Letter to the Editor: HVRSD Needs a Reasonable Budget

To the Editor:

After reading Roy Dollard’s April Hopewell Express letter, I wondered, “If there is a 2% cap, why is it legal for the HVRSD school board to raise the general tax levy 5.27% without taxpayer approval?”

On April 8th, I went to the Board of Ed work session to ask just that question. Instead of answering, they asked me to leave so they could go into closed session. I left and reread the agenda. It clearly stated that the budget was to be discussed BEFORE Executive Session. It was misleading that they advertised one thing but executed another.

Since I did not get answers from the Board, I did online research. To understand why the Board can raise the general tax levy over 5% when there is a 2% cap, you’ll need to recall the voter-approved referendum from two years ago. Unfortunately, it appears that once again one thing was advertised and another executed.

To refresh your memory, review the Referendum Information Flyer on the HVRSD website. The Tax Impact section clearly indicates, “A small initial increase… for approximately 3 years…then decrease substantially.”

Next, access the 2016 Referendum Frequently Asked Questions. The “Project Costs” section explains that referendum projects would be financed separately as debt and kept out of the general budget. It also reinforced that the board has the authority to spend up to 2% in the general budget without a vote and states, “In fact, last year and this year our district’s annual increases were well below the cap – 0.9% and 0.8% respectively.”

Flash ahead, where now after the voters have approved the $36 million in additional referendum debt, this new tentative budget proposal redirects every penny of the previously advertised “well below cap” difference (1.1% and 1.2% respectively), back into the permanent general budget.

So, in addition to the advertised temporary 3-year increase in debt levels, the board now proposes a permanent 5.27% increase to the general budget.

It seems misleading to suggest general budget savings to justify referendum debt, and then add those purported savings back into the general budget after voters approve the referendum. However, it does explain why the Board can raise the tax levy 5.27% without seeking approval from the taxpayers.

Board member Adam Sawicki rejects such tactics and proposed an alternative budget with a more modest 2.3% increase that keeps the same programs as the Board’s more expensive budget. Adam explained to me that his approach is based on keeping long term costs in check rather than trying to maximize taxpayer-provided revenue.

As a retired person on fixed income, I am glad that one Board of Ed member is taking a critical look at the budget and understands the importance of balancing the needs of both the taxpayer and the district. His proposal is especially prudent considering that enrollment has decreased over 12% in the last decade and continues to decline around 1% per year.

The BOE votes on the budget May 6 for final adoption. Please come out and support a more reasonable budget.

Bruce Gunther,

Pennington NJ

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  1. The BOE is being reckless with our money! They are suppose to represent the resident’s interests. Most residents already pay $10,000 a year on average in property taxes most of which is going to fund the schools! What are they doing with all this money?!?!?! Why do they need an additional 5.27% increase with declining enrollment! This is so outrageous I hope Hopewell residents show up to the meeting and this budget does not get approved!!! Even the Mayors of Pennington, Hopewell Borough and Hopewell Township are outraged by this and wrote a joint letter stating they do not support this budget!

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