Four campaign for two seats on New Garden board10/27/2021 09:39AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
To take a broad overview of New Garden Township in the final days of a campaign that will decide the new makeup of the township’s Board of Supervisors on Nov. 2 for the next six years is to recognize a municipality on the cusp of enormous transformation.
After several years of legal entanglement, it sold its crumbling wastewater infrastructure to Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc. for $29.5 million, the profits of which will be allocated in the future to pay for township projects.
Along Newark Road, the township has given the green light to the aesthetic redevelopment of the Toughkenamon Village.
The township is now immersed in a plan to convert the 137-acre Saint Anthony’s in the Hills property – which it now owns – into a sprawling complex of activity and natural preservation.
The township is about to undergo plans for the 105-acre property it purchased earlier this year known as the Loch Nairn Golf Club, and it continues to attempt to meet the developers of a mixed-use residential and business plan known as White Clay Point halfway, all in the name of smart-growth.
Within the huge panorama of this projected progress, the relatively rural design of New Garden Township lay delicate and potentially vulnerable, and the township’s supervisors – Steve Allaband, Kristie Brodowski, David Unger, Pat Little and Mike Loftus – have been charged with the responsibility of being visionaries, gatekeepers and bean counters.
As Loftus campaigns for what could be his second term, he knows that the fabric of the board beginning in 2022 will be slightly different; his colleague Little will not be running again, leaving both one vacancy on the board and the task of securing his own for the next six years.
Loftus has been joined on the campaign trail by fellow Republican Dinamarie Vanover, while on the Democratic side, Avondale neighbors Troy Wildrick and Ted Gallivan are running on a platform of stewardship and sustainability.
To compare the big picture platforms of each candidate is to essentially compare fruits of the same texture and color. On their campaign trail, Wildrick, a data systems manager, and Gallivan, a former auditor and now a chief financial officer in an accounting firm, list increasing trail systems, preserving historic properties, protecting natural lands and improving the township’s emergency systems of operation at the top of their key priorities.
Meanwhile, Loftus and Vanover want to maintain safe communities, preserve open space, spend township money responsibly and protect the township as a place for “happy kids and families.”
“In the next six years, I think the best explanation of where I would like see the township go is where we’ve come, especially in the last six years,” Loftus said. “I think we have a board that works very well together. We have two big pieces of property, but I would like to see more open space preserved.
“I would like to keep the government (of New Garden Township) small and
continue to do what we have been doing. We’ve made huge strides. It’s safeguarding New Garden. It’s investing in projects that are going to remain sustainable. It’s taking a long look at what we want to see.”
Applied experience to the board
Gallivan and Wildrick said that they are using their professional experience as leverage for suiting them for the jobs they are campaigning for.
“Having to manage data centers, particularly with a tight budget, you have to get the most value out of every dollar,” Wildrick said. “When you are maintaining equipment, you can’t just go out and get the full spectrum of services. You usually have to choose based on what’s going to give you the most bang for the buck.
“It’s the same type of mentality [with being a supervisor]. You have to take a complex problem, analyze it and decide the best way to solve it. You have to be smart with resources, because they’re not unlimited, whether it’s a turbine generator or a township’s finances.”
“A big part of what we do is provide internal controls around financial statements, so I think I can add that expertise to the board, especially given that there is no financial expert on the board,” Gallivan said. “I would like to dig in more to better understand what our auditors are doing before they present their audit to the board.
“The devil is always in the details, and I always enjoy looking at the details.”
On the opposing side, Vanover said that she will bring not only her professional experience in managing marketing budgets to the board, but the budgeting work she does in her own household.
“We are a working family with three children and a lot of expenses, and all of that impacts the everyday families of New Garden Township,” she said. “We want people who will still be able to afford to live here. I want to make sure that we maintain that focus, but not to the detriment of the community.
“You have to have all of the right controls in place, understand what we have in the budget, how we use these dollars, and whether they are being used effectively. We need to ask, ‘What do we want to bring into these new areas? Is it supporting the betterment of the community, and is it going to bring the right people into the township?’”
White Clay Point
Added up, the township’s acquisition of the Loch Nairn property and Saint Anthony’s in the Hills amounts to a 242-acre gift for current and future township residents, and Loftus, Vanover, Wildrick and Gallivan all agree that these properties will require proper stewardship from the township board.
