Tonight, we’re live at Hopewell Valley Central High School for the Hopewell Valley League of Women Voters’ Hopewell Township Municipal “Candidates Night” candidate forum. Keep refreshing this page to find out what is happening minute to minute.
*This has been edited to improve flow, correct typos, and add additional TV airing information.
Introduction by Joann Held and introduction of candidates: Ron Ceflone, Kevin Kuchinski, Vanessa Sandom, TIm Shaub
CANDIDATE OPEN STATEMENTS
Ron Cefalone: Introduces himself, interest in politics, his willingness to serve and his family background teaching him about commitment, hard work and determination. Works for a non-profit with people with development disabilities and views this also a service-based opportunity; Wants to work collaboratively with surrounding boroughs
Kevin Kuchinski: Introduces himself, vision for better Hopewell Township with a challenge of maintaining the character; Congratulated running mate; Need concrete ideas – has experience and success with concrete solutions in his professional business as well as his volunteer experience in the community; wants to reduce burden of property taxes
Vanessa Sandom: Introduces herself, has lived in Hopewell Township for over 27 years, has related educational and professional experience; Why is she seeking another term? 1) running with Kuchinski who shares her vision and believes she’s done a good job to make the Township more affordable, lowering taxes, and increasing open space and 2) confident that she and Kuchinski can come up with solutions that will strengthen community (affordable housing and community initiatives including animal shelter)
Tim Shaub: Introduces himself, has been in the area his life; Has an understanding of the values of residents and their issues and concerns; Career and project and personnel management experience; Will examine the Township programs to relieve burdens on tax payers especially seniors.
QUESTION 1: Some ways that the Township Committee can improve communication with public
Cefalone: Too many barriers that create obstacles; need to have dialogue with neighboring communities; today residents look to see people who wants to become a leader and those leaders listen; things will shut down if we don’t have enough communication
Kuchinski: Has ideas on how to make things more transparent — including new “your voice tool” that will soon be implemented by Township; Wants to take the Township “on the road” more to talk with the voters not just during election time
Sandom: Agrees with Kuchinski; updating the website now that has all the related documents so the Township is updating that soon
Shaub: Township should share services with neighboring communities with open dialogue
QUESTION 2: Taxes and Spending: What will you do to help Township make wise choices within 2% cap
Kuchinski: Need to explore ways to make the Township more affordable; said Sandom has kept this low and saved tax payer money; Will intensify cost cutting focus to lower taxes and/or improve services; Will explore opportunities to merge positions; “Your Voice” tool will get feedback; Work with school district re: vehicles
Sandom: Small discretionary spending – so when talking about 2% tax rate, already cut to bone and not a lot of fat left although still saving taxes by streamlining and consolidating departments and jobs
Shaub: Functions of government are safety and health; Talked about needing to make sure the Township even just picks up the trash
Cefalone: One of the vital areas – Steve Sweeney wants to see a 0% cap in local government
QUESTION 3: School budget makes up the majority of the taxes
Sandom: Schools do make up the vast majority of the taxes; We are fortunate to have excellent schools which keeps the property values high; Township doing a lot of things with schools and are talking about co-locating buses with Township trucks and moving headquarters near the municipal building; sharing activities and facilities; thinks there is a great relationship with the district
Shaub: Wants to get back to the basis – Township should coordinate with the school district to make sure budget meetings aren’t the same evening so residents can be at both places to participate
Cefalone: Looking at the tax bill – thinks it is vital to create dialogue with school board; wants to partner with services
Kuchinski: schools are an asset in HoVal and has been working with Hopewell Value Education Foundation to do more without using tax payer monies — looking for new initiates etc
QUESTION 4: Providing Services for Seniors: What gaps in services to you see and how can Scotch Rd address the needs
Shaub: One of the things that the seniors talk about is being forced out of the township because of the increase in taxes and many of them are on fixed income; A senior center has been promised but there still is not anything: It is a need but we need more than that — need a community center where seniors and youth could be together in a joint facility; Talked about plans for a YMCA going back many years and a senior center
Cefalone: One of the key elements is transportation which is vital for developmentally disabled; When seniors get to the age where they are not confident to drive, there should be transportation opportunities
Kuchinski: Would support Scotch Rd senior center but also there is a need for affordable housing for seniors
Sandom: Capital Health is taking the Scotch Rd facility to their board this month and then Township going to planning board next month on this issue
Kuchinski’s question to Cefalone: How would you meet the Township’s affordable housing obligation?
