New Year, New Leadership

There have been some big changes in leadership following the 2018 elections.

On January 1st, Burlington County swore-in Democrat’s Felicia Hopson as Freeholder and Joanne Schwartz as Clerk. Hopson’s win swung control of the Freeholder Board to Democrats after over 40 years of Republican control. There is an open Freeholder seat that Democrats won and will fill via a Burlington County Democratic Committee vote later this month.

The Freeholder’s selected Tom Pullion to be their Director and Balvir Singh as Deputy Director this year, as well as new appointments for County Solicitor and Chief Financial Officer.

On January 2nd, Evesham Township swore-in Jaclyn Veasy as Mayor and Councilwomen Heather Cooper and Patricia Hansen. The Council selected Councilwoman Heather Cooper to serve as Deputy Mayor. This marks the first time in a decade that Democrats not only serve on Council but also control it with their 3-2 majority. It’s the first time since partisan elects were instituted by former Mayor Randy Brown in 2010 that Democrats gained control and the Council has had bipartisan representation on it.

Today, January 3rd, Andy Kim and the rest of the House of Representatives were sworn-in in Washington, DC. Democrats take control of the House, while the Senate and Presidency remain in Republican control.

Tonight the Evesham Township Board of Education has their reorganization at 7:00 PM. Joe Fisicaro, Jr. won re-election and newcomers Chris St. John and Melissa Fleming were elected in the Board’s nonpartisan 2018 election.

The new Mayor and Council made several professional appointments last night following the regular, annual open bid process.

  • Township Solicitor: Primitivo Cruz, Capehart Scatchard PA (also a Marlton resident) (5-0 vote, new appointment)
  • Conflict/Backup Solicitor: Karen Murray, Law Office of Karen Murray, LLC (5-0 vote, reappointed)
  • Bond Counsel: Thomas Hastie, Jr., Capehart Scatchard PA (5-0 vote, reappointed)
  • Labor Counsel: Nicholas Repici, Genova Burns LLC (3-2 vote, new appointment)
  • COAH Attorney: John Gillespie, Parker McCay (5-0 vote, reappointed)
  • Municipal Auditor: Warren Broudy, Mercadien Group (3-2 vote, new appointment)
  • Financial Advisor: Phoenix Group (4-1, new appointment)
  • Township Architect: Regan Young England Butera Architects (5-0, new appointment)
  • Municipal Prosecutor: John M. DeMasi, Walker & DeMasi LLC (5-0, new appointment)
  • Temporary Substitute for Municipal Prosecutor: Andrew Smith, Smithbridge LLP (5-0, reappointed)
  • Municipal Public Defender: Cristina L. Vasquez (5-0, reappointment)
  • Backup Municipal Public Defender: Daniel M. Rosenberg (5-0, new appointment)
  • Risk Management Consultant: Conner Strong & Buckelew, LLC (5-0, new appointment)

Mayor Veasy made several mayoral-appointments to the Environmental Commission. John Volpa and Dominick Mondi were reappointed. Ila Vassallo, a former member, was placed back on the Commission. Newcomers Doug Wallner and Craig Higginbotham were appointed. Higginbotham was also appointed as the Environmental Commission’s member on the Planning Board.

Mayor Veasy appointed herself to the mayoral-seat on the Planning Board.

Township Manager Michael Barth reappointed Remington & Vernick as the Township Engineer. He replaced CME Associates with T&M Associates as the Township’s recreation engineers.

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Post-Election Update

What has happened since Election Day? A lot. Here’s a recap on the political news and word on the street.

