My Years as Mayor

 

Originally published in the Allentown Messenger, Albert Robinson’s open letter to the residents of Allentown upon his relinquishing his duties as mayor after __ years follows.  Longtime principal of the High School, Robinson reminisces about his many years of service.

 

Allentown, N.J.                                                                       January 1, 1934

 

To the People of Allentown:

 

I have never sought public office, and yet for a third of a century I have occupied your highest municipal office and held direction of its affairs.

 

I am now surrendering it, and I invite you to join me in a brief review of those eventful years that have brought us to the Allentown of today.

 

It was back in the 90’s, when our little borough had not long been organized and was scarcely on its feet, that I was induced to accept the office of Mayor and shoulder its many cares and responsibilities, then all unforeseen and destined to continue through so many years.

 

The Allentown of that day had many peculiar attractions long since passed away. Its handsome trees were proverbial, lining both sides of all streets and spreading their welcome shade throughout the town, but alas! the woodsman’s axe was not spared. The trees were topped and mangled, and later the electric lines have about completed their ruin.

 

Another attraction was our quiet, peaceful remoteness from the bustling activities of the outer world. It was said in those days that Allentown was “four miles from everywhere and next door to nowhere.” There were no railroads, no trolleys, in fact we were supreme in our isolation, but now how changed all this! The telephone, the radio, the automobile have brought us to the very center of things and we now touch elbows with the world.

 

But there were some things not so attractive in those olden days. In bad weather our streets and sidewalks were proverbially beds of mud, but to-day our streets are all improved highways, and our sidewalks paved in concrete.

 

The past thirty years have brought many changes and improvements to Allentown, as they have to other places, but for the precursor and strongly influencing factor in much of our betterment was that of the Allentown Messenger, which, since its coming in 1903, has courageously promoted every good work, every forward-looking enterprise in our midst. In 1903 a change in the school law separated us from the township and threatened our High School movement, but the Messenger valiantly took up the defense and aroused a public sentiment that brought us back into the township.

 

The Messenger has always been friendly to the schools, always a dependable supporter of every uplifting movement in the community. Try to realize what Allentown would be if the Messenger should now drop out of our life. Surely then “blessings would brighten as they took their flight.”

 

At the very outset, before taking office, I consulted some friends about the matter and they urged my acceptance in the interest of certain public improvements long sadly needed. Among these advisors was our esteemed friend, the late lamented cashier of the Farmers National Bank, Mr. Elmer E. Hutchinson.

 

Soon after installation I issued a call for a mass meeting of our citizens to consider the question of a public water supply for the Borough. I was made chairman of the meeting, which was well attended, a civil engineer having been brought from New York City to render any needed explanations. The vote which followed an interesting discussion was a strong endorsement of the proposition. But, naturally, there were no objections; we were “treading untried paths,” “facing bond issues that might never end.” Obstacles were placed in the way, and for the time that matter was dropped.

 

But in 1904 we took it up in another way. This time it was brought before Council with the plea that a public water system would reduce our insurance rate and that it need not-cost a very large sum.

 

Council was divided on these points, so I appointed two committees to investigate these claims and report their findings to Council. Mr. Albert Nelson, chairman of one committee, reported having met the underwriters, and that they had promised reduction in rates according to the amount of fire protection provided, and Dr. Emley, chairman of the other committee, reported having visited several municipal water plants established at moderate cost and that they were more than self-sustaining.

 

After considerable hesitation, Council provided for a popular referendum and a moderate bond issue, and the result was a strong public support for the project.

 

Immediately preparations for it were under way. But the necessary planning and the “law’s delay” in the requirements of advertising and settling the bids for the various contracts consumed so much time that when it came to putting in the mains, the cost of piping had greatly increased beyond our estimate, so that a small additional bond issue would be necessary.

