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State of the City
Gloucester City Mayor Daniel T. Spencer, Jr.
February 11, 2021
My Fellow Citizens of Gloucester City,
As someone once told me: be careful what you wish for. Ha-ha! This was especially true in 2020. I have always aspired to be the Mayor of our beloved Gloucester City with a burning desire to help move our City forward. As a life-long resident, I was able early in life to develop a great vision for our Community and I know what is needed to ensure our continued success. At the start of 2020, Mayor and Council developed some exciting plans to move us forward, until we were stalled and stopped in our tracks with the unfortunate arrival of the pandemic and COVID-19. As I complete my second year as Mayor, I would have never anticipated in my wildest dreams that we would have a year like 2020. We, as a Community, have lived through a period of historical significance that will be discussed for ages to come and be etched in the history books for future generations. Our children’s children will not believe what we went through. The COVID-19 virus and resultant pandemic led us into uncharted waters and extraordinary times. These are the type of events that we read about in history books and I never thought we would be a part of such history.
For the last two years, I have issued a State of the City address at the Annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast and outlined our past accomplishments and our plans for the future. I also discussed our difficulties and disappointments. Those experiences ultimately help us to correct errors and make us better and stronger leaders. One of the most important priorities we have established is transparency through better communications with you, our citizens. Personally, I have done my best to use my Facebook account to keep everyone informed to the best of my ability. I have also provided information and multiple press releases to the Gloucester City News and other media outlets to keep you better informed.
When I became Mayor, one of the more critical positions that needed to be filled was the Director of Community Development. We hit a Grand Slam by hiring the very professional, extremely competent, capable and knowledgeable Mrs. Lori Ryan. In the short time Lori has been with us, she has catapulted the City into the cyber and technology world. Many people asked me when I was campaigning for Mayor, please modernize and advance the City technologically so we can pay our taxes and utility bills on-line. That was accomplished with Lori leading the initiative working with our incredibly talented Tax Collector, Mr. James Davis. In 2020, Mr. Davis and his office staff achieved a 98% tax collection rate; one of the highest collection rates in our City’s history. The technological advancements we have made clearly helped increase our tax collection rate and there are now several ways to pay your taxes in a manner convenient to our citizens. Lori also led the initiative to redesign our City website, making it much more user friendly and providing more timely information to our residents. She also established the Gloucester City Community Development social media platform on Facebook, which shares information to keep our citizenry and businesses informed. Under Lori’s leadership, for the first time we received our Bronze Level Sustainable New Jersey Award. Sustainable New Jersey empower communities to build a better world for future generations with the tools, training and financial incentives necessary to pursue critical sustainability initiatives. Out of 565 municipalities in New Jersey, only 155 have obtained the Bronze Level. This is an outstanding accomplishment especially since we struggled for years to get to obtain such a designation. Our goal is to be Silver Level Certified by 2022, joining 64 other municipalities statewide.
We have attempted in years past to revitalize Freedom Pier. Mrs. Ryan, Councilman George Berglund, and all of Mayor and Council are working diligently with the Capodagli Group, a redeveloper, to build mid-to high-end apartments and townhouses with retail shops and establishments on the lower level, a restaurant overlooking the river, a coffee shop and gym, along with a self-contained parking garage. We are now in the engineering investigative phase where the redeveloper is performing its due diligence. We are confident that the City’s vision for Freedom Pier will become a reality. Under Mrs. Ryan’s leadership, we installed a cost saving phone system, voice over internet, which will enhance our telephone capabilities to better serve and respond to our residents. Our Community Development Director is also working to establish a Town Center Designation with the State Department of Community Affairs. This designation will provide previously unavailable grant and loan opportunities and help to attract more small businesses to Gloucester City.