Wedged between these two purchases, however, is perhaps the biggest question mark facing New Garden Township’s future, and potentially its largest albatross: the development of White Clay Point, a planned mixed-use community along both sides of Route 41 that is currently being designed by JP Morgan.
If constructed, the complex will include more than 350 residential units, a 222,000-square foot town center dedicated to commercial development, three mixed-use buildings that will be used for retail offices and apartments, a 65,000 square-foot retail food store, a potential 55,000 square-foot indoor training facility and a possible outdoor multi-purpose athletic field.
For those who serve on the New Garden board in the next six years – and for township residents whom they are elected to serve -- managing the progression of this planned development could come down to whether the township will be able to retain some of its semi-rural character, or become a concrete jungle of congestion and commerce, driving long-term residents away and wrecking every reason they had for living there.
For Loftus, it will be a question of whether the important questions will be answered.
“When JP Morgan starts to come in and say that they want to put this in, what does that do to the township, to the police department, to the fire department and fire service and to the projected increased traffic on Route 41?” he said. “As supervisors, we must begin to ask those questions, and a lot of it will depend on constant conversation. We must continue to look for the opportunities that are there and work where we can.
“Some of them will be small wins, and some of them will be bigger.”
Wildrick said that while he is concerned about the potential financial impact White Clay Point will have on the local community, it will bring new vitality to the area.
“It’s a good area in the sense that you are coming from Delaware, so if you’re going to put anything into our community, it’s probably not a bad location because it’s before the heart of New Garden Township.”
Gallivan called the planned development a “gateway” to New Garden Township, but with reservations.
“My biggest fear will be the projected traffic, and the additional drivers [that will stem from increased residences],” Gallivan said. “That stretch of road is pretty dangerous already, and it leads to the turn onto Sunny Dell Road that heads to the Kennett Middle School. It has to be designed in way that traffic flow improves from where it is now, and hopefully we would get the developer to pay for that.”
Fallout from wastewater system sale? Angry residents
As New Garden Township heads into 2022 with what will be a slightly different board, the stickiest wicket on its agenda has also been one of its most profitable. While the approval of the township's sale of its wastewater system to Aqua on Dec. 20, 2020 has led to a financial windfall that has – and will – pay for several future initiatives – those residents now under Aqua’s thumb will likely see their average rates soar. Under the proposals, the average monthly bill for a residential water customer using 4,000 gallons per month would increase by $11.97 (17.3 percent), from $69.35 to $81.32, and the average monthly bill for a residential wastewater customer would increase $18.44 (33.2 percent) from $55.51 to $73.95.
By a vote of 3-0, the Public Utility Commission recently voted to suspend Aqua's proposed water and wastewater rate increases for a period of seven months, in order to first investigate the utility company's annual revenue and rate increase requests, but still, the threat of a rate hike is real for those tied into the system.
Gallivan suggested a resolution in the form of financial support to those users.
“If Aqua is successful in raising rates, I think that there should be some way for sewer users are able to receive a credit to apply against these upcoming bills,” he said.
Loftus, however, continues to support the township’s decision to sell its wastewater system.
“The township did their due diligence before they negotiated the sale,” he said. “I had a conversation with a local businessman, who told me, ‘You never sell an asset.’ [The township’s wastewater system] was an albatross. It wasn’t an asset. It got to be a liability. And there were so many broken lines, that it would have cost the township millions to bring that up to code. Had we not sold it, rate increase would have been higher than what Aqua is projecting.
“It would have been a steep climb, had it not been sold.”
While each of the four candidates is in general agreement that the proper stewardship of the township’s major issues will depend upon fiscal responsibility, Vanover said that a positive future for New Garden Township will be most impacted by an intangible: the engagement of its residents.
“I want people to feel comfortable to share their opinions, if I happen to be elected as a supervisor,” she said. “I think we have an opportunity to make more connections with those in the community -- to get more people involved. We want them to share in the passion that we have for this township. When I sit at that table, I am putting myself in their shoes.
“I came from MBNA, where the slogan is ‘Think of yourself as a customer first.’ That’s my mindset – to always think more about the people involved, not just the families but the retired people as well.”
To learn more about Ted Gallivan and Troy Wildrick, visit WildrickGallivanforSupervisor on Facebook.
To learn more about Mike Loftus and Dinamarie Vanover, visit vanoverloftusnewgardentownshipsupervisor on Facebook.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].