 

The engineering, the trench work and the laying of the mains as well as the standpipe had all been contracted for, the power house had been built, the dam was under construction, and the trenches were being opened for the mains, when a number of objectors warned us not to proceed a step further. “The people would not stand for it, nor vote any more bonds.” I demurred at this and expressed our determination to proceed as far as the means provided for everything but the engine and the pump, and these I refused to accept until the means should be provided for their payment.

 

The next spring the additional bonds were unanimously voted and the installment completed. The plant was soon on a paying basis, but in a few years the increasing demands and the State’s filter requirements made enlargement at the power house necessary. This was planned by a well-known expert civil engineer, Mr. Nicholas Hill, consulting engineer for New York City.

 

From that time, with the new filtering and later the chlorinating processes, our water plant has met all requirements and has continued to pay its way. It has resulted in a much improved fire protection, an efficient fire company, and the reduction of our insurance rates, to say nothing of its value in the homes, the protection against fire and the improvement of the lawns.

 

In the meantime, Mr. Hutchinson came forward with another utility proposition. This time it was an electric system, mainly for light in our homes and streets and business places. It would not require a very expensive outlay, would be very convenient, and would be a source of some profit. So consulting some electric experts, it was decided to ask the people for a small bond issue for the purpose. This was readily granted. The plans provided for the direct current system with storage battery equipment to save engineering expense and avoid the dangers of high voltage. Again it found that the first estimates were too low and that a small additional bond issue would be necessary. This too was readily granted. This was in 1912.

 

The light system was at once very popular and the demand for current kept increasing until finally it outgrew the capacity of the storage equipment, and after several battery renewals, which were quite expensive, it was found that increasing business meant increasing loss and something had to be done. We turned to Public Service and invited them to bring their lines from Yardville, but they were not ready to do this.

 

The next step was to fall in line with the enlargement of the water plant and get a new engine and a new gas producer and an additional engineer and supply current without limit to all customers. For this purpose a new bond issue was floated. This was our fifth bond issue, and the people were patient. The first and second were for water, the third and fourth for light—all 4 per cent term bonds, maturing on or before 1942. We had been paying off these bonds pretty rapidly until 1918, when a Sinking Fund Commission became necessary, and then we kept paying into the Fund until the electric plant was sold.

 

This fifth bond issue was composed of serial bonds at 4 ¾ per cent,  $1,000 coming due each year. We were then prepared to meet all demands for light and power. However, about 1923, Public Service notified us that they would bring their lines to us by way of Hamilton Square and Robbinsville and would sell us current at wholesale so that we could make some money. We accepted their terms, but our transmission lines had to be made over for the A. C. high voltage current. This required another bond issue, our sixth and last, which was at once granted. They too were serials at 4 ¾ per cent, $1,000 due yearly. We then commenced to make some profits.

 

Thus it may be seen that up to this time our electric system with its frequent “ups and downs” experienced rather rough sledding , while the water system with its low rates has generally paid its way, even helping to carry the light deficits.

 

However, in the summer of 1929, Public Service made us what seemed a tempting offer for the purchase of our electric system and since this would lift all our indebtedness, we felt we ought not refuse it, and we asked for an expression of the people through a referendum. They voted to sanction the sale, but in the meantime we became convinced that the price was too low, and we were not legally bound by the referendum, we decided not to complete the sale.

 

The matter was in litigation for two years, when an additional offer was made. We considered this a fair offer, so the sale was completed and the proceeds were placed in the hands of the Sinking Fund Commission to liquidate our outstanding bonds. This litigation yielded us a virtual increase of $18,000, for we retained the profits of those two years.

 

Since that time, the Sinking Fund Commission had paid off all the term bonds and all but $7,000 of our outstanding bonds. These are serial bonds not yet due, and they also have been provided for by depositing for the purpose the necessary funds in the savings department of the bank.

 

Thus virtually our entire debt is lifted, while there remains in the savings account several thousands of dollars as an emergency fund for the water system (see last year’s audit). Thus these utilities have more than paid for they have cost the municipality, and the water system continues with its balances on the right side of the ledger. And now, thanks to Public Service, we have their gas brought to our very doors, and we may in the future live like other folks in the enjoyment of modern improvements.

