2022 was a significant year for Marlton residents, as several improvements and upgrades in the township were initiated. In addition, parents and the school district worked towards the possibility of offering a tuition-free, full-day kindergarten program in the future, helping make 2022 a year to remember.

Government

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Evesham Township held its first council meeting of the year on  Jan. 3, with the oath of office administered to Deputy Mayor Heather Cooper by state Sen. Troy Singleton. It is her  fourth year in the role.

“We’re definitely a better community when everybody is working together and we’ve proven that,” Cooper said at the meeting. “ Working on our governing responsibilities, hearing what the residents want and trying to carry it out to the best of our ability is what we’ll continue to do.”

Evesham Police Chief Christopher Chew retired on Jan. 31. after 25 years of service, taking leave of a job he aspired to from the time he joined the force.

“I remember telling the chief that hired me that one day I wanted to sit in his chair,” said Chew, who announced his decision at a council meeting in December 2021.

Chew graduated from the Gloucester County Police Academy in 1996 and was hired as a part-time officer in Salem County. He was there only a couple of months before he joined the Evesham department in 1997 and moved up the ranks. He was named chief in 2013, and his department  became the first in New Jersey to outfit officers with body-worn cameras.

Chew cited the relationships he developed with residents, elected officials and his officers as things he will miss about the job. 

“We have some really great workers here, and that’s both on the civilian side and the sworn side,” he noted. “(I’ll miss) the daily interactions with my staff and our ability to come together and work to resolve issues going on in the community. 

“It’s been a great 25 years,” he added. “This is definitely not a job, it’s a higher calling,  and I think it’s probably one of the most noble professions in the world. I’m extremely proud of the hard work the officers do and I just look forward to the next 25 years.”  

After Chew’s retirement, Walt Miller served as the acting police chief before being officially appointed in late March. Miller emphasized that all of his training and educational experiences were necessary for him to properly manage the difficulties that a chief can face.

“I wouldn’t be prepared for this role without all the education and experience as a backing,” he acknowledged. “The complexities of being a police chief in 2022 is a lot different than being a chief 20 or 30 years ago.

“I feel that everything that I’ve done up to this point has positioned me to provide that for the community.”

Evesham Mayor Jackyn Veasy cited Miller’s experience and commitment to servicing the community.

“Walt Miller’s willingness to serve the Evesham community is without question,” she  stated in a press release. “I know everyone in Evesham can continue to feel safe under his leadership and vision as our department continues to grow and serve our residents.” 

Improving the town

On Feb. 10, the township held a virtual information session to share proposed amendments to the master plan for Pinelands areas in the Barton Run and Kings Grant neighborhoods.

Evesham’s planning board adopted the Pinelands Area Master Plan Amendment in 2020. It suggests amendments to the zone plan that redesignate Kings Grant and Barton Run – including the former Barton Run Swim Club and the Links Golf Club  clubhouse – from rural development to regional growth area. 

The regional growth area in Kings Grant was required to be connected to another regional growth area that early planners anticipated to be in Medford. But since the township didn’t amend its ordinances, Taylor Design Group decided to incorporate Barton Run into the plan, given the regional growth area north of Barton Run. 

The Links Golf Club required repair for a failing septic system that negatively impacted water quality. The clubhouse property, not the golf course itself, was proposed for inclusion within the regional growth district. That will permit functional improvements to the club that include a restaurant, pro shop and wedding suite.

Veasy assured residents that the township wants to preserve the environment, adding that there would be no apartments or homes added to the golf club or the former swim club.

“We’ve been working with the Pinelands Commision and we want to make sure we protect the properties and the environment in Barton Run and Kings Grant,” she noted. “There’s no new apartments coming. Nothing in the proposed changes would allow for apartments at either property. 

“The changes are made to benefit those who already own properties or reside in Barton Run and Kings Grant.”

The township was also awarded a $1-million grant for a project to improve its sidewalks,  the largest amount given to any municipality in the state this year. Projects are awarded grants from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) through a competitive process that includes looking at the project’s proximity to a transit facility, safety, accessibility, project need and the applicant’s previous work through Local Aid funds.

NJDOT awarded the township through its Safe Streets to Transit (SSTT) program. The program encourages mass transit users to walk to transit stations instead of driving by providing funds to improve safety and accessibility for transit riders and walkways to transit facilities. The township was one of 19 municipalities across nine counties to receive a grant under this year’s SSTT program. 

The improvement sought to create 1.5 miles of sidewalk that were built in missing areas along North Maple Avenue. The project also provides walking or bicycling options for residents and benefits the local economy, as the sidewalk will connect from neighborhoods to local businesses, shops and restaurants. 

Veasy expressed gratitude to NJDOT for providing the grant, emphasizing that the improvements will be beneficial to residents in the township.

“On behalf of our nearly 50,000 residents, I want to personally thank the NJDOT for this $1 million grant,” she said in a release. “Our residents will undoubtedly benefit from these sidewalk improvements, both as a safety measure and means to boost the township’s economic opportunities.”

