-- MEDIA COPY --
State of Hamilton Township to be Delivered
February 2, 2010
Cedar Gardens Banquet Facility
John F. Bencivengo, Mayor
Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce & Business Leaders…
Council President Tom Goodwin, Vice President Dave Kenny, Councilman Dennis Pone, Councilwoman Kelly Yaede, and Councilman Kevin Meara; Dominic DeGregory– Aide to the Mayor; John Ricci -Business Administrator; Mike Angarone – Department of Economic Development and Technology; Robert Warney – Director of Community Planning and Compliance; Lindsay Burbage – Department of Law; Cathy Tramontana – Department of Health, Recreation, Senior and Veteran Services; Richard Balgowan- Department of Public Works; Richard Watson - Department of Wastewater Control; Jim Collins – Chief of Police
…And most importantly, my fellow Hamiltonians.
Good afternoon and thank you for this wonderful opportunity to once again talk about – “America’s Favorite Hometown.”
America’s Favorite Hometown. Every town adopts a slogan that it hopes will capture its character. Many are trite. Most are merely wistful images of what they would like their town to be. Ours is not a slogan at all. It is a description of Hamilton as true as a photograph. It is what we are.
I have many friends who have moved to Hamilton Township from someplace else. And I am struck by how many times I hear this question: why doesn’t anyone seem to leave Hamilton?
Think about your graduating class – from Steinert, or Hamilton West, or Nottingham, or McCorristin. When was the last time you saw your best friend, or your prom date, or your freshman soccer coach? Last week? Last month? Not as often as you would like, I’m sure, but more frequently than people in almost any other community.
There are people in towns all across the country dreaming about leaving for someplace better. Many of them find it, here.
This is home, a place where people work and worship and laugh and live life – together. It is where your neighbors are not just the people next door….they are the people you can count on.
This is what makes Hamilton Township America’s Favorite Hometown.
It’s been two years since the residents of Hamilton Township gave me the honor and privilege to serve them as Mayor. Part of this job requires me to report back to you on the state of our hometown. It is my pleasure to report that Hamilton is back on its feet -- financially stable once again.
Over this past year, we have moved Hamilton Township forward in the right direction. And now I would like to take a few moments to report on our efforts and achievements during the last 12 months.
First and foremost, 2009 was the year that we restored our community's fiscal integrity and financial stability.
As severe financial challenges and obstacles impacted the federal and state economies, Hamilton Township was an island of fiscal stability in the choppy seas of an unstable world.
While an economic stimulus plan from Washington, D.C. increased the national debt by trillions of dollars, and Trenton's "Constitutionally Balanced" State budget has left a $10 billion dollar deficit, Hamilton Township yielded a healthy surplus...increasing our reserves from a meager $79,000 dollars from our prior budget year to a financially sound $4.5 million surplus this past year.
This surplus didn't materialize overnight. It was the result of a continuous effort during this past year to practice fiscal discipline, implement strong financial controls, and to search for real cost-saving measures.
- We privatized the township ecological facility, saving some $750,000 annually.
- We reorganized the police department saving an additional quarter million dollars.
- We bid out the town’s power contracts and saved another $200,000.
During the past 2 years, we have achieved nearly $6 million dollars in cost-savings, through these and other initiatives.
Looking for cost-saving measures and searching for increased operational efficiencies is something that we do on a daily basis. As Mayor, watching your hard-earned tax dollars is a responsibility that I take very seriously. It is also a responsibility that I demand each of our directors and administrative members take equally as serious.
As a result, in 2009, we achieved three of our finest financial achievements.
In May of last year, we went before the Local Finance Board of the State Department of Community Affairs, and petitioned to be released from State Supervision. Because of our efforts to restore fiscal integrity, we were granted that request - a year and a half ahead of schedule. In fact, a member of the Local Finance Board, who is both a former Mayor and former Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, Susan Bass Levin, praised our efforts, stating that we had clearly made the “right decisions” and “set an example for what to do.”
