Home » LTE: Council member rebuts HB Democratic candidates’ claims

LTE: Council member rebuts HB Democratic candidates’ claims

by Community Contributor

I am writing in response to statements by Hopewell Borough candidates concerning our water utility, as reported in your May 25, 2023 article HB Democratic candidates state their views.

First, I would like to provide some background information about our water supply.  Our water utility is owned and operated by Hopewell Borough and licensed and regulated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). I have served on the Hopewell Borough Council for over 24 years and am the Chair of the Water Supply Planning Committee, on which Mayor Paul Anzano and Council member Sky Morehouse also serve. The committee oversees and supports Water Department operations, planning and prioritization of capital projects, regulatory compliance, and public outreach. In addition to the committee members, our water supply planning team includes our Water Department Director, our Borough Administrator, and outside technical professionals. Altogether, our technical resources include three professional geologists (of which I am one), four engineers, and an NJDEP-licensed Water System Operator.

As discussed during recent Borough Council meetings, the Borough is evaluating alternatives to address rising operational costs and ever-increasing regulatory burdens facing our water utility. The alternatives include the possible sale or lease of our water system to a privately owned utility, or continued ownership and operation by the Borough. We have engaged an independent financial advisor to conduct a comprehensive financial analysis of each alternative so we can compare the long-term costs, benefits, and impacts on the fiscal health of our town. Once that analysis has been completed, we will present the results and solicit input during public hearings, so we can reach consensus as a community on the best path forward.

I was surprised to read Ryan Kennedy’s statement that he is “uniquely qualified to help navigate tackling the rising costs of our water utility”, given that he has never been involved with our water supply planning team (aside from posting public documents on the Borough website when requested). The fact that he did not even acknowledge the existence of the water supply team does not comport with his campaign slogan of “Working Together”.

I must also correct the record concerning statements by Marylou Ferrara and Heidi Wilenius.  The claim that there is a “water crisis” facing the Borough is inaccurate and misleading. Our water utility is fiscally sound, complies with NJDEP regulations, meets our current supply needs and, most importantly, our water is safe to drink. The long-term challenges facing our water utility do not constitute a “crisis”. However, addressing them will require rigorous analysis, effective public communication, and good governance.

Characterizing our water system as being “in dire need of repair” is also inaccurate, and creates the impression that we have neglected to maintain our infrastructure. That is not the case. Unlike some municipal utilities that have “kicked the can down the road” on critical infrastructure investments, Hopewell Borough has, for decades, routinely replaced aging infrastructure such as water mains and service connections in advance of our street re-paving projects. As required by the NJDEP, our Borough Engineer maintains an inventory of each component of our water system down to individual water mains, valves, and hydrants.  We use that information to plan and prioritize infrastructure repairs and replacements.

Substantial capital investments in our water supply will be required in the long term, regardless of who owns the system. A critical element of the ongoing financial analysis will be to develop realistic projections of the long-term capital costs, so we can put those number in front of the public and make informed, transparent decisions about the future of our water utility and our town.

Lest my comments be misinterpreted as favoring either mayoral candidate, the only person I am endorsing during this election cycle is Council member Sky Morehouse. With help from others, I intend to mobilize a “Blue Sky” coalition this fall to support Sky’s reelection and spread the word about his exceptional record of public service.

Thank you for considering my comments.

Sincerely,

David Mackie

Hopewell Borough

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