Council discusses budget and potential redevelopment

Officials also pass measures on tax abatements, parking

Gloucester Township Council met for its regularly scheduled session on Nov. 9 at the Gloucester Township Municipal Building and unanimously passed two ordinances upon first reading and its consent agenda.

Council also addressed township budget preparations, potential future redevelopment in downtown Blackwood, rental and mortgage assistance due to COVID-19 and more.

During public comment, resident Ray Polidoro inquired about the township’s budget procedures and preparations moving forward.

“As we go through these budgets every year and it goes through April and sometimes isn’t passed until May or whenever it gets finalized, is there any reason why our government does not approach a budget for the following year in the appropriate time before the following year?” he asked.

“Most businesses set a budget, most private entities set a budget, most households set a budget before the year so you know what you’re going to spend, what’s coming in, what’s going out. Is there any reason why, right around this time now, that we’re not working on a budget for 2021?”

Council President Orlando Mercado stated that township administration is now working on a budget for the upcoming year, a fact later confirmed by Business Administrator Tom Cardis. But numerous factors are in play when creating a yearly township budget, some of which are not determined until many months into a new year.

“There are many things that change; we haven’t finished this year.  There are many things that need to be resolved before the end of the year,” said Mercado. “You could put something out there, but would we be able to adhere to it when it comes to passing a budget in April?”

Polidoro suggested the optics of such a situation are not favorable, but Cardis later stated that municipalities, in any given year, do not know their yearly expenditures until approximately February or even later, and that information is a crucial step in assembling a true budget.

“A budget has two sides – it has an expenditure side and it has a revenue side,” Cardis explained. “The problem is, we do not know where we stand with those revenues until the CFO (chief financial officer) completes the annual financial statement … typically (done) in the month of February. But in past years the state has extended the deadline for that.

“Without that document,” he added, “I would not venture a guess as to what a budget would look like… It would be just that, a guess.”

Cardis said the township currently has a good idea where it stands regarding health insurance and debt service matters, while work continues on appropriations and bids for the township’s trash services. But he again said that the revenue aspect of the budget is not something that can be estimated until completion of the township’s annual financial statement in the early months of next year.

“That document is the Holy Grail; that’s the document that tells us what we have available to plan the budget,” Cardis noted.

Resident Paul Krug also spoke during public comment, addressing his efforts to help work with the township on spurring redevelopment in downtown Blackwood, something he has attempted over the last two years.

Krug said he feels the area has since “moved somewhat backwards” from when he originally discussed the area’s need for improvement with council, largely due to economic hardship caused by COVID. He referenced the recent closing of Shana’s Wild Fig and the inability to attract other businesses to Blackwood.

“I think right now, we’re dealing with pandemic-related collateral consequences, with small businesses trying to survive, let alone new businesses trying to come in,” said Councilman Dan Hutchinson.

“I think we’re in a bad spot right now, but I think there’s a bright future.”

Krug also inquired about federal CARES Act funding reportedly coming to Gloucester Township. According to officials at the meeting, the township is set to receive approximately $490,000 to assist those facing eviction within the township, in an effort to provide residents temporary financial assistance to meet rental and mortgage obligations for as long as six months. The township also expects   approximately $180,000 to help small businesses survive the pandemic, though not all of the funds have been received yet, according to Mercado and Cardis.

But the latter said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires a public hearing on how to distribute such funds, tentatively planned to take place sometime next month via Zoom.

“We’re looking to initiate spending of that funding as of Jan. 1, so there will be an upcoming public hearing,” said Cardis.

Krug said people are now hitting “the wall of desperation,” and that getting funds as quickly as possible, as well as notifying residents they are available, should be a major priority moving forward.  Mercado also said he has received word from Camden County that its rental assistance program still has funds available that can be applied for by residents.

Also during the meeting, council approved two ordinances upon first reading that will be up for a public hearing at its next meeting. One ordinance includes permitting the Gloucester Township Police Department to enforce the Blackwood Falls Apartments traffic, vehicle and parking regulations on its grounds. The second ordinance is a tax abatement agreement with Chews Landing LLC for an eighth and final five-year tax abatement on improvements at the location.

Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 23.