Today marks the first Township meeting of 2021 and with that comes a list of goals and wishes for the new year.
Before I begin to share some of the topics we will have before us this year, I want to express my condolences to all of you who have suffered a personal loss this year: a loved one, a friend, a job, a source of comfort. 2020 has taken a lot from us.
I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all health care and front line workers in Hopewell Township and beyond who have worked tirelessly, put themselves at risk, and persevered during one of the hardest years that we have seen in a long time. Thank you.
Thank you to all the employees of Hopewell Township who, under the most difficult of challenges, did what they always do, serve the public with grit and dedication. They have gone above and beyond what anyone could expect. I know that the Committee joins me in gratitude for your service. Thank you to the volunteers and professionals who continue to serve our community with their time and effort.
And to the residents of Hopewell – your contribution and care for one another whether it was through donating time, money, food, clothing, or care showed us all that to live here is a blessing. This community is awe-inspiring.
Of course, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and grace that Mayor Kristin McClaughlin has shown these past two years along with the Deputy Mayor, Michael Ruger. To Kristin who has spent countless hours working towards building a better Hopewell including the vision to push for a Community and Senior Center and to Michael who pushed for the Committee on Equity and now serves as the liaison, thank you. The time and effort that their leadership has provided to us as residents has been outstanding, especially during the many crises we faced this year.
This leads me to 2021, which I envision as the township’s year of recovery: recovery from the impact of Covid on our community, health, and economy and recovery from the strain on both our financial and human resources.
In 2021, The Township will have to absorb the devaluation of the Bristol Myers Squibb property and the resultant loss of tax revenue for municipal services and our Hopewell Valley schools. As many of you are aware, the largest part of every tax bill in the Hopewell Valley is the school budget. If the school budget remains the same or grows, costs will shift from BMS to residents and small businesses. The Township Committee cannot change those costs because the school board manages the school budget. Nonetheless, we will work together to decrease the financial pressures on our community.
In the face of these challenges, the Committee will continue to work hard to mitigate the impact on our budget and economic recovery. Kevin Kuchinski and our professionals have sought opportunities to save money through capital loan refinancing and reducing our debt costs. In 2020, we were able to restructure our debt, which will result in taxpayer savings of over $1.8 million over the next 10 years. We will continue to practice careful budgeting and review every discretionary dollar spent.
Last year, a series of events within the Township Police Department and across the country challenged us to look harder at our police force to address concerns of racial discrimination and police use of force. We used that moment to reflect on current practices and to improve on community outreach and relationship building. We hired an outside consultant and a civilian police director to articulate what we currently do, what we value, and where we go from here. I am grateful for their work and the Police Department’s openness to more communication and public input. At the same time, I want to thank members of the community who have worked so hard and who have spoken so clearly about the need for racial justice. We will work together to build a model of community policing.
On a different note, I am happy to announce that Hopewell Township has joined a network of health departments that are laying the groundwork to provide vaccines against Covid-19 to our health professionals, essential front line workers, at-risk individuals, and the general population. Our Health Officer, Dawn Marling, will be updating us on new developments at each Township meeting for the next several months.
But even as we recover from the challenges of 2020, we face pressing new issues: as a township we need to discuss and decide what to do about the farming, manufacturing, transporting, and selling of marijuana. And what regulations should we put in place to protect our environment from stormwater runoff? Additionally, the Planning Board will begin its independent review of the site plans for the development of affordable housing as well as review and update its Master Plan.
During 2020, the Committee, the County, and other stakeholders established the groundwork for many wonderful projects for Hopewell Township in 2021 and beyond. Mercer County Parks has announced its plans for both the Moores Station Quarry and the soon-to-be open public golf course, pool, and platform tennis courts at the site of the Hopewell Valley Golf Course. We continue to develop plans for a community and senior center, as well as more trails, open space, and farm preservation.
Recovery takes hard work, and it will not happen overnight. I am confident that we have the employees, professionals, volunteers, and Committee Members in place to move our township forward after an unprecedented year.
Be well and stay safe. Thank you.
Julie Blake, Hopewell Township Mayor
(Note, this speech was given at the 2021 Hopewell Township re-organization meeting January 4, 2021)