At the Hopewell Valley League of Women Voter‘s candidate forum last week, Hopewell Township Committee candidates Julie Blake and Harvey Lester went head-to-head about hot local issues including affordable housing, local spending and taxes, and the PennEast Pipeline.
The forum began with discussing transparency, namely what is being done and what could improve upon transparency. Current Township mayor, Lester, spoke about his increased communication with the Township residents by holding regular walk-in hours to the mayor’s office. Blake said that she would like to see the Township improve communication with residents through a more accessible website that would be easier to navigate.
The undesirability of the proposed PennEast Pipeline was an issue that both candidates agreed on. Both candidates addressed the importance of continued opposition against the proposed pipeline and requested the cooperation of Township residents in becoming interveners in the litigation.
When it came to spending, there was some disagreement about the responsibility for this year’s increase. Lester questioned the Township’s purchase of Pennytown and asserted that much of the budget this year was a result of debt from prior committees, along with insurance payments from the municipal public work’s fire. Blake rebutted that Lester had 3 years to address the budget concerns.
“Three years ago, you promised that you would reduce our taxes and here we are three years later and our taxes have gone up,” said Blake.
Lester responded that although he has had three years, his predecessors had longer time but had not addressed the budget issues. “Our debt has been kicked down the road for years,” said Lester.
When it comes to the school budget, the candidates deviated in their perspective. Lester proposed that the Township increase acquisition of open space to prevent an increase in school population. “You don’t have to educate, police or pave the trees,” said Lester. He also discussed shared serves as possible additional method to address budget issues.
Meanwhile, Blake agreed that shared services could be beneficial and that she values open space, she said, “I do not think that the solution is to keep students out of schools. Students need to be here. It is a wonderful school system. People come here because we value it and care deeply about educating our children.”
Both candidates expressed support of open space and limiting development. There was some discussion about expansion of sewer-service areas, how to inform the public about proposed affordable housing locations and the role of the planning board in the affordable housing process. Lester reinforced his interest in listening to the residents regarding limiting development through the Township. And Blake expressed a disappointment in the lack of transparency at the planning board meetings and a lack of communication about decisions that affect the affordable housing plan.
In his final remarks, Lester described his ongoing opposition to the Pennytown/Kooltronic project, the Scotch Road town center, and the PennEast pipeline. In her final remarks, Blake spoke about her strengths in working together for the common good and her fight against excessive spending and taxes.
For the full forum, it will be on at 8am and 7 pm any day between now and November 3 on Channel 19 (Comcast) and Channel 32 (Verizon). The Forum is approximately 45 minutes.
Stay tuned to MercerMe for the candidate’s “Final Thoughts” before Election Day 2015 and and remember to vote on Tuesday November 3rd!
Disclaimer: While this article has been written as party-neutral, Mary Galioto is the Democratic Municipal Chairperson for Hopewell Borough.
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