Health Officer Stephanie Carey gave an update on COVID-19, and members discussed extending the property tax deadline and other issues during Hopewell Township’s regular Committee meeting, held virtually last night.
Carey began the meeting with an update of COVID-19 numbers in New Jersey and locally, and identified next steps the community can anticipate. As of May 4, Carey said, “we are close to 8,000 deaths in New Jersey and over 120,000 cases … of those there are about 80 cases in Hopewell Township (cumulative).”
Carey explained that social distancing guidelines may begin to be eased “when cases are no longer spreading quickly. There must be robust capacity to identify those who are sick and have potentially been exposed.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, “but we still have a lot of tunnel to go.”
In what will likely be the first steps toward a “new normal,” Hopewell Township will likely soon begin the process of hiring new employees to be contact tracers. Carey explained that, as testing is gradually becoming more available, that the next steps will be 1) conducting contacting tracing, 2) isolating the sick, and 3) quarantining those exposed who have potential to become infectious.
Contact tracing is an old public health skill that now needs to be done on a scale never attempted, explained Carey. New Jersey usually has about 100 contact tracers for the State. Now, a total of 1,400 New Jersey contact tracers need to be ready to work within a month. “This is a huge scale – it is an army of contact tracers,” said Carey.
The recommended ratio is one full time contact tracer for every 6,000 residents. Hopewell Township, with its population of almost 18,000, needs three contact tracers. These tracers, once hired, will interview every sick person, issue isolation orders, identify every person that the sick person might have exposed to the virus, and then quarantine those people for two weeks. If a quarantined person gets sick, then then their contacts get traced, and so on.
“This is so we can go back to work — right now the entire society has been in quarantine,” explained Carey.
When asked about the cost, Carey said, “It isn’t cheap but it is the cost of saving lives, better health in the community, and getting the economy up and running.” Carey noted alternative funding sources, including grants, which could help relieve the cost to the Township.
Formal action by the board to begin the process of hiring contact tracers is expected this week.
As previously reported by MercerMe, late last week Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 130, which allows municipalities to extend the grace period for property tax payments due on May 1 to June 1.
“We are exploring tax relief for Hopewell Township property tax payers, and we understand many families are struggling,” said Mayor Kristin McLaughlin.
Township Administrator Elaine Borges explained the Township is responsible for paying Mercer County and Hopewell Valley Regional School District regardless of how much money it collects.
“At the end, we owe it whether we collect it or not,” said Borges.
“We are very sensitive to the needs of our residents at this time and to our legal obligations to pay what amounts to the pass-through of the County and School District,” said McLaughlin, “They receive far more money than we keep in our tax base and we talked through and looked at those financial and legal implications.”
Last year at this time, the Township had collected 84% of property taxes, and this year it is four percent behind on collections as of Monday evening. Township Committee Member Kevin Kuchinski urged all individuals who have not been significantly impacted by COVID to pay their property taxes as soon as possible.
The Committee discussed its obligations to the County and School District as well possible upcoming State or Assembly actions that could impact its decision. Ultimately, the Committee decided to reconvene on Friday at 2:30pm to make its final decision whether to extend the property tax deadline to June 1.
In other news, Hopewell Township named May, 2020 “Older Americans Month” by proclamation, honoring those individuals and their meaningful contribution to the community. “We urge every resident to regnozie older adults and the people who support them as essential members of our community,” reads the Proclamation..
Hopewell Township also approved the promotion of Patrol Officer Rober Sparano to the position of Sergeant and appointed Neil Hunt as Patrol Officer in the Hopewell Township Police Department.
“Thank you for all your help with this,” said Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney. “I think we’re going to see good things from both these gentlemen.”