Election News

  1. New Jersey’s Congressional delegation will be much different next year, with 11 Democrats and one (1) Republican in the next Congress. Democratic wins in NJ were a part of the very real “Blue Wave” that swept Democrats into control of the House of Representatives. Newcomers Andy Kim (our 3rd District), Tom Malinowski, and Mikie Sherrill were the big winners.
    • Andy Kim’s win over Tom MacArthur was incredibly close – Burlington County, while overwhelmingly Democratic, usually doesn’t match the lopsided Republican vote coming out of Ocean County. This year, the normal outcome changed by the slimmest of margins. A large part of that change was due to MacArthur’s votes and dog whistle-racism negative campaign, but also in no small part at all to the ridiculously great grassroots effort made by thousands of volunteers.
  2. Democratic US Senator Bob Menendez won, and it wasn’t really even close mostly due to overwhelming turnout for him in North Jersey and Republican candidate Bob Hugin’s spending $37 million of his own dollars and running a mostly negative campaign not resonating with voters.
  3. Burlington County had a historic flip to Democratic control after nearly 50 years of Republican control. Felicia Hopson took the critical third of five Board of Freeholder seats despite a ton of negativity and being heavily outspent. A fourth seat was won for Democrats, but the candidate, George Youngkin, had suspended his campaign in September and will not take the seat. The Burlington County Democratic Committee will be replacing him for 2019 and the remaining two years of that term will be on the November 2019 ballot for voters to decide.
    • This is huuuuuuuge news and represents changes in policy, transparency, and priorities. Watch changes to pay-to-play and management of the County government change with the loss of Republican leadership’s control over the agenda and personnel.
  4. Former Freeholder and Democratic candidate Joanne Schwartz solidly beat Democrat-turned-Republican two-term incumbent Tim Tyler for the Burlington County Clerk office. That office is responsible for a lot, like records, elections and ballots, passport services, and other County business.
  5. Many towns saw Democrats elected to seats they never held before. Moorestown changed to Democratic control with wins by Nicole Gillespie and Bryan Donnelly. Mount Laurel saw two Democrats, Kareem Pritchett and Steve Steglik, elected to their Council. And Evesham elected Jaclyn Veasy as Mayor along with Heather Cooper and Patricia Hansen for Council.
    • This is the first time since Evesham changed to partisan elections in 2009 that Democrats were elected to townwide office
    • It’s also the first time since the 2009 change that Democrats will control Council.
    • Unofficial totals from the Burlington County Clerk’s office (excluding some mail-in and provisional ballots) shows the Democratic candidates with nearly 10,700 votes each.
    • Republican Mayoral candidate Steve Zeuli was the Republican’s highest vote-getter, with 9,838 votes, followed by Councilwoman Debbie Hackman with 9,577 and then Jay Levenson with 9,312.

Word on the Street

Many sources have offered up interesting tidbits since election day. This information isn’t verifiable but has been sourced from multiple insiders since Election Day.

  1. Mayor Brown took the election personally. You can see pieces of that in his comments to the Marlton Sun and the Pine Barrens Tribune.
    • Despite spending somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000 with multiple negative mailers and lots of social media buys, the campaign he personally ran fell short despite his 10-year tenure and handing off the reigns to longtime allies.
    • Most people share the opinion that his last-minute withdrawal announcement and negativity, along with his candidate’s complicity for all of these years, probably handicapped the Republican candidates.
    • As well, there didn’t seem to be a volunteer-based ground game from the local Republicans. They had paid canvassers and lots of mailers, plus a really negative social media presence, but none of those compensate for a true volunteer or the candidate’s themselves doing voter outreach.
  2. Several sources said that Mayor Brown told Evesham Celebration Foundation members that he was going to make sure there weren’t any more parades, fireworks, or other celebrations after he leaves office.
  3. The Evesham Republican candidates did not call, text, email, or publicly concede the election.
  4. Despite being on the agenda for the Veterans Day ceremony last Friday, Councilman and Mayoral-candidate Steve Zeuli didn’t attend. Mayor Brown was not in attendance, either. After delaying the ceremony, Councilwoman Hackman had to run it.
  5. Inside sources said that Mayor Brown, after spending months not agreeing to terms for a new police union contract, is leaning towards giving in on most or all of the police department’s demands in order to hamper the future Council’s ability to control costs.
  6. Mayor Brown also scheduled three more Council meetings before his term is up. No agendas are out yet but it’s probably not crazy to guess that he’s going to shove through whatever he can before he loses control of Council, perhaps also trying to tie the future Council’s hands. One of the last Council meetings is supposedly a “celebration” of his service as Mayor.
  7. Mayor Brown has made clear to multiple sources that he intends on making the next Council miserable, even reportedly saying that he wants to see “the town implode” over the next four years.

Shared Services in Evesham

A shared service, in terms of what our state and local governments do, is an agreement between two different entities (the township government, water and sewer authority, fire department, county government, etc…) that is expected to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and save taxpayer dollars.

One entity can agree to provide a service or item/equipment to another entity – for example, Burlington County maintains and staffs a 911 call center and therefore each individual town in Burlington County does not have to maintain or staff their own 911 call centers. This creates efficiency and savings for taxpayers.

Another example would be sharing equipment – one entity has a street sweeper and maintains and stores it, and other entities pay to share the street sweeper. Instead of two or more entities buying, maintaining, and fielding employees to use the same equipment, they share the costs. That’s a benefit to taxpayers.

A more relatable example may be several neighbors banding together to buy and maintain a snowblower, instead of each household buying one. By working together and sharing the costs they can reduce the cost for each household while still getting all of their driveways cleared when it snows.

Evesham does have several shared service agreements – the list, from the 2018 budget, is on page 75 (Sheet UFB-11).

Shared Service Agreements 01

 

There are the 911 call services with Burlington County, ID badges for Tabernacle, HVAC services from the Evesham Township School District, a street sweeper with the Evesham Municipal Utilities Authority, and a few others. Also shown is their price tags; that’s what the Township is billing or paying for the service, like school security for our local schools and Cherokee.

