Bancroft Neurohealth has provided 85 percent of the funding for a group that describes itself as "grassroots" and advocates in favor of the $16 million public acquisition and development of Bancroft's 19.2-acre property on Kings Highway East.
Bancroft, a center for the developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries, gave $3,500 of One Haddonfield's $4,095 in contributions as of Dec. 27, according to a New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission filing.
One Haddonfield describes itself as "a grassroots organization of concerned residents who support the Bancroft land acquisition." Voters will ultimately decide if the deal goes through in a Jan. 22, $12.5 million bond referendum. The cost of the deal to taxpayers was reduced from $16 million with $3.5 million in open-space preservation funds from the borough, county and state.
Some opponents to the Bancroft public purchase say the Board of Education and the borough are paying too much for it. The Bancroft land was assessed at around $8 million in 2005 but a 2012 school-board assessment valued it at $15.1 million. Critics have argued the earlier assessment was in the height of the real estate market. The most recent assessment cites Bancroft's value as an institutional use and not a residential use, as the earlier assessment did.
Jack O'Malley, president of One Haddonfield, defended his group Wednesday against allegations of "shilling" for Bancroft.
"We knew that Bancroft's contribution would stand out in our first report," O'Malley said in a letter to the media. "But we also knew that our funding would become much broader once the campaign got under way. As future reports will show, financial support for One Haddonfield is growing broader by the day as more and more residents understand the proposal, reject the rumors, decide to vote 'yes' on Jan. 22 and contribute generously to our cause."
The "shilling" allegations came from a member of Haddonfield United, a rival group opposed to the sale that has grown out of a Facebook page.
O'Malley, 50, a salesman of over the counter health-care products, said he's a lifelong resident of Haddonfield and his ties to the community and commitment to the Bancroft purchase run deep.
"I'd like to think my credibility in town means something," he said. "I've been here my entire life, and my mother before me and my grandmother before her."
O'Malley said his group has about five active members and dozens of active supporters. He said Bancroft, which will be paid $12.2 million for its property if the referendum is passed, reached out to them.
Bancroft President Toni Pergolin said One Haddonfield reached out to them, but their goal is the same.
"One Haddonfield is a community-based organization that has been working hard to provide facts about the referendum so Haddonfield residents can make an informed decision," she said. "When they asked Bancroft to support their efforts, we were pleased to do so. This referendum will be decided by the residents of Haddonfield, and it is critical that they have the most accurate and complete information as they prepare to vote."
Proponents of the deal want to acquire the Bancroft property, which is adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School, for current and future school development and to preserve open space. Opponents have criticized the cost of the project and its impact on taxpayers and the inclusion of fund a $1 million artificial turf field in the project.