Our second achievement followed only weeks later. Hamilton Township received a positive financial audit, from an independent municipal auditor, for the first time in 3 years. In was a strong, second indicator that fiscal integrity was restored.
Our third achievement was probably the most visible to our taxpayers, and the most appreciated of our financial successes. While towns and counties across the region and state experienced tax increases, for the second straight year in a row, we produced a budget that yielded NO TOWNSHIP TAX INCREASE.
But our achievements extended far beyond the restoration of fiscal integrity in Hamilton Township. This past year, we also enjoyed significant successes in the area of economic development.
Every business leader in this room knows the past year was extremely challenging and tested the resolve of businesses, both large and small. In 2009, you - our local business leaders -- were forced to adapt in an increasingly demanding economic environment, where consumer demand, profit margins and the availability of financial resources for your businesses to invest and grow were below the levels of prior years. And despite these obstacles to economic growth, I am happy to report that Hamilton Township welcomed 49 new business this past year, nearly the same number of new business we welcomed to our town in 2008.
In the summer, we enjoyed what I referred to as our “Trifecta” of Economic Development on our blossoming Route 130 Corridor, which included the opening of the Hamilton Manor, the Hamilton Honda, and the Shoppes at Hamilton.
But despite these successes, unemployment continues to concern me and other public officials, as we all recognize that a challenging economy is most difficult on those who are currently without work. And regardless of our better than average employment figures, for the individual who is without a job and struggling to make ends meet, none of us can find comfort in those numbers. And that is why in the upcoming year, with the help of our Economic Development Advisory Commission, we are planning to hold a second Township job fair, to help assist our neighbors in their search for employment in this difficult environment. We will concentrate on jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
In 2009, our Economic Development Advisory Commission also helped us to conduct a Township-wide Business Retention Survey. We recognize that while new businesses are a wonderful addition to our community, that the retention and success of our existing businesses is critical to a thriving local economy that provides employment opportunities to all of our residents.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the businesses leaders in this room for your generosity to the 92,000 residents of Hamilton Township. Once again, your sponsorships allowed us to continue to enjoy our special community events, like the Azalea Festival, our Fourth of July Fireworks, our Concerts our SeptemberFest Community Day, our Fall Harvest Festival and Winter Wonderland, without taxpayer dollars. And just like the year before, you allowed us to print and mail our 2010 Township calendars to every Hamilton household, without any cost to the taxpayers. Give yourselves a round of applause.
Another area that is vital to our local economy is the quality of our community's infrastructure. We cannot have a vibrant local economy without quality roads, functioning sewers and adequate parks, recreational opportunities and services for our seniors.
We embarked upon a 5-year plan to repair our roads. Beginning last year and continuing this year, we will be repaving some 26 local roads --more than the Township repaired during the last several years -- and began major intersection improvements at one of our busiest local intersections. In addition, we continued with our routine duties in the filling of potholes, most notably with the help of a popular new icon on our Township website named "Pot Hole Pete." "Pot Hole Pete" provides some light-hearted levity to our serious responsibilities in improving and preserving the quality of our roads. And finally, late this past year, we secured a $400,000 grant from the State of New Jersey that will help repair portions of Hughes Drive, a heavily traveled local corridor, in the upcoming year.
In 2009, we also invested millions of dollars into our Township's sewer system, to make sorely needed repairs. The decay of our sewer system is something that our residents might not be able to see on a daily basis…. but when there is a blockage, or even a line collapse, our residents suffer from the results. Over the past year, we made significant repairs to the Yardville-Groveville Forced Main and to the Independence Avenue Sewer line -- which suffered a collapse within the past few years. We even repaired a major system pipeline that runs beneath Interstate 195, without having to interrupt traffic on the highway!
This past year, we also began needed repairs to our Township's Senior Center. Here in America's Favorite Hometown, we enjoy a nationally renowned Senior Center. And as Mayor, I want to ensure that our Senior Center remains one of the best in the entire country. We repaired our Center's Annex, improved the facility's Air Quality Unit, and received a grant to purchase a new bus that will serve our seniors, individuals with special needs, and our veterans.