Here’s another page from the 2018 budget, page 66 (Sheet UFB-2):

Shared Service Agreements 02

I highlighted the line for anticipated revenue from shared service agreements, which is $807,800 for 2018.

Now go back to the first image. See how much the Township expects to make off of school security agreements? It’s $757,800 out of an anticipated $807,800, or 94% of anticipated shared service agreement revenue. That leaves $50,000 in anticipated revenue, which is coming from the St. Joan of Arc school for school security. That’s good, but only .14% of our roughly $35,000,000 budget (.13% for a $38,000,000 budget, which is what the Republican candidates have touted). Seems like additional revenue or savings realized for the Township from shared service agreements is pretty small compared to the overall budget.

Anyway – that $757,800 for public school security is all taxpayer money. We would pay for it regardless of whether the school districts or township government footed the bill. This is not a cost-saving measure for either the township or the school districts. The same taxpayers (all of us) are still paying the same amount regardless.

The New Jersey School Board Association does lay out two options for school districts that can’t afford police officers at schools – retired police officers and private security guards. Both are cautioned against for several reasons.

Since our local school districts cannot create or maintain their own police forces, that leaves our school districts with two choices – providing no security personnel, or hiring police officers from the township government. Since providing no security personnel is not a reasonable choice, the school district only has one avenue to go down – paying the township government for police at the schools.

The program is great and essential, but is it reducing costs or creating efficiencies for taxpayers? No.

While providing a necessary service, it’s not creating an efficiency or cost-savings for taxpayers. To claim otherwise is just not true and at least a generous stretching of the term “shared service” if anybody implies that it’s saving taxpayer dollars.

 

What I wonder is why hasn’t our township done more? The NJ League of Municipalities has a list of sample shared service agreements that cover a  wide range of areas where efficiencies could be made. I’ve attended a lot of Council meetings and haven’t heard anything that suggests that our town has explored more shared service agreements with other townships or the county. If our leaders were serious about saving taxpayer dollars, then they would do more to find new efficiencies instead of misleading or overstating the agreements they have.

Evesham’s Financial History and Numbers

Following a lot of back-and-forth on social media about the state of Evesham Township’s finances and economy, I’m laying out all of the numbers that have been compiled from a variety of official documents and records, including Evesham Township Annual Budgets and Audit Reports, including older documents that were requested, and the Burlington County Tax Board’s Annual Abstract of Ratables.

This was not a solo effort – a very smart attorney did the research and put this information together on his own. I followed-up with my own research to verify the numbers and math. The origination of this research stemmed from Mayor Brown’s attacks on the school district’s finances and his own boasts about the state of the municipalities finances. This project ended up as a fact-check.

One of the items below is about Evesham’s PILOT agreements. The latest budget report from the township shows the value of those exempted properties is $10 million, and that number is expected to grow if tax abatements are given out to additional properties such as Renaissance Square, the new development going up behind the Harvest House, and the redevelopment of the McKenna Realtor’s property, plus others around town.

On my own, I compared as much as I could to the most similar municipality as I could find, which happens to be our neighbor to the north, Mt. Laurel. It is as close to the same size, population, and demographic makeup as we can find in New Jersey.

Ratables

Ratables are the total value of all taxable properties. Currently, Evesham has $5.247 billion in ratables, and Mt. Laurel has $5.776 billion in ratables. Both towns reassessed the value of their properties – Evesham in 2008 and Mt. Laurel in 2013. A reassessment doesn’t mean that either town magically or suddenly gained value – here’s the definition from Investopedia: “A reassessment refers to a periodic reevaluation of a property’s value for tax purposes. State and local governments assess property taxes based on two variables: property values and tax rates. Local laws vary, but reassessment generally takes place every one to five years or when a property changes hands. Some municipalities also reassess in the event of a refinancing.”

Evesham Mt. Laurel
2008 $2,833,213,365.00 $3,416,947,945.00
– Pre-Evesham Reassessment
2009 $5,463,049,015.00 $3,462,020,787.00 – Post-Evesham Reassessment
2010 $5,400,115,276.00 $3,442,500,780.00
2011 $5,329,954,057.00 $3,432,009,163.00
2012 $5,245,153,517.00 $3,422,869,013.00
2013 $5,220,759,152.00 $3,358,044,200.00
– Pre-Mt. Laurel Reassessment
2014 $5,196,459,478.00 $5,786,157,100.00 – Post-Mt. Laurel Reassessment
2015 $5,221,728,920.00 $5,790,653,194.00
2016 $5,217,827,831.00 $5,763,738,392.00
2017 $5,213,149,378.00 $5,764,242,792.00
2018 $5,246,691,953.00 $5,775,966,890.00
Evesham Change since 2008 Evesham Reassessment -$216,357,062.00 -$58,903,745.00 Mt. Laurel Change before 2013 Mt. Laurel Reassessment
Evesham Change Since 2013 Mt. Laurel Reassessment $50,232,475.00 -$10,190,210.00 Mt. Laurel Change since 2013 Mt. Laurel Reassessment

Evesham’s ratables have decreased by $216 million since 2009, the first year of the reassessed values. It has only increased recently, with a small increase from 2014-2015 and then a significant gain in just the last year, mostly attributable to the completion of several apartment complexes and the retail/commercial area along Rt. 73 where the new LA Fitness is.

