HILLSBOROUGH: Committee lacked transparency with $20 million lease agreement

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Submitted Content
To the editor:
At its July 11 meeting, the township committee unanimously approved an ordinance for a $20 million lease-purchase agreement in order to acquire the 336-acre, long-litigated Hillsborough Properties parcel next to the GSA Depot. Despite the huge price tag, very few residents were at the meeting, perhaps because the agenda never mentioned the amount of the bond or the name of the property. However, we were there and challenged the township committee for this lack of transparency. We issued a press release to inform the public, but it was not covered in full by this publication, and comments of township officials were included which we feel obfuscated the truth.
Note that the amount committed to purchase this property is close to 10 times the original purchase price. Too bad that the township didn’t purchase it then. Along the way, there have been years and years of legal fees paid by the township for litigation over this property. And the property still requires environmental remediation. Yet the township committee tried to spin this into a “win” and a “wash” for the township, as well as giving the impression that the county was paying for this. They are not. They are only acting as a financing agency, sort of like a mortgage company. In signing this ordinance the township is still pledging the full faith and credit of the township to repaying this debt.
For a township that puts out a weekly newsletter and calls itself fiscally responsible, it should be expected that a hearing for $20 million in debt would be widely publicized, especially since the township committee has boasted about how much housing development they have saved by making this purchase. But how do we know it won’t be developed? It wasn’t purchased under open space restrictions, and the planning board can change the zoning or make variance exceptions, as they have done for other developers. Moreover, the township committee is in the process of approving new development projects on Mountain View Road and Route 206 that will add approximately 650 apartments less than a mile away.
They are also approving commercial uses when the center of our town is loaded with empty storefronts. What about our infrastructure needs which might have been satisfied by dollars of this magnitude that we are now committed to generate from taxes? The Capital Planning Committee recently stated that the township committee needs to spend more money to take care of our local roads and one of our township committee members said that it will not get done without state aid. Meanwhile, we have money pouring out of our coffers for legal fees and settlements.
We urge residents to attend the August 8 township committee meeting where they can comment on this and on several other concerning ordinances.
Harry Burke and Jane Staats
Democratic candidates for Hillsborough township committee