HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP: Governing body kicks off new year with reorganization


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Two newly-elected Hopewell Township Committee members were sworn into office – and the mayor and deputy mayor were chosen from among the committee’s ranks – at the governing body’s annual reorganization meeting Tuesday night.

Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski was sworn into office for a second, three-year term by state Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio (D-15th Legislative District) and newcomer Michael Ruger was sworn into office by Township Clerk Laurie Gompf as friends, family and Mercer County elected officials watched.

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Kuchinski, who served as mayor in 2017, was chosen again to fill the ceremonial post. Committeewoman Julie Blake was nominated for mayor, but declined. She accepted the nomination for deputy mayor – a post that she held in 2017 – and was elected.

Launching into his remarks, Mayor Kuchinski outlined several goals and initiatives for 2018, mostly centered on holding the line on municipal property taxes, reducing municipal spending and paying down debt.

“We have held the change in municipal tax [increases] to 1.1 percent per year over the last two years. [But] with the recent changes in federal tax legislation, we must redouble our efforts to contain spending and reduce taxes,” Kuchinski said.

The new tax law puts a $10,000 cap on the amount of state and local taxes – including property taxes – that a taxpayer can claim as an expense to reduce the amount of income that is taxed at the federal level. The average property tax bill in Hopewell Township is $12,952.

“On the local level, we are focused on doing more with less, continuing our multi-year plan to reduce debt and selling Pennytown, a property that is no longer needed to meet our affordable housing obligation,” Kuchinski said. The Pennytown property is located between County Route 654 and Route 31.

Mayor Kuchinski also announced plans to form a new Economic Development and Tourism Committee, which aims to support local businesses and to attract new ones. Small businesses are a key pillar of the community, and their success helps to reduce residential property taxes, he said.

“When we spend at locally-owned businesses, more of that money stays in the Hopewell Valley – $68 out of $100 spent, versus $43 when one spends that same $100 at a national chain,” Kuchinski said.

Township officials hope the Economic Development and Tourism Committee can help to market “the rich history and recreation opportunities” in Hopewell Township, drawing in more visitors to patronize the township’s businesses, restaurants and farmers, the mayor said. Committeeman John Hart has stepped forward to help with the new committee, he added.

Kuchinski said efforts are being made to create smaller, less expensive housing options that will allow long-time residents to downsize and stay in the community, as well as to provide options for younger families and single people.

And Kuchinski pledged to continue the fight against the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline through Hopewell Township. “We don’t need and don’t want their pipeline,” he said, adding that “we have successfully delayed the project.”

Deputy Mayor Blake, in her remarks, said she was “excited to get to work this year. We will continue to make headway on reducing costs, put our efforts into protecting more open space and preserved farmland, and we will work to build our tax base with an Economic Development and Tourism Committee.”

Touching on the Hopewell Valley Senior Center in Pennington Borough that was on the verge of being closed, Blake said that through a shared agreement, “we will be able to maintain and improve the senior center on the current Pennington site for the immediate future.”

Blake said that in the meantime, she and Committeewoman Kristin McLaughlin will work to involve the Hopewell Valley community in the design plans for a new senior citizens center and community center. It is hoped that a clearer sense of the project will be achieved by autumn, she said.

“There are still challenges ahead, including how best to keep Hopewell Township’s rural beauty as we create new spaces for affordable housing. We came to a settlement last year and made some hard decisions on where and how the obligation would be met,” Blake said.

Blake sought to reassure township residents that while there is a need to build affordable housing in order to meet the township’s obligation to provide it, the committee is committed to preserving open space and farmland. Some of those new housing developments may be built on Scotch Road, across from the Capital Health Medical Center-Hopewell.

“I am proud of what township committee has accomplished this past year – from decreasing our debt to establishing truly valuable dialogue between our police and our residents. Thank you for your support and working with us to make a better Hopewell Township,” Blake said.

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