The Hopewell Township Committee passed the 2019 budget with 4.68 percent tax increase as well as a 3.04 percent reduction in expenditure, amid criticism from the public and Committee member John Hart, on Monday night at the Township 2019 public budget hearing.
The 4.68 percent increase equates to an increase of $81.38 for the average Hopewell Township home (assessed at $463,734).
The increase is the result of added debt service principal, a 2018 legal emergency, higher pension costs, and an increase in recycling costs in the County, according to Township administrator and CFO Elaine Borges.
The budget additionally outlined future revenue sources for the Township, including PILOT program revenues, economic development and tourism, and attracting new commercial tenants to the Bristol Meyer Squibb site, with the pharmaceutical giant vacating Hopewell in 2020.
Mayor Kristin McLaughlin noted that the Township keeps only 13 percent of its revenue, with the rest going towards the school district, county and fire district. Additionally, McLaughlin stated that many of the costs the Township has “no control” over, with pension and debt service payments increasing and legal costs in affordable housing litigation going up.
“If our collections are not 100 percent, we still have to pay the others,” McLaughlin said. “Only the Township feels the shortfall.”
McLaughlin noted, however, that the Township is still adding services despite a three percent reduction from 2018’s budget, such as bulky waste pick up, a front desk person for the Township, and additional hours for construction and zoning departments.
“I don’t know about you, but shrinking the family budget year after year takes incredible discipline and thought,” McLaughlin said. “This budget is the same. We had to be creative, careful, and deliberate.”
McLaughlin emphasized finding additional income as well, stating that “revenues have fallen and state aid has stayed flat,” with a resolution for the creation of an Economic Development and Tourism Advisory Committee presented later in the evening, although it was tabled to the next meeting.
“We are paying our bills and expanding services all while reducing our overall spending,” McLaughlin said in a press release. “This is a responsible budget that keeps our government operating without burdening future residents.”
Hart criticized the budget, calling it “terrible” and stated that the Committee was playing a “monopoly game.”
“You always make promises, you never keep any of them,” Hart said, of the Committee. “We are a government who is working for everyone here, we’re not a special interest group.”
Hart criticized the Committee for favoring incoming residents rather than incentivizing current residents to stay, stating that people are leaving on a “daily basis” and that most residents, except for those on Diverty Road, still lack sewer access.
Additionally, Hart criticized the Committee’s ability to attract economic partners and its land use, stating much of the Township’s land remains unused and undeveloped.
Committee member Kevin Kuchinski responded, stating that residents have voted to keep “checks on development” and that the Township has already attracted business partners like Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Bank of New York.
Township resident Jon Edwards criticized the budget as well, stating that only four budget meetings were held before its adoption and that the tax increase was “virtually identical” to that of the recent school board budget.
Kuchinski and deputy mayor Michael Ruger responded, with Kuchinski citing the four public budget meetings as well as four executive session meetings and Ruger stating that the increase is only $81 for the average homeowner, compared to the “several hundred dollars” increase of the school budget.
The budget went to vote, with all Committee members voting to approve the budget except for Committee member Hart, who voted against it.
The Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 3 (the meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 28 was cancelled). If you have questions please, check the Hopewell Township website to confirm meeting times and dates.*