To the Editor:
In the three years that I’ve served on Township Committee, taxes have been the number one issue for residents. Here in New Jersey, we all feel the burden. Over the last three years, I have consistently fought to lower the burden of municipal taxes and to do more with less. We have brought the average annual increase down from 6% in 2013-15 to 2% and have been able to add services. Despite the rising costs for many important municipal services, the operating budget I presented in the spring is down 2% versus 2018, and our 2019 Budget remains almost $2 Million dollars below 2015 levels.
Before diving deeper into what we’ve accomplished so far and what I plan to achieve over the next three years, here are a couple of important facts. Of the tax dollars our residents pay, only 13% comes to the Township, and the other entities get paid before we do. That means, the Township must send the school district, county, and fire district their money no matter what. The Open Space dollars are set aside. The Township is paid last. If collections are not 100%, the Township still must pay the others. There are a number of costs over which we have no control, such as pension payments, which went up, debt service payments – which went up, legal costs – which were much higher this year due to ongoing litigation, especially litigation in our Affordable Housing case.
By making careful choices, we were able to cut spending and add additional services. Over the last few years, we brought back bulky waste pick up. This year, we consolidated roles, enabling us to hire a friendly and helpful person for the front desk. With some of the physical changes in the construction and zoning departments, we are also going to be able to add additional hours that will make it easier for residents to interact with those departments. And we were able to add a 5th sergeant in the police department to better serve the community. We are all doing more with less.
Additionally, I have focused on the urgent need to reduce debt, as debt service consumes almost 25% of our budget. Since I began serving in 2107, we have been able to reduce our total debt from $67 million to $59.5 million. My goal is to eliminate the $1.6 million in wasteful interest costs the township spends each year. We can do nothing for the town with the monies that go to debt service and interest costs. I will continue to make this a priority, so your tax dollars can be spent on the services you need.
Presenting a responsible budget takes hard work, collaboration, and a fierce determination to give our residents the best possible service, in the most efficient manner. I have proven that I am a careful steward of your tax dollars and have made sure that you have a responsive and capable municipal government.
I look forward to continuing to make our government work better for you. Please vote to re-elect Mayor Kristin McLaughlin and for Courtney Peters- Manning on November 5.
Kristin McLaughlin, Mayor Hopewell Township
Mayor Hopewell Township