2009 was also a year in which we made important investments in our parks and recreational facilities. During this past year, through our own resources and matching grants, we replaced aging playground equipment to ensure they meet federal and state safety requirements. We also made repairs to our athletic fields and improved the lighting at 2 of our township fields that reduced their energy costs by 40 percent!
We also introduced two new additions to Veterans Park, which I believe were significant achievements for our community. First, we built a lasting monument to honor the outstanding achievements of our young athletes who have, and who will, reach the highest levels of success on the fields of athletic competition. We built our Field of Champions. And the first team inducted was the “Hamilton Hurricanes”, the 2008 Babe Ruth Softball National Champions.
Second, we built a playground area that is very near and dear to my heart. It is our “Accessible Playground”. This playground is designed to accommodate our community's children with special needs. But what is special about this playground is that it allows children with special needs to play alongside their friends of all abilities. We also created the Mayor's Commission on Persons with Special Needs. Hamilton’s commission is the first of its kind in Mercer County, and one of only a handful in New Jersey. Hamilton is the largest municipality in the state so far to form such a panel.
In 2009, we also worked to maintain the high quality of life for all of our residents by preserving the quality of our housing. Hamilton is blessed with a range of housing stock that provides opportunity for people at every level of income. Our community's diversity of housing opportunities is an excellent example of why we do not need onerous mandates by COAH - the State's Council on Affordable Housing.
Maintaining the quality of life in Hamilton, and the value of our homes, depends heavily on how well we can maintain the quality of our housing. Indeed, all of our efforts to develop the economy and improve customer service will have been wasted if we let our neighborhoods deteriorate.
Last year, our Department of Community Planning and Compliance launched a landlord registration program. Since August of last year, nearly 1500 landlords have been identified and registered for this program, which equates to approximately some 8,300 registered rental units. And we have begun the process of inspecting these units to ensure that all of our apartments in Hamilton meet required safety codes and standards. It ensures that tenants are not living in dangerous conditions, with electrical and safety violations that could result in tragedy. It ensures that our schools and our taxpayers are not burdened with students who are not eligible to attend. And it ensures that entire neighborhoods will not fall into decline because of a few illegal boarding houses.
Another basic function of government is to protect the public health. That responsibility became more urgent this year with the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza, more commonly referred to as the "Swine Flu."
I am proud to report that last year the Hamilton Health Clinic administered 5,332 vaccinations for H1N1 and 4,283 vaccinations for the seasonal flu. Our Health Department worked collaboratively with our Public Schools, our Emergency Management Team and our Police to ensure for a safe and successful vaccination process.
Most of the recipients were children, senior citizens and our most vulnerable citizens. Yet, all of us are grateful to the dedicated nurses and staff whose work really does save lives. They are the unsung heroes who, carefully, efficiently and professionally managed a health risk that continues to threaten the world.
I would like to ask that all of our health personnel, emergency management members and police to stand and be recognized for their excellent work.
Another area where we made significant strides in 2009 was in the area of public safety.
This summer, our community’s emergency preparedness was tested when a severe wind storm, with near hurricane force winds, that impacted areas of our community – particularly in Yardville. Our Police, our Fire Departments and our Emergency Management Personnel came together in a response effort that was second to none. To all of the individuals who played a role in this response, thank you for your service to our neighbors who were most severely impacted. Our entire community owes you a great debt of gratitude.
In 2009, we also started a new, innovative task force to bring speeding in Hamilton Township to a grinding halt. We developed what we call the Police C.R.E.W., our Concentrated RADAR Enforcement Workforce. Their responsibility was to target neighborhoods and roads that frequently experienced speeding. I am pleased to stand before you to report that after nearly 1 year, the results have been extremely positive. While hundreds of speeding summonses were issued in the last 12 months, tickets are not our desired objective. Our primary goal is to improve traffic safety, and we have done just that. I would ask the CREW to please stand and be recognized for their effective job. Our neighborhoods thank you.
