Mayor Richard DePamphilis 2013 address to the city of Linwood

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Assemblyman Amodeo, Executive Levinson, Judge Gibson, Freeholders and fellow residents.

I would like to thank you all for coming tonight and to remind you again how honored I am to be Mayor.

I would like to congratulate Councilman Beinfest and Councilman Gordon on their re-election and welcome our new Councilman at Large Darren Matik. Darren was appointed to finish the term of Matt Levinson in July and was elected in Nov.   

I would like to thank Leigh Ann Napoli and Mary Cook, Lynn Roesch, Anthony Strazarri, Ed Beck and all the staff at City Hall who continue to do a great job. Our tax collector Carl Wentzel retired after 18 years of service and we wish him a long and healthy retirement. Congratulations to Chris Desch our new tax collector.

Our 2012 tax collection rate was 97.31 percent. Also this year Lynn Roesch was named “Woman of the Year” by the National Association of Professional Women. Congrats to Lynn.                         

2012 will be remembered, most of all, for its weather.  Not one but two major storm systems that devastated our city, our county and our state. The first one arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night and we awoke to no power and devastation like we had never experienced. The second storm we watched approach and got somewhat lucky by avoiding the powerful outer edges. However the rest of New Jersey was not as lucky and many of our friends on the barrier islands are still trying to recover.

The derecho in June was something that none of us had ever experienced. Some residents complained that we were unprepared and they were right. We were not prepared for a storm of that magnitude or the devastation that it caused. Although our response was immediate I admit our resources were overwhelmed in the initial stages. But we quickly recovered and I believe that all departments and personnel involved deserve a word of thanks and praise.

One of the departments most affected was Public Works. Each year I commend Hank Kolakowski and his men for the job that they do on a regular basis. Well this year they were tested to the limit and passed with flying colors. Undermanned, they worked long hours to perform their duties while, at the same time, trying to clean up from the storms. I personally would like to thank them on the excellent job. I know council feels the same and that all Linwood residents appreciate all they do.

Chief Chick Kisby and the Linwood Volunteer Fire Department did not only assist with the cleanup they were out in the storm; assisting police, responding to downed power lines and other emergencies. Twelve fire fighters were at the station 24/7 and responded to 23 alarms during the derecho and another 22 during Hurricane Sandy. All toll this year they responded to 257 alarms. They do a super job for us. They also continued their commitment to community involvement and can be seen at all city functions and special events. 

I can’t leave out or our Police Department. They also worked long hours during each storm. It was one time when those SUVs came in handy. They worked them so hard we had to retire three of them. They also did an excellent job not just during the storms but all year long. I am still of the opinion that they are highly trained professionals who work hard to provide quality police service to the residents of Linwood.

We extended the shared service agreement with Northfield and Chief Robert James and under his direction we entered into an agreement with Egg Harbor Township and Northfield to share dispatch services. The department also acquired 800 MHZ radios to improve communications now and in the future and they made improvements to the way we get information out to our residents during emergencies.

I would like to thank Dixon & Associates our City Engineers and specifically Kevin Dixon and Steve Mazur. This year they assisted greatly with obtaining grants for and completing many improvement projects throughout the city; drainage improvements on Poplar Ave. from New Road to River Drive and on Frances and Grammercy avenues and safety improvements including curbs and sidewalks on Poplar Ave from Shore to New roads, at Devonshire and the bike path and a new pedestrian crossing signal at West Ave. and New Road.

I would like to thank Lynn Gibson and the Linwood Board of Education. In Lynn’s first year as president the school budget came in at a zero percent increase.  As always the board has its work cut out for it dealing with the ever decreasing state school aid. Each year I know becomes more difficult but zero is very nice. 

Dr. Lacy and his band of Volunteers continue to maintain our beautiful Linwood Arboretum which once again hosted our Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Dr. Baruffi, Terri Weeks and the staffs and teachers from both schools continue to provide quality education to our children who in turn, continue to score well above the state average on all tests.

In 2012 Belhaven and Seaview continued their focus on service learning. They used a variety of programs to support the Community Food Bank, Vineland Veterans home, JINS Center and Gilda’s Club. They also supported the families affected by Hurricane Sandy. They held a toy drive for Atlantic City students who lost their possessions and delivered over $2,000 worth of cleaning supplies to the Chelsea Heights School in Atlantic City.

