Hamilton Mayor Touts Government’s Financial Successes and Progress in Expanding Economic Opportunity; While Introducing New Initiatives for 2011
(Hamilton) -- “The State of Hamilton Township is strong, and our future looks bright for us all” was the message Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo left attendees of the 2011 State of the Township address given today during a Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Stone Terrace in Hamilton.
Touting several successes over the past year, and particularly many that were related to the Township’s financial condition and on efforts to help expand economic opportunities throughout the community, Mayor Bencivengo reported on a number of positive accomplishments that the government achieved during the past year.
Some of the biggest applause during the speech came when Mayor Bencivengo reported that for a fourth consecutive budget, township taxes as well as sewer taxes would not increase in 2011. The Mayor credited cost saving measures such as:
ü All township employees – himself included – taking eight unpaid furlough days
ü The decision not to refill 20-full time and 12 part-time positions (which means the township government is operating with 54 fewer full-time and 33 fewer part-time employees since when Mayor Bencivengo took office in 2008)
ü A custodial contract services contract with the ARC of Mercer, saving $315,00 annually while providing job opportunities to local citizens with special needs; and
ü The Township’s Construction Office ending 2010 being self-sufficient. (The Construction Office end Fiscal Year 2007 with a 630,000 deficit and Fiscal Year 2009 with a $1.125 million deficit)
Mayor Bencivengo also highlighted one significant benefit from these efforts – the fact that Standard & Poor’s Rating Services increased the Township’s bond rating by 2 full marks – giving Hamilton’s finances a stable outlook and saving the government $1 million over the next 11 year on long-term bonds issued for previously approved capital budgets.
In addition, Mayor Bencivengo highlighted several efforts to help expand the local economy in 2010, which included meetings with local business leaders, events to promote Hamilton’s restaurants, and hosting 2 special-guided bus tours to out-of-area business leaders to help encourage the revitalization of vacant or under-utilized commercial properties in. Overall, there were plenty of positive results in 2010, as the Township witness 43 new businesses, including several along the town’s Route 33 business corridor and the Stone Terrace – the location of the State of the Township Address.
Midway through his remarks, Mayor Bencivengo took a moment to shift gears and to acknowledge two recent, local tragedies (the loss of US Army Private First Class, Benjamin Moore, and a house fire that resulting in the passing of residents, Andrea Preston and Karl Knamm). The Mayor pointed to these two events and suggested that they serve as a reminder to all of us to treat each other with greater civility.
“You know, sometimes a tragedy presents us with a unique opportunity to pause for a moment, reflect upon our own lives and make positive changes….,” stated Mayor Bencivengo in his remarks. “…Each of these tragedies reminds us how precious life is. And hopefully that encourages us all to act a little kinder to, and with greater compassion for, our neighbors and fellow citizens. In 2011, I urge every single elected official, political official, and resident to join in this cause – let’s work together with great civility in everything thing we do!”
The Mayor also introduced a newly created Township webpage that Hamilton will use to promote local economic opportunities to business leaders and investors both across the state, and beyond.
“…This is not just something I say because it sounds good in a State of the Township address!”, Mayor Bencivengo passionately informed attendees in his speech. “I owned and operated businesses in Hamilton Township for over 3 decades; and I can tell you this for a fact! Our location, our highly-developed transportation infrastructure, our favorable economic demographics, our proximity to nearby colleges, and our highly trained labor pool…All of these factors make Hamilton Township a ‘Business Friendly’ Hometown. And through our new website, we will convey this to business leaders from across our state, and beyond, encouraging them to invest in ‘America’s Favorite Hometown’!”
Mayor Bencivengo also introduced other new initiatives that would take place in 2011, including “Hamilton Business Week” (a joint effort with the Township government and its Economic Development Advisory Commission, the Hamilton Business Partnership and the Hamilton Chapter of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce) to help promote economic opportunity in Hamilton, as well as a soon-to-come Online Construction Permit System (that will allow both residents and businesses the ability to apply and pay for permits online, track permit applications and schedule inspections), and the repair of 25 local roads (18 through the township’s capital road budget and 17 projects done “in-house” by the town’s road crews.)