Overall, since the 2008 reassessment, Evesham has only seen two years with an increase in ratables. The other years have all seen drops, leading to an overall $216 million loss in ratables in 10 years.

Mt. Laurel has seen more ups and downs, leading to smaller overall losses in ratables.

Municipal Budgets

These are the municipal budget values for Evesham and Mt. Laurel, which does not include any school district, fire & EMS, county, or other non-municipal budget items. Both seem to be pretty steady, with relatively slight increases for the past several years.

Evesham Mt. Laurel
2008 $19,760,197.23 $15,970,350.00
2009 $20,415,846.95 $18,069,920.19
2010 $20,176,463.00 $19,393,881.87
2011 $20,855,159.48 $18,375,000.00
2012 $20,853,935.89 $18,992,869.44
2013 $21,940,156.71 $19,246,383.00
2014 $21,830,671.70 $19,526,018.75
2015 $21,709,205.73 $19,909,659.83
2016 $21,692,106.14 $19,759,569.61
2017 $22,436,597.11 $20,002,454.75
2018 No 2018 audit data yet No 2018 audit data yet
Change 2008-2017 $2,676,399.88 $4,032,104.75

Value of PILOT Agreements (Tax Abatements)

This is a new-ish budget item. Since 2015, municipalities have been required to disclose more details in their annual budgets, including the value, revenue, and foregone revenue from current PILOT agreements.

PILOT Value Evesham Mt. Laurel
2015 $6,200,000.00 $5,687,100.00
2016 $6,200,000.00 $4,375,700.00
2017 $6,200,000.00 $4,375,700.00
2018 $10,643,000.00 $4,375,700.00
4 year Diff $4,443,000.00 -$1,311,400.00

Evesham has $10.6 million in PILOT agreements right now. Expect that number to ramp up if more agreements are made with upcoming development projects. Mt. Laurel has over $6 million less in PILOT agreements and has not increased that number since 2015.

PILOT Revenue Evesham Mt. Laurel
2015 $19,225.00 $45,166.18
2016 $53,795.41 $47,933.35
2017 $89,340.96 $42,507.99
2018 $127,034.89 $55,372.05
4 year Diff $289,396.26 $190,979.57

Per the nature of PILOT agreements, municipalities only receive a small portion of the normal taxes they would collect without a tax abatement agreement. Again, the school districts (K-8 and Lenape), and Fire & EMS receive no tax revenue from any property that has a PILOT agreement, and the County only receives 5% of the reduced revenue.

Potential Revenue w/o PILOT Agreement Evesham Mt. Laurel
2015 $165,044.00 $152,755.51
2016 $169,880.00 $118,712.74
2017 $172,918.00 $120,112.96
2018 $304,283.37 $115,605.99

The Township estimates that it could receive over $300,000 in revenue if the PILOT agreements did not exist.

Municipal Tax Rate

The township advertises it’s tax rate

Municipal Tax Rate Evesham Mt. Laurel
2008 6.97% 4.68%
– Pre-Evesham Reassessment
2009 3.73% 5.22% – Post-Evesham Reassessment
2010 3.73% 5.63%
2011 3.91% 5.35%
2012 3.97% 5.55%
2013 4.20% 5.73%
– Pre-Mt. Laurel Reassessment
2014 4.20% 3.37% – Post-Mt. Laurel Reassessment
2015 4.16% 3.44%
2016 4.15% 3.43%
2017 4.35% 3.47%
2018 4.27% 3.47%
Increase since 
reassessment
0.54% 0.10%

Here are the above numbers in graph form. Red is the trendline.

Evesham Tax Rate 2009 - 2018

Again, like the ratables number, we need to compare apples to apples. So using post-reassessment numbers, Evesham’s tax rate has increased from 3.73% to 4.27%.

Average Municipal Tax Payment
2008 $1,605.57
– Pre-Reassessment
2009 $859.48 – Post-Reassessment
2010 $882.04
2011 $939.70
2012 $982.03
2013 $1,055.49
2014 $1,072.16
2015 $1,061.00
2016 $1,072.98
2017 $1,152.81
2018 $1,155.04

Based on a current median property value of $270,500 and adjusted for inflation, that is a real increase of $295.56 in municipal taxes for the average property owner (the rest of your tax bill is the school district, fire and EMS, open space, and county taxes). Essentially, while there have been tax decreases, they have been outpaced by the value of the tax increases.

