Leaf pick up, the Brandywine retirement home expansion and copper gutter thievery were on the minds of about 40 borough residents who attended the Haddonfield Civic Association’s annual “town hall” meeting Thursday night at borough hall.
The association is aptly named. Civility ruled the night, even though some of the most contentious issues facing the borough, namely, the proposed Bancroft purchase and installation of artificial turf fields, were specifically designated to be discussed for fully half of the meeting.
The meeting format allowed people to submit questions and have them answered by the appropriate borough official in a calm and careful way.
“This format allows people to have a voice and to have a thoughtful, non-emotional answer to their questions,” said David Siedell, association president. He added it’s one of the only venues where borough commissioners and board of education members, both “taxing” authorities, are present and speaking at the same meeting.
At the two-plus hour meeting, one of the longest in the association’s 31-year history, residents heard school board President Steve Weinstein and Superintendent Richard Perry, as well as borough commissioners, discuss the tax increases that working families and senior residents will face if a scheduled referendum on the purchase passes.
The board of education and the borough have proposed jointly to purchase and redevelop the property, located next to the high school on Kings Highway East, and to install artificial turf on the high school’s main field and a new field to be constructed on the site. Both projects are included in a $16.9 million public bond referendum set for January.
“It is costly. But what’s the cost if we don’t do it?” Weinstein asked of the opportunity the Bancroft purchase provides. “The turf fields are part of a vision we created from the beginning, to create a campus around our high school.” He and Perry mentioned the current safety issues students face, including packing into cars to drive across town to their practice fields and games, as well as inferior grass fields that are impossible to maintain because of overuse. They pointed to a private initiative among residents to raise $500,000 toward the turf’s cost as well as state and county open space funds to help defray development costs.
But , a borough resident for more than 40 years, has led a small but outspoken group of residents over the past few months that is opposed to many decisions being made by borough officials, not the least of which is the Bancroft deal. They are angry that the town would embark on these projects they say will further burden already-besieged taxpayers who pay nearly twice the state average in property taxes.
Indeed, Kelly has used the comments section on Haddonfield Patch articles as a platform for his message, often with biting criticism of borough government, stirring debate from diverging town interests. Along with fellow citizen Cliff Brinker, he created the Facebook page Haddonfield United in June to bring other residents into the conversation.
“They (borough officials) don’t know what the costs are going to be and the future costs are very sketchy,” he said Thursday night. “There are people who just can’t live here anymore because of the taxes. And they can’t come up with a real number.”
Other officials called on to answer residents’ questions included Fire Chief Joe Riggs and Chief of Police John Banning. Former Mayor Jack Tarditi moderated the question and answer session.