As they do each year, residents of Mt. Laurel will see a vote for a new mayor, or to re-elect the current mayor, at township council’s annual reorganization meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 2. Whoever is selected or re-elected to serve for 2020 will presumably give residents an idea of what to expect of their administration in the coming year under his or her guidance.
The Sun recently sat down with Mayor Kurt Folcher, possibly in his final week holding the title, and Township Manager Meredith Tomczyk to talk about the mayor’s year in office and what the two of them envision for Mt. Laurel in the year to come.
The mayor’s year in office, he says, just confirmed for him the professionalism – something he had already witnessed as a member of council – of the township’s officials.
“Mt. Laurel has, I would suggest, one of the best management teams in Burlington County,” Folcher said.
Despite last year’s swearing in of Democratic council members Kareem Pritchett and Stephen Steglik, marking a transition from council’s previous status as solely Republican, Tomczyk doesn’t anticipate much of a shakeup at the upcoming reorganization meeting.
According to the township manager, all members of the newly-bipartisan council have managed to work as a unit to pass legislation for their township.
“The council works very well together,” Tomczyk said. “I think if you look at this last year that we’ve had, most everything has passed unanimously.”
The administration’s overall focus heading into the new year, according to Tomczyk, will include keeping taxes as low as possible for residents and to attract new businesses to the area.
“We don’t ever want to see shopping centers empty or stores leaving so we work hand-in-hand with the owners,” Tomczyk said.
One of Director of Economic and Community Development William Giegerich’s main responsibilities in the township, she pointed out, is making sure tenants keep their businesses in town, or, should a tenant choose to leave, finding another business to take their place.
When it comes to making Mt. Laurel an attractive location for new businesses to set up shop, Folcher has high hopes for future development with the Rancocas Woods Business Association. He envisions the Rancocas Woods area of town becoming “the Main Street of Mt. Laurel.”
Ensuring local infrastructure can support business growth will be another area of focus in the new year. While access to Route 38, Interstate 295 and the New Jersey Turnpike make Mt. Laurel an attractive location for businesses, ensuring ease of access to and from these major roads is a continuing issue for officials.
“The main thing that I hear from residents is that they want to see infrastructure improvements. Traffic right now is becoming a pretty significant situation,” Folcher said.
“That is one of probably the top concerns of the residents of Mt. Laurel; the fact that we don’t have a 295 ramp that allows you to go both directions on Route 38 on each side,” added Tomczyk.
Township officials, according to Tomczyk, have held multiple meetings with the state over the issue, however requests have, as yet, gone unanswered.
“It’s hard to get a business to come here, to bring 500 jobs, when they don’t feel that our infrastructure can support that,” Tomczyk said. “The township will continue to fight that battle for residents, continue knocking on the state’s door.”
A list of local roads scheduled for paving in the new year is available on the township’s website in the public works section under Road Programs.
Improvements are expected to continue in Laurel Acres Park in the coming year. The township recently added additional parking and renovated the playground at the popular park, which Tomczyk says may see further expansion in 2020.
In 2018, the township acquired the St. John Neumann property as part of its ongoing plan for open-space acquisition. In 2020, the property is expected to be opened to the public and available as a venue for business meetings.
When it comes to local law enforcement, a goal for the new year will be reviving community policing and making the department more available to residents.
“Community policing, when budgets had gotten tight, was one of the first things to go and I feel like (local police) are getting back into it,” Tomczyk said, offering National Night Out and Ice Cream with a Police Officer as examples of recent efforts.
Folcher would also like to see increased efforts to facilitate communication between residents and township officials in the new year. While an effort is made to keep the township website and Facebook page updated in relevant information, he wants to encourage residents to contact local officials directly via the email addresses provided on the township website rather than posting complaints on unofficial community pages.
In closing, whether or not Folcher continues his tenure as mayor, he reiterated that his main hope for 2020 will be to enlist see progress made at the intersection of 295 and Route 38.
“Our goal will be to somehow fix that issue and we’re going to need the state’s help to make that happen,” Folcher said.