As we look forward to closing the books on 2020 and warmly welcoming in the New Year, it is my pleasure to offer to you a brief review of what we have accomplished this year together as a community.
When I was first sworn-in as Mayor last January, I promised to you that we would move Cherry Hill forward as a safe and welcoming community, that we would manage our government responsibly and keep our township on a solid financial footing, and that we would work to assist our most vulnerable populations.
Soon after taking office, however, it was clear that 2020 was going to be a different year for all of us. The onset of COVID-19 brought with it considerable challenges to our community and our nation as a whole. We lost loved ones, friends, and neighbors. Businesses and schools were shuttered and we moved our lives and the way we live to a virtual setting. We quickly had to adapt to our new norm of masks, social distancing, and quarantining.
As my administration and I began monitoring the developing COVID-19 outbreak, we took action to limit exposure to Cherry Hill residents and reduce the chances for community spread. We continued to improve the services we provide online and established contactless interactions options that allowed government to safely continue operating for you.
We have many long-term care facilities located in Cherry Hill and the pandemic’s impact on the residents there was staggering. Facilities struggled early on to maintain adequate PPE and knowledge on how to best mitigate the virus was lacking. My administration worked with the Camden County Freeholders and Health Department to deliver much needed PPE to our long-term care facilities, and called upon the state to increase monitoring of the facilities that saw the greatest loss of life.
We then saw the tragic death of George Floyd at the end of May. We struggled nationally with the realization that though we had come a long way, there was a long road ahead of us in achieving racial and social justice. We marched together calling for an end to racism and inequality, and we were reminded now more than ever that our words and actions matter. These critical moments remind us of why we must commit to continued community dialogue about inclusion, equality, compassion, and love.
But through these challenging circumstances, it has also been a time to come together and unite over everything we have been through and achieve progress against all odds.
Though slightly delayed by the pandemic, one of my main priorities upon taking office was working with Council to revive the Human Relations Advisory Committee (HRAC). The HRAC is comprised of a diverse group of dedicated community leaders from various nonprofit and religious organizations around Cherry Hill where the diversity of Cherry Hill is celebrated and where we can learn more about each other. Back up and running, the HRAC is organized to promote events that foster a community of mutual respect and understanding among all of our residents and has served as a nexus and a resource for nurturing positive relationships between and among our residents.
When Kingston Swim Club encountered financial difficulties and went into foreclosure we heard a great deal of concern from residents worried about the impact of any development on that site and we promised from day one to do everything in our power to protect the neighborhood and residents. Using the Township Open Space Trust Fund, we purchased the property in order to preserve and enhance the charm and character of the Kingston neighborhood.
In September, I introduced my proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. Anticipating a fiscal impact from the statewide shutdown due to the pandemic, Council and I made some very tough decisions early on to manage our taxpayers’ money responsibly, without diminishing Township operations. As a result we entered our ninth straight year without an increase in municipal taxes. At the same time our budget continues to make improvements and investments in our parks and playgrounds, historical sites, and recreational facilities, all of which contribute to Cherry Hill’s reputation as a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
Our efforts helped keep Cherry Hill on a solid financial footing, and while this is great news for residents, it did not go unnoticed by the credit ratings agencies. Moody’s Investor Service reported favorably on the financial standing of Cherry Hill and upgraded the Township’s credit rating to the highest rating a municipality can achieve—triple A. The triple-A rating allows the Township to borrow money at the lowest interest rates offered to municipalities, which could result in significant cost savings for the Township and taxpayers. The ratings increase is a strong affirmation of many years of fiscal discipline and strategic investment in our community and is great news for Cherry Hill.
As shutdown orders brought on by the pandemic continued, it became apparent that there was considerable need for additional help for struggling families. Together with a partner organization, Touch NJ, we organized “Food Distributions for Those in Need” and were able to hand out approximately one thousand individual boxes and serve hundreds of families with healthy fresh produce. We authorized the annual action plan for the use of the Community Development Block Grant funds the township received as part of the Federal CARES Act funding. Through the action plan we are able to offer some grant assistance to Cherry Hill nonprofits, and are making available to economically disadvantaged residents over half a million dollars in rental and mortgage payment assistance. This is particularly helpful to our families who continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
We have all adjusted to this new normal and our top priority in Town Hall is to continue to protect the health and safety of our residents as we work alongside with County and State Officials to communicate the best practices to help end this global pandemic. These trying-times have made an impact on us locally and globally and we continue to work diligently to help fill the needs of our citizens. Our lives have been turned upside down, and we are living in a new, unimaginable world. We are a community of strength, resiliency, determination, and hope. And although we still may not be able to see one another in person right now, we must continue to work together to get through this.
This past month, the first shipments of vaccines have been delivered and administered to immunize healthcare workers. Federal and State officials have issued guidance on how the vaccine will be distributed and when. We’ve come a long way in understanding this virus, how it spreads, and how to treat it. Our community and our nation have been greatly tested by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I am became Mayor, I took an oath to serve this community with passion, empathy, and integrity and I will continue that promise every day. In Cherry Hill, we are a community that celebrates our differences and embraces tolerance, recognizing that our diversity is our strength. As 2020 comes to an end, please remember to stay safe and look out for one another. Moving forward, we must commit ourselves to do better and be on the right side of history.
Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!
Please continue to stay safe.