When Dave Fried ran for office in 2005, he wanted to see if his business approach could produce more efficient resource management and a more sustainable tax base for Robbinsville Township.
He scanned the competitive landscape, searching for ways to bring in new rateables. East Windsor and Hamilton had cornered the local major retail market, so Route 130 in the township probably wouldn’t become a major retail destination. But Robbinsville did have some other key ingredients: land, existing infrastructure and proximity to Interstate 195 and the New Jersey Turnpike.
Fried figured warehousing was something the township “could be great at,” and over the past seven years, Mayor Fried and the municipal government has concentrated resources and investments toward that purpose.
During that time, Robbinsville managed to attract McKesson Corp., Grainger, Green Mountain Coffee, Walgreens and—to much fanfare—Amazon.com as local tenants. Fried also took initiatives to reduce overhead by taking over the independent fire district and Municipal Utilities Authority, merging the two under government ownership to the tune of $1 million in savings per year, and eliminating lifetime health benefits for new government hires. The cuts, he says, were the hardest to sell, but have paid off in the long run.
“As I talk to our staff I tell them we have to be sustainable. We’re going to have to do things differently,” Fried said. “And as I talk to them now, and we see towns that are cutting back and doing layoffs, the conversation’s easier. Four and five years ago, when we were having these conversations, no one really believed it. Today it’s become evident. Why? Because as everyone else is cutting back, we’re in really good shape.”
Fried and the Robbinsville administration are looking to leverage this success for the future. Fried used his annual State of the Township address March 7 at the Grainger warehouse facility at Matrix Business Park to delve into what exactly it all means for Robbinsville.
Many of the positive vibes came courtesy of Amazon’s announcement in January it would occupy a 1.2-million-square-foot facility in the Matrix Business Park. Amazon is expected to hire 1,500–2,000 employees at the warehouse, with employees there earning an average full time salary between $50,000-$65,000 per year. There will be an additional 400 temporary employees during the holidays. Amazon will bring in $20 million over the next 20 years, Fried said.
“For a town with a $20-million budget, that’s a really big deal,” he added.
Because of the additional tax revenue Amazon was able to provide, the township was able to cut the tax rate by about 4 percent.
Fried also wants to reinvigorate the struggling Foxmoor Shopping Center by making it the center of the township’s next phase of redevelopment. The first step, he said, is to find a large “anchor” tenant to replace Marrazzo’s Thriftway, which had been struggling since 2006 and closed for good in late 2011.
In conjunction with the Foxmoor focus, the township will continue promoting its Keep It Local program, which launched last year. The program allows shoppers to designate a portion of the money they use to buy local goods and services to a local charity of their choice, in hopes of encouraging additional local commerce.
The township also plans to convert the site where the Robbinsville Police substation formerly stood, down the street from Foxmoor Estates on Washington Boulevard, into a park. Residents have been invited to take an active role in planning the park.
Ron Iarussi, a Tinton Falls resident who owns the Robbinsville-based Lifetime Grands housewares and table top products company, said he is looking forward to the 4 percent real estate tax reduction and the additional business Amazon may bring with it. And while he doesn’t think related trucking traffic will have much of an effect on local traffic, he does wonder whether the local roads can handle the mass of new employee-commuters.
“It will be interesting to see if the current infrastructure can handle the volume,” Iarussi said.
Fried said he also thinks crowding is a potential problem. He had promoted building a bypass between Route 130 and Route 33 to relieve anticipated congestion, but he says the project probably won’t happen.
Fried has twice challenged a state legislated conversion bill that allows the town to turn senior housing into regular residential lots. He said the switch does not provide aid to the municipality to support additions to a public school system he says is already overcrowded and underfunded.
“That’s like offering a drowning man a glass of water,” Fried said.
He added that he plans to challenge the bill in the state Supreme Court.