Officials consider privatizing military base housing

Bids for the privitization of housing at Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base are being considered by North Hanover Township officials.

By: Eve Collins
   NORTH HANOVER – Officials are set to begin considering bids for the job of privatizing housing on Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base.
   Bill Leonard of the Housing Privatization Office at McGuire gave members of the Township Committee an update on the project at a work session on Feb. 19. Officials have been concerned about how the project, which proposes to renovate or reconstruct almost 2,500 houses, will affect services and school taxes in the township, and have met with base officials on a number of occasions.
   Officials with the bases have announced that a forum will be held March 3 and 4 at the Hilton in Cherry Hill to give the private contractors and local officials information about the project, Mr. Leonard said.
   The developer that is awarded the contract will finance, plan, design and construct and make improvements to the units. That developer will own and operate the housing for 50 years, Mr. Leonard said.
   Base officials will begin evaluating proposals from contractors in April and hope to have a selection by April 2005.
   The project will involve demolition of 245 units in Falcon Courts East and Falcon Courts North at McGuire, as well as 474 units in Garden Terrace at Dix. It also will involve major renovations to 1,080 units at McGuire, and 80 at Dix.
   A total of almost 800 new units will be built on the two bases, officials said.
   What concerns local officials in North Hanover is that if less than 95 percent of the privatized military housing is occupied, the developer can opt to rent units to nonmilitary families. And if those families include school-age children, officials fear that federal impact aid to the school districts that educate those children could be adversely affected.
   The North Hanover and Northern Burlington County Regional school districts educate children from military families that live on McGuire. Unlike other school officials, administrators in those districts have to lobby each year for federal funding to educate those children.
   Mr. Leonard told local officials last week that it would be unlikely that nonmilitary families would be placed in the units because requests by members of the military for housing on the bases has been steady and should remain so.
   Before nonmilitary people are considered for quarters, base officials will give priority to active duty military members and their families, federal civil service employees, and National Guard and Reserve military members and their families, Mr. Leonard said.
   Because the land will be leased to the developer, township officials have the opportunity to levy property taxes. Mr. Leonard explained that it would be up to township officials and the developer to decide what, if any, taxes would be levied on the areas.
   The developer would be responsible for paying those taxes, and as township officials pointed out, could in turn demand services such as police patrols, street lights, and trash pickup.
   Mr. Leonard said emergency services to military personnel would continue to be handled by the government. Officials need to open the lines of communication, and the forum in March is a place to start, he said.
   The proposal is part of an initiative that was enacted as part of the 1996 Defense Authorization Act, meant to improve military housing through private sector resources. Although there have been other privatization projects throughout the nation, the one here is the largest to date and is the first to involve both Army and Air Force housing, officials have said.