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Under the leadership of Councilman George Berglund, our business liaison, work continues in the Southport Redevelopment Area, albeit slowly, we continue to sift through the complex issues associated with Brownfields clean-up and in our attempt to transform years of toxic contaminated land into a useable industrial business mecca along the water front which will bring jobs and tax ratables to the City. One very extremely successful redevelopment project that opened at the end of 2020 was the Riverpointe Apartment Homes (former Chatham Square Apartments). These mid to high end units were rebuilt by Mr. Irv Cyzner, who invested millions of dollars into this important project, thus establishing a premier housing development targeting millennials who would like to live within close proximity to our highway system and with easy access to Philadelphia. Needless to say, these beautiful apartment homes are filling up fast. A once blighted eyesore has come to life and looks beautiful.
As I knocked on doors while running for Mayor, I heard the same plea over and over “if elected Mayor, what are you going to do about the declining housing stock and increase in number of rentals in the City?” This is without question my Administration’s number one priority. Our Council Housing Committee under the leadership of Councilman Bowie Johnson and Director Bill Ackley have moved forward with an aggressive plan and enforcement program through the implementation of an updated housing and property maintenance code designed to stop the blight and renew our neighborhoods. Our Housing Department staff have relentlessly issued warnings, letters, fines, and tickets to those not in compliance with our property standards. In 2020 alone, over 1,100 health and safety violations were issued. We added an additional full time employee as an additional housing inspector and also assigned a full time Police Officer, Corporal Bill Johnson to the Housing Office. Corporal Johnson supplements the Housing Office enforcement activities as we strive to more proactive with property owners, especially absentee landlords who are violators and refuse to comply and cooperate in improving the quality of life throughout the City. As I have stated many times, “we intend to take back our City: one house, one block, one street, and one neighborhood at a time”.
Our goal, under Councilman Johnson, Director Ackley and their team, is to improve the housing stock in our Community, thereby increasing property values and enticing more family, interested in owner-occupied houses, to improve our neighborhoods and our Community as a whole. This past year, Director Ackley supervised the demolition of 3 unsafe properties that presented a public safety hazard to our citizens. Director Ackley and his team also conducted over 1,100 property inspections. Mr. Ackley also serves as our Zoning Officer and guided residents through 200 projects that required some type of zoning approval. Our Housing Inspectors conducted inspections and performed this work during unprecedented times and difficult working conditions during a raging COVID-19 pandemic. The employees of our Housing and Construction Code Office deserve great congratulations and accolades for working under such extraordinary conditions. This coming year, Director Ackley and his team will be focusing on the rehabilitation of vacant and abandoned properties and also establishing an education program to assist our residents and property owners with the current code requirements and the City’s expectation in improving our housing conditions and housing stock.
Our Public Works Department, under the leadership of Council Committee Chairman John Hutchinson and Director of Public Works Alex Tedesco are to be commended for the hard work they accomplished in 2020 during COVID-19. This Department was taxed to the extreme and worked under some very stressful conditions. We thank them and are ever grateful for their service. The most problematic issue for Director Tedesco and his Department was the trash issue in 2020. It is no secret that we had issues with our previous trash hauler, for which I received many, many, many complaints from our citizens; and rightfully so, with the bad and sporadic service we were provided. My Administration worked immediately, within the confines of the law and the existing contract, to terminate our prior trash hauler and engaged new, more responsible trash hauling service. The trash issue was very frustrating for all of us and we worked collectively, as a team, to remedy and mitigate the situation. As you are aware, our trash and recycling services are publicly bid to private contractors. Leaving no suggestion ignored, we did explore collecting our own trash and recycling, unfortunately, it was cost prohibitive. We expect our new trash contractor to live up to the terms of their contract; and if not, we will act quickly on your behalf to remedy that as well.
Alex and his Department of Public Works handled multiple structural projects in our City buildings, which are very old. Of particular note, was the roof project and floor project at the City Hall. Director Tedesco also supervised many street repaving projects including: Center Street, Filmore Street, the 800-900 blocks of Bergen Street, a collapse repair at Francis Street, and the repaving of the Community Center Parking lot.
