State of the Borough: Mayor's Report
Commissioner and Mayor Tish Colombi's address at the 40th Annual Mayor's Breakfast Saturday.
Haddonfield Commissioner Tish Colombi, the mayor and director of public works, State of the Borough report. Delivered Saturday, January 21, 2012 at the 40th Annual Mayor's Breakfast at First Presbyterian Church:
It's so good to see so many people here, representing the diversity and the goodness of our community.
I want to thank the Lions Club for once again hosting the Mayor's Breakfast – the 40th – and for sponsoring the Citizen of the Year Award. We all appreciate the work you do not just on this occasion but throughout the year … for our community, throughout the region and around the world.
Let's give the Lions a big round of applause.
So here is my State of the Borough report for 2011.
Martial arts studios.
A hurricane with 16 trees down.
Did I mention Tanner Street?
With just over 15 months to go until the next municipal election here in Haddonfield, I know that people are beginning to wonder whether I will run for another four-year term as a Commissioner. I've had this job for nearly 27 years now, and it really is the best job in the world. It's been an honor and a privilege.
But all good things must come to an end, and so, after careful consideration and consultation with my family, close friends, and trusted advisors, I have decided ...
… that with Michele Bachmann no longer in the race for the Republican nomination, and with Sarah Palin absent without leave, there's a legitimate opportunity for a woman with the kinds of credentials that I have to throw her hat into the ring and run for President of the United States.
All I'm waiting for is a call from Chris Christie to confirm that he will be my running mate. So if my cell phone rings during my speech, I will need to take the call. It might be him.
So that's the news. And remember, folks ... you heard it here first, in the basement of the Presbyterian Church in Haddonfield, New Jersey.
But seriously ...
As people across this country and around the world struggle to survive in tough economic times, business owners here in Haddonfield struggle too. Just this week, the Yampell family closed their jewelry store, after 83 years in Haddonfield. Jewelers and others who sell big-ticket items have been hit hard, as the money available for discretionary purchases has dried up.
Overall, however, Haddonfield's business district has fared better than other neighborhood centers in the Delaware Valley. Our retail vacancy rate is about five percent right now, compared with 12 percent in the region.
One of the reasons is the support our businesses receive from the Partnership for Haddonfield, our downtown management corporation. The Partnership sponsors numerous activities and events that bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Haddonfield each year.
One of the reasons we have a healthy downtown is that back in 2003 we decided to employ a person whose job it would be to recruit new businesses for Haddonfield. We had the good fortune to have among the applicants a resident who appeared to be perfect for the job. We hired her, and it turned out that she was perfect for the job.
Over the years, she has been responsible for bringing scores of new businesses to town—of all kinds. In the past year alone, 20 new businesses set up shop in Haddonfield; 13 retailers; 4 service businesses; and 3 eateries.
Of course, there has been some turnover, but that's normal. There always has been, and there always will be. For various reasons. But on balance we are way ahead, and the question that must always be asked is: "What might things be like if we had not had the Partnership for Haddonfield and if we had not had a retail coordinator working on behalf of our business district?"
Ladies and gentlemen, Lisa Hurd will be leaving Haddonfield soon, for a new job in Pennsylvania. But before she goes I want to acknowledge publicly the outstanding job she has done for the Haddonfield business district and the extraordinary contribution she has made to our community as a whole.
Lisa, please stand and be recognized.
Business in downtown Haddonfield was impeded during 2010 by a major reconstruction project on Tanner Street. I am happy to report that this very difficult and complicated project is now complete, except for street lights. The business owners on Tanner Street suffered for more than a year and I hope you will make a point to visit Tanner Street when you go downtown to shop. And mark your calendar for mid-April, when 5,000 tulips will spring into bloom. "Tulips on Tanner."
We had more roads under reconstruction in 2011 than in any year since Kings Highway was reconstructed, twenty years ago. In addition to Tanner Street, major work was completed on Station Avenue, West Park Avenue, West Summit Avenue, and—finally!—Woodland Avenue.
The intersection of Potter and Ellis Streets was totally reconfigured, and completed on time and under budget.
Major work to sewer infrastructure was undertaken on Euclid Avenue and at the Farwood end of Grove Street, a project that has been on the books since before Gene Kain was mayor.
The tough thing about road projects is that there is never a good time to do them. They will always be noisy and dusty and inconvenient. But the alternative is not attractive either.
Because of budget constraints, we had to put a new plan in place for picking up leaves in the fall. There were a few wrinkles, but the bottom line is that with just three passes, all leaves were picked up by the end of the third week in December—the same time that leaf collection ended last year.