Cefalone: The number (the COAH obligation) that Kuchinski threw out is a hefty number; Spoke about Ewing’s success in affordable housing; Not happy about what happened in Pennytown and thinks he would do more due diligence on how money will be spent and where the projects are
Sandom’s Question to Cefalone : There is no 11% tax hike and the budget has gone down – wants to know why this faulty claim continually arises
Cefalone: Last year, the county administration proposed a greater than 11% tax hike; He says that to his credit he looked out for all Mercer County residents; Wants more due diligence before budgets are rolled out
TIM’S QUESTION: Passed
Cefalone’s Questions for Kuchinski: Kuchinski indicated that the senior center will be on Scotch Rd, Cefalone is confused about where a senior center fits there
Kuchinski: Supports a senior center and wants to work for that being a priority; There have been no public deliberations that he is aware of but, as a member of governing body, he wants concrete solutions
QUESTION: A lot of discussion about development in the Township — Pennytown, Scotch Rd, the circle — what basic principals would you use?
Vanessa: Township crafted a master plan in 2002 that has had a lot of alterations over the years which gives direction about where and what kind of development should happen throughout the Township; This master plan is informed by where there is sewer/service area and that is where the development must be concentrated; the master plan provides a guideline where there should and should not be development; the master plan is updated every 7 years and is due for an update soon; hope that all the development is guided based on those
Tim: Traffic on RT31 needs to be consideration
Cefalone: Scarce sewer/service and Pennytown doesn’t have this either; Wants to know why this purchase was rushed
Kuchinski: Need to fight against nonsensical COAH obligations which are too much and would change the rural character of the Township; believes the development should be limited and sewers should not be extended
QUESTION: Please elaborate on how COAH would influence development
Tim: Talked about Pennytown where there is no water and no septic; Should be a COAH appeal when the requirements are too high and further steps should be taken to have the area compared with Sourland Mountain areas
Cefalone: COAH has to be thought out; You can’t come to one location and drop the properties; need to be thought out and built out property
Kuchinski: maintain rural character; sees Pennytown as a possible solution with sensitivity to the neighbors; a nonprofit is already lined up to get 70 houses out of the way
Sandom: Talked about fighting with COAH since 2008, it is a constitutional mandate
QUESTION Re: Scotch Rd development
Cefalone: Important to create viable plans that are unrushed; need smart interstate development right near the interstate highway; need a thoughtout process with an economic component attached to it
Kuchinski: Wants to hear more about the proposed development as well as the final COAH obligations; Wants to vigorously debate the issues and this must be guided by master plan that prevents extension of sewers
Sandom: Upcoming public hearing re: Scotch Rd; Talked about the Watershed requests; Need to learn from residents about what their concerns are; Wants public to come out to the public hearings
Shaub: Destroying the environment – should take COAH to court because this is unfair to the tax payers and destroy the environment
QUESTION: How does the lack of municipal sewers figure into the principals and should the Township do more to provide sewer to residents
Kuchinski: protecting the rural character and have fought sewer expansion with Sandom and Lester; does not think the Township should overturn the master plan; there are miles of rolling farmland, hills and vistas that make this area special; don’t think we need to develop Township
Sandom: There is a waste water management plan and Township should not extend sewers beyond that
Shaub: Concerned about amending the master plan and also concerned about developer suits
Cefalone: Folks are leaving town in a high number and will bring tax money with them
Shaub QUESTION: Debris pick up and Pennytown – wants to know how Township residents will be safe
Answer Vanessa: Pennytown was 5-0 decision both Democrats and Republicans; 3 years later no decisions had been made; 2013 when she became mayor, with another unanimous vote, no development; another unanimous vote to get Conifer to put in affordable homes; the decision is on hold b/c of a split committee about whether to proceed with Pennytown location — this is on agenda next week. People deserve to know what is happening in their neighborhood; 2008-20014 is a long time and it wasn’t rushed at all.