We also created a Township Commission on Public Safety, whose mission is gathering pertinent data to help us make decisions that will place Hamilton on the forefront of technology relative to crime prevention, communication and public safety efficiencies.
Last year, I set a goal of keeping Hamilton “Clean and Green” when it comes to environmental sustainability, a top priority. And as a result, we made historic steps forward.
In 2009, we became the first community in New Jersey to enjoy the environmental benefits of clean-energy garbage collection trucks. We made a conscious decision to require a clean energy component for our collection service. The result was our provider, Central Jersey Waste and Recycling, replacing 10 diesel fuel collection trucks with 10 clean-burning and domestically produced natural gas trucks.
The environmental benefits are impressive when you consider the fact that natural gas vehicles provide:
- More than an 85% reduction in Smog emissions
- More than a 90% reduction in Soot emissions
- And a 23 % reduction in Green House Gases, as compared to diesel trucks
- By replacing just one diesel garbage truck with a natural gas garbage truck, we achieve the same emission benefit as if removing 325 cars off the road for an entire year.
In the long run, because the cost of natural gas has historically remained less expensive than diesel fuel, we hope to benefit from lower costs through future garbage collection contracts.
We also achieved another first – we became the 1st government in the State of New Jersey to begin fueling our vehicles with E85.
E85, consisting of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, is a much cleaner-burning fuel than compared to gasoline and diesel. It will reduce ozone forming pollutants by about 20%. In addition to the environmental benefits, E85 is generally less expensive than gasoline, also making financial sense for us to pursue.
But as wonderful as the accomplishments we have achieved in 2009 are, we have already begun a New Year. And the New Year brings with it new goals that I hope to achieve.
During 2010, it is my intention to improve the level and quality of services that our government provides to our taxpayers, and to begin the necessary steps that will expand local economic opportunities for all of our residents, while continuing fiscal responsibility, tax stability and the creation of jobs.
Our first effort of this new year will be the fulfillment of a pledge I made when seeking the office of Mayor in 2007. Beginning on March 1st we will be profoundly improving our service to the public through the opening of our HamStat One Call Center. On that day what once was "the culture of government" will officially transform into the culture of customer service.
On March 1st, Hamilton residents will be able to pick up their telephone and call one simple phone number….586-0311…. for any non-emergency service request or township-wide information. It will be that easy…just “One Call For It All”
As part of that program we are installing a new, state-of-the-art phone system that will allow us to respond to every request, complaint or concern with speed and precision.
It will ensure that every call for service is received, properly assigned and completed. And it will produce useful data so that we can analyze where to direct our resources and identify how we can more efficiently manage our operations.
During 2010, we invite you to visit our Township website on a more regular basic. We will be working to increase the frequency of our updates to you, so you have the latest information on our efforts to better serve you.
We have one example today for you to preview.
On the screen you will notice the demo for a new informational tool that will is available to our residents. This tool will be nicknamed “Snow Plow Sal” and will allow residents to find out when their street will be plowed following a snow event. Residents can track our progress online, they can better plan when they dig out of their driveways and avoid the frustration of being “plowed back in.” By putting your address in the system it will give the approximate time, show you when the truck arrives, when the plow is up or down, if the street is being treated with salt and when the job is complete.
As 2010 continues, we plan on using this same system to inform residents with much greater accuracy, when our leaf collection service will be on their street - eliminating leaves being placed curbside to soon or too late.
Not only do we desire better operational services for our taxpayers, but we also desire improved customer service for our residents - whether they call the HamStat Call Center or visit our Municipal Building.
We have adopted a new Township-wide philosophy that establishes all residents and all businesses as “customers” who deserve the highest quality service. During the past year, over 600 of our Township employees attended training sessions to improve and enhance our workplace environment. The program, known as the FISH philosophy, has been used by Fortune 500 companies.
