At the Hopewell Township Committee Reorganization meeting on January 4, 2016, the Hopewell Township Committee swore in the newest committee member and selected the new Hopewell Township mayor for this term, Kevin Kuchinski, replacing former mayor Harvey Lester. The following is Mayor Kuchinski’s welcome and acceptance speech plus scroll to the bottom to read his bio.
“I’d like to take a moment first for some thank you’s … in the audience tonight, we have our NJ State Senator, Senator Turner; our very own NJ Assemblywoman, Liz Muoio; my colleague, friend and long-time NJ Assemblyman, Paul Moriarty; Mercer County Executive, Brian Hughes; our Mercer County Freeholders Tony Carabelli. Pat Colavita, Lucy Walter and Andy Koontz; Diane Georfky, our Mercer County Surrogate; and Paul Sollami Covello, our County Clerk for Mercer County. And I would like to recognize the former members of the Hopewell Township Committee in the audience tonight – Mark Iorio, Allen Cannon, Judy Niederer, and Kim Johnson. Thank you for all you do in NJ, and also for being here tonight. I’d also like to thank the staff and professionals present here for their tireless service to Hopewell Township. And also our First Responders, who help keep us safe year-round, and our Veterans, who have distinguished themselves with service to our country.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank my wife Leslie – I couldn’t be doing this all, without your support – and my four wonderful children, Ryan, Brennan, Kaitlyn and Liam. And you, the assembled residents and volunteers of Hopewell Township – thank you for all you do for the Township, and for also for your support.
Hopewell Township is a special place, rich in history and full of spirit. First settled in 1700, Hopewell Township was incorporated by an act of the NJ legislature, as one of the state’s initial 104 Townships. Perhaps most famously, our Township sits at the crossroads of the Revolutionary War, with George Washington and his Continental Army crossing the Delaware on December 26th, 1776, on their way to defeat the Hessian mercenaries in the First Battle of Trenton. A battle that literally changed history.
Today, Hopewell Township is one of the jewels of Mercer County. A valley rich in culture, with abundant recreation opportunities, from the Lawrence Hopewell Trail to the D&R Canal and the Delaware River …over 1/3 of our Township is preserved Open Space or Farmland, so the rural character and bucolic views we all enjoy will be protected for our children and grandchildren. And let us not forget the School system we share with Hopewell and Pennington Boros – it consistently ranks as one of top Districts in NJ.
We have much to be proud of, but also much to protect. Let me turn now to address some of the tough issues we face in Hopewell Township, and to outline a plan to move forward in the new year.
First and foremost, we need to work together to make Hopewell Township more affordable. Taxes have become a burden for many of us, and we see far too many parents move out of Hopewell Valley once their kids have grown, not because they want to, but rather because they can no longer afford the high taxes here. Younger families and single people, including our teachers, police, and firefighters, also struggle to find affordable living options within the Township. This needs to change.
We will start in 2016 by developing a multi-year plan to reduce the Township’s net debt. Debt service currently consumes almost 30% of total Township spending, and we have kicked the can down the road for too long. We will accomplish this by divesting properties like Pennytown that we no longer need to meet our Affordable Housing obligation, and using the proceeds to pay down debt. Second, we will work across party lines and leverage local experts to identify areas of waste in our current budget. We need to do more with less and challenge so-called “fixed” spending in the Municipal Budget, returning the proceeds to you, our residents, in the form of lower debt and lower taxes. Finally, we must work to share more services with other municipalities and our schools, and ensure that Township fees cover their underlying costs. Our goal for 2016 is to rollback some of the recent increases in municipal spending, and moving forward, we are committed to delivering critical Municipal services for less, to keep tax increases to a minimum, if needed at all, and to help make Hopewell Township more affordable.
Second, we must intensify our efforts to defend Hopewell Valley versus the dual threats of the PennEast pipeline and the proposed over-development of the Township as we work to meet our Affordable Housing obligations. On the former, a bi-partisan coalition has already come together with local citizen organizations and environmental groups, to send a strong signal to PennEast and their parent companies that we don’t need and don’t want their pipeline. More recently, some of our residents received buy-out offers for pipeline rights-of-way on their property. These were low-ball offers that fail to compensate our residents for the environmental destruction, safety risks and reduced property valuations that will result from the proposed pipeline. Later this month, the Township and local organizations will be holding an education session helping impacted residents “know their rights” and outlining steps they can take to fight back against PennEast’s predatory offers. We are also re-visiting our ordinances and will continue to take other prudent measures to defend Hopewell Township vs. PennEast.
