Woolwich Township Approves 2015 Budget Increase

woolwich webBy Jenny Cowan

WOOLWICH TWP. — At their meeting on Jan. 20, the Woolwich Township Committee approved an ordinance to exceed the municipal budget appropriation limits.

According to Local Government Cap Law, municipalities are limited to annual budget increases of 2.5 percent. However, if authorized by an ordinance, municipalities can increase the annual budget by 3.5 percent.

The ordinance approved by Woolwich Township states that the Township Committee has determined that a 3.5 percent increase in the budget, amounting to $190,168.85, is necessary in the interest of promoting the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.

In resolutions, the Committee approved the execution of a contract for the Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland Counties Municipal Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) retrospective program. The joint insurance fund exists to manage fire, liability, auto and workers’ compensation. JIFs are public entities that allow local communities to pool resources typically only available to very large cities and keep insurance costs low.

The Committee also passed resolutions to make appointments to the Woolwich Township Business Development Advisory Committee, the Woolwich Township Shade Tree Committee, and the Swedesboro Woolwich Environmental Commission. New members will be appointed as committees begin meeting again in the upcoming weeks.

The Committee passed a resolution authorizing the totally disabled veteran deduction. A totally disabled veteran is a veteran that has a wartime service connected disability, and the disability is certified by the United States Veterans Administration. “The veteran has to file paper work with the county tax assessor’s office. Once I receive the approval from the county, that property becomes exempt from paying taxes. It goes back to the date they applied for the exemption,” Woolwich Tax Collector Kim Jaworski explained.

In reports, Committeewoman Jennifer Cavallaro reported that the Swedesboro Woolwich School District is currently investigating the possibility of expanding the current half-day kindergarten program to full-day kindergarten. Enrollment numbers in the school district have been declining, and this year the number of enrollments decreased by 60 students from the previous year.

“However, before they can proceed they need to demonstrate that they can meet the space and financial obligations for five years,” Cavallaro said.

Cavallaro also gave an update on the Parks and Recreation Committee. She noted that the committee is currently brainstorming plans for community activities for the upcoming 2015 year.

Cavallaro mentioned the upcoming bus trip on Feb. 7 to the American Girl store in New York City. She said that the committee also has suggested hosting a father-daughter dance and possibly a wine and painting night.

Cavallaro mentioned that making residents aware of events has been a challenge. “Parks and Recreation is trying to find more effective ways to communicate these events with residents,” Cavallaro said.

Committeeman Frank Rizzi reported on township finances. He noted that 2014 ended well, and that the township was able to purchase a number of video systems for police cars as well as two wireless access systems for the township building, which will allow township officials to use tablets in various meetings.

Rizzi also reported on plans for the upcoming 2015 budget. “Some of the biggest hurdles for the 2015 budget will be TDR [Transfer of Development Rights], utilities, and the capital budget,” Rizzi said. He noted that the township has a number of necessary capital projects planned for 2015,which could pose a challenge to the budget.

In his report, Mayor Sam Maccarone noted that Woolwich Township was recognized by valuepenguin.com as the fourteenth safest city in New Jersey. The website cited the township’s low crime rate as part of the methodology behind rankings. “Kudos to our police department, there has been a lot of hard work there,” said Maccarone.

Community Development Director Matt Blake provided a report about the current status of the TDR program. Certified letters were recently sent to residents involved in the TDR program offering to host information about their land credits on a website. The website would be used to help connect interested buyers to sellers who own land in a development restricted area.

Blake also explained that because the TDR program is local, rather than statewide, there is potential for greater flexibility of what can be done with the restricted land use areas. “We want to be sure we keep agricultural spaces protected, but we also want to foster agricultural tourism,” Blake said.

He explained that there is even the potential for the township to buy preserved land credits and use the land for expanded trail and park systems. There is also the possibility for farmers to create tourism opportunities on their own land.

“This could increase the profit margin for our farmers,” Blake said. He added that the township continues to do research and seek expert opinions as they shape guidelines for the program.

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