As the world continues to find itself in unchartered territory, we couldn’t think of a better time to celebrate all the wonderful places that make up South Jersey. From the quaint main streets bustling with activity and sprawling parks crawling with families to the desirable school districts and picturesque neighborhoods where curb appeal comes easy; is there anywhere else you’d rather be?
To put together this year’s Top Towns rankings, we gathered data from the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey Department of Education and the state’s Division of Local Government Services. Using a weighted formula, we combined average property values and taxes, crime incidents reported per 1,000 resident and high school performance numbers consisting of average SAT scores, graduation rates and more. The rankings are further broken down into two categories: big towns (population above 10,000) and small towns (population under 10,000).
Haddonfield once again sits atop the list and it’s certainly earned the recognition. Property values are among some of the highest in the region, the educational system is topnotch and the quality of life and close-knit community offer an idyllic place to call home.
That’s not to say the rest of the towns on the list don’t hold their own. Each is unique in its own way and a destination in its own right. In fact, as we crunched the numbers we found the top five towns on this list were fairly comparable, with only the slightest of distinctions helping to make the difference. That proves that no matter where in South Jersey it is that you call home, you can rest assured you are in the right place.
Top 25 Towns
5. Harrison Twp.
9. Bordentown Twp.
11. Wash. Twp.
12. Cherry Hill
15. Burlington Twp.
16. Mount Laurel
18. West Deptford
20. Haddon Twp.
21. Franklin Twp.
23. Florence Twp.
24. Mount Holly
Top 10 Towns by County
5. Bordentown Twp.
8. Burlington Twp.
9. Mount Laurel
3. Cherry Hill
4. Haddon Twp.
9. Gloucester Twp.
10. Pine Hill
2. Harrison Twp.
4. Wash. Twp.
5. West Deptford
7. Franklin Twp.
Top 10 Small Towns
1. Medford Lakes
3. North Hanover
4. East Greenwich
8. Bordentown City
Looking to Local Leaders
South Jersey mayors discuss how their towns are faring during the pandemic and the plans to reopen and rebuild.
By Liz Hunter
In times of crisis, people look for answers from leaders at all levels, and as the COVID-19 pandemic stretched its way across our state, local officials have been at the forefront of the response.
With business facing hardships, students prohibited from the safety net of their classrooms and residents stuck at home, township mayors are doing their part to help everyone survive and setting plans in motion to bring back a much-needed sense of normalcy in the community. South Jersey Magazine spoke with a few of these mayors to find out what the path forward may hold.
Responding with Resources
Chief among the concerns for mayors in the early days of the pandemic was the importance of transparency. As Gov. Phil Murphy expanded restrictions on certain activities throughout the state, more people wanted to know what this meant for their own neighborhood.
“When this crisis started, we made a deliberate decision to be as upfront and engaged as possible when communicating with our community,” says Jaclyn Veasy, mayor of Evesham. “We wanted residents and businesses to know what was happening, and why. More importantly, we wanted them to hear it from the local officials who they know and trust.”
Centralizing the stream of information has helped prevent confusion. “That decision has allowed our municipality to provide our community the most up-to-date health, safety and economic information from all levels of government,” Veasy continues. “Thanks to these efforts, the vast majority in our community have resoundingly agreed that the restrictions in place have been necessary to protect the health and well-being of everyone.”
Immediately there were local efforts to provide support to at-risk residents and businesses. Moorestown Mayor Nicole Gillespie says her town thought about ways to help its small businesses, seniors and families with children who were now home from school.
“We formed a helpline between the Parks and Recreation Department and the Rotary Club so anyone who needs help getting food can call and we have folks shopping and delivering the groceries,” she says, adding that the organizations are supporting 15 families in town with donated funds. “Others are making efforts, too, like the sports clubs collecting donations for the food bank, and kids making cards for the elderly in our assisted living facilities to help seniors not feel so alone.”
Connecting the community with these resources has been essential, especially for businesses that are suffering. Irwin Edelson, mayor of Mount Laurel, says the town’s hotel industry has been hit hard by the restrictions. “Economic Development Director William Giegerich has been here to help businesses with any needs and has been able to provide loan information offered by the federal government or county,” he says. Mount Laurel has a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 to keep everyone informed.
Small businesses are the backbone of so many towns in South Jersey and efforts to keep them afloat have come from government and regular people.
