Township approves hockey rink upgrades

Council also discusses eminent domain, bond ordinances

After a long and arduous process, Gloucester Township Council finally approved a resolution during its meeting Feb. 10 to award a roughly $93,000 contract for the rehabilitation of the three Lakeland Park Street Hockey Rinks.

Bids for the project had been rejected by council at two previous meetings, with the most recent rejection taking place in December, when council turned down bids from Area 51 Lawncare & Landscaping LLC and American Athletic Courts Inc.

According to a letter from The Pettit Group in December, both companies submitted bids higher than the expected estimated cost the township was willing to spend, while the apparent low bidder, Area 51, also failed to include multiple required documents.

Despite that, the company was awarded the project at this month’s council meeting.

According to Business Administrator Tom Cardis, the required documents were provided during a negotiation period where the township discussed the project and how much the township was willing to spend with previous bidders, so long as the scope of the project does not change.

“What happened is that the bids were rejected twice; the first time there were no bidders and the second time the successful bidder would have been well above our budget,” Cardis explained during the meeting. “For that purpose … you’re permitted to reject because it’s outside of your financing. Area 51’s bid was deficient; they didn’t have certain things that they needed. Since then, they have received the things that they needed.

“State law allows you, after going out for bid unsuccessfully two times, to negotiate a price … and the project, and that’s basically what we did,” Cardis added. “The stipulation would be that you cannot change the specifications.”

Cardis noted during the meeting that the difference in price between the initial estimate by the township and the accepted bid by Area 51 was approximately $20,000, due to the need for a Public Works Certification.

A major topic at the meeting for concerned residents was the amending of a 2014 bond ordinance, as the township looks to redirect money to help complete an underfunded project.

The proposed bond ordinance — which passed on first reading for introduction and will be taken up at council’s next meeting — would reallocate $684,368 from a storm water drainage improvement project to the township’s Redwood Street Culvert project.

According to Cardis, funding for both projects passed in 2014, with the storm water drainage improvement project coming in under the township’s expected cost and the Redwood Street Culvert project coming in at a higher than expected cost.

Residents attending the Feb. 10 meeting questioned why money borrowed six years ago had not yet been used for agenda items. Resident Pete Heinbaugh asked if the township had been paying interest on the borrowed money through the bond ordinance for the last six years, despite the money going unused. Cardis said that was not the case.

He also said he does not believe the township has paid interest on the bond ordinance over those six years, but that it has become part of the township’s permanent debt.

“These bonds are bonds associated with the [New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust] … This is permissible and approved by NJEIT,” Cardis noted. “It’s money that has not yet been spent at this time because the actual cost of those projects came under the estimates.”

Resident Ray Polidoro voiced his displeasure during the meeting with the township borrowing money that has since gone unspent.

“I find it very sad that money’s been sitting that we borrowed because we keep borrowing every year,” Polidoro said. “Every other year, it seems that we borrow pretty substantial sums of money … and yet we have money that’s unspent from previous years.”

After a resident approached council about social media reports that the township may provide residents with trash cans, Council President Orlando Mercado said he had also seen the topic discussed online. He sought more information from Cardis, who maintained the township would not offer the cans.

Cardis said, however, that the township’s contract with Waste Management expires at the end of the year and that Gloucester is expected to go out for bid with neighboring municipalities — such as Cherry Hill and Pine Hill — for a cooperative purchasing agreement to deal with the trash can issue.

Resident Paul Krug pressed council on the topic of downtown Blackwood and the hopeful redevelopment of the area, to identify potential implementation tools for which council would be in favor. Krug also brought up the need for parking, as well as necessary  redevelopment of certain buildings in that part of town.

Krug sought a yes or no answer to three questions, one being a request to see if members of council would be willing to “designate the Blackwood West Redevelopment Area as a condemnation zone,” which Mercado pointed out would warrant the use of eminent domain. Krug said he believes such a tool could potentially be useful in the area’s redevelopment.

When pressed by Councilman Dan Hutchinson on whether he believes the forced acquisition of resident property is the right thing to do, Krug said he believes it is useful nonetheless.

“I think it’s a potential redevelopment tool,” he added. “Whether we use it to motivate the individual, the property owners, to get on board with the plan or we actually follow through with it … those are two different things. But I think having that as a tool at our disposal, I think, could work well.”

Mercado, speaking for himself, said he would not be in favor of using eminent domain and that he does not want to entertain the idea of taking property. Later, Hutchinson also said he would not support eminent domain.

“If they don’t want to give up their property, then that’s their right to not give it up,” he explained. “I think it’s un-American to take people’s property; I won’t support eminent domain.”

Krug replied that eminent domain is a pathway for the township moving forward.

“The courts have disagreed,” he maintained. “And that’s why it’s a tool that townships can use.”

During the meeting, council also passed a resolution granting an amusement games license to Dave and Buster’s, currently under construction within the township, across from the Gloucester Township Premium Outlets.