Municipal Debt

The numbers below show the total value of bonds, loans, and notes taken out by the Township.

Year Net Debt Inc/Dec
2009 $40,518,767.00 -$1,651,971.00
2010 $40,661,612.00 $142,845.00
2011 $40,213,558.00 -$448,054.00
2012 $47,878,622.00 $7,665,064.00
2013 $45,443,002.00 -$2,435,620.00
2014 $44,064,404.00 -$1,378,598.00
2015 $44,855,083.00 $790,679.00
2016 $57,417,031.00 $12,561,948.00
2017 $59,003,241.00 $1,586,210.00
2018 $56,409,869.00 -$2,593,372.00
2018-2009 Diff $15,891,102.00

Since 2009, when Evesham reassessed property values, debt has increased by nearly $16 million, including a high of $59 million in debt just last year. The increases have outpaced the decreases, including a $7.7 million increase in 2012 and a $12.6 million increase in 2016.

Thanks to the User Friendly Budget documents put out since 2015, I was able to compare Evesham and Mt. Laurel’s net debt for the past four (4) years, which showed that Evesham increased net debt by $12.3 million in those past four years while Mt. Laurel decreased its net debt by nearly $17.5 million in the same time period.

Population

This is a fact that irks me. I’ve heard population numbers range from 10,000 to 66,000 residents. According to the US Census, we have 45,000 residents and our population has basically remained flat despite all of the new development going up. That’s because our population is aging and not leaving town, and the number of people starting families or new families moving into town is not enough to keep the population growing. That’s why the school district consolidated schools.

 


 

I’m only going to leave one piece of opinion on here, which is this:

I personally believe that the incumbents running for reelection are misleading the residents.

I can’t say if they’re doing it purposefully, out of ignorance, or out of a misplaced belief in what they’re saying. Repeatedly Mayor Brown and the Republican candidates for office, under their website and a Facebook page named the “Evesham Lower Tax Team” tout increased ratables and lower taxes. Those claims are only true this year, and ignore at least seven (7) other years that both Councilman Zeuli and Councilwoman Hackman served alongside Mayor Brown.

I personally believe that the Republican candidates for office are intentionally giving the impression to the public that they have consistently or, at least in the aggregate of their tenure in office, have simultaneously lowered taxes and raised the value of ratables in our town. They have also left out the increase in debt, which is now more than double the value of our municipal budget.

In these regards, it seems as if they are misleading the residents and voters and I believe it is important for all of us to know when politicians are doing that.

2018 Board of Education Candidates

Finally getting back to this page for a few updates. The past two years I have sent out questionnaires to all of the Board of Education candidates but I have not had time to do that. Fortunately, another local group called Citizens for Civic Involvement have and posted responses that they received on their website.

There are six candidates vying for three seats: incumbents Jeff Bravo and Joe Fisicaro, Jr, and newcomers Lewis Kipness, Eric Sperrazza, Chris St. John, and Melissa Fleming.

The Evesham Democrats are hosting a “Meet the Candidates” night on Tuesday, October 2nd starting at 7 PM at the Gibson House. All Board of Education candidates and all Democratic candidates on the ballot are invited to speak and take questions. The meeting is open to the public.

The deadline to register to vote in New Jersey is October 16th.

You can check whether you are registered to vote here.

If you or someone you know is not registered to vote, you can print an application from here or do so at the County Clerk’s office, 50 Rancocas Road, 3rd Floor, Mt. Holly, between 8 AM and 4 PM, Monday through Friday.

If you want to vote-by-mail, you can print, fill out, and mail this form as soon as possible. Vote-by-mail ballots count exactly the same as an in-person vote on Election Day at your polling place.

If you want to vote in person before Election Day, go to the Burlington County Clerk’s office at 50 Rancocas Road, 3rd Floor, Mt. Holly between 8 AM and 4 PM, Monday through Friday. They will give you a ballot and check you off as having voted.

If you’re voting in person on Election Day, make a plan – know where you go to vote, what time you’ll vote on Tuesday, November 6th, and who you will be going with.

How to Vote in New Jersey in 2018

Money, Money, Money: Pay-to-Play in Marlton 2018

Every year for the past few years I have reported on money in local politics. This is my 2018 report. All figures come from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, which makes public all filings reported to them by candidates and their campaign committees, political action committees and organizations, and companies receiving public contracts. When the data gets all rolled together, we can get a picture of the Pay-to-Play situation in our town – that is, how much do companies and other entities receiving public contracts donate to political candidates and organizations. This isn’t an illegal activity, but in New Jersey and other states it is how business gets done – a company wants a public contract and it curries favor by financially supporting candidates who then approve the contracts after taking office. I’m also including donors who have property/real estate/development interests in the town, such as Mark McKenna, Mitchell Davis of Davis Enterprises, and Robert Lipinski.