Turning next to Affordable Housing. Our first focus is to reduce the outrageous number of new Affordable Units proposed for Hopewell Township. We have engaged experts to challenge the underlying numbers proposed for our Valley, and are fighting within the courts to develop an Affordable Housing plan that limits suburban sprawl, protects against uncontrolled development, and preserves our rural character. While we will still ultimately have some affordable housing requirements, let’s make sure we smartly control this process and accommodate these in a way that is consistent with the spirit of our Master Plan. And where we need to build, let’s make sure we provide new options for our school teachers, police and other younger families who are just starting out.
Our third major initiative for 2016 is to revitalize our local economy by better supporting the local businesses that call Hopewell Township home. This will include partnering on focused efforts like Restaurant Week to support local eateries and on our weekly Farmer’s Markets in the summer, as well as better leveraging our rich history and recreation opportunities to bring more visitors to Hopewell Township. Last week, I had the pleasure of going to the Brick Farm Tavern, one of our newest farm-to-table restaurants, and a great example of the type of local businesses we should all be supporting. And how about that food from Cugino’s and Pennington Market that we enjoyed earlier?
Additionally, we will partner with local businesses to help revitalize or renovate existing businesses, as we are doing with Buy Rite on the circle and the Citgo station and convenience store on Pennington – Washington Crossing Road. Local businesses are a key pillar of our community, and their success ultimately helps reduce the burden of residential property taxes on all of us. Let’s make a commitment in 2016 to Eat Local and Buy Local, and thereby strengthen our community!
Finally, we need to change the tone of government here in Hopewell Township, coming together and working across party lines to find solutions that benefit all of our residents. We need to focus more on getting things done and less on the next election or scoring short-term political points. On this year’s Committee, we have long-serving members with many years of experience in governing, as well as newer folks who can bring fresh ideas to help solve the challenges facing our Township. This year, we must work across party lines to identify opportunities to cut spending and otherwise reduce the burden of residential property taxes. We must also find common ground on other thorny issues facing the Township, and I will appoint bipartisan sub-committees to work together towards important initiatives, like developing a community center for our seniors. Lastly, we must work better with our colleagues in the Boros, the School District and at the County and State level to tackle issues that impact the whole Valley, and collaborate to smartly share services or otherwise reduce costs. We will be reaching out to these partners in the days ahead, working to open the lines of communication and find common ground, in service to all the residents of Hopewell Valley.
Changing the tone of government in Hopewell Township will also involve listening better and being more proactive in reaching out to ALL of the residents of Hopewell Township. For 2016, we will be taking the Hopewell Township Committee on the road, coming to a different area or neighborhood at least once per quarter. This will make it easier for you to come to meetings and for us to hear the issues that are most pressing for you. Additionally, we will be sponsoring periodic coffees in neighborhoods around the Township, with key Township personnel present so that you can get your questions answered directly. Stay tuned for more details on these outreach efforts in the days ahead.
As I said near the beginning, we have much to be proud of here in Hopewell Township, and with your support and this new spirit, I look forward to even greater things to come in the years ahead. Together, we can make Hopewell Township more affordable, we can successfully defend it against the dual threats of the PennEast pipeline and proposed over-development, and we can strengthen and revitalize our local economy. And we can do all of this with a more solutions-focused, bipartisan attitude and approach.
Thanks in advance for your support!”
Kevin D. Kuchinski is a proven leader in the corporate and non-profit worlds with a 25+ year track record of success. Kevin is currently the Vice President of Marketing, Fabric Care at Church & Dwight, working on iconic American brands such as ARM & HAMMER™ Detergent, OxiClean™, and Kaboom™. Prior to joining Church & Dwight in 2002, he worked at Procter & Gamble for 12 years, with assignments in the United States and Belgium, including the global launch of the Swiffer line of quick-clean products. In 2000, he was recognized by Advertising Age as one of the Top 100 Marketers of the Year, for his role in this launch. Kevin received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Duke University.
Kevin is a long-time Hopewell Valley resident and has lived in the Elm Ridge Park neighborhood since 2003, with his wife, Leslie, four kids and two energetic labradoodles. Kevin is also President of the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation (HVEF), and was a key driver of the Foundation’s inaugural Power of 100 Fundraising Campaign, in support of educational excellence at Hopewell Valley public schools. Beyond his involvement with HVEF, Kevin serves on the Advisory Board for the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, one of New Jersey’s leading environmental organizations, and is Chair of the Finance Council at St. James Catholic Church in Pennington.