This year, we will build upon this initial step by conducting customer service training for all “front-line” employees who directly serve the public on a daily basis. We want the taxpayers of Hamilton Township to receive the highest level of customer service possible. As public employees, we work for you, the taxpayers – and not the other way around. I am confident that residents will see the improvement in our quality of service.
We will also begin the necessary foundation for what I firmly believe will lead to expanded economic opportunities for Hamilton Township.
We will begin a process to conduct a Complete Master Plan Revision, along with a Township-wide Traffic Study. While a Master Plan Update is required by law to take place every few years, this is an ideal time to review our entire Township, parcel by parcel, to consider our opportunities for economic growth and for preserving open space.
Part of this Master Plan Revision includes a cooperative effort with the Hamilton Partnership to conduct what we will call our 20/20 Symposium. By meeting with business leaders along Route 33, we hope to foster a collaborative effort that will develop over the next 10 years into “The 33 Gateway."
Route 33 is a major commercial center and the gateway to Hamilton Township. Our goal is to promote redevelopment along Route 33 to create a beautiful, distinctive impression for our residents, shoppers, and visitors.
One of the most exciting projects that we are working on is our proposed Arts and Cultural District, which was recently approved by the Township’s Planning Board. This represents a very new kind of economic development for our hometown.
Imagine a section of Hamilton Township, once dominated by aging and vacant industrial sites, in which there are artists’ lofts, galleries, theaters, cafes' and shops centered around a jewel of our community, the nationally renowned Grounds For Sculpture. It would be a place so alive with creativity and culture that people would come from everywhere to spend their time and money in our hometown. That’s my vision. It will take many years to fully realize. But if we can see it through, we will have created a truly special destination that is right around the corner.
But our efforts for expanded economic opportunities will not end there. In the coming days, we will officially announce a series of Business Leader Breakfast Meetings, that will be held in conjunction with our Economic Development Advisory Commission. Through these informal meetings, I hope to further a productive dialogue with business leaders from all across our community. Together, we can prosper, grow and broaden our community's economic horizons.
We will also move forward with a comprehensive Tourism Program that will seek to better promote our historic homes, expanding their public uses and building upon the many historic treasures that Hamilton Township is home too.
In addition, this year we will continue our past efforts to make doing business with the Township even easier for our local businesses. We are currently testing new technologies that will further streamline the inspections, permitting and plan review processes.
In 2010, we will also embark upon a complete inventory of all vacant or underutilized commercial properties within our Township. This comprehensive effort will help us to formulate an action plan to assist and revitalize these properties. Our inventory will allow us to better promote existing commercial space to inquiring developers and entrepreneurs. And in a challenging economy, it will give us the best chance of revitalizing these vacant and underutilized properties.
We will continue to invest additional financial resources into maintaining and repairing our roads and sewer infrastructure during this new year. If we do not continue our efforts in this area, we will only be deterring new businesses from coming into our community and existing businesses from choosing to expand here.
Finally, be assured that my entire administration and I will continue our efforts to keep Hamilton Township on sound financial footing in the New Year, with every intention of keeping taxes stable. I continue to work with Mayor Fried of Robbinsville on shared services and Mayor Palmer of Trenton in conjunction with the USCM to curb onerous Unfunded Federal Mandates with hope that like here in NJ our voice was heard by Governor Christie on curbing Unfunded State Mandates. We will continue to look for additional cost-saving measures, continue with our stringent financial safeguards to protect your tax dollars, and continue to search for ways to improve our operational efficiencies.
This New Year marks the thirty-fifth year that Hamilton Township has remained my hometown and could have never imagined one day having the honor and privilege of serving you, my fellow neighbors, as Mayor.
As we embark together on our community's journey through this New Year, I eagerly await each new day. A new day that I can work to make Hamilton Township a better community for my family, friends and neighbors to live. And a new day that we can work to leave a brighter future for our children and grandchildren to pursue their dreams.
Together, we can make 2010 the best year ever for Hamilton Township. And with your help, we will do just that.
May God Continue to Bless Hamilton Township, and May God Continue to Bless the United States of America.