Council meeting addresses budget, COVID-19 funds

Gloucester Township will apply for federal CARES Act funds

For the first time in more than three months, Gloucester Township Council held its regularly scheduled meeting in person on June 22 and invited residents to attend.

COVID-19 executive orders signed by Gov. Phil Murphy had previously limited the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings, causing council sessions to be conducted remotely over YouTube and limiting the public to call-ins during the meeting.

During the June session at the municipal building, council discussed the newly passed township budget as well as COVID-19 relief funds the township anticipates receiving through the federal CARES Act, among other agenda items.

Resident Pete Heinbaugh addressed council and township officials regarding the 2020 budget, approved with one no vote against. The budget originally proposed on May 11 called for a tax increase of approximately $156 on residents with the average assessed property value of $188,000.

But a decrease of approximately $452,000 in the amount to be raised by taxation was amended before the public hearing. As a result, the   average tax increase in Gloucester Township will be $137 for those with the average assessed property value.

Heinbaugh inquired if the amendments that were made to the budget were recommendations by the budget subcommittee that met to focus on lowering the tax impact on residents. Heinbaugh, along with other residents, had asked to sit in on the meeting in hopes of  providing assistance. Their request was denied following advice from council’s solicitor.

“We had our questions (regarding the budget,) we highlighted what our questions were and we just went through it,” said councilwoman Tracey Trotto.

Heinbaugh and another resident had created the “GT Citizen’s Budget,” which they submitted to council to review and possibly identify revenue streams or potential cost-saving areas not previously  seen.

Heinbaugh questioned the numbers used for several of the budget’s anticipated revenues, saying that figures generated through pilot programs and other related items should’ve been higher than passed in the budget.

“Why wasn’t pilot tax abatement payment … Why wasn’t that $2.56 million?” asked Heinbaugh. “That’s what the schedule says for pilot program payments that are due to the township in 2020.”

“I recommended against that,” said Business Administrator Tom Cardis. “Because you know as well as I do that $2 million of that is going away next year. Anyone can maximize revenues; anybody can chop appropriations.”

Resident Ray Polidoro asked council about the senior rebate program, which refunds seniors the difference between their property tax amount and the amount potentially raised within their municipality. Polidoro asked if the program may have been cancelled this year due to financial hardship caused by the pandemic.

Cardis said he has heard chatter regarding the program’s cancellation, but nothing official. Council President Orlando Mercado said he plans to notify residents in the future if anything definite happens.

Passed on the agenda, the township is seeking COVID-19 funds from the $89 million in federal relief money received by Camden County. 

Cardis said the township filed an application to receive those funds,  distributed in three-month increments, with all expenses the township hopes to recoup required to be COVID-related. Municipalities received information detailing what does or doesn’t apply as  reimbursable items.

Cardis said after the meeting that he expects the township to apply for approximately $120,000 in relief funds in each separate three-month period. An ongoing review of the township’s actions, he added, will most likely identify areas where the township will apply for additional funds in the coming months.

During the meeting’s public hearing, council passed on second reading an ordinance to allow for an off-premise sign along Route 42. The new sign is to be no wider than 48 feet and no taller than 14 feet, while the entire structure cannot exceed 75 feet off the ground.