To the Editor:
Letters to the Editor are an important opportunity for the community to voice their opinions and concerns about issues that affect them. The public assumes the information conveyed through these letters to be accurate when in fact sometimes the content is not accurate and is in fact misleading or patently incorrect.
To wit, over the past few months, several letters written by Harvey Lester and others have appeared citing a number of claims which I believe are misleading, so I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
For example, much of last year, letters written by Mr. Lester focused on the Township’s Surplus balance, suggesting the “sky was falling” and implying other issues with our management of Township finances.
Here are the facts: Hopewell Township’s unaudited Surplus balance at the end of 2017 was $10.8 million, which represents a reserve of almost nine months of tax levy revenue and a fund balance that is 35% higher than our past 20-year average. Further, we’ve exceeded the commitments we made on this in last year’s Budget presentation, while once again delivering the lowest equalized municipal tax rate in Mercer County.
In fact, our prudent use of Surplus last year enabled us to reduce the Township’s debt load by almost 10% in just one year. This will pay dividends to Township residents in the years ahead as we lower our interest and debt service costs. Finally, at the end of 2017, Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed the Township’s Triple-A bond rating, citing the Township’s strong financial management practices.
This year, the cause celebre is Affordable Housing, and Mr. Lester and others are once again sounding the alarm on a host of financial issues, including the sale price for the Township land behind the ShopRite on the 31 Circle, known as the Zaitz tract. They falsely claim that the Township “gave away” this tract for only $10,000. Let’s look closer at the facts.
First, the Township retained seven acres of this land for our planned Senior Center and Community Center and Gardens. On the original acquisition price of $5.8 million, this is worth $0.9 million.
Second, Lennar, the redeveloper for this site, has agreed to make an investment in excess of $22 million for on-site and off-site infrastructure improvements that will also directly benefit the planned community area. This translates into $3.5 million in additional value for the Township on the land it retained.
Finally, Lennar has agreed to provide, at its cost, 78 affordable housing units. If the Township had to build these units at taxpayer expense, COAH guidelines indicate it would cost almost $150,000 per unit or $11.4 million, not including the infrastructure costs noted above.
So net, the Township will receive a minimum of $15.8 million in value on its original $5.8 million investment, a return of almost 300%.
And that’s before we factor in the incremental tax revenue we anticipate from this parcel. For perspective, on another smaller project where the financial agreement has been finalized, the Township will bring in $800,000 in new revenue each year when the project is complete. This is equivalent to over 5% of our total municipal levy and is almost as much as our largest employer in Hopewell Valley contributes today.
Some may try to twist the truth or imply otherwise, but when it comes to responsible financial management, we have a proud track record. And we will continue working on your behalf to keep taxes low and to fight for more effective and efficient government.
Kevin D. Kuchinski, Mayor Hopewell Township