This report is more expansive than any past report. I have gathered data from as far back as possible. The data from 2010 – 2017 is pretty good and gives us a solid picture of Pay-to-Play in Evesham Township. It’s also a pretty clear picture because only one political party and a limited number of individuals have been in control of our municipal government for that period of time – the Republican party with Mayor Brown and Council members Robert DiEnna, Ken D’Andrea, Deb Hackman, and Steve Zeuli for the majority of the 2010-2017 time period.

Last note – money in politics is fluid. A donor can give to multiple groups and the money gets donated again to that group. For example, the Mayor and Council candidates have their own reelection campaign committees. There’s also the Evesham Republican Club’s and Evesham Township Republican Committee campaign finance committees, which have financially supported the reelection campaigns. For this report, I rolled all of the incumbents’ campaign committee’s together along with the local Republican committees, all of whom, for the most part, share donors who receive public contracts.

Let’s dive in!

Donors by Industry 2010-2017

Engineering firms give the most to the local political committees, slightly over $34,000  year. Between road contracts, water and sewer, surveying, planning, sports fields, and so on, engineering firms have a lot of gain from Pay-to-Play.

The other notable donors are legal firms, which represent the municipality, Planning and Zoning Boards, and Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA); and insurance (mostly Anderson Jackson Metts/AJM Insurance of Mt. Laurel, the healthcare provider for municipal, MUA, and Fire-Rescue).

Donors by Cycle 2010-2017

When you look at which donors give money each cycle (a cycle meaning combined primary and general election donations for each calendar year), two engineering firms, Pennoni Associates (7 cycles, $12,014/cycle) and Richard A. Alaimo Associates (6 cycles, $7,316/cycle)), and a legal firm, Platt Riso (6 cycles, $1,392/cycle), are the most regular donors.

There are six donors that have given for five (5) cycles from 2010-2017, topped by AJM Insurance at $9,800 per cycle. Parker McKay, the municipalities law firm, and Environmental Resolutions, a large engineering firm, donate $5,900 and $5,060 per cycle, respectfully.

Remington, Vernick, & Arango, the township’s engineering firm, has only given in three (3) cycles but gives $7,067 per cycle.

Donors by Location 2010-2017

I thought this was an interesting breakdown. Each donor is supposed to have an address associated with them unless they give less than $300 dollars. There were a surprising number of donors on ELEC documents without an address, so the chart in the link above has a group called “Indeterminate” for those donors.

Anyways, what the data shows is that a majority of donations to Evesham Republican candidates and political committees comes from out of Marlton – when only counting donors whose addresses were provided, only $57,464 (11.41%) of donations came from Marlton. The rest, $446,250 (88.59%), came from outside of Marlton. Even if every “Indeterminate” donation came from Marlton, that still comes up to only 41% of donors. So the vast majority of business/pay-to-play money being given to the incumbents is coming from out-of-town.

Also, look at the chart below – it lists donations by year, including individual donations less than $300. It shows two trends – small donors (those giving less than $300), are a minority of donations to Evesham Republican candidates and political committees, and the number of donations coming from outside Marlton has come down from a high of 23.53% in 2010 to 4.47% over the past four cycles (2014-2017)

Year
Total
Individuals </= $300
Small Donor %
Marlton
Not Marlton
N/A
Marlton %
2010
$83,818.16
$29,393.16
35.07%
$19,725.00
$34,700.00
$29,393.16
23.53%
2011
$33,891.24
$4,065.00
11.99%
$6,200.00
$22,400.00
$5,291.24
18.29%
2012
$83,153.00
$18,363.00
22.08%
$1,750.00
$61,200.00
$20,203.00
2.10%
2013
$81,729.00
$2,875.00
3.52%
$14,604.00
$64,250.00
$2,875.00
17.87%
2014
$131,442.87
$9,826.27
7.48%
$7,666.60
$107,150.00
$16,626.27
5.83%
2015
$44,541.47
$11,481.00
25.78%
$2,010.47
$31,050.00
$11,481.00
4.51%
2016
$120,597.20
$24,789.12
20.56%
$9,108.08
$86,700.00
$24,789.12
7.55%
2017
$55,760.00
$13,460.00
24.14%
$0.00
$35,300.00
$20,460.00
0.00%

Finally, lets look at the contracts:

Data for 2017 isn’t available yet, but we can look at a 10-year period which includes the 2006-2009 when there weren’t partisan elections in town.

