Hopewell Township Committee discusses budget, gun violence awareness, and Pride month

The Hopewell Township Committee introduced its 2021-2022 fiscal year budget at its regular meeting on Monday, May 17, as they examined the resources that the Township needs to function. 

Julie Troutman, Hopewell Township CFO and treasurer, explained that, after further review, the budget needed amendments before the Committee looked at it.

“After the introduction of the budget, we had taken a second look at some things and realized that we needed a little extra room in the budget this year to allow for some expenses. So we are making an amendment to the introduced budget,” explained Troutman.

The Committee made the following changes to the budget:

Within the budget, 58% of the money goes to Hopewell Valley Regional School District, 24% goes to Mercer County facilities, 14% to Hopewell Township, and the rest to the fire district and open space.

“As everyone knows, the Township collects the taxes for all the others … Mercer County, the school district, and the fire district … [so] the Township is left to bear the cost of the uncollected taxes,” Troutman explained.

Deputy Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning, pointed out that most of the budget was for Mercer County and not Hopewell Township. “How crazy is it that… we have to make up the difference of uncollected taxes for the County and the School District, which together make up 82% of the taxes of the average tax bill and we’re 14%,” Peters-Manning said.

Mayor Julie Blake, explained that this is nothing new when it comes to working in local government. “One of the things that just astonished me about governing at the municipal level was the handcuffs that are put on this particular level of government… And the bigger entities seem to create rules that benefit themselves and this is one of them,” Blake said.

At the end of 2020, there was $21.4 million outstanding that the Township had to cover. However, Troutman explained that Hopewell Township had the lowest equalized municipal tax rate in the County. 

Troutman stated that the Township’s debt also has steadily declined over the past three years even with the pandemic. “We started in 2018 at $60.6 million. And by the end of this year of 2021, we should be down to $58.6 million in debt,” Troutman said. 

Committee member Kevin Kuchinski explained that, since 2015 , the average municipal tax had dropped significantly from 6.3% to 2.53%. “We have cumulatively reduced that to 2.53% which is a result of the hard work of this Committee, as well as the ongoing work we’re doing to reduce debt,” he said.

Even Blake was astonished at this fact. “We actually have less in debt over the last few years even considering what we just went through, which is a remarkable feat and how challenging this past year has been for all of us,” Blake said.

The Township recognized June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021. It is the 52d anniversary of the Stonewall Inn demonstrations, commonly regarded as the catalyst for the mainstream fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer rights.

“[The Township Committee] hereby recognizes June 2021 as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Pride Month in Hopewell Township and urges all of our residents to celebrate diversity and inclusion, promote equality, acknowledge the achievements and contributions of [LGTBQ] people, and strive to eliminate prejudice everywhere that it exists,” the proclamation reads.

Blake explained that, from her experience as a school counselor, it is essential for all members to be accepted within a family. “I want to tell you that children need to be accepted wholly as people, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity is. It makes a difference when their family sees them as completely part of the family,” Blake said.

Lastly, the Committee deemed June 2 as Gun Violence Awareness Day.

“After more than a year of increased gun sales, increased calls to suicide and domestic violence hotlines, and an increase in city gun violence: Whereas in January 2013, Hadiya Pendleton was tragically shot and killed at age 15 and on June 4 2021 to recognize the 24th birthday of Hadiya Pendleton…people across the United States will recognize national Gun Violence Awareness Day and wear orange and tribute to idea Pendleton and other victims of gun violence,” the proclamation says. 

In honor of this, the Township will display orange lights, Committee member Kristin McLaughlin explained. “You just can’t turn on the news without hearing a flood of horrendous tragedies [related to gun violence] and you know families all over the country are grieving, so I think, if possible, I put [those orange lights] back up,” McLaughlin said.

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