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 John Hart, who is seeking reelection to Hopewell Township Committee.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing Hopewell Township?
There are many pressing issues. I had no choice but to vote NO on the Township’s 4.68% budget increase, which must not be repeated. The affordable housing decisions resulted in 1,000’s of new market rate homes and will put pressure on our schools and services. I am not in the majority, but I have focused on the possibility of placing a new Community and Senior Center at the Hopewell Valley Golf and Country Club.
What professional and/or personal skills do you bring to face that issue?
I have served on the Hopewell Township Committee and its various boards and commissions since 1996. I know the town, its environments, its possibilities, and its limitations, field by field, district by district. I have run a farm and a family owned business, Rosedale Mills, for many decades, and my family and I have ties to this community going back centuries to our founders. I have always acted as an independent, not a party hack. I serve because I know and love my community. I know the residents of Hopewell Township very well, and I very much want to preserve the special feeling that all of us have for the Valley.
How could Hopewell Township be made more affordable for its residents?
Our current budgeting process is broken. The 4.68% tax increase this year is the canary in the coal mine. For reasons that make no sense to me, the Township majority eliminated the Budget Advisory Committee, and then failed for the past two years to create my proposed Economic Development Commission in time to assist the budget process. This new commission should include members of the community who understand what it takes to succeed in running a business in Hopewell Valley, but the committee has played politics with its creation and its membership. We need to break free of petty politics and address issues as would any business. I would not succeed in business if I hired employees based upon their political affiliation. It is essential that government attract the most qualified people to help, regardless of their personal political affiliation.
Do you support running sewer lines to parts of the Township that don’t currently have them?
Our sewer service areas are carefully defined and should not be altered without good cause. Many of the homes on small lots, often with failing septic systems, surrounding Pennington, may be able to benefit from the sewer service extensions that the affordable housing agreements will bring. But it is essential throughout to place our highest priority on preserving our local environment, and that means not extending sewer service to areas defined in the Master Plan as environmentally sensitive and stressed lands. The present administration twice voted to extend sewer service to areas that our Master Plan, built on a scientific understanding of water, intended should service no more than one house for every six acres.
How have you addressed PennEast’s plan to build underground gas lines through Hopewell Township?
I have vociferously opposed PennEast from the very first moment that I heard about it. In fact, it was me and my Republican majority that kicked PennEast surveyors off Hopewell owned property while the unanimously Democrat run County allowed them on county owned property. We, the Republican led committee, also had multiple meetings in public with blasting, environmental, and safety experts to help us build our case to defend against this seize. I will continue to to fight against the pipeline. I will continue to do so. Running a new Pipeline through our open space and key environmental tracts is just idiotic. We need to oppose their seizure of public and private lands in the courts, if it comes to that. We have worked far too long and hard as a community to preserve our Valley only to see such mismanagement imposed upon us.
What solutions would you suggest for managing traffic through Hopewell Township, in particular on Route 31?
Twenty years ago, the Hopewell Township Committee assembled an innovative approach to Route 31. They established a process that brought in professionals and residents in a series of very useful, bi-partisan meetings. That effort resulted in a plan that detailed many low- cost improvements for the entire stretch of Route 31. With the Affordable Housing approvals in the southern tier, efforts must now be taken to address the Pennington Circle and that very dangerous stretch of Route 31 in particular.
Since the League of Women Voters decided not to have an actual debate this year, what is one question you would ask each of the candidates from the other party?
Will you please release full financial information on the costs associated with your proposed Community Center by the Pennington Circle so that we can finally have an informed comparison with my alternative proposal to transform the existing Hopewell Valley Golf Course into our Senior and Community Center.