Discussion brews amongst committee over reopening businesses, playgrounds

Politicians share thoughts on allowing businesses to reopen.

A March executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy shut the doors of nonessential businesses in Tabernacle Township and elsewhere to protect against COVID-19.

But during the township’s committee meeting May 26, Committeewoman Nancy McGinnis requested that members sign a letter written by her urging the governor to reopen Tabernacle.

Businesses and their owners faced drops in profit and income. Children could not “play freely” on the township’s playgrounds at Patty Bowker and Prickets Mill parks, leaving them without avenues to expel energy while  schools and other recreational buildings were closed.

Tabernacle Township has 23 positive COVID cases and two deaths. Those cleared from quarantine or released from the hospital comprise an aggregate state count that is no longer classified by municipality.

Calls for reopening township playgrounds were reignited as McGinnis requested the township committee’s support. Township Administrator Doug Cramer declined to reopen the play areas and tennis courts, as they fell within restrictions on organized sports and playgrounds. Tabernacle has a say on parks being opened, but not on playground structures and other areas promoting organized activities.

“If it’s a family hitting a ball around with their son or daughter in the field, we’ve never stopped that,” Cramer said.

He added that social distancing and face coverings are still strongly recommended for township residents.

“The real problem is that you can’t clean them (playground equipment) fast enough. That’s the issue,” he noted. “I can put an employee there all day, and he couldn’t clean them fast enough and where that leads if somebody gets it (COVID-19) I don’t know.”

The committee’s letter, said McGinnis, included a request to totally reopen the state and mentioned how small business owners have been hurt financially from closures.

“We care and want to help them (small business owners) in any way we can,” the letter read in part. “We are over the curve of the virus and can safely, with proper precautions, open all businesses now. You (Murphy) have the power to save the livelihood of thousands of people. Please do the right thing and help your people.”

All members of the township committee, with the exception of Sam Moore III, who reserved comment, agreed businesses should be reopened.

“I don’t buy furniture often, but when I do, I don’t recall when a store is opened with there being more than four or five people inside and you can get lost in a furniture store,” Committeeman Joe Barton shared. “The Walmarts, Lowes and The Home Depots are jam packed wherever you go. I see the parking lots full.”

Barton suggested a letter to Murphy requesting he judge the state’s reopening by region and not as a whole, with COVID cases and deaths varying county to county.

Committeeman and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Sunbury also said Murphy should review opening procedures, ensuring they include solicited input from business owners on how they intend to keep employees and customers safe.

Murphy has started an initiative as of May 21 for businesses and nonprofits to detail problems faced during the pandemic and challenges they may face in the future.

Tabernacle Mayor Kim Brown agreed businesses should reopen, but the process is “above my pay grade” as far as steps needed. She reported that the township found two positive cases over the holiday weekend, although numbers were previously flat.

“I do absolutely support businesses reopening, but it has to be done in a very safe manner, because you don’t want to go through all of this just to shut down again,” Brown shared. “The second time you do it, it’s going to be harder to come back.”

No motion was made on drafting a formal letter to Murphy.

In other news, the 2020 municipal budget was adopted with a 2-cent tax rate increase. Property owners with a home at the average assessed value of $265,357 will see an annual increase of $53.07 in municipal taxes.

Increases in the budget were attributed to Chief Financial Officers Rodney Haines for previous bond ordinances. The total operating budget is $5,194,792.91 and can be viewed by visiting TownshipOfTabernacle-NJ.gov.

Details on accessing the June 22 virtual meeting are also available on the township’s website.