Value of Pay-to-Play Contracts (2006-2016), which the average value of contracts associated with campaign donors increasing over the 2006-2016 period.

Top Pay-to-Play Donors and Value Per Donation. This chart shows how much the top Pay-to-Play donors get in public contracts from Evesham entities in return for each dollar the contractor donates. The engineering firm Remington, Vernick, and Arango gets the most bang for their buck with nearly $150 in contracts for every $1 donated. We can also see that, following the introduction of partisan elections and elimination of strict pay-to-play rules by the Republican-led Evesham Township Council, several donors saw large increases in contract value, while three (Richard A. Alaimo Associates, CME Associates, and Adams, Rehmann & Heggan) lost quite a bit of value. That reduction is value for those two donors didn’t result in any significant taxpayer savings (only an average of $31,000 in reduced pay-to-play contracts per year from 2010-2016).

Meanwhile, Republican candidates and political committees received about $33,000 more in donations per year once elections became partisan and contractors still received an average of $51 in public contracts for every dollar donated.


So, that’s it for this report. Just the numbers for you, no opinion from me. Thanks for reading!

Affordable Housing: Getting Ahead of the Crisis

This post is prompted by a recent ruling by a Superior Court judge that could set a precedent and impact towns all across New Jersey. As well, the Mayor has frequently brought up affordable housing a/k/a COAH, tieing the issue together with development and redevelopment, open space, tax abatements, the school district and consolidation, and so on. As well, Evesham is currently involved in at least one lawsuit over meeting our affordable housing requirements. This recent lawsuit could have a direct impact on how many units we, as a town, will be required to make available.

For reference and background, I previously wrote about the affordable housing situation in Marlton and New Jersey 

From the article in the first link about the recent ruling:

In a ruling that could shape the way towns across the state look and have an impact on schools and traffic, a Superior Court judge said Thursday that municipalities must take steps now that could allow for roughly 155,000 housing units to be built over the next decade.

The highly anticipated, 217-page opinion by Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County applies directly to two towns, Princeton and West Windsor, but it could set a precedent for more than 100 other municipalities that have gone to court to settle disputes over their affordable-housing obligations.

The statewide figure reached by Jacobson is not as high as some advocates had called for, but it also is not as low as what some local governments had sought. Suburban towns have long resisted New Jersey’s affordable-housing laws, which were meant to combat discriminatory zoning practices but have also raised concerns about congestion and property values.

Locally, our township government has been focused on new housing development with townhomes, luxury apartments, and some single-family housing. When the Mayor speaks about affordable housing, my interpretation of his comments is that he is focused on making a portion of a development’s residences, usually 10-12% (the State requirement is 20%), available for affordable housing. So a 50 unit apartment building has to make five (5) units available for affordable housing tenants.

The reality is that that method is a really slow and economical, financial, & environmentally inefficient way of meeting our affordable housing requirements, and I suspect that resistance to changing our methods, for whatever reason, is driving the legal pushback against having any higher quotas.

So what’s a town to do? Can we pick up the pace without forcing developers to allocate more units for affordable housing? Is there any other way?

There’s no silver bullet, and not every method will work for a town of our size, our housing market, or our state laws. What is apparent is that there is more than one way to approach the issue without just building more and more apartments, developing open space, or putting a burden on developers.

I’ve broken some possible approaches to meeting our Township’s commitments to affordable housing down into three categories:

Municipal Solutions through Zoning, Planning, and Policy

  1. Re-imagine old municipal property and specifically build affordable housing in those spaces.
    • Reduce exemptions from inclusionary zoning laws. By allowing too many exemptions for affordable housing, such as not requiring it at smaller developments, in historic neighborhoods, or other restrictions, projects can be developed with little-to-no affordable housing included. Municipalities can also extend the required time that units must stay affordable.
  2. Municipalities can also look at under-utilized parking lots and other facilities to create more room for housing development.
  3. Create a bracket of affordable housing requirements for the poor who make 30% of the area’s median income. Most current affordable units go to the working and middle-class making between 50% and 80% of the area’s median income.
  4. “Granny Flats!”
    • I like this idea, but have no idea what the demand is. Basically, “Granny Flats” are stand-alone units on single-family lots. They have their own bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and entrance. They can be their own structure, an addition or remodeling of a home, or over a garage.
    • Easing restrictions on the development of these units can have many benefits besides creating more affordable housing options – they would become a source of income for the property owner, increase density, and bring in more customers and employees for local businesses.
  5. Make it easier and less costly to develop lower market housing.
    • Municipalities can find ways to improve coordination in their processes, public engagement, incentives, and rewriting zoning code to ease the bureaucratic burden on developers.
  6. Eliminate or change minimum parking standards
    • Most municipalities have minimum parking standards. Here’s Evesham’s
    • The Township could study current parking policies and demand to better understand parking needs and

