Evesham Township Mayor Jaclyn Veasy’s first year in office is officially behind her and looking back, she feels she’s learned a lot about Marlton, how it’s run and where improvements can be made.
The Sun recently sat down with Veasy to talk about her first year, goals and vision for the coming year.
Establishing stronger lines of communication between the municipality and its residents was an area of focus for Veasy in 2019. The mayor, who campaigned on a promise to increase transparency, says that will continue in the new year.
“What we’ve learned is that people don’t really know what’s available to them from the township,” Veasy noted. “One of our biggest goals this year, which I think is going to be really explored and expanded in 2020, is communication.”
To that end, Veasy’s administration made a concerted effort to increase its social media presence and make itself more accessible to the public. A newly hired director of public information has facilitated those efforts, posting regularly on township pages; running live streams of council, planning and zoning board meetings; and producing a regular township newsletter.
A quarterly mailer delivered directly to residents is in the works, so even the most unplugged residents will have access to township information.
“We’re a big community and we’re changing and growing all the time, so we need to make sure people know what’s going on,” Veasy explained.
A number of public programs and committees in development over the past year will be fully realized in 2020. The administration wants to increase community engagement and involvement by re-seeding groups such as the historical commission and the shade tree commission.
The veterans and disability advisory board will soon release a full list of programs available to the local veteran and disabled community.
Just months ago, the mayor re-signed a pledge with the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute to revive and expand through added programming the Mayors Wellness Campaign, which she feels has not been fully explored in Evesham Township since its initial introduction in 2006.
That push to increase township programming will require sufficient staffing, something the mayor says will represent a significant portion of the new year’s municipal budget.
“Salary is always the biggest component of our operations,” Veasy admitted, pointing out the majority of salary expenditures are dedicated to the local police force.
“It’s one of the best programs we have here in town, especially with the community policing officers, who do their own programming.”
Despite the possibility of an uptick in staffing and salary costs, Veasy anticipates a stable budget this year, judging by discussions held thus far with fellow township officials.
Another area of focus for the new budget comes in response to feedback the township has received from residents who hope to see more resources allocated to facilitate passive recreation by way of park maintenance and updates. That process, the mayor says, will include looking for ways to implement green infrastructure — things such as rain gardens and rain barrels — into public spaces.
Several local infrastructure projects approved in 2019 will be undertaken in the new year, including roads in Barton Run and individual areas of concern throughout the township. The Municipal Utilities Authority also plans to address drainage and infrastructure in Heritage Village.
According to Veasy, last year saw significant growth in the local business community, and she anticipates that trend will continue in 2020. That growth may not be readily apparent however, as most new businesses repurpose existing structures rather than building new ones.
“We’ve done over 20, close to 30, ribbon cuttings in 2019 of new businesses and that’s incredible, but it’s not something you necessarily see because they didn’t build a new building, they re-did an existing infrastructure and made a new business,” she said.
“Going forward, from what I see, that’s not slowing down.”
A goal for the new year will be an increased business presence, particularly in the Main Street area.
“It’s a challenge because of how our infrastructure is down there, but we have a couple of new apartment buildings that are coming in and they are going to need some more businesses down there,” Veasy revealed.
“It’s just a matter of growing the downtown business district that is going to be our challenge,” she added, while noting the goal will not necessarily be in getting the businesses there, but getting the right businesses to attract people to the area.
Asked for a final message to the public for 2019, Veasy offered her hope that residents will get more involved in their community in the new year.
“Come out, see what’s going on in town, be active,” she said. “Let us know what you want to see going on in town, and we’ll try to make it happen.”