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Township committee members elect Julie Blake as mayor

Hopewell Township has a new mayor and deputy mayor at the helm of the township committee for 2021.

During the township committee’s reorganization meeting on Jan. 4, Julie Blake was nominated and elected by fellow members of the committee to become Hopewell Township’s next mayor.

Courtney Peters-Manning is now Hopewell Township’s deputy mayor after her nomination and election.

Blake takes over the duties of mayor from Township Committeewoman Kristin McLaughlin, who nominated Blake for mayor in 2021.

“I want to acknowledge the hard work and grace that Mayor Kristin McLaughlin has shown these past two years, along with Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger,” Blake said. “The time and effort that their leadership has provided to us as residents has been outstanding, especially during the many crises we faced this year.”

Blake envisions 2021 as a year of recovery for the township.

“Recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 on our community, health and economy and recovery from the strain on both our financial and human resources,” she said. “In 2021, the township will have to absorb a de-valuation of the Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) property and the result of the loss of tax revenue from municipal services in Hopewell Valley schools.”

In her remarks to residents and fellow committee members, Blake spotlighted that costs will shift from BMS to residents and small businesses regarding taxes for the Hopewell Valley Regional School District.

“In the face of these challenges the committee will continue to work hard to mitigate the impact on our budget and economic recovery. Kevin Kuchinski and our professionals have sought opportunities to save money through capital loan refinancing and reducing our debt costs,” she said. “In 2020, we were able to restructure our debt which will result in taxpayer savings of more than $1.8 million over the next 10 years.”

Additionally, Blake spoke to the series of events with the township police department and police forces across the country in 2020 and how the township is addressing broad concerns of racial discrimination and police use of force from residents.

“We used that moment to reflect on current practices and improve our community outreach and relationship building. We hired an outside consultant and a civilian police director to articulate what we currently do, what we value, and where do we go from here,” she said. “I am grateful for their work and the police department’s openness to more communication and public input and as always there excellent policing in the community.”

Blake also highlighted the new pressing issues the township faces, such as recreational marijuana and the committee’s need to discuss and decide on what to do about the farming, manufacturing, transporting and selling of recreational marijuana.

In addition, the township will need to decide on what regulations should be put in place for stormwater runoff and has the planning board conducting an independent review of the site plan for affordable housing, as well as, reviewing the master plan.

Peters-Manning takes over the duties of deputy mayor that was previously held by Township Committeeman Michael Ruger in 2019-20.

“We are in the midst of a hard winter, coming at the end of a hard year. We have lost loved ones, protested injustice and faced a tumultuous election with sharp political divisions,” Peters-Manning said. “We are so close to better times. Spring of 2021 will bring preservation of the Hopewell Valley Golf course with its transformation into a new public county golf course. This year, we will also see the county start the planning process and receive public input for the transformation for Trap Rock Quarry to Moore Station Quarry Park.”

Hopewell Township’s five-member committee consists of Mayor Julie Blake, Deputy Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning, Committeewoman Kristin McLaughlin, Committeeman Kevin Kuchinski, and Committeeman Michael Ruger.

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