 

So much for the utilities. Now let us consider the schools. Previous to 1910, these had no official High School standing, though for several years  before this our graduates received High School recognition by Rutgers and by the State Normal School.

 

Now our teaching force has been increased and we were officially registered as a two years High School. But our ultimate goal was the four years High School, and soon after the coming of our former supervising principal, Mr. F. A. Ebert, active plans were under way for reaching this goal. A site for the new High School was secured in 1923, the building was completed in 1924, and the four years High School was in full operation in 1925.

 

Thus have the fond hopes and high ideals of our people been realized in this splendid institution in our midst. Thus have the people of Upper Freehold shown by their works their liberal attitude towards education and the wisdom of their sacrifices toward this end by banking their treasure where moths do not corrupt.

 

And for all this we owe very much to Mr. Ebert, whose excellent skill in organization and fine executive ability were equal to the task. The Allentown High School will ever be a worthy and fitting monument to his memory.

 

Of course all this has increased our local school taxes, but these are the sacrifices you are making for our young people, and for the ultimate welfare of the State. You are getting “value received,” and you have already passed the high mark of this taxation.

 

Indeed Allentown is not heavily taxed, as compared with other places. Out of fifty taxing districts, we are one of the three lowest. These three are Shrewsbury Borough, Upper Freehold and Allentown. The average rate in the county is $4.07 on the $100. Ours is $2.73, but our municipal rate is very small. It has been decreasing for several years, and is now but 57 cents on the $100.

 

Few boroughs in the State have so low a municipal rate; few townships can make so good a showing if they, like we, pay for extensive street lighting and fire protection.

 

Now, as I have said before, this desirable condition has not just happened. The credit belongs to your governing body, over which I have had the honor of presiding for more than thirty years. Of course in all these years the personnel of the Council has kept constantly changing, but there has been at all times a consistent aiming toward the desirable condition above mentioned. These men have been unduly criticized for whatever they have done of left undone. This is the American way, and when criticism is genuinely constructive it is helpful in the bettering of things, but when otherwise it tends to discourage good men from taking office.

 

When I became Mayor of the Borough, the Council was largely composed of elderly men near the seventy mark. They were fit, reliable men of sterling integrity, of good judgement, devoted to the interests of the Borough, and holding its purse strings with a firm grip.

 

However, lack of their enthusiasm for our utility propositions caused many to feel that younger men should fill their places, and gradually replacements were made of such until in time the greater part of the Council consisted of younger men, many of them old students from our school. These were active men of good judgment, liberal toward all necessary expenditures, but for all their else holding the purse strings, like their elders, with a firm grasp. Never in all the years of the my connection with the Borough Council have I known them to be extravagant in public expenditure, but, on the contrary, they have continuously persisted in the policy of keeping our taxation within proper limits. Let us give them credit for this.

 

Now in this rather prosy, somewhat historical outline, I have attempted nothing more then to help you visualize more fully some of the various stages of our development during the past three decades.

 

We may have lost something of the old-time charm, something of the peculiar pleasure of our former extreme isolation; but we have gained immeasurably in the comforts and value of living, and in the hopeful outlook for the coming years.

 

“But this—it seems as if this day might be

The day we somehow always thought to see,

And that should come to bless us past the

            scope

And measure of our farthest reaching hope.”

 

Much more could be said of other lines of progress with which I have had less intimate connection, but for the present I shall be satisfied if I have helped you to realize how and why our Allentown is living in a better day.

 

In conclusion, permit me to express to you my grateful appreciation of the long continued and generous support which you have given my administration of your affairs, and let me wish for you that 1934 may be a happy new year. May all the years that follow deal kindly with you, and may you ever keep Allentown in the line of progress, so that the betterment of to-day may be as forward steps toward greater things for the morrow.

 

Sincerely,

A. Robinson, ex-Mayor