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STONE HARBOR – The Borough Council of Stone Harbor inched closer to extending the moratorium time for newly-paved streets. The discussion took place May 2.

Currently the moratorium stands at five years, a period during which a recently paved roadway may not be opened by utility companies and others seeking to place or adjust under road infrastructure.

While discussion has focused on as much as a 10-year moratorium, the council seemed to be settling on a two-year extension, moving from five to seven years.

Borough Solicitor Marcus Karavan said that he had found no statutory prohibition for a moratorium longer than five years, but he had also found no municipalities that had gone beyond the customary five years.

The argument for a longer moratorium in Stone Harbor is based on the seasonal nature of the community. “This isn’t Cherry Hill,” said Council President Karen Lane.

She and others maintain that roads in the borough do not get five years’ worth of use in a five-year period due to the small local population during the winter months.

Preserving the taxpayers' investment in the roads for a longer period makes sense, advocates argue.

The major concern that leads most municipalities to limit moratoriums to no more than five years is that a longer period might dampen investment in a community, discouraging the pursuit of new projects and development.

Again council members argued that the borough is already placing infrastructure under roadways that allow for connection of new homes and businesses without the need to open the streets.

While some forms of subdivision developments might require more infrastructure than is in place, the feeling was that such occurrences are rare and not something on which to base policy.

There was concern that any tweaking of the ordinance regarding the moratorium should also concentrate on borough expectations for restoration when utilities and others do open a street.

Consensus appeared to be building for a requirement that the full block is repaved rather than a patch in the area of the opening.

Campaign Promises Redeemed

When Judith Davies-Dunhour, Mantura Gallagher, and Charles Krafczek ran for their present borough positions last year, the campaign was largely one that stressed greater transparency and improved efficiency in local government.

The distorting effect of a strong backlash against recently altered Atlantic City Electric infrastructure components also played its role, but the campaign focus was transparency and efficiency. 

Press reports from Washington have focused recently on the first 100 days of a new administration.

In Stone Harbor the new administration is just past that mark since its January reorganization and the attempt to deliver on those campaign promises is evident with each passing month.

Discussion at this work session was on moving the largely private committee meeting structure to a quarterly meeting. 

This committee structure is where a council member chair and two colleagues have long managed council’s relationship with department heads.

Those advocating change say that the traditional monthly meetings of the committees are inefficient and don’t aid in making government more transparent.

“We have 72 such meetings a year,” said Davies-Dunhour, “involving the administrator, council members, department heads and support personnel. Many on council and the public don’t know what is being discussed.”

She said that she had a personal interest in this issue because ‘The mayor is not on any of these committees and that’s 72 meetings a year I miss.”

The plan is to rely more on Borough Administrator Jill Gougher to resolve issues with department heads, and only resort to the committee structure when needed. 

Such a plan also promotes more use of the public work session as a forum for council’s discussion of issues before their reaching the level of formal action at a business meeting.

These work sessions, held twice a month, were first introduced by Lane when she assumed the position of council president in 2016. They have since grown as the structure for the full council to hear reports from various committees and department heads as well as a forum for discussion.

New discussions are also focusing on video feeds that would allow residents and second home owners to see the governing body’s meetings on a YouTube channel.

The model council is considering is one used in Lower Township, where a video record of the meetings is available the next day on YouTube.

Cape May provides access to its meetings via a streaming application in which the meetings are available live while they occur as well as posted for later viewing.

The change in committee structure is also considered as an efficiency move.

Proponents of a change argue that the current system ties up numerous borough staff for long periods. Gougher said that the change would allow her to concentrate on long-range planning issues instead of attending all of the committee meetings as she has been doing.

Moving things to the forum of the public work sessions, adding video review for the public, reducing an inefficient and extensive private meeting structure, keeping the full governing body involved in the review of administrative affairs, increasing a focus on the long term, and taking steps to free up meeting time for department heads and borough administrative personnel.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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