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Following a series of questions about some apparently sharply rising tax bills, and a whole bunch of confusion, Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) has prepared an open letter to the residents of Hopewell Borough regarding the 2015 property tax rates for the year of 2015-2016.  The letter is meant to address rumors that the increase in taxes could be attributed exclusively new spending by the district and the school budget.

For your reference, the most relevant and concise 2015-­2016 budget info impacting the Hopewell Boro tax bill can be found h​ere​.

The total tax levy ($73,601,264) is comprised of two parts – the ​General Fund​($68,841,138) which includes all spending the Board of Education approves for the year and D​ebt Service​($4,760,126), which includes repayment of bonds/debt incurred in previous years. With some exceptions, district actions rarely affect ongoing debt service.

​Slide 7​2015­16 budget info indicates that the General Fund increase of 0.9% represents the lowest general fund increase the district has incurred in our tracked history. Additionally, per s​lide 8​our General Fund increase was also significantly less than increases in neighboring districts.

HB taxpayers bear a much greater increase in their tax rate than the other Hopewell Valley municipalities:

●  Hopewell Borough’s increase was .13 per $100.

●  Hopewell Township increase was .04 per $100, and

●  Pennington Borough increase was .06 per $100.

Finally, this was the single highest increase in Hopewell Boro recent history as shown here:

It seems counterintuitive that if HVRSD spending is not significantly up, that HB taxpayers would absorb its highest increase. Moreover, what explains the reason other Valley municipalities experienced less than half the increase incurred by Hopewell Boro when their taxes are calculated using the same HVRSD budget? Also please note, the General Fund increases in 2009­10 and 2010­11 were 3% and 1.7%, respectively; yet Hopewell Boro residents saw NO increase in the school portion of tax bill in either year. Clearly, district spending is not the only factor that impacts Hopewell Boro’s school tax levy increase number.

The tax levy increase assigned to each municipality is allocated across its tax base. It follows that in the year Hopewell Boro reassessed property values, its tax levy went up. According to Marty Guhl, Mercer County Tax Administrator, Hopewell Boro’s ratables decreased $20,569,400 since the 2014­15 budget.

Applying the math*, flat district spending divided by/decreased (↓​)​ratable base = increased (↑​)​resulting rate. Indeed, Robert Colavita, HVRSD Business Administrator, determined that even if HVRSD general fund spending had been 0.0% instead of 0.9%, Hopewell Borough would have STILL incurred a double­digit tax increase per $100.

Thank you for the opportunity to shed light on this issue. Please contact Robert Colavita at 609.737.4002 with any questions.

Year

2009­10

2010­11

2011­12

2012­13

2013­14

2014­15

2015­16

HB Tax Levy Increase

0.00

0.00

0.05

0.06

0.07

0.04

0.13

Total HB School Tax Levy (per $100)

1.18

1.18

1.23

1.29

1.36

1.40

1.53

* Conversely, 2009 increasing ratables could absorb new spending to net a $0.00 tax levy increase.

“This really isn’t new information,” said Lisa Wolff, HVRSD school board president. “As a matter of fact, the following letter references Dr. Smith’s budget presentation from last April. Often though, people don’t really notice until their new tax bill arrives and that is what happened this time… In late August we began getting inquiries so we discussed the Hopewell Borough tax levy at our September Board meeting and put a follow-up letter on the website.”

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Binghamton and a Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall Law School. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, creative endeavors, and photographing mushrooms. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), holds a seat on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, and is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance.

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