The Hopewell Township Committee has adopted a $22.69 million budget to fund the operation of the municipality during 2019.
During a public hearing on May 20, committee members voted 4-1 to adopt the spending plan.
Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger, Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski and Committeewoman Julie Blake voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the budget.
Committeeman John Hart voted “no” on the motion and said that officials should be reducing taxes and that they should do it by reducing spending.
“There are over 206 homes up for sale now in Hopewell. People are leaving on an almost daily basis. There are more people moving out than moving in and it is not because it is affordable. I hear every year we are going to reduce taxes and those promises are never kept,” he said.
“If someone wants to build commercial developments in town they are immediately scared off by the boards in town. We need people on these boards who help the township grow,” Hart explained. “We can’t just live off houses coming in. We need to have a balance between houses and commercial development. There just has not been balance.”
Township officials said residential and commercial property owners in Hopewell Township will pay a total tax levy of $15.75 million to support the $22.69 million budget for 2019.
The 2018 tax levy was $15.05 million, which means property owners in the municipality will pay an additional $704,282 in property taxes to support the township in 2019.
In 2018, the municipal tax rate was 37.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $463,734 paid about $1,757 in municipal taxes for 2018.
In 2019, the municipal tax rate is projected to be 39.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $463,734,will pay about $1,841 in taxes for 2019.
Municipal taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill, which also includes school taxes and county taxes.
The amount an individual pays in property taxes is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property, and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.
Chief Financial Officer Elaine Borges said the township’s revenues have fallen while some expenses continue to increase.
“The 2019 budget reduces operating expenditures by 3.04% as compared to 2018. However, some increases are out of our control as they are statutory in nature,” Borges said. “These (increases) include debt service, a 2018 legal emergency related to ongoing litigation, and pensions.”
The increases are added debt service principal of $344,872; the legal emergency to which Borges referred, $120,000; pension costs, $105,826; and county recycling costs of $67,249, for a total increase of $637,947.
McLaughlin said every department head worked with the Township Committee to find ways to deliver municipal services more efficiently.
“We found ways to deliver the services our residents expect, while lowering overall spending. Responsible budgets reflect thoughtful choices. With this budget, we are accomplishing several things,” she said. “We are paying our bills and expanding services, all while reducing our overall spending. This is a responsible budget that keeps our government operating without burdening future residents.”
Kuchinski reported that the committee members are committed to finding new revenue sources.
“Over the past four years, we have zero-based each budget, closely scrutinized each spending line, and worked with our township professionals to do more with less. As a result, we have brought the average tax increase down from 6.3% in 2013-15 to 2.37% for 2016-19, and in 2019, our budget was well below New Jersey’s 2% cap,” he said.
“Moving forward, we are committed to finding new revenue sources to keep taxes low and reduce our dependence on residential property taxpayers. This includes forming a new Tourism and Economic Development Advisory Committee to bolster existing small businesses and restaurants and to promote recreational, historical and agritourism,” Kuchinski said.