The Water and Sewer Departments worked in conjunction with Public Works in replacing the water and sewer mains on the 800-900 blocks of Bergen Street, and also the collapse on Francis Street. The Public Works Department also maintained and cleaned all City buildings repeatedly, thus ensuring compliance with COVID-19 cleaning and safety protocols. Our great DPW employees worked meticulously to reopen our parks, playgrounds, fields, and basketball courts in accordance with the Governor’s Executive Orders. In 2021, Director Tedesco and his Department will remodel the kitchen in the Community Center and prepare it for future rentals once the Governor lifts COVID-19 restrictions. They will also be working on repairing and replacing certain playground equipment in three of our parks. In addition, renovations to the wood decking to both piers at Martin’s Lake and the Minnie Hole will be completed. In 2020, the Public Works Department received a new trash truck to replace an outdated and old trash truck and are better able to serve all of you.
Our Public Library under the leadership of the dedicated Library Board of Trustees and Library Director Wen Gu, continues to provide much needed library services to our Community. Our Library is a true gem in our Community and is one of the oldest operating library systems in the State of New Jersey. In 2020, the Library helped to prepare and educate our citizens for the Census 2020 by creating computer stations to assist those individuals who needed help completing the Federal Census forms. During COVID-19, the Library shifted its focus to additional virtual programs through Zoom and on-line story time, craft time, and various other educational programs. The Library provided curb-side services for lending out books and publications in order to keep our Community knowledgeable and educated during the pandemic. Moving in to 2021, Director Gu is planning to keep the Library open to the public while following the CDC guidelines and the Governor’s Executive Orders. The Library will continue to upgrade its virtual and technological capabilities in order to reach a wider audience. The Library will also be investing in resources that will enable it to help with local employment and businesses. Finally, the New Jersey Library Association is putting together a framework on how our Library could help with New Jersey’s economic recovery.
As the Mayor, I am proud to also have the title of Director of Public Safety. As I am sure you are aware, we have the best Police, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management services of any town in the State! I sleep very comfortable at night knowing that the men and women of the Gloucester City Police Department and Gloucester City Fire Department are on-duty and ready to respond. We have Departments with young, but experienced leadership, which is an asset to our Community. Our Community Policing Programs are especially helpful as new families continue to move in Gloucester City. Our Police Chief Brian Morrell is very capable and leads with a steady hand. The Chief is also performing double duty as our current Acting City Administrator. We continue to upgrade equipment for our police officers purchasing three new police SUV’s, advanced police body cameras and computer equipment in order to protect our police officers and the public. We hired three new police officers in 2020 and three police officers retired in early 2021. Our Police Department is now in the final stages of an important accreditation process, which has been ongoing for over two years. The final evaluation to achieve full accreditation status should occur in the spring of 2021. Accredited status represents a significant professional achievement and acknowledges the implementation of policies and procedures that are conceptually sound and operationally effective.
Our Fire Department under the leadership of Chief Michael Hagan was named as THE BEST OF THE BEST in South Jersey by the Courier Post Newspaper in 2020! The highlight of the year was the arrival of the new Fire Engine that was put in service early this year. The purchase of our new state-of-the-art fire apparatus was long overdue and well serve to protect the citizens of Gloucester City and our surrounding mutual aid towns. It also protects the firefighters by giving them the proper equipment they need to safely fight fires and protect life and property. The Fire Department also secured a joint training grant with the Camden Fire Department for training Fire Officers at Level I & II. Our Fire Department responded to 1,495 incidents, performed over 1,300 fire safety inspections and conducted over 4,960 hours of training.
Our Municipal Court went through some transition in 2020 with the retirement of Judge William Golden and the appointment of his replacement, Judge Charles Shimberg. We also welcomed the promotion of Samantha Ege to Court Administrator as Donna Florich stepped back to allow for the transition of new generation of leadership in preparation for the future. Our court went through some very difficult times with the pandemic as multiple court sessions were cancelled which caused a drastic reduction in revenue for the municipal court, thus impacting the City’s budget. Court resumed later in the year with Zoom Virtual Court and is fully prepared for when the Governor lifts the Executive Order to allow for in-person court once again.