According to the township, the improvement project is aligned with its 2021 Downtown Vision Plan, which aims to make it safe and easier for pedestrians to travel to and from the downtown area on Main Street. 

Improvements to the driving range at the municipally owned Indian Spring Golf Course were also announced this year. Renderings for a new building that will come early next year showed the range will have the capacity to offer concessions and serve as a mini-pro shop. The township hopes to make the range even more of a destination for golfers while continuing its financial success.

The announced improvements are being made possible even with no transfer of Open Space funds to the golf course in the township’s ‘22 municipal budget, the first time that has happened since 2013.  The course and range are supporting themselves solely with strong revenues, officials say.  

The improvements are being paid for at no expense to taxpayers; instead, the funding comes through fees generated from the course itself and the capital surplus previously earmarked specifically for upgrades.

During this year’s municipal budget presentation, Evesham CFO Alexander Davidson noted that in addition to the new driving range building, the township is exploring other areas of club improvement, including new golf ball machines and possible self-service ball machines.

The mayor said she expects the range improvements to interest all residents and draw even more business in the future. She also cited the Indian Springs staff for its quality service.

“Whether you’re a regular golfer or not, I think all residents can look forward to our plans for continuing to improve Indian Spring and continuing to attract more business,” Veasy said. “It’s always been a priority for myself and council that Indian Spring become self-sustaining, and now both the course and range have reached their most financially stable point in many years.”

In April, the township launched a free mobile app that aims to enhance community engagement for residents. Evesham Connect was developed by GOGov Inc., a software developer that supports more than 200 governments with numerous solutions, including citizen requests. The new township app puts a full assortment of municipal services and information right in the hands of residents.

The move marks the township’s shift to a more digital friendly way of communicating ongoing news and events. Evesham Connect allows officials to provide notifications directly to residents on a variety of topics, including general news, upcoming events and road closures.

The app also integrates the township’s existing Ask Evesham message reporting system, which gives residents a direct line of communication for requesting  services, asking questions or reporting issues such as potholes and light outages.  

Evesham Connect also merges several features currently available on the township website, such as the payment of tax bills, making reservations for fields and courts or registering for recreational programs. It will also allow residents to view the locations of every park and recreational facility in Evesham.  

Veasy said that she anticipates better overall connection with residents as a result of the app.

“I’m excited that our residents and township staff have access to yet another tool that will let them better communicate with one another,” she noted. “I hope all residents will download the Evesham Connect app and receive great news and notifications about all that’s happening in their town.”

Evesham Township Police unveiled a new police K-9 memorial in November located behind the municipal building. It honors canines and handlers who have served the department and township residents.

Money for the memorial was raised last school year with fundraisers organized by fifth grade student councils and a group of teachers in the district. The Evesham Police Foundation then used the funds to purchase and donate the memorial, with Laurel Oak Garden Center donating landscaping services.

Deputy Police Chief Thomas Reinholt said teachers Jerrolyn Covely and Hope Phillips first reached out to his department with the project proposal. He noted the students were able to raise a significant amount of money for the memorial through their school fundraisers alone.

“Last spring, teachers in the school district were looking for a project for the fifth grade student councils for each of the schools,” he recalled. “(The teachers) had seen the canine memorial that Gloucester Township has in one of their parks in Sicklerville.

“(The district) raised money for about a month at the end of the last school year,” Reinholt added. “They then presented the funds to (police) to have the memorial built. They raised almost $3,700 just from doing different fundraisers in school.”

The police department then went through the foundation, a department-based nonprofit, to secure funds and purchase a sign with the name of the agency’s handlers and canines who died. It was created last summer and presented to the public at an event in November  at the township dog park, where it was also announced at a gender reveal party that the department would get a new female bloodhound puppy.

School Superintendent Dr. Justin Smith commended the unveiling of the K-9  memorial and cited the school’s district’s partnership with the township police department.

“The unveiling of the Evesham police K-9 memorial was a fantastic event for our town and all of our students who worked to make it possible,” he said. “It’s great to think that our students can see the concrete result of that undertaking, this memorial, forever now a reminder of how they, and all students, can make a positive difference in our community.”

Education

An online petition in support of full-day kindergarten at no extra cost for the Evesham school district garnered more than 1,400 signatures from supporters by February,  prompting the board of education to consider ways to achieve that goal.

The district offers full-day kindergarten at a rate of $5,500 per student, and is one of only two in Burlington County that is tuition-based. Danielle Remus, an Evesham resident, said parents brought the issue to the attention of the board and even requested it provide a cost analysis comparing the amount of money received for full-day students and the potential cost of a program without tuition.

“People move to Marlton thinking it’s a great school district, and when it’s time to enroll their kids, (they realize) it’s only half-day kindergarten, and if you want them to be full day, you have to pay $5,500 every year,” Remus said. 

The district’s full-day kindergarten tuition was established after a review of costs at nearby public and private schools and state-established rates. Its tuition is half the cost of the common rates seen in the review. 

