By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
HOPEWELL TWP. — Kevin Kuchinski is mayor for 2016.
In a unanimous vote, Mr. Kuchinski, a Democrat was chosen at Monday night’s Township Committee reorganization meeting. Currently starting his second year on the governing body, he was the only member nominated for the position.
Under Hopewell Township’s form of government, a mayor is selected every year by a vote among the five committee members.
Vanessa Sandom, also a Democrat, won the position of deputy mayor. Mr. Kuchinski and the newest member, Julie Blake, both supported Ms. Sandom, who also voted for herself. Republicans John Hart and Todd Brant did not vote, saying they “pass.“
Prior to the vote for Ms. Sandom, Mr. Hart nominated Mr. Brant for the position of deputy mayor, which he held last year. Mr. Brant lost that vote, 3-2, when all three Democrats voted against him.
Ms. Sandom has served on the committee since October 2001 and has been mayor several times herself.
Mr. Kuchinski replaces Harvey Lester as mayor. Ms. Blake won her three-year term by defeating Mr. Lester in the November general election.
In his mayoral address, Mr. Kuchinski said Hopewell Township is part of “a valley rich in culture” and that “we (township residents) have much to be proud of, but also much to protect.”
“Over one-third of our township is preserved open space or farmland, so the rural character and bucolic views we all enjoy will be protected for our children and grandchildren,” the new mayor said. “And let us not forget the school system we share with Hopewell and Pennington boroughs — it consistently ranks as one of top districts in New Jersey.”
Among the “tough issues” facing the municipality, he said, is “to make Hopewell Township more affordable.
“Taxes have become a burden for many of us, and we see far too many parents move out of Hopewell Valley once their kids have grown, not because they want to, but rather because they can no longer afford the high taxes here. Younger families and single people, including our teachers, police and firefighters, also struggle to find affordable living options within the township. This needs to change.
“We will start in 2016 by developing a multi-year plan to reduce the township’s net debt. Debt service currently consumes almost 30 percent of total township spending, and we have kicked the can down the road for too long. We will accomplish this by divesting properties like Pennytown that we no longer need to meet our affordable housing obligation, and using the proceeds to pay down debt. Second, we will work across party lines and leverage local experts to identify areas of waste in our current budget.”
Mr. Kuchinski also said “we must intensify our efforts to defend Hopewell Valley versus the dual threats of the PennEast pipeline and the proposed over-development of the township as we work to meet our affordable housing obligations.”
On affordable housing, the mayor said, “Our first focus is to reduce the outrageous number of new affordable units proposed for Hopewell Township. We have engaged experts to challenge the underlying numbers proposed for our Valley, and are fighting within the courts to develop an affordable housing plan that limits suburban sprawl, protects against uncontrolled development, and preserves our rural character. While we will still ultimately have some affordable housing requirements, let’s make sure we smartly control this process and accommodate these in a way that is consistent with the spirit of our Master Plan.”
Changing the tone of government in Hopewell Township is also on the mayor’s agenda.
“For 2016, we will be taking the Hopewell Township Committee on the road, coming to a different area or neighborhood at least once per quarter. This will make it easier for you to come to meetings and for us to hear the issues that are most pressing for you. Additionally, we will be sponsoring periodic coffees in neighborhoods around the township, with key township personnel present so that you can get your questions answered directly.”
HOPEWELL TWP.: Mayor Kuchinski: Sell Pennytown to reduce debt
By Frank Mustac, Special Writer