Our Finance Office likewise went through many changes during 2020. Our former CFO, Mr. Frank Robertson retired after many years of excellent service. Our Finance Department is to be commended for their perseverance and professionalism in promoting fiscal responsibility and balancing our budget throughout the entire year. The City welcomed an interim CFO, Mr. John Barrett. John and the finance staff performed admirably making sure that all debt payments were made timely, while efficiently managing a $20 million budget on a day to day basis. The Finance Department implemented a change from in-house payroll to a contracted payroll service provider which further improved operational efficiencies.
Our Administration went through some turbulent periods at the end of the year. Our City Administrator and Water/Sewer Superintendent are no longer with us and have moved on. We have advertised for a joint City Administrator/CFO position to strengthen and consolidate operations and have likewise advertised for a new T-4 Water/Sewer Superintendent. To date, we have received 18 resumes for the City Administrator position and will be establishing a screening committee to interview for the most qualified candidates. It is our intention to select the most qualified candidate and an individual with excellent credentials to serve the residents of Gloucester City.
As a result of COVID-19, we regrettably had to cancel most of our City’s public events in 2020. The last event to be held was the St. Patrick’s Parade on the first Sunday in March of 2020. After this annual festivity, everything was locked down! Councilwoman Nancy Randolph-Baus and her Celebrations Committee continue to do an outstanding job planning and staging our City celebrations. Councilwoman Baus is in the planning stage right now for Fireworks on Friday, July 2nd, 2021 and also a “Half-Way to St. Patrick’s Day Irish Weekend” in Gloucester City scheduled for September 17-18-19 which will culminate with a St. Patrick’s Parade on Sunday, September 19th at 1:00 pm, God willing! Councilwoman Baus and I are also in the process of putting together a planning committee for the 400th Anniversary of the original Gloucester Town settlement in the year 2023. This will be an enormous undertaking with a lot of planning, preparation and fundraising required.
I would also like to commend and thank our great City Clerk, Vanessa Parent. Ms. Parent keeps it all together for Mayor and Council. Without her organizational skills, we would truly be lost. With the current State of Emergency, Ms. Parent has experienced a difficult year operationally but has hired two new employees since two employees left for other positions. The City Clerk’s office is the central hub of activity in our Community and the “Go To” office in City Hall. We are very fortunate to have THE BEST Clerk in the State of New Jersey.
Special appreciation also goes out to our Gloucester City Public School District, the Board of Education under the leadership of Board President Michelle Wright, Superintendent Dr. Dennis Vespe, as well as our Principals, Teachers, Staff, and volunteers for keeping it our educational system operational during such tumultuous times. I was fortunate enough to observe the School’s comprehensive lunch distribution program on several occasions and was so inspired, proud, and motivated by the great people who work for our Gloucester City Schools. We have THE BEST SCHOOLS AND STAFF in the State of New Jersey!!
I sincerely apologize if I omitted anyone or anything. I want to give a great BIG THANK YOU TO ALL OF THE EMPLOYEES OF GLOUCESTER CITY!!! You are extremely dedicated and work hard for our citizens every day. I AM PROUD to be YOUR MAYOR. The City would be lost without our committed and dedicated City employees. THANK YOU AGAIN!
We have so much more to do to move our City forward. Our City Council meetings continue to remain fully transparent and open to the public. We entertain and welcome public comment at every meeting. Mayor and Council want to hear your opinions and thoughts. We are currently meeting on Zoom due to the pandemic and we meet three times a month. Please sign up for notifications of meeting dates, alerts and important notices.
I am proud to be your Mayor and I will continue working tirelessly each and every day on your behalf.
GLOUCESTER CITY - WHERE GREAT THINGS ARE HAPPENING
Celebrating 400 years in 2023 (1623 to 2023)
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Daniel T. Spencer Jr.
Gloucester City Mayor
Dating Site City In Gloucester City New Jersey Today
(856) 456-0205 ext. 205
Contact the Mayor