Mayor blasts ‘poaching’ of businesses
HAMMONTON - Hammonton Mayor Steve DiDonato and several council members expressed outrage over South Jersey Gas moving its headquarters from Folsom to Atlantic City during the February meeting.
The plan, which would give South Jersey Gas $12 million in state tax credits to make the move, is part of the Atlantic City Gateway Project that also includes Richard Stockton University expanding into the city. The move would cost nearby Folsom its biggest business, as well as the area losing approximately 200 jobs.
According to DiDonato, the county’s own economic study and plan released in September of last year calls for “no poaching” of businesses from other county municipalities.
“Why is your county government allowing the western side of the county to lose a huge business and all the jobs? In my opinion it is a disgrace,” DiDonato said during the council meeting on Feb. 22. “And all the political representatives of state and county think we are sheep and they must slaughter us for their financial gain. They better think again. This is Hammonton and we are not going quietly into the night. We are not going to be bullied.”
DiDonato ridiculed the plan, and seemed especially annoyed that the utility would consider moving to a barrier island where its workers could potentially have trouble making it to work during and after a big storm.
However, county officials claim that they are not funding South Jersey Industries’ move to Atlantic City, and only financing Stockton’s move into the struggling resort. They contend the move was planned prior to the Stockton move.
Hammonton resident and Atlantic County Improvement Authority member Joe Ingemi spoke at the start of the council meeting defending the actions of the ACIA, which is involved in funding part of the Atlantic City Gateway Project.
“ACIA voted to finance Stockton’s island campus,” Ingemi explained. “Not the South Jersey Gas project. Although co-located, it is a completely separate project. It began moving forward prior to the (economic development report) and prior even to Stockton relocating. They were focused on the Showboat at that point.”
He added: “The bottom line is the ACIA is not financing or funding South Jersey Gas’ move to Atlantic City.”
Despite Ingemi’s attempt to explain ACIA’s role in the project, council voted in favor of a resolution opposing the county’s proposal to provide financial assistance to Atlantic City. Hammonton Councilman Joe Giralo, who works for the ACIA, recused himself from the discussion and subsequent vote.
Hammonton Council also approved on second reading an ordinance to establish a Downtown Improvement District, as well as supporting the Eagle Theater’s application for a $300,000 no-interest loan that would be used in a potential deal to buy an adjacent multiple-residence building, as well as do renovations. Giralo was the only councilman to vote no on both ordinances.
Hammonton Town Council also:
•Approved to extend the contract of Business Administrator and Public Works Manager Jerry Barberio, and add to his duties including Airport and Recreation Department Leader. His salary will be at minimum $130,000 and will not exceed $140,000. The ordinance passed with the support of all councilman except for Steve Furgione and Giralo.
•Heard presentation from South Jersey Gas on the remediation project at Lincoln Avenue. The project is expected to start in middle of March. Both representatives from the utility and Town Council said that work would not affect the wells at the site.
• Heard presentation from the Department of Transportation about road project starting on Route 206 after Labor Day. The second phase will include one way traffic while crews work on roads and bridges over Clarks Creek and Sleepers Brook. The project is expected to be completed by sometime in December. Council members took issue that no study was done on the impact of new traffic patterns during construction.
• Held a moment of silence at the start of the meeting for former councilman Anthony DeMarco, who recently passed.
The next scheduled month meeting will be at 7 p.m. on March 21 at Town Hall.