To the Editor:
When Hopewell Township Mayor McLaughlin criticized the School Board for its nearly 5% budget increase, you might have assumed that the Township’s budget was in better shape. But when the Township just introduced its 4.68% budget increase, she and the other Democratic leaders were full of excuses.
Committee member Ruger called the increase “modest.” A Democratic supporter called it just cents on every $100. Those on fixed incomes never see 4.68% increases in income. And these increases compound. More modest increases later will still build upon this much higher base.
The Committee bragged that they are bringing down our debt, but they actually added $4.4 million in new debt this year. This crushing debt far outweighed the $120 thousand in legal expenses and County recycling charges upon which the Democrats focused.
We are paying enormous debt service on the disastrous and, after four years, still unsold $7 million Pennytown parcel that never should have been purchased for affordable housing.
The main concern for the future remains the impact of the affordable housing decisions. 653 new affordable homes and 2,881 new market-rate homes threaten to expand Hopewell Township’s population by nearly 50% in just 8 years. The School Board now says that we have not conducted a demographic analysis of this change, but that such a study is both overdue and necessary.
The translation. The Township proceeded with these approvals in the absence of understanding the demographic impact, a fact that they will not admit.
Hopewell Township now tells us that we must pursue additional PILOT agreements, but the School District also now acknowledges that these PILOTs, which forward tax revenue directly to the Township rather than to the schools, can force the schools to raise taxes to meet their fiduciary obligations. The School District has also acknowledged that the Hopewell Township Committee did not make them a meaningful partner in its PILOT discussions.
The Township had only four public budget sessions, a significant reduction in their normal processes. Instead, they had four additional closed- door sessions, meetings that used to be in public. Mayor McLaughlin tried to defend this lack of transparency, but her process was a clear departure from well-established principles of good government for decades.
Only John Hart opposed the budget. He had urged the formation of an Economic Development Commission, which the Mayor had promised would aid in the budget process. The new Commission has not yet been formed, and rumor suggests that the commission will be formed, not with Mr. Hart in charge as promised, but with him on the sidelines. More petty politics.
Traditionally, the budget is the Mayor’s primary responsibility, but Mayor McLaughlin appears to have turned the process over to Committee member Kuchinski, whose controversial reign as Mayor simply continues. He took charge [at the budget hearing], concluding the budget presentation with the Township’s controversial path forward. Democratic party officials read carefully crafted statements of support. They were apparently privy to facts and spin that the public obtained only at the meeting.
We all deserve so much better.