Commissioners discuss ramifications of wage bill for affordable housing

Concerns over cost increases prompt letter to state legislators.

At its most recent work session, Haddonfield’s Board of Commissioners agreed to submit a letter to state legislators urging them to reconsider expected passage of legislation that would likely increase the cost of affordable-housing projects in the borough. 

Introduced in January of 2020, Bill NJA1576 would expand the circumstances that previously compelled every contract for land development to be subject to state prevailing wage requirements to now include those for low-to-moderate income families. 

In a recent missive, the borough’s chosen affordable-housing developer, Community Investment Strategies Inc, suggested commissioners oppose the bill. Chief among concerns if the bill is passed is a potential cost increase of 20 to 30 percent on the expected Snowden and Bancroft projects.

“Once you designate a developer, they go out and contract out to do the work, and there’s a schedule they have to follow when they pick those (sub contractors)” explained Mayor Neal Rochford. “The folks in the legislature feel that those things should not be exempt from the prevailing wage rules that municipalities have to follow.”

Rochford further opined that the way the legislation is written would apply to any project that has not been completed, and would not be limited to those projects already begun or in the early stages of receiving approval.  

“The Camden County mayors had a meeting on it and they were kind of split. There were union folks and they liked the idea,” the mayor continued. “One of the things they did really ask hard about, and wanted changes to the bill, was that any projects that had been approved, or in the application process, shouldn’t be grandfathered into the legislation.” 

Rochford added there was consensus among the group that the bill would be passed because Senate President Stephen Sweeney is expected to be a sponsor. For Haddonfield, passage would, in theory, affect Bancroft more than Snowden, since the former’s application is further from completion.

Borough Administrator Sharon McCullough confirmed for commissioners the pending processes on Snowden, revealing that ultimate completion could come as early as May. 

“I don’t think (municipal leaders) consider these ripple effects. It’s going to come back and hit them somehow as well,” Rochford added. “There are other towns that have three, four, five projects going on. Those towns are going to get hit really hard. Some things will never be put together because the numbers won’t work.”

At the mayor’s suggestion, McCullough is expected to draft a letter in the near future for commissioners to review. Commissioner for Revenue and FInance Jeffrey Kasko suggested it should be brought to the attention of 6th District legislators James Beach, Pamela Lampitt and Louis Greenwald, as well as Sweeney and Senate Speaker Craig J. Coughlin. 

“I would sign onto a letter that says we don’t think this is a good idea at this time, particularly under COVID and all the other uncertainties,” Kasko said. 

“Also because of the type of financial constraints that we’re under, not only with the municipal budget but also from the fair share or development funds,” he added. “And the cost of the project going up 20 or 30 percent … it would be awful.”

In other news:

 

  • In light of Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent executive order further relaxing capacity limits for non-religious indoor events, commissioners discussed the 65 Club being allowed to hold its meetings indoors, either inside the borough hall auditorium or within its clubhouse. Hinging on the ultimate decision is how soon commissioners and other groups could hold their own meetings inside the municipal building, and how many of 65 Club members have received their second COVID vaccination. The governing body elected to delay a decision for at least another month, when further guidance from the state as well as additional discussion could produce effective policy and safety procedures.
  • Despite what may be available on Partnership for Haddonfield promotional materials, commissioners neither approved nor committed to a time frame or modified proposal for holding Skirmish later this year. The Revolutionary War reenactment, traditionally held on the first weekend in June along Kings Highway East, was cancelled last year due to COVID.. 
  • The commissioners agreed to explore holding a pet-a-palooza outdoor event in the near future, as conditions with the pandemic warrant.