“A majority of businesses in the district remain shut down and we are concerned about their financial well-being now and in the future,” says Neal Rochford, Haddonfield mayor and commissioner of public works, parks and public buildings. “There’s been a program, Haddonfield Here for Good, a group selling T-shirts with half of the proceeds going to local business owners to help defray the costs of rent and payroll. It’s a helpful grassroots effort. There’s another group that has been ordering pizza and food to be sent to the homes of first responders in town every Friday. Another youth group has packaged lunches for the police and public works department. … There’s a lot of community support.”
Many are helping get the word out about how businesses have adapted. “We’ve made sure to work with the Moorestown Business Association (MBA) and spread the word about which businesses are still open or how they’ve changed,” says Gillespie. “For instance, there’s a luncheonette downtown that never offered delivery but now it is, so we’re helping to promote the creative ways these places are operating and telling people this is a way to not only get great food but also support the businesses.”
Washington Township Mayor Joann Gattinelli sees this as an opportunity for the businesses that always give back to their community to have a turn to receive. From the beginning, she says Economic Development Consultant Nancy Mozzachio was reaching out to the state and county to find out about any and all programs that businesses in town could access. “We’ve been contacting every business individually to find out how they are faring and what we can do to keep them afloat,” Gattinelli says. “At this point we are still placing businesses with programs and helping them through the process of SBA loans and leading them to the right organization. It’s been a lot of boots on the ground and physically getting involved with help and support.”
In Evesham, a newly formed 11-member Economic Advisory Council will provide a coordinated and centralized means where the township can work with local business leaders on economic recovery and stabilization efforts, says Veasy. “We want to do everything we can to support our substantial base of small and family-owned businesses, because we know they’re the most directly affected by this emergency. … The advisory council will also be a key asset in helping the township share information about community development initiatives, identify opportunities for local policy, assist in the preparation of grant and funding applications, and coordinate with other government agencies seeking to support local business.”
What the Future Holds
With the arrival of May, reopening many of these businesses and coming together for town-wide events is on everyone’s mind, but what this looks like exactly is unclear. Every decision has to be made with the public’s best interest in mind, even unpopular decisions, says Gattinelli. “When we closed our town parks, it was an individual municipal decision,” she says. “Once the governor closed the state and county parks, we felt it would have sent more people to our local parks so we had to change our thought process and do it for the good of all.”
“How and when Evesham can reopen relies heavily on when Gov. Murphy decides it’s appropriate to ease the restrictions currently in place,” Veasy says. “As mayor of Evesham, my top priority is and always will be the health and safety of our residents. Our township would also need to closely examine any guidelines the governor provides municipalities for how a phased-in opening could happen.”
Gillespie says people should understand that it’s not going to go from shut down to wide open in one day. “We need a gradual monitoring of what happens,” she says. “I know people are itching to get back to the way things were, and I do think there are some people who will be hesitant when things reopen.”
Annual events that so many people in South Jersey look forward to have been postponed or canceled completely. Rochford says April is usually a big draw as Haddonfield honors Dinosaur Month with a series of events, all of which were canceled. Washington Township’s April shredding event was postponed to November, and a June wine festival is moving to later in the year and the mayor says there have been some discussions about virtual events. Moorestown Day, sponsored by the MBA and usually held in the first weekend of June is canceled, says Gillespie, who adds that the organization is hoping to have the event at the end of summer as a celebration of sorts.
No one is quite prepared to make a call about Independence Day festivities. “We are waiting to see the guidance from the governor about re-opening,” says Rochford. “I am sure we will set up guidance for large crowds. We usually have about 20,000 for our fireworks on July 4, and 100,000 expected for the art and crafts festival in July. We will have to look at those carefully and see whether or not they can be moved farther out.”
Veasy says if current social distancing restrictions are in place on July 4, the Evesham Celebration Foundation is looking into the possibility of having the fireworks during Labor Day. Gattinelli says she would rely on statistical information that’s available at that time before making a decision.
“If we all just do our part, we will get through and come out better than before,” she continues. “Our world has changed and moving forward, we don’t know where it’s taking us but I know as a town, county, state and nation we are more prepared to get through it.”
Click here to subscribe to the free digital editions of South Jersey Magazine.
To read the digital edition of South Jersey Magazine, click here.
Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 2 (May 2020).
For more info on South Jersey Magazine, click here.
To subscribe to South Jersey Magazine, click here.
To advertise in South Jersey Magazine, click here.