Health Dept answers COVID-19 questions in Hopewell Twp, Budget introduced

Hopewell Township held its regular Committee meeting virtually last night and included a presentation by Health Officer Stephanie Carey, an introduction to the Township municipal budget, and acceptance of  the retirement of Police Sergeant Kevin Zorn.

The meeting began with a presentation by Carey, the head of theMontgomery Township Health Department, which also serves all three towns in Hopewell Valley, including Hopewell Township.

[The Township will provide links and graphics to the presentation so please stay tuned to MercerMe for the full coverage of Carey’s presentation.]

Highlights include answers to:

When will travel and business be back to normal? “We are not able to say this at this time,” said Carey. “Even as we open back up, we will still need social distances in the workplace and to rely on telework and have staggering shifts. We will have to figure out ways to monitor people.”

Carey explained that there will be a greater need for different ways of doing business – one that is more touch-free and with sanitizing. “We’re seeing people being innovative with curbside pick up, etc. and this will need to be in place until there is wide-spread vaccine. That could be 12 to 18 months. It’s a marathon not a sprint.”

When will school  return? Carey simply said that she cannot speak for the School District but that the Governor’s emergency is running through May 15, Carey also explained that Federal guidelines address return to school in Phase 2.

Do I need to wear a mask outside? “The best practice is to wear a mask whenever you are in public and have a reasonable chance of interacting with someone, said Carey. “If you reasonably think you’ll see someone, wear it.”

When can people expand their bubble to include close family members? “We’re still limited at this time but that’s one of the first phases — assuming you mean four to five family members instead of 20 or more. The best practice during this time of separation is to have a healthy adult child or one designated person to check in on the elderly relatives. As things loosen, larger family gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed.”

At the meeting, the Mayor and Committee members thanked Carey for her expertise, leadership, and calm. Additionally Julie Blake acknowledged the necessity to rely on experts, “Misinformation can spread very quickly and we don’t want to put people’s lives at risk. Know the sources. Our lives depend on it. It is a very scary time. We should be on all the same page,” she said. 

“The sacrifices everyone is making is saving lives. Stay home, stay strong and you’ll save lives and stop this spread. It is a long-haul but we turn to those we care about and be kind and supportive and we’ll get through this,” Carey concluded.

During public comment, one member of the public asked about the decisions to keep access to some trails or parks open and whether it is safe to go there.

“Hopewell Valley has access to 41 miles of trail and with the consultation with [Carey], we made the decision to keep the trails open for all of the great health benefits,” said Mayor McLaughlin. “Many loop trails are turned into one-way trails to minimize the opportunity for face-to-face contact. The results are excellent because people are behaving very responsibly… This was a decision discussed thoroughly and, in the end, Carey gave us the blessing to do this.”

A member of the public also asked about contact tracing and was told that the Township will be working on it and there may be grants available.

“Testing is increasing but there is not a magic bullet,” said Mayor McLaughlin.

Township updates include that Public Works is continuing with essential roadway projects throughout the Township (see also HT Public works director details COVID-19 measures). Construction offices remain open to accept and process permits. Please visit the Township website for freon, tire, and leaf collection schedules: www.hopewelltwp.org/173/Public-Works.

The Township continues to expand its capability to conduct virtual meetings and, as of this Thursday, land use meetings (planning and zoning) will resume. 

Deer Management is accepting applications through May 8 for the September season .https://mercerme.com/hopewell-township-municipal-deer-management-program-accepting-applications/

Committee member Kevin Kuchinski spoke about help for small business, specifically assistance programs at State and Federal levels. “If you are a small business in our community this is the time to take advantage,” Kuchinski said. (For more, see From the Towns: Local officials talk about support available to small businesses.)

With New Jersey’s primary moved to July 7, Committee member Courtney Peters-Manning reminded residents that there is “No excuse! Vote by mail! If you want to get ahead of the election, apply to vote by mail right now even if there is in-person voting.” (See Hopewell Valley Dem Club calls for universal vote by mail)

The Committee heard and approved a resolution to accept the retirement of Sergeant Kevin Zorn who has served the Hopewell Township Police Department for over 26 years. Zorn had been appointed as Patrolman in 1994 and has been with the Township ever since rising to the ranks of Sergeant.

Estimated tax bills will be issued this year. “We were late to get a certified rate from the County, because of the health situation,” explained Township Administrator Elaine Borges, “So we are unable to strike a rate for our bills which means there are estimated bills on a 2% increase from last year’s tax bill. These tax bills will have to be adjusted with the new levy number.”

The Township also introduced its $23million municipal budget. Committee Member Kevin Kuchinski explained to Mercer Me that “this Budget is the result of a series of Budget meetings that started in late 2019. Committee members went through each department’s budget line by line in these meetings to ensure the Township could deliver the services residents expect at the lowest possible cost.”

The Budget will be posted on the Township website and a more detailed presentation will be shared at the Budget Public Hearing on May 18.Some of the changes include that there are certain funds set aside for COVID-19 crisis. Despite the addition of these funds, this year’s municipal tax increase is planned to stay within the 2% cap.

 “It was a big task to get it done and even more interesting this year,” Borges said at the meeting.  She went on to thank the many Township employees working during this difficult time. “I feel like when this is all over and we loosen the faucet, we’ll find out that Hopewell Township is not that far behind at all. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping things going and moving forward and I want to thank everyone community-wide.”

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