Below is the text of the speech. Attached is a photograph of Mayor Bencivengo presenting his 2011 State of the Township Address (photograph courtesy of Hamilton Township).
-- MEDIA COPY --
State of Hamilton Township to be Delivered
February 1, 2011
The Stone Terrace
John F. Bencivengo, Mayor
Members of the local business community, friends and officials from neighboring towns,
Honorable members of our Hamilton Township Council:
Council President Dennis Pone, Council Vice-President Kevin Meara, Councilwoman Kelly Yaede, and Councilmen David Kenny and Edward Gore,
Members of my Cabinet team and fellow Township co-workers,
And most important, to the over 92,000 residents of Hamilton Township, who make up this special community we call ‘America’s Favorite Hometown’,
Welcome to our 2011 State of the Township Address; it’s my honor to report to you, once again, on the state of your Township government.
Before I begin, I do want to address one issue – our most recent snow storm.
I know our residents were not satisfied with our plowing efforts
…Well, let me tell you something… I was not satisfied with our results either
After the snowfall ends, plowing a normal storm requires 24 to 36 hours to complete all of our secondary roads
Our last storm ended up being more difficult, and requiring a longer period of time to plow; but, I believe that we can and should do better
So, I want you to know that I will be looking for ways we can make improvements as we move forward to address future storms – even the storms that we know will be difficult to plow
While preparing for our annual Professional Development Meeting last month, I came across a file labeled: “1991-92 Hamilton Township Municipal Government Calendar”, and its theme: “Hamilton, An All American Town.”
As I turned the pages of that calendar, I thought…the more things change, the more they stay the same!
How a tall, handsome man named Jack Rafferty, who served as Mayor, still serves our community today as the Executive Director of the Hamilton Business Partnership.
How two, young Council members at the time, Michael Angarone – now a Township Director – and Kevin Meara – once again on Council – still continue their dedicated public service. And although she was not pictured, it was around that time that Councilwoman Kelly Yaede served as an intern to Mayor Rafferty.
I have to tell you two guys, Kelly has aged a lot better over the years than you have!
As I flipped through the months and read the descriptions of our great community, it struck me.
Today – some 2 decades later, those descriptions still resonate true:
One caption read “A town to live in, surrounded by pictures of beautiful Township neighborhoods
Another -- A town to work in, next to photographs of some of the hard-working Hamiltonians who have built our communityover the years
A town to play in, with pictures of children enjoying a day in one of our great parks and of our annual SeptemberFest.
A town where you feel safe and secure, featuring our dedicated Police Officers, Fire Fighters and Emergency Responders
A town where our kids grow healthy and strong, with pictures of children heading to school and a local Boy Scout Troop listening to a presentation
And then, perhaps summarizing it all in one phrase, A town in which to show your pride.
Twenty years later, these same components of our community are the same reasons we now call Hamilton Township “America’s Favorite Hometown.”
And with your permission, I would like to report to you on some of the accomplishments that your government achieved during the past year to ensure we remain that Hometown we are so proud to live in.
There is no single issue that is more significant to me and has more of a direct impact upon every citizen than the issue of fiscal responsibility.
In these difficult economic times, when families lost jobs and have been forced to do with less, I made this my number 1 priority…
– We would NOT raise township taxes in 2010; and we didn’t!
Even during good times, this can be difficult to achieve. But when the State reduced our town’s revenue by nearly $5 million –which is revenue that towns like Hamilton have collected from utilities for years and is most certainly NOT “assistance from the State Treasury” – this was a very difficult judgment to accept.
But while other towns, school districts and counties across New Jersey increased taxes, we in Hamilton Township, made the difficult choices and did NOT
We didn’t do this for political reasons….as I was not up for election during this past 3 years when taxes remained flat.
We did this for the working families of Hamilton Township!
And I am very pleased to report this today…
This year, for a fourth consecutive budget, we won’t raise municipal taxes – or our sewer taxes, either!
How did we keep taxes flat?
It’s not that complicated….we implemented both basic and innovative cost saving measures.
