Council passes capital budget for 2021 on second reading

Lively discussions came during public hearing and comment portions

Gloucester Township Council passed on second reading a bond ordinance that doubles as the capital budget for 2021, but not without robust discussion by residents at the June 14 council session.

Though council broke down the expenses in the ordinance itself, many of the residents had obtained a more detailed explanation of the funds, projects and items being purchased that they referenced throughout the meeting.

Township resident Ray Polidoro wanted to know more about $1.6 million in funds for the police department, since many officers already wear body cameras. Police Chief David Harkins said  the money would be spent on more than just body cameras, including in-car cameras, Tasers and data storage for camera footage and other information that needs to be kept.

“The state just mandated us to go from 90 days retention to 180 days retention,” Harkins explained. “So it doubled our retention. It also includes … equipping our officers with a device that goes on to our holsters, so if our weapons are drawn and the camera was not activated, it automatically activates our cameras.”

Resident Pete Heinbaugh asked about the $150,000 in renovations for the Glendora Rescue Squad and whether or not officials knew the purpose of the building, since the last time it was discussed, they did not.

Cardis responded that the building isn’t used for anything right now.

“It’s being fixed,” he added.

When asked again what the future purpose of the building might be, Cardis said he would have to check with the mayor, and that a commitment has not been made.

“The building is ours; we needed to fix the building. It was in horrible shape,” he repeated.

The topic was touched on again later in the meeting by resident and mayoral candidate Sam Sweet.

“ … We’re spending $150,000, according to Mr. Cardis,” he noted. “We still don’t know what we’re spending on. You’re asking the taxpayers to fund $150,000, plus $100,000 on Dori Court, which potentially could be on there twice, and other items. I just don’t understand: We’re borrowing, borrowing, borrowing.”

Sweet noted earlier that it appeared council had borrowed around the same amount of money for the Dori Court project this year that it had in 2019, and asked if officials wanted to double check to make sure they weren’t overborrowing when there already may have been money available. Cardis and Township Engineer Anthony Chadwell promised they would look into that issue — in a few days rather than during the meeting — before they vote on passing the ordinance.

Sweet also implied that council could reduce the amount it needs to borrow and save money in the long term with a closer look at the budget. And he confirmed that if council hadn’t taken last year’s unused money for capital projects as an anticipated revenue item in the municipal budget, it could have gone toward funding this year’s capital projects.

Cardis responded that the state recommended adding the money back as a revenue item in May or June, with council following the state’s guidance in December.

Sweet implored council to look deeper into what the town has and what it actually needs and table the discussion until the next meeting so members can discuss the issue. He stressed that “just because you can [capitalize items]  doesn’t mean you should.” But council unanimously approved the ordinance anyway.

During the session’s public comment portion, Polidoro made the case to end the Market to Affordable Housing Program, which sought to renovate houses in the town and sell them at an affordable price, not the regular price people were paying for them.

“The usefulness of this program is fading farther and farther away. Money is still going out,” he said.

Solicitor David Carlamere confirmed that affordable trust fund money is being used to compensate Patrick Murray, the administrative agent of the housing authority, while Polidoro’s argument is that the money should be used in a more productive way to help people who need it. Murray failed to show up at the last housing authority meeting, despite the authority’s promise that he would be there.

The next council meeting will be held on Monday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal building.