Longer-term/Larger-Scale Solutions

  1. Develop with a long-term view of commitments to green design and long-term cost-saving sustainability measures.
    • Developments will be more expensive to build but by integrating features usually found in more expensive construction, developers can create healthy, energy-efficient homes that cost less to maintain. Features such as solar-panel ready roofs and energy efficient design pay off over time and cost less to rent or own in the long-term.
  2. Allow for taller, denser developments.
    • Relaxing height and other restrictions can expand the supply of housing and can the incentive to build higher and more densely can be tied to affordable housing requirements. Side benefit – increasing density can make mass transit more attractive and feasible for all residents and businesses, which could reduce traffic, accidents, etc..
  3. Attract transit and require mixed-income, more dense development near it. There’s no rail line to Marlton, and commuter and local buses seem to be severely lacking. Attracting transit options, particularly along the Rt. 70 and Rt. 73 corridors, could attract a whole new level of development that integrates affordable housing, retail, commercial and office space, and opportunities for new recreation spaces (bike paths, sidewalks, small parks, etc…).

Other Ideas/State & County-level Solutions

  • Housing Trust Funds – build up funds through a combination of tax revenue, development/commercial impact fees, voluntary contributions from developers, and/or loan repayments to direct more funds towards the development or preservation of affordable housing. Many large cities have done this across the United States.
  • Denver experimented with using housing trust fund money to turn vacant high-end apartments into affordable units by covering the difference between what an affordable rent is and the market rate.
  • Lease-to-purchase program that gives renters the ability to purchase homes at a discount after a certain amount of time. Similar programs allow residents to earn bonus equity every month they pay their rent, which can then go towards a down payment on a home.
  • Encourage private employers to keep their employees in the municipal limits with tax incentives that can go towards housing assistance.

Last thought:

Tonight (May 8th, 2018), is the monthly meeting of the Evesham Township Council. They will be voting on an ordinance that zones a large section of undeveloped space behind the Liberty Mutual offices and Target off of Rt. 73 for an affordable housing development (red area in the map below)

I’m going to walk a fine line with this next comment and my opinion on developments like the one being proposed:

Affordable housing is good for the economy, housing market, business, the workforce, families, and we as a town need to meet our legal obligation to provide affordable housing options.

What’s also good is trees, environmental protection, the watershed, and aquifer, keeping pollution under control, and integrating affordable housing units into the fabric of our community. Open space and the natural environment doesn’t add to traffic congestion, doesn’t pollute, doesn’t create crime or emergencies, and certainly doesn’t cost anything while adding value to the developed properties around it.

I don’t agree with cutting down open space, farmland, and other undeveloped properties for new developments. I think our community should be more creative and focus on density, increasing our transit options, and finding a balance with our environmental needs. All around town the Council has approved plans that develop new buildings on open space, particularly along Sharp Rd and N. Elmwood Rd. The Council needs to find a balance and be creative and innovative in their approach towards developing affordable housing and other developments beyond just cutting down forests and putting new buildings up.

There is also a lot of money in our budget for preserving open space that goes unspent or towards active recreation such as sports fields. Those funds should be used for comprehensive environmental preservation before half the town runs out of any significant woods, farms, and other open space.

I want the Township to stop filling in every undeveloped space and make better use of the properties that are already developed.

With density comes opportunity, innovation, economic growth, and curtails the pitfalls of developing on open space such as added pollution, traffic, water issues, the need for more service coverage (garbage, police, fire, EMS, sewer and water, etc…) where it wasn’t needed before, and so on.

I support the development of affordable housing and economic development in general, but it needs to be done differently. Our town shouldn’t settle for uncreative and regular, 80’s and 90’s-style cookie-cutter and clear-cutting development anymore.

Sources:

https://www.curbed.com/2017/7/25/16020648/affordable-housing-apartment-urban-development

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/local/wp/2014/07/02/six-possible-solutions-to-the-affordable-housing-crisis/?utm_term=.7ec27729f44d

https://www.handhousing.org/seven-innovative-affordable-housing-strategies-in-higher-cost-markets-lessons-from-around-the-u-s/

https://gizmodo.com/7-smart-new-affordable-housing-projects-making-cities-s-1488019323

http://www.westerncity.com/Western-City/March-2017/Finding-Solutions-to-the-Affordable-Housing-Shortage/

https://theweek.com/articles/733689/how-fix-affordable-housing-crisis-big-governmentstyle

https://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/2015/06/22/how-urban-america-can-fix-the-affordable-housing-crisis

https://www.aei.org/publication/americas-affordable-housing-crisis-challenges-and-solutions/

http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/ending-homelessness/proven-solutions/

http://fairsharehousing.org/