First, I want to acknowledge the shared sacrifice of our dedicated Hamilton Township employees.
When faced with lost revenue and the reality that dozens of their fellow co-workers might lose jobs, the employees of Hamilton Township government answered the call and shared the sacrifice. All of our public employees – myself included – accepted 8 unpaid furlough days to help keep taxes flat. And I applaud them for their efforts.
Additionally, we analyzed every employee position that was vacant, to see if we could survive without refilling them. As a result, we eliminated 20 full-time and 12 part-time positions in 2010, without layoffs.
Another way in which we reduced costs was through contracting for custodial services with the ARC of Mercer. As a result, our government saves nearly $315,000 a year, while providing job opportunities to local citizens with special needs.
We also made sure that our expenses did not outpace revenue in key service areas – such as in our Construction Office.
You may recall that the Township’s Construction Office ran a six hundred and thirty thousand dollar deficit during Fiscal Year 2007 and a one million, one hundred and twenty five million dollar deficit in Fiscal Year 2008, which led to taxpayer dollars subsidizing what user fees should have completely funded.
I am proud to report that, at the conclusion of 2010; our Construction Office was self-sufficient and did NOT require subsidizing!
But another success perhaps best illustrates our efforts in fiscal responsibility.
In 2010, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services increased our bond rating by 2 full marks into the AA category and gave our government finances a “stable outlook.” This upgrade means that Hamilton Township will save $1 million over the next 11 years on long term bonds issued for previously approved capital budgets. This shows that financial responsibility pays off in the long-run!
Each of us here understands the difficult economic realities that we all face. In 2010, another top priority for me was working to help promote the expansion of economic opportunities for our community, in any way I possibly could.
During this past year, we held a series of breakfast meetings with business leaders from across our community, to explore ways we can work together to expand opportunities in Hamilton.
And, with the help of the Economic Development Advisory Commission, we worked to assist our neighbors who have lost their jobs and our recent graduates who are experiencing difficulties finding jobs, through our 2nd annual Township Job Fair, which benefited over 750 job seekers.
We also continued to promote the wonderful restaurants and dining establishments of our community through our annual “Taste of Hamilton” event. Partnering with the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce and – the world renowned Grounds For Sculpture - over 300 attendees gathered to sample offerings from our local restaurants. The event led to positive business results, like Angelo’s Cheesecakes and DeVinci’s making a business agreement, due to their meeting at this event.
Also in 2010, we began our community-wide update of our Township’s Master Plan – for the 1st time in over 20 years – which will be completed this spring.
As part of this process, we focused on the Route 33 business corridor, home to the largest concentration of businesses in our community. The Hamilton Partnership brought business leaders together for the 20/20 Symposium, where we discussed the future of this ‘Gateway’ to our community.
We are also pleased to report that Route 33, continues to attract businesses…
In 2010, we celebrated the openings of ‘HD Xperience’; a new ‘AT&T Global Wireless store’; new branch locations for First Choice Bank and Grand Bank; the opening of Doctor’s Express - an urgent care facility, and Barbara’s Hair Gallery.
Hamilton Plaza is also expanding and renovating, with a larger Shop Rite and soon to come retail pad sites.
This is a great sign for the future of the Route 33 business corridor!
One issue that all towns face is vacant or underutilized commercial properties.
Although private business decisions and economic factors are the root cause of these vacancies, we were determined to do everything possible to help promote the already existing opportunities located within our community.
So this year, we hosted 2 special guided bus tours of our town’s available properties -- at no cost to the taxpayers -- in an event called “Opportunity is Knocking in Hamilton Township.”
60 business leaders, primarily from outside of Hamilton, enjoyed our tour and were provided with broker contact information, economic demographics of our community, and existing commercial land uses.
I would like to take a moment to recognize the efforts of our Economic Development Commission Chairman, John Strycharz, for his work in making this initiative a great success.
In 2010 we welcomed over 43 new businesses to our township, among them Cheeburger Cheeburger in the Shoppes at Hamilton, Villa Romanza – now at the former Route 130 South American Grill location--, and the new North American headquarters for M.I. Hummel, the renowned manufacturer of figurines and collectibles.
