On 4/16/2021 The Candidates from Committees Collingswood Together (Column 1) and Team Collingswood (Column 2) responded to questions from our local newspaper The Retrospect.
In this post are the responses from Candidate Jennifer “Jen” Rossi as submitted for this special election issue.
QUESTION: The 30-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement on the Parkview apartment complex will end in 2026. Resident complaints and police reports indicate living conditions have deteriorated since Morgan purchased the property in 2017 resulting in recent enforcement actions to bring standards up to borough rental unit health and safety standards. As the complex houses a quarter of the borough’s population, what is your vision for what happens next when the PILOT agreement expires?
Jen’s Response: Living conditions, as reported by residents and prior residents at the Parkview complex, range from being ‘fine’ to ‘unlivable’. That is a pretty wide gap. It’s unfortunate for our neighbors who live there and want the complex to improve so that their apartment is comfortable, that they feel safe while on the property, and that can enjoy the amenities like shuttle buses and recreation offerings that are a draw for living in a complex. It is also unfortunate that the next group of commissioners will have 5 years essentially to help Morgan Properties, the current owners, improve the reputation of the complex to be able to fill vacancies, reduce turnover, and maximize the potential to collect the full tax levy for the 1000+ units to The Borough of Collingswood. I believe the next steps need to happen before the PILOT agreement expires. Ordinance 1705, which requires certain property owners to have onsite security guards is a start. Working with the complex and other complexes to develop some type of shuttle service to essential shopping and downtown attractions like the Farmers’ Market and parks could be a draw to Collingswood for renters.
Question: With the opening of the new public safety building near, the old police and fire buildings will be vacant. The borough owns the police department building and the Collingswood Volunteer Fire Company owns the firehouse. What do you think should be done with those properties, which are both in borough-designated areas in need of rehabilitation?
Jen’s Response: With the much-needed improvement to facilities for our frontline workers, we now have an opportunity to do something new and exciting in our downtown. I would love to see these spaces revitalized to match our community’s goals of investing in the next generation and creating more multi-use spaces for neighbors to gather and share their experiences and ideas. If open to suggestions, I feel that the Collingswood Volunteer Fire Company property could be a fantastic space (after renovations) for Collingswood youth to be able to gather and for our recreation department to have a separate headquarters and meeting space- close to the park, with the ability to showcase projects and initiatives during the Farmers’ Market season and during May Fair. The location of the Police Station, if to be demolished, I would like to see repurposed as a community garden space for the time being with an area for visitors and residents alike to sit away from the normal hustle and bustle of Haddon Ave. The community can be involved with this space for plantings and upkeep through programs already organized in Collingswood like our youth groups, and adult volunteer organizations.
Question: The Borough of Collingswood carries close to the total allowed municipal debt service – 3.5 percent of total assessed value of properties – and has carried debt near or at the ceiling for a number of years. Debt service will comprise approximately 18.8 percent of the total expenses for the borough in 2021. Should the borough continue this policy of borrowing or seek to reduce the debt service? If continuing the policy, what are your priorities for future borrowing?
Jen’s Response: One of the basic tactics for debt management may be considered here: Stop Creating More Debt. With a change in leadership, Collingswood’s appetite for capital projects would change for sure, but we still have potential major expenses looming; including the aging water infrastructure, the current debt service, and the many recurring costs for services that the residents of Collingswood rely on every day. So an abrupt end for our Debt Service does not seem to be a responsible promise in my opinion. However, Conscious Spending is an option in some places within the budget. As a Commissioner, I would like to consider our shared service agreements, insurance costs, utilities, Solid Waste removal contracts, and other expenses to ensure that what we are spending hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars in alignment with the values of our residents. One glaring issue is the Covanta incinerator in Camden. Poisoning our neighbors with our trash is not how a Silver-level Recognized Sustainable Jersey town behaves. I am also aware that we leaving money on the table- that some services and incentives could be available through our vendors that we are not maximizing like a playground safety inspector training through the Joint Insurance Fund’s Risk Management arrangement.
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