Letter to the Editor: The Continuing Lack of Transparency

To the Editor

At their August 27 meeting, facing concern from residents, the Hopewell Township Committee sought to justify the $100 million PILOT agreement they had passed in late July.

The main concern, expressed by several members of the public, has to do with the inherent nature of these PILOT (Payment in lieu of taxes) agreements.  In 2010, the NJ State Controller found that for school districts, the impact of such agreements is direct.

From that report: “School districts often receive a large portion of traditional tax collections -sometimes more than half.”

In Hopewell Township, it is much more than a half, approximately 65%.

To continue: “As a result, abatements have a large impact on school funding and the tax burden on other taxpayers in the municipality and the state. When a property tax abatement occurs, the school district RECEIVES NO PORTION of the PILOT revenue… The new development may also add new, unfunded service burdens on the schools.”

And so, residents asked the Township Committee whether these unfunded burdens (new teachers, new buildings, among many examples) were considered, whether the township had calculated the impact of the agreement on school taxes during the 30 -year period of the PILOT, and whether the township had brought the school district into the negotiations?

That 2010 study makes clear that several protective practices should be considered:

  1. Providing School Boards with formal decision-making power over such abatements;
  2. Notifying the School Board and at least giving them an opportunity to comment;
  3. Requiring that a local abatement advisory committee include School Board members;
  4. Permitting the School Board to negotiate the PILOT agreements directly;
  5. Guarantee that a portion of the PILOT agreement revenue go the local schools.

Hopewell Township took none of these steps.  Instead, they rushed through the process without considering these options or concerns.

When confronted about this “oversight”, the Mayor offered to invite the School Superintendent to come before the Township Committee to explain how School budgets are assembled.

It is hard to express in words how frustrating it is to put a simple question before this committee only to have them so consistently obfuscate and change the subject.  Simply put, the citizens of Hopewell Township deserve better.

Cheryl Edwards,

Hopewell Township

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