Medford mayor wants to keep the ‘culture’ in 2021

Watson’s focus includes events and land preservation

A trio of women carolers stopped at various open businesses along Main Street on Dec. 7, 2019 at Medford’s annual Dickens Festival. Medford Mayor Cuck Watson said he will make it his focus to bring events like the Dickens Festival back after the pandemic (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

At Medford Township Council’s reorganization meeting last week, Charles “Chuck” Watson was reelected mayor.

Watson has served as mayor for several years. He’s been a part of the township’s COVID-19 response and oversaw the building of a new library and municipal complex. In 2021, he plans to focus on regaining some of Medford’s “culture” lost in the pandemic, by bringing back events, expanding downtown and preserving land.

Events

Several of Medford’s mainstay events were canceled for safety reasons in 2020, including favorites like The Dickens Festival and the Halloween parade.

“All those things that we’ve done for years and years that we weren’t able to do last year are just so important,” Watson explained. “To just all of a sudden have all of that go away in one year was a little bit of culture shock for people. We didn’t have those things to go to, those things to celebrate together, and we’re very much looking forward to them.”

Medford’s 2020 budget was left relatively unscathed by COVID. Watson said he looks forward to using the township’s stable funding to make events “bigger and better” and keep tax rates stagnant for a ninth year. In Medford, about 12 percent of resident taxes go toward municipal services and event funding.

“Our big vision is to keep taxes down as much as we can,” the mayor said. “While we constantly get criticism that Medford taxes are high, the municipal portion of it is actually quite low. We are always looking at the services that we provide and finding a balance to do those fun events.”

Main Street revitalization

The new complex, which began construction last year, is expected to be completed in the next few months, according to Watson. The building will leave the prior homes of the library and municipal services empty, giving the township an opportunity to bring new business to Main Street.

“We’re looking for some great uses to come into those buildings,” he noted. “We really want to help our downtown. When our downtown grows and prospers, we feel the rest of the town does as well.”

Council has created incentives for businesses to populate in Medford, something Watson said has aided town growth.

“There are some new and expanding businesses on our Main Street that have really come back and boomed,” he said. “So that’s a success.” 

Preservation

Another issue of importance to Watson is to preserve Medford’s open space. The township receives open space funding from the state each year that makes that possible. The council is currently in talks with the Medford Youth Athletic Association about using those funds to expand their facilities.

“We’re looking for properties to potentially preserve,” the mayor said.  “We’re always looking for those kinds of opportunities.”

Once again, this initiative comes from Watson’s desire to preserve Medford’s character. 

“It’s got a unique character,” he explained. “In a little more than half the town, it’s in the Pinelands and a different part of town then north of Route 70, where there’s farms. So we want to keep that character of town and keep it affordable the best we can.”

Despite a difficult 2020, Watson wants residents to know that council has their best interests in mind.

“Council is working very hard to continue to make Medford a great place to live and work,” he promised. “We know our plan. Our hope is to not raise taxes again. We certainly don’t want to burden our residents, especially in these times. 

“We’re just constantly thinking of things that we can do to make Medford a better place.”