Board of Education should rethink tax increase

I’ve been pretty quiet since retiring from the school board, but I feel I have to speak out in opposition to the district’s proposed 5.27% tax increase.

During my six years on the board, there was unanimous agreement, regardless of political position, that there needs to be a balance between investment in our schools and the burden we place on our taxpayers. Following this principle we were able to keep the tax burden low (under cap) and take advantage of some of our surplus savings to achieve our funding goals.

According to the March 2019 public hearing, the current Board of Ed is increasing the General Fund Tax by 5.27%. They are able to do this through a combination of: spending to cap; using a (health benefit) waiver to spend over cap; and using taxing authority to spend the amount below cap that previous boards did not spend.

This is troubling and quite a departure from previous policy, but what makes it more problematic for me is this is happening in the context of decreasing enrollment. The board is asking for more money to support fewer students.

Why? As far as I can see, simply because they feel they should tap into as much funding as they can regardless of origin or of current need, lest they lose access to these funds in the future. What they fail to mention is that the money they intend to get is not a surplus, but taxes that have yet to be levied. Hopewell Valley has a very large surplus that they could easily be used in part to fund their plans for the year.

It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to suggest a more balanced approach to funding, using a mix of surplus money and tax levies that come in under or near to cap. School board member Adam Sawicki has suggested just such a measured, prudent path.

This year, Hopewell continues to have the greatest enrollment decline in the county, and yet: Robbinsville, which could spend to cap, chose not to; Ewing, which could have added health benefit waiver spending, chose not to; and West Windsor-Plainsboro, which could have authorized spending previous below cap savings, chose not to.

None of the other districts are lamenting “the loss” of taxpayer dollars that they could have charged.

Finally, it is worth noting that there are many areas in the school budget that could be reduced through increased efficiency. This is especially evident at the high school level, where the number of class offerings over the last few years has doubled, with class sizes for many of these offering well under 15 students, some even in single digits.

The district should eliminate undersubscribed options and look for other savings through efficiency, then consider using existing surplus funds before asking the already overtaxed citizens of Hopewell Valley to pay even more taxes.

Gordon Lewis, Hopewell Borough

 

Township needs green energy

Hopewell Township has the opportunity to join an energy collaboration with other towns in Mercer and Hunterdon counties that would increase the amount of renewable energy supplied to Township residents, lower energy costs for electric customers, and fight the Penn-East pipeline that is threatening to tear its way through Hopewell Township.

The idea with green energy aggregation, as it’s called, is that towns band together to increase our purchasing power with electricity suppliers. Because there are so many customers bargaining as one, they can buy electric supply at a lower cost—and with a higher proportion of renewables—than would be possible for a single resident on her own (and because aggregation is done with an entire municipality, state law offers greater protections than single residents have when purchasing electricity on the de-regulated market). It’s like shopping in bulk at a warehouse store: because electric suppliers get more customers, they can offer lower prices.

Further, because it decreases the entire region’s dependence on natural gas (see the collaboration with other towns), it hits PennEast where it hurts: its wallet. With less demand for natural gas, fewer pipelines that threaten our preserved open space and natural beauty will be built.

The Delaware River Regional Renewable Energy Cooperative will soon be before the Hopewell Township Committee. I urge the committee to offer residents a lower electric bill with a higher proportion of renewable energy in the mix by participating in this program.

Courtney Peters-Manning, Hopewell Township

Peters-Manning is a member of the Hopewell Township Planning Board. She writes on her own behalf.

 

Safe walking should be a community priority

At the Hopewell Township Committee’s March 11 budget meeting, committee member John Hart found the Safe Routes to School program worthy of his ire, saying the “safe walking thing is ridiculous.”

You can see Mr. Hart’s comments for yourself at bit.ly/saferouteshopewell. The discussion begins at 1:32:40 and continues for less than five minutes.

What irked him was the idea of Public Works employees taking the time to make the Safe Routes paths for kids to get to HVCHS and Timberlane. Committee member Kevin Kuchinski started to say that it was our residents whose kids … But an exasperated Mr. Hart cut him off to offer this: “It’s always ‘Our residents, our kids,’ they don’t think about the price!”

When you are on the Hopewell Township Committee, is it not always our residents and our kids who are the priority? And who doesn’t think about the price?

The HTC has had four public budget meetings, and Mr. Hart has been announced as “not here” for two of them. Told at the March 25 committee meeting that busing costs parents, outside of certain circumstances, $500 a year if they live within a two-mile walk of the school, he offered no substantive response.

The idea of dual-income families, like mine, surrendering $500 and time with our kids instead of seeing them off to school doesn’t make much sense, at least for those whose work schedules are fortunate enough to allow taking our kids to and from school. Add to that our cold days during the school year, and it should be no wonder that it’s busy in front of schools at drop-off and pick-up.

It’s apparent, though, that Mr. Hart doesn’t understand that or simply doesn’t care. Doesn’t our community—including our kids—deserve a better advocate?

Andrew Borders, Hopewell Township

Borders is a member of the Hopewell Township Zoning Board. He writes on his own behalf.

 

Big Read a big success

The Pennington Public Library thanks our generous community partners for their participation in the NEA Big Read, through which we have just completed a month of programming related to the Charles Portis novel True Grit.

Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, our “Small Town, Big Read” was everything we hoped, bringing together many in the community to celebrate reading, libraries, and one special book.

Please join us in acknowledging these people and organizations: American Historical Theatre, Brett Bokman, Rev. Joanne Epply-Schmidt, The Farm Cooking School, Friends of Pennington Public Library, Kim Hanley, The Hopewell Express, Hopewell Valley Arts Council, Hopewell Valley Historical Society, Hopewell Valley Neighbors Magazine, Hopewell Valley News, Hopewell Valley School District, Hopewell Valley YMCA, and Howell Living History Farm.

We also thank Jay Jennings, Larry Kidder, Mercer County Library ( Hopewell Branch), New Jersey Council for the Humanities, Pennington Borough Public Works, Pennington CrossFit, Pennington Presbyterian Church, Pennington Quality Market, Pennington Quilt Works, Poppy Boutique, St. Matthews Episcopal Church, St. James Roman Catholic Church, The Pennington School, and Wellington Manor.

We had a lot of fun with the NEA Big Read, and hope the community did as well!

Kim T. Ha, director; Tara Russell, programs coordinator; Kathleen Nash, Big Read committee