School Superintendent Dr. Justin Smith said although it was too early to commit to a decisive timeline, the board actively listened to residents, was discussing the issue and would share more information on a decision in the near future.

“We appreciate the voices and advocacy of community members,” he said. “The goal is very valuable, and we want to do our due diligence in looking at it and trying to think of ways to get there. Great topic, challenging timing.”

Smith also noted that full-day kindergarten at no extra cost would set the district’s operating budget back approximately $2 million a year. The board was tasked with considering solutions that would allow it to implement the program for no extra cost in a way that will minimize damage to the budget. 

The district expects to lose $7.9 million in state funding over a seven-year span. The 2022-’23 school year is year five of seven, with the former projected to have a reduction total of $1.6 million. There is no clear indication as to what action the state will take beyond year seven, but the board is hopeful it will keep funding flat – ensuring no cuts in state funding levels – or put money back into the budget.

On May 5, the board of education presented a 2022-’23 budget at a special meeting. According to the district, the price tag for a free, full-day kindergarten is $1.7 million in recurring annual costs. That accounts for $1.02 million in lost full-day kindergarten tuition revenue; $685,475 for staff costs like salary and benefits; and a one-time outlay  of $358,000 to add bathrooms, furniture and materials in classrooms. 

The kindergarten questions will be on the ballot in November 2023, and if approved, will be implemented in September of the following year. Smith said using the ballot question spares programs, prevents additional cuts and enables community input. There is also the possibility of including needs identified through 2022-’23 and 2023-’24 budget cuts that will not be possible with a ballot question.

“(The ballot question) will be based on the annual recurring costs, not on one-time costs,” Smith explained. 

He went on to say the board will find a way to cover costs for bathrooms, furniture and materials for classrooms, but the two main components of the annual recurring cost are the lost tuition revenue and the addition of teachers and paraprofessionals necessary for the kindergarten plan.

Smith also clarified that the kindergarten program would force the board to make space in the budget by cutting staff and other school programs.

“More than 20 additional teaching positions would have to be cut to make the savings for (tuition-free) full-day kindergarten,” he noted. “That would also mean (cuts to) programs and additional support for kids, and puts us in a position where we would be making choices to benefit some at the expense of others. 

“That is a tough place to be,” Smith added. “So it would be more prudent (for the district) to use the November ‘23 date (for the ballot question).”

The district formed a kindergarten ballot question committee of various stakeholders to help with communication of needs, costs and benefits in the district and community.

Township recognition

Evesham Township was again selected by the Mayors Wellness Campaign (MWC) as a Healthy Town designee, the township’s second consecutive win. According to the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute (NJHCQI), the campaign is a statewide community-health initiative that has been led for 16 years through the  institute’s partnership with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJLM). 

Communities participating in the campaign are required to complete a comprehensive Healthy Town application that identifies their health needs and any successful initiatives to improve physical and mental wellness. 

The campaign has welcomed more than 400 municipalities so far, providing their mayors and community leaders with proven tools and strategies to help residents have  healthier lifestyles. Evesham’s program was recognized for addressing food insecurity with its ongoing pantry, providing COVID testing/vaccinations, organizing blood drives, and initiating several programs dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of its residents.

The Evesham Township school district’s board of education recognized the Cal Ripken World Series National Champions and commended district staff at its Sept. 22 meeting. 

Marlton’s 10U baseball team won the championship in August at a tournament in ​​Indiana. It also won district, state, and regional tournaments and represented the entire Mid-Atlantic Region at the World Series. The team was also recognized at the Phillies-Braves game on Sept. 24.

School Superintendent Dr. Justin Smith congratulated the team and expressed gratitude that it is made up of students in the district.

“We’re so excited for your accomplishment and we couldn’t be happier that you’re a part of our family here in the Evesham Township School District,” he said.

At its Dec. 1 meeting the board of education introduced new principals at three district schools. Traci Bowles will be the new principal of Marlton Elementary and Beverly Green will head DeMasi middle and elementary schools. Both will step into their new roles on Feb. 1.

Both Green and Bowles have experience as principals and administrators; the former comes from Logan Township and the latter from Lumberton.

“They have a diverse range of experience working in both middle and elementary levels, problem-solving, strong work ethics, (as well as) a deep care for kids and staff and our community,” Smith noted. 

Bowles said she appreciates her selection and noted the amount of positive feedback she’s heard since accepting the position.

“ …  Almost every single person I’ve told has something positive to say about this school district,” she related. “It just increased my excitement.  I’m so thrilled to be joining the team and I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you.”

Green also expressed gratitude and her anticipation of the new role. 

“It is with great excitement, enthusiasm, and also humility that I am so glad to be offered (this position),” she said. “The process was rigorous but it really helped me to see that all voices are heard in this district.

“I’m excited to be spending time here at DeMasi getting to know (students, staff, and parents),” she added. “So thank you; I’m so honored to be offered this position.”

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