By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
HOPEWELL TWP. — Mayor Kevin Kuchinski said the Township Committee is working towards a municipal tax rate increase of less than one percent over last year.
Since January, the elected Township Committee along the township’s appointed finance advisory Committee, have been meeting with department heads to hammer out the budget.As of Monday, the tax rate for the proposed municipal budget stood at 36.475 cents per $100 of assessed property value, the mayor said. Last year’s 2015 municipal budget tax rate was 36.19 cents per $100.
The municipal tax rate does not go toward paying for public schools.
“Although the work on our 2016 budget is not yet complete, I think at this stage we can say with good conscience we’ve made a significant dent in township expenses and debt,” Mayor Kuchinski said by phone this week. “I think the committee has done tremendous work so far. Over the weeks ahead, we just need to keep our nose to the grindstone and deliver something certainly under 2 percent.”
“We are going to keep working through the budget and working to make the township more affordable and reduce our reliance on residential property taxes,” he said. “My personal goal is to push Hopewell Township back to where it was when it was the most affordable township in Mercer County.”
The Township Committee will officially submit a proposed budget in March, after which there will be at least two public hearings before the governing body votes whether to approve the revenue and spending package.
On Tuesday, another joint meeting was held with the recreation department staff.
“Recreation has been a crown jewel in Hopewell Township,” Mr. Kuchinski said. “It provides services for everyone from our youth to our seniors.”
“We are also going to be looking at our water and sewer utilities,” he said. “Those are independent budgets, but we as a township are responsible for them.”
“In light of the recent water main break in Washington Crossing, we want to make sure that we are doing the requisite amount of maintenance work and staying ahead of the issues, like the one we just experienced,” the mayor said.
Residents in the Washington Crossing area of Hopewell Township were advised to boil water following a water main pipe break on Feb. 5.
“We still have a couple of more budget line items to go through, so we’re going to keep pushing the envelope to deliver municipal services more efficiently,” Mr. Kuchinski said.
One of the biggest budget challenges is that the township is still recovering from a fire that devastated the Department of Public Works garage in March 2015. The blaze damaged more than 20 DPW vehicles. It started when a dump truck parked inside the garage caught fire and completely destroyed the truck. Heat and soot from the blaze compromised the remaining vehicles stored in that section of the garage, rendering them unsafe for use.
“We lost a lot of our equipment.” Mayor Kuchinski said. “We did have good insurance coverage, but in some cases our insurance has paid us back pennies on the dollar” for trucks and other equipment that still had a useful life, had it not been for the fire.
By Frank Mustac, Special Writer