This year Belhaven School was chosen as the sight for the Jostens Renaissance Leadership Conference and recently won their ninth consecutive Media Wow Award. Last but certainly not least our own Dr. Baruffi was named Atlantic County Superintendent of the Year.

I would like to thank Mary Todd, Maria Moss and the Library Board who continue to provide a number of valued services to our residents. Many new improvements were made this year to the interior and exterior of the library.

The front doors and surrounding glass was replaced and the interior was painted. Upgrades were made to the heating, air conditioning and lighting systems.

The board of recreation lost its President, Darren Matik, this year and will be reorganizing in January. Their loss will be City Councils gain. The board and especially Patty Ogrodnek are responsible for providing all the super holiday celebrations for the residents. Again this year’s Halloween parade and tree lighting had to set new records for attendence                                                                                   
     Bill Purdie and our Environmental Commission continue to play a major role in our town. In 2012 we received a grant from the NJ Dept. of Transport to complete a plan to analyze conditions and recommend improvements to our bike path.

They secured funding from the NJ Environmental Commission for a Sustainable Linwood project. We were also awarded a Coastal Blue Acres grant from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres program in the amount of $953,000.

One of the things Council did in 2011 was to add to our long list of shared services by entering into an agreement with Northfield to share their court facilities and all staff not just the judge and court administrator.  The Linwood Northfield Sewer inter-local continues as does our shared Police Chief with Northfield and School Superintendent with Mainland, which brings me to my newest pet peeve.

 Recently I and others penned a letter to the Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee in support of a bill sponsored by Assemblymen Amodeo and Brown that would allow the Commissioner of Education to waive the salary cap for any school superintendents that are part of a shared service agreement. As it stands now a superintendent who is at the cap would have no incentive to take on additional responsibility or in our case continue to. And that is just part of a larger problem that I see with shared services.    

A shared service is not something that just happens. The agreement is usually the end of months of fact finding, sharing of information and concerns, meetings and a lot of hard work by two councils, two boards and sometimes just two people. They do this because they are concerned about raising costs and higher taxes. They do this because they care about their community and their residents. So after months of negotiations an agreement is reached. Then what happens, will it be successful, have they accomplished what they set out to do, how much will they be saving and for how long? The truth is we're not sure. The town that does the work is not necessarily guaranteed the savings.

For example: Last year we shared a school superintendent with Mainland Regional which saved the taxpayers of three communities by decreasing our costs. Or so we thought. The state, which increased school aid throughout the state, decreased Linwood by $100,000. They in effect took whatever savings we had achieved by sharing a superintendent and gave it to another district.
Do you know that there is a shared services bill in the State Assembly last month that would increase the powers of the states “Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission”. It would allow them to come to Linwood Council and propose a shared service. If council or its residents reject the proposal the bill would allow the state to reduce Linwood’s municipal aid by the amount of the projected savings that they say would have been produced.  Now for me this is a problem and I hope the bill will not pass as written. 

Our governor is in favor of and encourages cities to shave services and I agree with that. But the state has to figure a way for the cities that do the work to retain the savings. Stop threatening penalties and start rewarding the towns who are sharing. There has to be a mechanism of some kind, that kicks in as soon a town or city begins a shared service that increases aid or at the very least assures that the aid will not ever go down for the length of the agreement. If this does not happen and the savings does not stay local then someone has to explain to me why we should bother. Why not start rewarding cities and towns with more state aid based on the amount of services they share. I bet there would be a lot of towns jumping on that bandwagon. 

Last year, in closing, I spoke about New Jerseys property tax problem that not only continues to exist but threatens to become an ever heavier burden. The cleanup and the rebuilding of this year’s storms are certain to affect our state budget. Decreasing property value in Atlantic City and throughout the county will most likely increase our share of county taxes.

 If you work for a living and got your first 2013 pay check you know the new federal rates kicked in. Also last year I likened our situation to digging a hole that would be very hard digging out of.  Well that hole is about to get a whole lot bigger.

However, Linwood Mayor and Council will continue to work hard, be aggressive and pro-active in dealing with all facets of city government to assure that we maintain the services that our residents enjoy, that we keep our streets safe, and that we continue to provide the highest quality of education for our children.

Thank You, Happy New Year, and God Bless America. 

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