We also received plans for the revitalization of the old-Pathmark site on South Broad Street – which was vacant for nearly 15 years, cut the ceremonial ribbon for Genesis Health Care’s Mercerville Facility, and celebrated the opening of our host today, the Stone Terrace,
These are indeed the signs of our vibrant local economy -- which are the fruits of your tireless labor.
Hamilton’s great business community has kept our economy moving forward in the right direction during this challenging economy. And, today, I salute you.
Another achievement of 2010 was our ability to improve” customer” service for our residents.
We opened our new HamStat One-Call Center, which during its first 9 months handled 68,000 phone calls, generating over 38,000 requests for service.
Our Call Center allows us to effectively track all requests for service, analyze trends in different service areas, and make better decisions.
And now, working with new software called VUEWorks, we will be able to better track the resources we use in providing services to the public and identify ways to increase efficiencies.
I want to thank our Director of Technology and Economic Development, Michael Angarone, and HamStat Call Center Supervisor, Terri Jany, for making Hamstat the success I knew it would be!
Providing quality service to the residents of Hamilton is what the Township government is dedicated to do. In 2010, our Township Departments continued to do just that…
Our Health Division protected our community by coordinating some 6,800 influenza and H1N1 vaccinations and 1,300 Women, Infants and Children (or ‘WIC’) Program client visits, while helping us start a new Township Wellness program, called “Let’s S.H.A.P.E. Hamilton”.
Our Recreation Division scheduled our Township athletic fields and facilities to benefit over 7,700 area children, while coordinating our youth Summer Camp programs and maintaining a non-criminal fingerprinting background check database of over 2,200 individuals.
Additionally, an estimated 90,000 attendees enjoyed our annual community events this past year – like our Azalea Festival, SeptemberFest and Winter Wonderland – which, by the way, through my Mayor’s Recreation and Community Events initiative, raised over $100,000 in private sponsorships to continue these annual traditions without a single taxpayer dollar.
There is something good for every age in Hamilton. In 2010, our nationally-renowned Township Senior Center hosted over 107,000 visitors, provided 8,300 trips for our seniors to visits our Senior Center, go food shopping and reach medical appointments and served over 43,000 nutritional meals.
Our Township’s Planning Division obtained a $500,000 grant for recreational improvements in 2010, to replace and install new playground equipment and lights for our athletic fields. Our commitment was recognized as we were the only town in the state of New Jersey to receive a 2010 Playful City USA designation.
Additionally, by working with a great partner in neighboring Robbinsville – a friend who is always ready to fight for the rights of municipalities – Mayor David Fried, as well as another neighboring Mayor – Janice Miranov of East Windsor, We joined forces and secured over $1.6 million in reforestation funds to plant trees in Hamilton;
And for a 4th consecutive year, Hamilton Township was designated as a Tree City, USA.
Since entering office, another major priority that I had was to begin the process of repaving our 625 lane miles of local roads, which were deteriorating because of inadequate maintenance in past years.
Between our Fiscal Year 2010 and Transitional Year 2010 budgets, 32 different capital road repair projects were funded and coordinated through our Engineering Division.
Keeping our sewer system functional has also remained a top priority for us, considering the millions of dollars of repairs that were necessary due to past neglect. In 2010, in addition to maintaining our 389 miles of sewer lines, our Department of Water Pollution Control also made important improvements to main sewer lines serving neighborhoods all across our community.
One of our busiest Departments is our Department of Public Works.
In 2010, the Department filled over 1,400 pothole repairs, paved portions of 18 selected problem roads, swept 3,000 miles of our local streets, picked up 30,000 cubic yards of leaves, cleaned 11,000 feet of ditches and streams, collected over 9,600 cubic yards of brush, and recycled over 7 tons of paper through our free shredding days, which help reduce our Township garbage disposal costs in 2010. That’s a lot of great work for our citizens in just one year!
And in keeping with our ‘Clean and Green’ motto for environmental sustainability, last year Hamilton Township was the recipient of a prestigious award for our sustainability efforts from ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) Association.