After many, many years and numerous studies, the Commissioners have settled on a plan of action for our Public Library. It will not provide the space or the facilities that we would like to provide, that the professionals have recommended, or that the community has said it would like to have, but it is the best we can do under current economic conditions.
The concepts prepared by advocates of building a new library at Allen Avenue were very creative, but we determined that none of them is financially feasible at this time.
Plans are being prepared for a small addition at the rear of the existing building that will include an elevator and finally make the building fully accessible to those with physical disabilities.
The Library Board and staff continue to provide excellent service, responding to the ever-changing needs of the community, and offering new programs and services that take advantage of developments in technology. For example, you can now check out a Kindle or a Nook, read books on it, and test it out for a week or two before purchasing a tablet of your own. The Friends of the Library continue to provide generous and dedicated support for the Public Library. If you're not a member, I urge you to join.
The students in our public schools continue to excel, in the classroom, on the stage, and on the playing fields.
Ninety-eight percent of the members of the class of 2011 went on to college—90 percent of them to four-year institutions. The class of 2011 was awarded more than $9 million in scholarships.
Three members of the Class of 2012—David J. Jacobowitz, Emma K. VanDervort, and Michael H. Zaleski—were named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists, and nine were named Commended students.
If you haven't seen and heard the High School's Madrigal Singers, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say to you. You are culturally deprived and your life will be incomplete until you have seen the Madrigals.
And it you have never been to a spring musical or a fall play at the High School, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say to you. You are culturally deprived and your life will be incomplete until you have seen a spring musical and a fall play at the High School.
The level of participation by students in activities outside the classroom is extraordinarily high. Nine of every ten students participate in at least one extracurricular activity and 85 percent are members of one or more athletic teams.
Speaking of athletics ...
Each year, the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association presents an award—the ShopRite Cup—to the four public high schools schools and two private high school schools that win the most sectional and state championships in the state. Our High School received that award in 2011… and every year back to 2004, when the award was established—the only school in the State of New Jersey to win every year.
Our high school also won the Colonial Conference All-Sports Award in 2011 for the 33rd year in a row. And last year the Courier-Post honored us with their Athletic Program of the Year award.
This extraordinary success is attributable to many factors and to many people, not the least of whom are the student athletes themselves. The School Board, District administration, and parents all provide encouragement and support of various kinds. But the continuous thread that runs from year to year, that makes it possible for us to win these prestigious awards year after year, is provided by the coaches. And Haddonfield has the best.
Some of them are here this morning, and I would like to recognize them now.
• Boys' soccer: With 600 career victories, the Coach of the Year for the North-East United States – Joe Falana.
• Lacrosse: The Courier-Post Boys' Lacrosse Coach of the Year – Keleher.
• Tennis: A 2011 inductee to the United States Tennis Association's Middle States Hall of Fame. The winningest coach for girls' high school tennis in the entire country – Jeff Holman.
The parents of athletes play a huge role in the success of our programs. This year the Wrestling Booster Club was able to renovate the old high school woodshop and convert it into a state of the art new wrestling room.
As much as I would like to recognize the extraordinary achievements of the various teams and individual athletes, it is simply not possible to do so in this setting. But I cannot let this occasion pass without saluting one athlete, a student who has excelled in the classroom, on the field of play, and in the community.
He served as a volunteer at the Haddonfield Youth Football Camp, helped build homes in Kentucky and Tennessee as part of mission trips with his church, is President of the Leo Club, a member of the national Honor Society and is a peer leader. He maintained a grade-point average in excess of 97 and scored 1980 on the SAT. He received numerous football awards and more than two dozen scholarship offers, including from Harvard and Columbia….. and the school he will be attending in the fall: Boston College.
Ladies and gentlemen, the recipient of most prestigious award for a high school football player in New Jersey: the Maxwell Football Club's Football Player of the Year … Jim Cashman.
Several years ago, the Board of Education appointed a small committee to work on boosting the number of students who attend schools in Haddonfield, rather than in their own home towns. Our High School and the Middle School can accommodate additional students in their classrooms, at no additional cost to the school budget. But the students—or rather their parents—pay tuition fees … as much as $11,250 per year.
The bottom line it that this effort now generates nearly $300,000 a year in non-tax revenue. Outside money. That's a real boon to taxpayers, and a great tribute to the excellence of our public schools.
A small group of school supporters has been working incredibly hard for several years to raise money for improvements to the high school auditorium.
The group is called "Lights, Camera, Action" and they recently presented a check in the amount of $70,000 to the Board of Education that will help pay for a new sound system—which will be installed before the spring musical – and for new curtains and rigging on the stage.