Cefalone QUESTION: Looking at the campaign race literature, Cefalone says that he saved county tax payers from 11% to 0%, and thinks Hopewell township is in danger; Said Sandom was a hefty taxer
Sandom: The fact that Township has the lowest equalized tax rate in the county show not a heavy taxer and the budget this year was less than last year; Even with the fact that township has done everything to streamline operations, there is only so much to do when you are talking about .5 cents… Looking at discretionary funds – but that is senior and recreation services; only 13 cents on a dollar that the municipality spends; things township is doing a good job
Kuchinski QUESTION to Cefalone: Questioned Cefalone’s statement about needing to “build out Township to true capacity”
Cefalone: In his business, he thinks it is vital to look back to see where tax payer dollars can be saved; “Built out properly”…. school budget … have to be smart in every area we have to develop; We need ratables and development and smart development to the corridor along the interstate.
QUESTION: Open Space Levy on Township
Shaub: Thinks the current rate is good; Thinks the Township has problem managing the open space Township has – the open space is tumbleweeds; any tax increase won’t help
Cefalone: A fan of purchasing open space, grew up with a cousin who had a farm where he picked up pheasants; need to be smart about what we do when we purchase open space; do not need to make quick decisions but smart decisions
Kuchinski: Hopewell Township residents have shown they want open space; it protects the water quality and maintains the rural character; supports the preservation of open space and urges voters to vote YES to both the state and Township questions on the ballot
Sandom: Said that individual residents have the right to determine whether they want to increase tax for themselves; always believe in giving voters a choice
QUESTION: Role of township committee in overseeing Penneast pipeline plans; are there actual to influene the plan
Cefalone: Every decision needs to be a smart decision; Does not want the pipeline; Talked about his cousin’s death about well water contamination; It will cost town millions of unforeseen dollars if the pipeline comes in
Kuchinski: Strongly opposes the pipeline and has publicly spoken out; starting fight as a formal opposer
Sandom: Both Sandom and Kuchinski on record of opposing this; Vehemently against the pipeline; Needs to get municipality to combine efforts
Shaub: Congratulations the Township Committee for taking this stance; concerned about the million gallons of fuel oil coming through the Township; need to take this as seriously as the pipeline
QUESTION: What should the Committee do to make the Township as sustainable place to live?
Kuchinski: Township has done a lot already; Green Team and strong environmental committee already; Reach out to local organizations that education people and build sustainable practices — spoke about Stonybrook Millstone Watershed Associations and FOHVOS encourages people to work with them; need to work to make the Township more affordable
Sandom: Talked about environmental groups and Capital Healths’ environmentally sensitive facility
Shaub: Talked about concerns about protection of the people from an oil disaster; if a disaster happens, the environmental issues will be not where we want it to be.
Cefalone: Keep hammering home that every decision must be smart and effective, and everything has to be done in a smart approach to save tax payer dollars
CLOSING STATEMENTS – they spoke quickly so author did not not adequately capture these; please read candidates’ websites or watch the aired forum (details below)
Shaub: Distinct choice to stay with current policies or reinvigorate the Township; safety personnel best practices energy management as to offer; talked about fall colors and Township changes which is the gem of NJ that should the protect from urban sprawl
Sandom: saved taxes and shared services; lowest tax rate in Mercer County; talked about one party rule and demonstrated records
Kuchinski: protecting water and building strong community through effective gov’t; make Township affordable; leaders who are not afraid to protect environment with concrete solutions w/ more affordable
Cefalone: speaking from the heart asking people to elect candidates who will make smart decisions; the community and educators has helped shape his daughter; bringing integrity and passion
THE FORUM WAS TAPED BY HVCHS STUDENTS AND WILL BE AIRED ON 2 CABLE STATIONS – STATEION 19 ON COMCAST AND CHANNEL 32 ON VERIZON. Broadcasting will begin on Sat Oct 18 and air M,W,F, Sun at 10AM, 5PM and 10PM and T,Th,Sat at 1PM and 7PM.
Author disclosure: For the purpose of full disclosure, Mary Galioto is the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Chairperson. The author attempted to accurately capture the answers with political neutrality and urges readers to watch the forum at the above times.
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