Hopewell residents resoundly defeated the ELSA bond ordinance referendum by an official tally 2,669 to 487.
“Hopewell is the last rural town in Mercer County, so the residents here are very sensitive about maintaining that,” chairman for Citizens for Tax Choice (CFTC) and vocal opponent of the ELSA referendum Robert Kecskes said.
Even though only 26 percent of registered voters voted on the referendum, 85 percent of the votes were “no” votes.
“When the referendum initially came up, it had some primary flaws,” Kecskes said. “It required taxpayers in town to fund reserve capability at ELSA and we thought it was unfair. Citizens who have septic systems shouldn’t be paying for businesses to be hooked up to sewers. It should stay between businesses and sewer authority.”
CFTC is a non-profit, non-partisan group formed by Kecskes in an effort to halt the town’s agreement with ELSA, which would’ve cost the town $4.1 million.
Kecskes spearheaded the efforts to create the referendum by rallying a team of about 24 people – who are all current members of CFTC – and acquiring 1,700 residential signatures on a petition. According to state law, a petition only requires 670 signatures to evoke a referendum about a certain issue a town is facing, and Kecskes and his group got almost triple the required signatures.
“This was a good sign of people’s interest to keep taxes down and keep the town rural,” Kecskes said. “We’d like to maintain Hopewell’s rural character and the vote compounded it and showed how interested people were in it.”
After the successful petition and rejection of the referendum, Kecskes and CFTC are overjoyed and awaiting the council’s next steps on this issue.
“We’re very satisfied that we had the turnout that we did. It was significantly larger than any one of us hoped,” Kecskes said. “We’re satisfied that most members of the township committee believe a TASK force should now look at these questions and future direction that the township should go with regard to wastewater needs in the southern part of the tier.”
Since the referendum failed, Hopewell Township’s committee needs to start anew and rework the details of the proposed ELSA agreement.
At a meeting following the referendum, Mayor Michael Markulec voiced his views about the issue.
“I think we heard the resounding voice from the residents against the bond ordinance and sewer capacity plan,” Markulec said. “My view is we’re back at roughly square one, and we’ve got affordable housing needs, environmental needs and a long list of priorities. I think we need to put a special meeting together where we sit down and work on what can be an alternative plan that, in my opinion, saves our affordable housing plan, and we’ll move forward from there.”
Deputy Mayor James Burd also commented on the rejected referendum at the meeting.
“We’re certainly open for discussion, from not only the different boards and committees, but certainly from the public themselves, in the matter of presented ideas,” Burd said. “I’m certainly interested in hearing them and getting some actual information in regard to alternatives to the sewer hookup with ELSA. As I noted before, I will propose that we use funding from the Capital Systems rollback tax to utilize this, now $45 per gallon, at our existing property, which would be approximately $2.5 million. But, at the same time, it would sustain our existing affordable housing plan and keep us from any type of builder’s remedy operation.”
After Markulec and Burd voiced their opinions, Kecskes approached them to present the four principles proposed by CFTC for the council to adopt moving forward.
The four principles included being more transparent, being open-minded, being fair and being truthful.
Kecskes and all members of CFTC want to ensure the council is completely open with them throughout the revision process, and wants all information about the ordinance to be relayed to them and the other residents of Hopewell.
Kecskes and members of CFTC are willing to help the council further with this issue, and would certainly like to participate in the proposed TASK force idea that the council has been lingering on.
Markulec informed Kecskes that he and the committee were going to look at alternatives, and inquire for residents’ information and input. Then, if they deem it necessary, they will form a TASK force to look further into the issue with the help of willing residents. For now, the mayor is working on forming a special meeting to gather more information from the public and committee about the issue.