some of the top moments from this past year in The Sun’s three-day coverage of the past calendar year:

Stories of the forgotten

Scattered and forgotten by tens of thousands of residents, 11 men lie about a cemetery behind Mt. Zion AME Church off Route 73.

These 11 men are Civil War veterans, having served with the United States Colored Troops on the side of the Union. The USCT were established on May 22, 1863. An estimated more than 180,000 African-Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War, comprised of both runaway slaves and free African-Americans.

The 11 men buried behind the church in Voorhees Township served in varying capacities with the Union and were honored two years ago at the Voorhees Town Center by having their own plaques placed on the Voorhees Wall of Honor alongside veterans added each and every year.

Jeanette Schelberg, former township clerk for Voorhees Township, spearheaded the Wall of Honor project years ago and added the portion for the United States Colored Troops after a resident brought it to the attention of the township committee.

On the plaques at the Voorhees Town Center, it states one soldier assisted in the capture of President Lincoln’s assassin, while another participated in the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Thanks to the hard work of those in the community, these men are not forgotten for their service. This Black History Month, all are invited to take a moment to read their stories and keep their legacy alive.

“This is very important for Voorhees Township… there’s so many changes happening in Voorhees all the time and no one is recording what used to be there,” Schelberg said. “This is a very important part of Voorhees history and it’s an interesting part of Voorhees history – and honestly one that most people don’t know about.”

Signal Hill tops previous donation amount during BookSmiles collection

Signal Hill Elementary School, for the second year in a row, collected and donated books this January and February in working with BookSmiles, which aims to give children across New Jersey new and gently used books.

The Husky Service Team with Signal Hill, comprised of approximately 75 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, helped lead the book drive again this year during its month-long collection, urging students and parents to donate.

After hosting the collection, founder Larry Abrams of BookSmiles came to Signal Hill to host an assembly with the Husky Service Team to thank it for its work in leading the collection and talk to the young students about the program.

Abrams says Signal Hill’s work in leading the collection drive has provided exceptional support for the BookSmiles program.

“Signal Hill is absolutely the vanguard, I can’t say enough good things about that school,” Abrams said. “I thought we pretty much tapped the well last year … that staff over there is amazing.”

Pet clinic gets new name and resources for Camden County

The Camden County Animal Shelter was formally renamed the Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center this past March at a celebratory opening of its renovated animal clinic and surgical wing.

The Camden County Freeholder Board has directed $2.5 million in advancements and renovations over the past several years, with $1 million most recently being designated to improving the Gloucester Township-located shelter’s ability to perform low-cost spay/neuter surgeries, as well as vaccinations or dental work for animals.

“Since 2015 until now, we’ve made an investment of over $2 million into this facility to ensure that it becomes one of the major facilities in the region,” said Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young. “The shelter serves thousands of pets and their owners throughout Camden County. We are making sure the shelter has the resources it needs to keep our pets safe and cared for.”

The clinic’s improvements include a new surgical suite and prep areas for spay and neuter surgeries for both shelter and residents’ animals. Additionally, the surgical suite provides increased capacity for public surgeries, larger surgery recovery space and more.

This project was the second phase of the Freeholder Board’s investments, which originally started with an initial $1.5 million contribution in 2015 to expand the facility when it opened a new adoption wing. On top of creating more space for residents to interact with adoptable animals, it also made additional room for county strays, increasing its shelter size to hold an additional 30 dogs and 50 cats.

Voorhees Animal Orphanage breaks ground

Thanks to a large donation from a Voorhees Animal Orphanage supporter and volunteer, the nonprofit animal shelter reached the $1 million mark in its capital campaign for a new building at its location at 419 Cooper Road.

Public officials joined VAO employees and volunteers to celebrate breaking ground on the construction of its new 8,900 square-foot shelter Tuesday, April 9.

“We are so excited to see our dream of building a new shelter become a reality,” said David Semless, president of the VAO board of directors. “Since our inception in 1988, we have saved the lives of more than 30,000 cats and dogs – never turning away a cat or dog in need. This new facility will help us to efficiently continue our mission of providing loving care to our cats and dogs until we can find them their forever homes.”

VAO employees say the new shelter will double the amount of space it has for cats and dogs, thus generating more adoptions. Additional improvements to the upcoming shelter include dog kennels that are 50 percent larger, separate cat and dog meet-and-greet rooms, a larger and more accommodating lobby for guests, much-needed storage space and much more.

Voorhees Public Schools names superintendent

The Voorhees Township Board of Education passed its proposed 2019-2020 budget earlier this month at its public hearing. The general fund tax levy for the upcoming year passed at $47,036,232.

The increase in the tax rate is .0259 cents, bring the new total rate to 1.4747 cents per $100,000 of assessed value. For a home in Voorhees Township assessed at the average value of $258,959, the increase for residents is expected to be approximately $67.

At the meeting, the board also announced it has named the next superintendent as David Gentile, after the Camden County executive superintendent approved paperwork before the meeting.

According to an addendum on the agenda, Gentile’s contract is from July 1 to June 30, of 2022.

Gentile was in the midst of his ninth year as superintendent with Millville Public Schools, a pre-K to 12 school district. Previously, Gentile had served as superintendent in Mount Holly for two and a half years and as a principal at a Runnemede middle school for seven years.

Although Voorhees Township Public Schools is K-8, Gentile said he was looking forward to being able to partner with Eastern Regional and making sure students are prepared for the challenges of high school upon leaving Voorhees Middle School, since he has previous experience with high school education.

“Because I do know high school education from my nine years with Millville, I’ll be able to partner with Eastern and make sure that Voorhees kids are entering high school with everything that they need to be successful,” Gentile said.

Eastern Regional passes 2019-2020 budget

The Eastern Regional Board of Education unanimously passed its 2019-2020 budget Wednesday, May 1 at the board of education offices.

The budget is $38,855,366 for the upcoming school year, which includes $38,380,182 of general funds, $475,184 of special revenue funds and no debt service funds. The local tax levy is $26,352,672, which is a decrease of $118,770 from the previous year.

Based on the year’s numbers, Voorhees Township will contribute approximately 79.2 percent of Eastern’s taxes, while Berlin will be responsible for 16.6 percent and Gibbsboro will pay approximately 4 percent.

For the yearly impact, Voorhees Township residents with the average assessed property value of $258,959 saw a decrease of approximately $16. Berlin Borough residents with the average assessed property value of $233,600 saw an increase of approximately $59 while Gibbsboro residents saw a decrease of $134.