Without a local debate this year, MercerMe asked questions of candidates running for Hopewell Township Committee based on ongoing community issues in the vicinity. The answers in this article have been provided by Republican Todd Brant, who is seeking reelection to Hopewell Township Committee.
What do you view as the most important issue facing the Township for 2016?
In addition to protecting Hopewell Township from high density development, high taxes are the most pressing challenge facing Hopewell residents today. In order to minimize the future tax burden on our residents, we need to be vigilant and lower our debt. We currently pay $150,000 per month ($1,770,000 per year) just to cover the interest for previous purchases, thereby limiting our ability to provide needed services to our residents. As I have been calling out since being on the committee, our Affordable Housing Trust will be eliminated by 2017, and we will be hit with an additional $500,000 expense starting next year. While the Township Committee, which I am part of, has focused on reducing debt and made progress, I believe more can be done. I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for us to be more prudent and fiscally responsible.
What do you view as special about Hopewell Township?
The people. Hopewell has a very diverse set of residents, this makes living here exceptional. From the environmentally passionate, to outdoor recreationalists, to scientists, the list goes on. Hopewell has something for all of us. However, for too long, this diversity has been pitted against one another, seen as voting blocks, and catered to only in the time for votes, rather than the good of the township. I view a primary role of the township committee is to get all of us working together, to search for solutions that make Hopewell Township an even better place to live.
How does your personal and professional background make you uniquely qualified to serve as a Committee member?
My business background leads me to constantly challenge the status quo, and drive for solutions that balance short-term needs while advancing the long-term objective. While serving on the Township Committee for the past three years, I have learned a great deal about the very difficult task of navigating Hopewell Township’s municipal budgets. I have focused on reducing our debt and on challenging the status quo to create a sustainable fiscal management policy. For example, I: 1) challenged us to examine our processes to gain new revenue sources via state and federal grants; 2) worked to create a capital asset management plan; and 3) urged us to create a longer term strategic plan. While progress has been made, there is more work to be done before a truly sustainable fiscal management policy is realized and we return Hopewell to being an affordable place to live and raise our families.
What is your plan to increase community engagement with the issues before the Committee?
First, I feel we should remove the 3 minute time limit enforced by the mayor when a resident wishes to address the committee. Anyone who has ever attended a meeting knows the red clock which starts to click down once they introduce themselves. How can anyone claim they want more engagement from the community when they preside over a meeting, using the timer as a muzzle on our residents while they voice their opinions. Second, we should have term limits on the committee. We want more people to be engaged, yet some committee member seats have been held for over 15 years. Third, our current township website is outdated and difficult to navigate. It needs to be overhauled to enable residents to easily engage, research issues in the township and help us problem solve.
What is your thought about the future plans for a senior center and/or community center?
Part of what makes Hopewell a wonderful place to live is how we bring everyone together – from July 4th fireworks, to parades, to our recreational sports – it’s nice to see your friends and neighbors in a casual atmosphere. I believe a community center would further enable our residents to strengthen these bonds and would like to have a community center in Hopewell Township. However, we’ve been trying to bring a Senior Center to our Township for over a decade. I am concerned that bundling a Community Center with the Senior Center would result in further delays. Hopewell’s seniors have been waiting far too long. Furthermore, the Democrat’s current suggestion is to locate the Community Center/Senior Center near Pennington Circle, which is already congested, and would bring more traffic. I believe it should be more accessible to our residents.
Aside from continuing to advocate for lower affordable housing numbers, what is your solution for satisfying Hopewell Township’s affordable housing obligation? Where would you advocate for the development to be centered?
As a sitting member of the Hopewell Township Committee, I am constrained in my response to these questions due to two pending affordable housing lawsuits involving the township. In one, the township has submitted to the jurisdiction of the court to determine our affordable housing obligation. In the other, Kooltronic has sued the township in an effort to resurrect the Pennytown-Kooltronic affordable housing mega-development. Although our Planning Board has submitted an affordable housing plan to the court in compliance with our Master Plan, it would be inappropriate for me at this time to speak with specifics on this issue and potentially compromise the township’s legal position.
How could Hopewell Township be made more affordable for its residents?
High taxes are the most pressing challenge facing Hopewell residents today. In order to minimize the future tax burden on our residents, we need to be vigilant and lower our debt. As a township, we need to get out of the real estate business, and sell property that was purchased without a clear plan, thereby reducing our debt. While I have focused on reducing debt and made progress, we can do more. By working with our professionals, I developed a shared services guideline program in 2014 which created a fair and equitable manner to negotiate services with our neighboring boros, and have been successful in challenging our departments to seek out state and federal grants for township programs.
What solutions would you suggest for managing traffic through Hopewell Township, in particular on Route 31?
It is unfortunate to see the continuing traffic build on Rt 31, causing all of us to find alternate routes to travel every day. Rt 31 is a State Highway and is out of Hopewell Township’s authority. Even so, I requested the NJDOT to improve the signage at the circle. This would mitigate confusion of northbound travel and keep trucks out of the left lane, making the circle safer to travel. The recent change to the Pennington Circle was completed based on a traffic study the State performed a long time ago. Given the changes our township has seen in the past decade, I feel we should work with the state to update this traffic study, incorporating the affordable housing plan our Planning Board has recently put forth to the court. We need to be proactive, rather than reactive, and look for ways we can meet the needs of our residents and Supreme Court mandates, without further congestion in the southern tier.
What is your position on the PennEast Pipeline and what is your suggestion for combatting its impact on Hopewell Township?
John and I have a perfect voting record in fighting against the PennEast Pipeline, including: 1) banning PennEast from Township lands (2014); 2) John Hart and I led last year’s (2015) initiative to hold a Board of Health PennEast impact hearing, believed to be the first of its kind, that resulted in a resolution declaring the PennEast Pipeline “a significant and unreasonable risk to township residents”; 3) banned PennEast from the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain; and 4) banned PennEast from Township rights-of-way. This year’s Committee, under a Democrat majority, has had no such concrete flurry of activity to fight the PennEast Pipeline. John and I will continue to be adamantly against PennEast pipeline and its infringement on our residents’ property and security.
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