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Veterans clinic opens in Camden

Veterans clinic opens in Camden
By Matt Katz, Inquirer Staff Writer

The health campus in downtown Camden continued its expansion yesterday, as officials announced the creation of a new medical clinic for military veterans.

Come spring, veterans in the Camden County area will no longer have to travel to Philadelphia, Fort Dix or Sewell in Gloucester County for physical and mental-health services.

Instead, they will come to Camden, which is fast becoming South Jersey's medical hub. A new Cooper University Hospital patient pavilion will open this week, and there are plans for a medical school across the street from the veterans clinic.

"Coming here is going to be a delight," said Bob Richter, a veteran from Oaklyn who attended the announcement ceremony in the lobby of Cooper's new $220 million pavilion.

The clinic will occupy more than 5,000 square feet on the first floor of a Cooper parking garage on Broadway, around the corner from a public transportation hub.

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs will rent the space from the Camden County Improvement Authority, the economic-development wing of the county government that built and owns the $33 million garage.

When the garage opened in September 2007, county officials announced plans to put stores on the ground floor in an effort to make blighted Broadway more pedestrian friendly.

Officials said yesterday the clinic does not represent a change in strategy or abandonment of that plan.

"An opportunity presented itself to occupy the space with a service beneficial to both the county and veterans," said Louis Cappelli, county freeholder director. "We were open to any idea."

Opening next to the veterans clinic will be a therapy center run by NovaCare Rehabilitation.

"We left our options open all along the way," said James Blanda, the authority's deputy executive director. "We were trying to find the best use there, and I think we got that."

About 10 percent of the space has yet to be leased, he said.

The clinic will focus on mental health and primary care, and the staff will include two doctors and two nurse practitioners.

New federal guidelines allowed the VA to open an annex to its main West Philadelphia facility, which is operating above capacity, said Richard S. Citron, director of the Philadelphia VA's medical center.

New veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are not straining these services, Citron said. Instead, aging Vietnam War-era soldiers are increasingly seeking treatment for chronic conditions.

"We've taken on the role of family physician for many veterans," he said.

About half have minimal to no medical insurance, and at the VA facilities they pay little for co-payments.

The lease has yet to be officially signed, so officials did not release financial details of the agreement. The facility is scheduled to open in the spring.

Officials said the credit for bringing the clinic to Camden goes to James Beach, the Camden County clerk who is expected to replace State Sen. John Adler after Adler is sworn in as a Democratic congressman next month. "What we've done is fill another storefront to help make Broadway the thriving thoroughfare it once was," said Beach.

Read the rest of the article online at philly.com

Camden to put records online

Camden to put records online
By Deborah Hirsch, Courier-Post Staff

CAMDEN — After nearly four years of set up, more than half a million dollars in state grants and thousands of scanned documents, Camden employees and the public will soon be able to access city records online.

The city installed a digital records system in order to save money and make it easier to get to needed documents, said municipal clerk Luis Pastoriza. Nine other municipalities in the county will plug into the city's server.

"Rather than paying for nine duplicate systems, you're paying for one," said Sean Curry, who administers the state's Public Archives and Records Infrastructure Support, or PARIS, grants. "It's the way to do it."

The state has awarded $83.3 million in grants for local governments to digitize records since 2005. The funding comes from fees collected for recording documents such as deeds and mortgages. All of the projects involve sharing services, whether staff, storage or hardware, Curry said.

"This is really, really working," he said. "Governments are now starting to talk to each other."

Cherry Hill, for example, has partnered with Merchantville and Gloucester Township to make digital copies of planning, zoning, financial, code-enforcement and building inspection records.

Though digital documentation systems are now becoming common around the state, Camden was the first to be certified to convert public documents into a digital format, Curry said. The city was honored by the Office of the Secretary of State in October for its efforts to preserve historical records.

Over the past four years, Camden has used $500,355 in grants to purchase hardware and software from docSTAR and Ricoh Americas Corporation. So far, Pastoriza said, city staff has focused on digitizing documents that have the most interest to the public. They've made electronic versions of historical records from the 1800s including city incorporation documents, a city atlas directory and cemetery records. They've also scanned more than 1,000 resolutions and ordinances.

Sometime next year, Pastoriza said, the public will be able to view those documents through a Web site. He said the site might even include a portal to search for records from the other nine participating towns: Collingswood, Voorhees, Pine Hill, Berlin Borough, Audubon Park, Mount Ephraim, Magnolia, Stratford and Hi-Nella.

Read the rest of the article at the Courier Post online.

Cherry Hill set to cut police costs by $100K

Cherry Hill set to cut police costs by $100K
By Adam Smeltz, Courier-Post Staff

The township police department could save as much as $100,000 from its $15 million budget by cutting overtime expenses next year, Police Chief Charlie Jones said this week.

But the change should not mean any reduction in police patrols or availability, he said. Rather, Jones said, the township can achieve the cost controls with a simple fix: new computer software to organize officer schedules more effectively.

"We need it to show us where we're using our time," Jones said. " . . . Basically, it's going to make us more efficient and pinpoint where we can improve" scheduling practices and rebalance officers' work loads.

He said the software, to cost about $38,000, could be in place by February.

Money for the equipment came not from tax dollars, but from funds confiscated in police investigations -- money taken in drug seizures, Jones said. That cash is tagged for police equipment and training.

Messages left for two collective-bargaining units in Cherry Hill -- the Fraternal Order of Police and the Cherry Hill Police Benevolent Association -- were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Overtime expenses overall account for 4.8 percent, or about $740,000, of the annual police budget, according to the office of Mayor Bernie Platt. The mayor has held several public meetings this year to seek resident input on cost controls and new revenue sources.

Still, the township is facing a municipal-property tax increase that could hit 17 percent for the 2009 fiscal year. Mayoral spokesman Dan Keashen said Platt supports the police overtime-reduction effort.

And any savings from those reductions "will go directly toward property-tax relief," he said.

Read the rest of the article at the Courier-Post online.

Cherry Hill goes green to save on taxes

Cherry Hill goes green to save on taxes
By Matt Katz, Inquirer Staff Writer

When Cherry Hill sent out its tax bills this summer for the new fiscal year, many property owners went into sticker shock: The municipal-tax portion had gone up 21.5 percent.

The township hiked taxes after cuts in state aid and increases in health benefits, utilities and contractual obligations, just like almost every New Jersey municipality.

Due, in part, to environmental initiatives undertaken by the township government, tax bills for the second half of the fiscal year, which begins in January, now are expected to show a slight reduction.

Township officials hope that their "green" initiatives eventually will save Cherry Hill's 70,000 residents even more of the other kind of green.

"Everything we're doing is based on conservation," said Dan Keashen, a spokesman for Mayor Bernie Platt. "It's common sense."

Immediate savings have come from RecycleBank, the recycling initiative that began township-wide on July 1. The program triggered increased recycling participation and lowered landfill fees by $200,000 in the current fiscal budget, said Deborah Campbell, Cherry Hill's chief financial officer.

That may translate into just $7 annual tax savings on a home assessed at $140,000, but there are other benefits. The recycling containers are outfitted with bar codes that track residents' usage: The more they recycle, the more "points" they earn for use at area businesses. So far $1.1 million in credits have been distributed.

"People are now being paid to recycle," Keashen said.

Other green initiatives that officials say will yield savings include a mayoral directive to shut down employee computers at the end of each day, a plan to replace broken appliances with those certified as energy-efficient, the consolidation of township newsletters and the installation of a solar panel on town hall.

Read the rest of the article online at philly.com