Mayor Michael Di Croce has made headlines in the past year with his ambitious vision to make Shamong the “pot capital of the world.”
Though bringing cannabis agriculture to the area remains a priority, Di Croce wants to spend 2021 bringing jobs to the township, lowering taxes and improving the daily life of Shamong’s residents.
He’ll take on a role as deputy mayor in 2021, swapping positions with now-Mayor Tim Gimbel.
“My philosophy is smaller government,” he explained. “Keep government out of your business, lower taxes and make the town more business friendly and neighbor friendly so that people are helping each other.”
Di Croce likes to point out that for each tax dollar residents pay, 5 cents goes toward funding local government items like infrastructure and schools. In order to stretch Shamong’s already tight budget, Di Croce wants to keep the education budget stagnant.
The Shamong Board of Education is legally able to expand its budget by no more than 2 percent each year. Di Croce has asked the board to forfeit that increase in 2021.
“All we’re looking for is to have a hand-in-glove relationship with them with open communications,” he said. “I asked the school board to see if there is some kind of room where they can actually decrease taxes. So far they haven’t been able to do that.”
At its last meeting, the board of education discussed a potential budget plan for 2021 that would use the 2 percent increase to fund staff salaries.
“If you had to cut your expenses 2 percent could you do it?” Di Croce asked. “Probably, right? Say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to get a coffee. I’m going to make my lunch. I’m not going to drive as much.’ That’s what I’m asking the school to do.”
The mayor is also looking to regain the state Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funding that was cut from Shamong in 2020. New Jersey typically gives state aid to townships with preserved land that cannot be taxed. After COVID-19 forced the state to rescind those payments, Shamong — about two-thirds of which is preserved land — lost $61,000 in expected funding.
Di Croce has already spoken with Congressman Andy Kim about restoring the funding in 2021 and planned another meeting with Kim in early January. Despite that, the mayor doesn’t foresee the state paying Shamong for 2020’s expected PILOT funding.
“It’d be nice, but I doubt it,” he noted. “I’m hoping that, you know, the governor and his team will see that and make that revenue come back to the town. Historically, those (payments) came to us to help us in funding our local government.”
Another focus for Di Croce in 2021 is growing Shamong’s businesses. He wants to bring at least 100 new jobs to the township and plans to do it by supporting existing businesses and encouraging new ones to come to Shamong.
For Di Croce, that starts with farmers.
“Anything that I can do as mayor to help our farmers succeed, I want to do,” he said.
The mayor has already connected with large cannabis companies and asked them to relocate to Shamong. He envisions local farmers renting unused portions of their land to such companies for use in growing cannabis.
“(Farmers) would get more money from the cannabis production than they would from corn or tomatoes,” he explained.
Di Croce seeks to highlight recreation opportunities in the township as well. He wants to help a local biking organization create a cycling route with stops at Shamong’s businesses, create equestrian trails in Wharton State Forest and build a bed and breakfast to incentivize visitors to see Shamong as a destination.
“I want to continue to introduce and honor our citizens of interest and bring new people into our community that can help make Shamong “a little slice of heaven,” he said.
The mayor wants to improve life as it is for Shamong’s residents.
The township requested a grant from the state Department of Transportation to continue its 10- year road plan. In 2020, the township resurfaced portions of Grassy Lake Road, but wants to improve more roads across Shamong before 2027.
“Most of the roads in Shamong are 30 or 40 years old and they are now deteriorating,” he revealed. ”Since around 1990, nothing was done that needs to be done. We’re going to return to the local neighborhoods to start repairing some of the other roads that need some attention.”
Di Croce also wants to create funding for a community center in town through new connections with the cannabis industry. He sees the potential center as a meeting place for the township’s Girl and Boy Scouts and senior citizens, with a community pool.
As the pandemic continues, Di Croce pledged to keep Shamong’s parks open for outdoor exercise and recreation.
“I seek to create a business-friendly town that values its citizens with low taxes, minimal governmental intrusion, increased personal liberty and justice, equality and liberty,” he said.