As Mayor, I also serve as the Director of Public Safety. And, -- it is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
Working with Police Chief James Collins, and our dedicated officers -- Hamilton Township has remained a safe community over the past year.
In 2010, our Police Division handled over 54,000 calls for service, but still found the time to increase enforcement hours of our Police C.R.E.W. – our concentrated radar enforcement workforce, which makes our streets safer.
Additionally, we implemented a Graffiti Investigations Unit in 2010, and the results were very impressive. 24% of all cases referred to the unit resulted in arrests!
Because my goal is to reduce crime, not to embolden criminals by increasing the media coverage of our successes, I will tell you that in 2010, we also witnessed a marked reduction of key crime indicators in our Township.
We do all that we can to prevent crime – but already in this new year of 2011, we have seen that tragedies often do happen. We need to look no further than the horrific incident which occurred last month in Tucson, Arizona, as an example.
As diligently as we work to be prepared for any type of event, unforeseen tragedies still happen in our community – even those not caused by crime. But they are equally tragic when lives, and loved ones, are lost.
Two weeks ago, the home of Hamilton residents Patrick and Amy Moore was visited by an Army Sergeant and Chaplain to inform them of the loss of their son, U.S. Army private first class Benjamin Moore.
Private Moore was part of the 693th Sapper Unit out of Fort Drum, New York, and deployed to serve a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan. Regrettably, an explosion of a roadside bomb took his life.
We can only imagine the pain that Mr. and Mrs. Moore must be enduring as they cope with the loss of their son.
The 92,000 residents of our community share their thoughts and prayers with the Moore Family during this difficult time.
Only days later, a fire that suddenly occurred during the nighttime on Foreman Drive in Hamilton Square, resulted in a second tragedy – as the lives of two young Hamiltonians, Andrea Preston and Karl Knamm, were lost. The heavy hearts of the people of Hamilton Township remain with both the Preston and Knamm families.
Would you join me in a moment of silence, now -- to honor and salute these families and all of our service people, who have made a supreme sacrifice.
You know, sometimes a tragedy presents us with a unique opportunity to pause for a moment, reflect upon our own lives and make positive changes.
One such opportunity is before us now; and I strongly and whole-heartedly believe in it. And that is the need to restore civility in both our public and political discourse.
The tragedy in Tucson –most certainly played no role in the tragedies here in Hamilton – but each of these tragedies reminds us how precious life is. And hopefully that encourages us all to act a little kinder to, and with greater compassion for, our neighbors and fellow citizens.
In 2011, I urge every single elected official, political official, and resident to join in this cause – let’s work together with great civility in everything thing we do!
Another way in which we are working to improve our community this year is by sharing our compassion with others - to ensure that every member of Hamilton possesses equal opportunities and shares in our high quality of life.
We are conducting a Special Needs Survey, which is accessible through our Township website – and we also have copies here today -- to help us learn more about Hamilton’s special needs population and identify ways that the Township may be able to better serve these special residents. I would like to thank the dedicated members of our Commission on Special Needs for their efforts in drafting our survey and compiling the data.
This year we are also working to improve our communication in emergency situations, as well as, for important community notification matters.
We have placed an electronic Sign-Up form on our Township website so residents can add up to 2 additional phone numbers – to their existing home land-line phone numbers that are already in the system’s database – as well as an e-mail address at which residents can also receive important news updates.
These additional notification options are possible because of our recent upgrade to our emergency notification system, which will allow us to make emergency phone calls to the entire community in a much shorter time frame than previously done.
In 2011, we again will be working to continue to expand our economic opportunities.
Building upon our economic bus tour we will launch a new Economic Opportunity webpage to market our community to business leaders, consumers and investors from across the region.
By visiting our website, www.HamiltonNJ.com, and selecting the “Business” link, residents will see why Hamilton Township is such a great place for businesses to thrive and grow.
…And let me say this…this is not just something I say because it sounds good in a State of the Township address!
I owned and operated businesses in Hamilton Township for over 3 decades; and I can tell you this for a fact!
