To the Editor:
The developers of Hopewell Township’s affordable housing have all insisted upon PILOT (Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) programs. These are 30-year tax breaks that provide substantial financial benefit to developers, tax savings of 33% during the first 10 years, and dubious benefit to the township.
Last week, Hopewell Township conducted another public information session, this time for the massive new development proposed for the west side of Scotch road across from Merrill Lynch. Many of us asked whether a PILOT would be sought for these developments. We also asked how many bedrooms the new developments would deliver. We received no meaningful answers.
The township has been less than forthcoming. They have tried throughout to insist that PILOTs are good things, bringing in more money to our government coffers than we would get without the development. They insist that these PILOT agreements do not steal money from the school district, from the fire companies, from open space, from the county, and from the public libraries.
They have even brought out the school superintendent to tell us that the PILOT will have no impact on our schools. Of course, our school district has a responsibility to provide an education for school-age children who live in the district. If the 3,500 new homes that the township has recently approved generate many new students, and the PILOT revenue does not go to the schools, there will indeed be no meaningful impact on the schools. They will have a fiduciary responsibility to raise taxes. The impact will be on the taxpayers.
These are the conclusions of both Matthew Boxer, the State Comptroller under Governor Christie, and of the New Jersey School Board Association regarding PILOTs. These two reports are easily found online.
The township should be honest with us, and with a new Mayor, there is hope that they now will be. It is time for them to admit that the developers have insisted upon these PILOT agreements, just as they insisted upon being able to build four market rate units for every affordable one. That’s why we are looking at 3,500 new homes in Hopewell Township’s southern tier in just the next eight years, roughly three times the size of Brandon Farms, a development that itself required the construction of a new elementary school, and additions to the High School and the Junior High.
Honesty will help to make these changes more palatable. The PILOTs are coming not because they are a good thing, but rather because the developers insisted upon them.
If indeed, the township has any say left in whether to agree or reject a PILOT agreement for the development on the west side of Scotch Road, they now need to undertake a cost benefit analysis and not to take the word of the developers that this is a wonderful agreement for Hopewell Township. The Committee owes this to the citizens of Hopewell Township.