Letter to the Editor: Ratables? Really?

To the Editor:

Municipal leaders must understand the trap of the ratables chase. It should be obvious by now that additional residential development, which attracts families with children, drives up tax rates because the high cost of educating those children is not remotely matched by the tax revenue from those homes.

To keep property tax rates down, some elected officials turn to ratables such as office parks, shopping malls, hotels, and the like. They naively believe that commercial properties generate significant tax revenue without comparable service increases. After all, office complexes don’t house children.

It turns out that ratables usually don’t drive down tax rates.

In 2010, NJ Future published Chasing Their Tales: Municipal Ratables Chase Doesn’t Necessarily Pay. You can read the study at  www.njfuture.org/research-publications/research-reports/ratables-chase-doesnt-pay/. Their conclusion, after studying voluminous data, was that the conventional wisdom of the ratables chase is not supported by the evidence.

Generations of township leaders have understood these facts.  Twenty years ago, a prescient Township Committee blocked the expansion of sewers from Trenton and eliminated most IOP (Industrial Office Park) zoning in the Township’s southern tier. Today’s Township Committee seems to be unaware of NJ Future’s findings.

In the letter to the editor on May 14, Andrew Borders wrote: “Jobs and businesses that don’t come here go somewhere else, and with them goes the chance to employ our own closer to home and keep our resident tax burden low. We don’t have to keep losing those benefits, unless we as a community are unwilling to adapt.”

Mr. Borders is fully entitled to his opinions. I do hope that he learns carefully from the NJ Future report. But the real point is that the Township just appointed him to the Zoning Board! There are plenty of more qualified and better-informed citizens in the township, but they clearly rewarded his continuing, partisan cheerleading.

If we want to make sure that we never look like many other densely populated areas elsewhere in New Jersey, then we need perpetual vigilance. That starts with understanding how we got here, our enormous, bi-partisan efforts to safeguard the environment, and continuing vigilance regarding who we appoint to our boards and commissions. Twenty years ago, Hopewell Township had the best Planning and Zoning Boards in the state.  It brought Democrats, Independents, and Republicans together, all with a single commitment to environmental concerns and a dedication to smart growth.

That dedication is quickly disappearing. The Township Committee has just failed this key test. I do applaud the Zoning Board’s rejection of the CVS application at Al’s Sunoco earlier this year. But it’s tough to imagine a NO vote from Mr. Borders on that application. The Zoning Board is correctly named the Zoning Board of Adjustment. They evaluate applications for variances. Our Zoning Boards have been extremely reluctant to grant variances, essentially deviations from the township’s zoning which codifies our dedication to smart growth.  We can now only hope that Mr. Borders quickly learns that such variances should be granted rarely, and only with extraordinary cause.

Cheryl Edwards,

Hopewell Township

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