HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Township Planning Board Chairman Richard Cheek is seeking his first elective office by running for a seat on the Township Committee on Election Day, Nov. 3. He is running against former Township Committeeperson Judy Link, who is seeking to regain her seat. Cheek defeated current Township Committeeman John Kurtz in the primary election earlier this year.
The candidates were asked to provide a background and answer the following questions.
• What do you feel will be the long-term consequences as a result of the pandemic on the township and its residents?
• What do you see as the biggest issue(s) facing the township over the next three years?
• How do you propose to balance the ever-present demand for services, and steadily increasing costs with the need to stay within the 2% cap and keep tax increases under control?
• What are your thoughts on the recently passed local legislation to provide tax incentives for residents and commercial entities to build or enhance their present properties?
Their responses follow.
I am 62 years old and married to Michelle for 40 years. I have two daughters, two grandsons and two granddaughters. I went to Absegami High School, Vo-Tech and apprentice school. I have lived in Hamilton Township for 35 years.
I am the owner of Laurel Plumbing Inc. and a member of South Jersey Mechanical Contractors Association. I serve as a trustee for the Annuity Fund and the Vacation Fund for that association as well as Local Union 322. I started RMC Management Corp. in 1997 and MRC Management Corp. LLC in 2004.
I have served on the Hamilton Township Planning Board since 2009 and as chairman since 2015.
I have coached numerous children’s sports programs in the township and was selected for the Absegami High Schoiol Wall of Fame in 2004.
There's no way to know what the full impact of this pandemic will have on our township until this is all behind us. Until then all we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The reality is that we cannot predict the future, however, we do know that residents and businesses have been affected both personally and financially by COVID-19. The challenge Township Committee will be faced with will be to maintain the level of service with an emphasis on public safety regardless how this pandemic has affected our municipal budget and our tax base. The Hamilton Township community has always pulled together to get though times like these, now more than ever we need to support our local businesses and support each other.
With the casino market continuing to decline and shopping on the internet on the rise our town must continue to fight against that current. Our large retail area, small business and dining establishments are the heart and soul of this community. The effects will be felt as long as there are continued store closures and reduced sales which ultimately affects our local economy. While all that is important, we must continue to work at reinventing our town as a destination other than retail shopping.
This year we will have to deal with challenges that we didn't create but the continued effort to keep costs at a minimum and giving the residents all the services they are use too will be our toughest challenge. I will use my experience as a local businessmen and member of Planning Board to continue the shared services and PILOT agreements that are currently in place, while as a team researching other possibilities to keep costs well under the cap.
As the chairman of the Planning Board along with the entire Planning Board we highly recommended to Township Committee the passage of the ordinance for Rehabilitation and Redevelopment. This was critical at this time to promote smart growth and incentivize businesses and residents to improve existing properties which in turn makes your neighborhoods nicer places to live. This ordinance promotes new potential business opportunities which will give the township the benefit of allocation of those dollars to enhance community programs.
I’m the Democratic candidate for Township Committee, Judy Link. My husband Jim and I are owners of the Young’s Skating Center since 1995. Before that, I earned bachelor and master of science degrees and taught high school science for 11 years. I previously served on the Hamilton Township Committee for six years, and was a commissioner on the Pinelands Commission for 4 years. Among other affiliations, I also am a long-time member of the local Rotary Club. I was born in Ventnor and have two daughters, one son, and seven grandchildren.
Besides the hardships on individual residents caused by the pandemic, the consequences on the township and its residents as a group are significant and numerous. The pandemic adds to the region’s already existing problem, a downsized gaming and tourism industry. Tracing the pandemic consequences from cause to effect would place us first as the threat to public safety which the pandemic creates. That threat causes many responsible people to curtail some of their entertainment and social events as well as changes to the way most activities are conducted. In turn, that causes a reduction in some local and area businesses which creates lost personal and business income. Establishments would go out of business and more jobs lost. These lost jobs and income add to the already negative economic activity. That creates lower demand for existing and new businesses which depresses the commercial real estate market and a depressed job market depresses the residential real estate market. This depressed economy means reduced rates of tax collection for the township among other things. The depressed commercial and residential real estate markets reduce the value of the township’s properties which means lower assessments on which to tax. The ultimate impact of that is the need to either raise taxes or reduce services/expenditures or BOTH. Given the continuing economic downsizing occurring in Atlantic County, it is unlikely the region will grow out of the negative impact of the pandemic, thereby forcing a reexamination of municipal services, taxes, etc.
As discussed in the previous answer, the township will probably be forced to conduct a re-examination of its services, tax base, planning, etc., due to the impact on the region of the gaming and tourism industry downsizing as well as any impact from the pandemic. Without regional growth to rely on to sustain property values, demand for commercial space, etc., difficult choices may have to be considered and innovative solutions developed.
We begin knowing an annual tax increase of not much more than 2% might already be our basis with lower property assessments and lower tax collections rates, both being likely impacts of the gaming industry downsizing and the pandemic. The real question then becomes, given the impact of the issues discussed in my previous two answers, what innovative solutions can be found to maintain existing services? I would recommend residents be consulted to determine what nonmandated services they value the most so they can be maintained in the event some others have to be reduced and/or eliminated.
While tax incentives sound like a good idea, the ability to achieve their goal plus their negative impacts must be examined. For example, tax abatements frequently benefit the user more than the municipality and its residents. These types of incentives have to be well thought out, and their consequences objectively determined, otherwise some individuals or businesses receive the benefits while the township residents may actually end up paying for them in various financial and nonfinancial ways.
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