Our location, our highly-developed transportation infrastructure, our favorable economic demographics, our proximity to nearby colleges, and our highly trained labor pool…
All of these factors make Hamilton Township a “Business Friendly” Hometown.
And through our new website, we will convey this to business leaders from across our state, and beyond, encouraging them to invest in ‘America’s Favorite Hometown’!
Today, take a look for yourself…… we have a lap top set up for you to view our new website on your way out.
I am pleased to introduce, another new and exciting economic initiative to you -- today.
As you may know, we have several local commerce development organizations in our town. And some may think these groups are competing against one another for membership – but I believe they are all working together for, a better, business environment!
This year, the Township and our Economic Development Advisory Commission will undertake a joint effort with the Hamilton Partnership and the Hamilton Chapter of the Mercer County Regional Chamber of Commerce to host the first-ever “Hamilton Business Week.”
This super week will combine business and commerce events,-- the Taste of Hamilton, Job Fair and Chamber Expo, and add new events – a report of the new Master Plan, training sessions that will be tailored to the needs of business and networking opportunities to expand your economic possibilities.
Another way we plan to improve our economic environment is by continuing to make infrastructure improvements that also enhance our resident’s quality of life. This means funding the reconstruction of 18 more local roads through our capital budget, 17 more “in-house” Road Repairs that our crews can more cost-effectively complete, and more Sewer system upgrades in areas that are in critical need of repair. This proactive approach will prevent the need for emergency repairs in the future, which are more expensive and very inconvenient for our residents!
Another new service that we will bring online in 2011 is a new, Online Construction Permit system. The computerized system will allow residents and businesses to apply for building permits; and pay for permits, online. Citizens and project managers will be able to track permit applications and scheduled inspections via the Internet. This is just another way in which our Department of Community Planning and Compliance is working hard to make doing business with Hamilton easier.
But perhaps the most important task for us in 2011 will be our administration’s efforts to continue good, efficient and fiscally responsible government.
In this new budget, we reduced our spending by $100,000 compared to our previous fiscal year. This is during a time when government spending and taxes were and continue to be increasing in towns all across New Jersey.
Additionally, our Township government continues to operate with 54 fewer full-time employees and 33 fewer part-time employees -- from when I first took office in 2008!
Our Township Directors have worked, and are continuing to work this year, with less in their departmental operating budgets….
But financial responsibility also means continually looking to operate using the best practices available.
This fall, you may recall that we announced that we will be eligible to receive 100% of our allocation of State Aid this year because our government meets over 98% of what the State considers “best practices”.
But “best practices” is not just about receiving aid! It’s also about our taxpayers receiving better results and services for their money.
And that is why, this year, I am asking that my entire administration continue to research the latest in best practices around the country, so that we can continue to improve our operating procedures, our financial controls and our efficiencies.
By doing so, we can continue to keep township taxes stable, while continuing to improve services and our quality of life.
And so…I am confident that you will agree today…
-- Here, in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, in the heart of Mercer County and central New Jersey, there is one special ingredient that makes our community such a special place
...that one unique component that makes Hamilton Township a ‘Community of Neighborhoods’
Where neighbors help neighbors, and look out for each other.
Where our children start their life-journeys in great schools.
Where our parents and grandparents celebrate the rewarding circle of life in safety,
And young people of our community meet at school functions, sporting events and positive recreational activities.
Where we meet together at diners and shopping centers….at Church on Sundays, and at our wonderful community events
And where our families and friends make the memories that will last them a lifetime,
That special ingredient is the 92,000 residents that make Hamilton Township indeed -- ‘America’s Favorite Hometown.’
Each day, these are the folks who have made my job as your Mayor the most enjoyable, satisfying and rewarding job that I have ever had in my life. And you are the reasons why I will spend this next year, doing everything in my power, to keep Hamilton Township moving forward in the right direction.
And so, Ladies and Gentleman for the reasons and achievements I have outlined today –
I CAN PROUDLY SAY – THE STATE OF HAMILTON TOWNSHIP IS STRONG AND OUR FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR US ALL!
May God Continue to Bless YOU…Hamilton Township, and the United States of America.
Thank you very much.