Incidentally, a significant portion of that money, $16,000, came from last year's Holiday House Tour, an annual event that has given a big boost to a number of community projects in recent years.
The two people who spearheaded the "Lights, Camera, Action" project are here this morning, and I would like them to stand and be recognized: Janice Hunt and Deanna Burney. Deanna headed the fund-raising for the clarinova piano in 2008.
One more thing. The group is still raising money for lighting. If they get $5,000 by January 31 they'll qualify for matching money from the state. They're well on the way, but they'll be happy to receive contributions in any amount from any source. The next project for the auditorium will be replacing the seating.
The schools in Haddonfield play such a major role in our community and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the presence here today of a number of members of the Board of Education, including the newest member, Andrew Berlin.
Steve Weinstein is the president of the board. Rich Perry, the superintendent of schools. And other members of the board … please stand and be recognized.
Some good news … breaking news almost. Several days ago, the Board of Education reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the Haddonfield Education Association – a great relief for all concerned. It is hoped that both parties will ratify the proposed agreement in the near future.
Also recently, Governor Christie signed legislation that will allow school elections to be held in November rather than in April. If the Haddonfield Board of Education chooses to make the change, it will save about $20,000 per year.
If you weren't downtown on New Year's Eve, you missed a terrific program of arts and entertainment, including Tommy Cash—Johnny's brother—right there on the Presbyterian Church stage. Once again, we were blessed with good weather. Thousands came to Haddonfield from near and far for a fabulous evening of family oriented, alcohol-free fun.
A number of community organizations celebrated major anniversaries last year, or will celebrate them this year. They include:
• Haddonfield Friends School – 225 years
• The First Presbyterian Church – 140 years
• Mt. Olivet Baptist Church – 120 years
• And the Rotary Club will mark its 85th anniversary this year
Haddonfield Child Care 25 years
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 was observed at HMHS. A group of 40 residents from town visited the history classrooms at the high school and shared their stories about what they were doing on September 11, 2001. Men, women, people from all walks of life spent the day in a Day of Remembrance of 9/11. The day started with a bagpiper in the courtyard playing Amazing Grace at 8:37. At the end of each class, the students were given flags, over 3,000, one for each life lost on 9/11, to place on the front lawn of the high school within the outline of the United Stated drawn by John Giannotti.
I am always reluctant to mention some of those who are no longer with us, because every life is worthy. But I am compelled to note the passing of three longtime members of our community.
Ted Sery was the director of basic research at the Wills Eye Institute for more than 30 years. He was a pioneer in his field, but he was a quiet, modest man. You never would have known about his exploits during World War II as a demolition expert in Europe. Ted and his wife Doris became advocates for the mentally challenged after their daughter was born with Down syndrome. They founded Hometown Opportunities for the Mentally Handicapped, here in Haddonfield.
Another quiet, modest man of extraordinary accomplishment and generosity was Bill Garwood, who died in December. Like Ted Sery, Bill was a research scientist who spent his entire career at Mobil. He had more than 100 patents to his name, including one for the synthetic motor oil, Mobil 1. He helped rebuild the Methodist Church after it burned in 1955. Not long after I was elected, I ran into Bill downtown. He told me how happy he was that Haddonfield had finally elected a woman to the municipal governing body. Then he planted a big kiss on my cheek and said, "I've waited a long time to kiss a commissioner!"
And speaking of municipal government … the funeral was held yesterday for Janet Betley who served our governing body and our community for more than 30 years as borough clerk, registrar of vital statistics, treasurer and tax collector. Janet knew municipal government—and Haddonfield—inside and out. She was a loyal and faithful servant. Today as the funeral procession made its way down Kings Highway, past Borough Hall, the employees stood outside on the front steps to give Janet a final farewell wave.
In closing, I want to acknowledge the contributions that my fellow commissioners have made during the past year to our municipal government and our community. Few people have any concept of the amount of time they spend, working to keep Haddonfield the best place to live in the Delaware Valley.
Our borough administrator, Sharon McCullough, and borough employees are dedicated public servants who care deeply about our town and its residents. Sharon, in fact, is now a resident herself, living just a stone's throw from the Borough Hall. On behalf of my fellow commissioners, and of you, I express deep gratitude for the work they do on our behalf.
I want to remind you that I have an Open Door session at the Borough Hall most Wednesdays from noon until 3 p.m. If you have questions or concerns of any kind, please come see me. I will be there until May 2013 … at least.
Hello….yes…yes…oh that’s great! Thanks! ….. It was him, Chris Christie…He said YES!
At this time I would like to introduce the 2012’s Citizen of the Year. See if you can guess who is it!