"We began this three years ago as a way of signaling a new direction," township manager Christopher Schultz said last week. "We had a new council, and we'd just come out of a referendum that dealt with some of our big financial issues, and we felt we needed a forum for residents about how local government operates."
In April 2012, residents of this scenic and staunchly Republican town voted 57-43 to approve a significant tax increase needed to start paying off a $6 million deficit. The massive debt had accumulated steadily for half a decade but was concealed by what newly elected officials denounced as "accounting gimmickry."
Over the years, the community with a population of 23,000 had acquired a new fire hall, upgraded another, bought a $660,000 turf field, greatly expanded the police department, and incurred high legal bills, all with little or no tax increase.
Late in 2011, Mayor Chris Myers also resigned after photos appeared linking him to time spent at a motel with a prostitute.
"We want to turn the page on all that," said Schultz, who noted that Philadelphia Magazine had several years ago rated the semirural and lake-dotted town as the best in the Greater Philadelphia area. "We want to get the good feel back."
The eight sessions, which will alternate weekly with township council meetings, will explore such topics as emergency services, land use, municipal finance, and taxes.
"When we explain emergency services, we'll have the fire and police chiefs on hand, as well as volunteers," Schultz said.
Taxes are a particularly vexing topic for residents, he said, many of whom don't understand the intricacies of how taxes are collected and distributed, and how heavily state law regulates the process.
"We have people paying late and asking [that we give] a break" on the penalties, Schultz said, "but the law doesn't let us. They're surprised to learn that about 90 percent of what a town government does is dictated by statutory provisions."
Members of township council and various boards and commissions will lead or participate in most sessions, which will start at 7 p.m. and last about 21/2 hours.
The sessions are free but limited to about 25 people. Participants must be Medford residents or business owners 18 or older, and must register in advance. Most events will be held at the Public Safety Building, but some programs will include tours of other facilities.
Participants are being asked not to come with complaints about municipal services or to discuss individual needs.
"We're hoping to offer a global perspective that helps people understand what we're doing and why," Schultz said.
Further information is available at the council-managers page on the township's website at www.medfordtownship.com, or by e-mailing Schultz at firstname.lastname@example.org.