Valley towns need summit to address concerns they share


By Ruth Luse
   Just before Christmas, Hopewell Township Committee’s new Democratic majority outlined a few of its goals for 2006.
   Among them is "to develop a more constructive relationship with other government bodies, ranging from Hopewell and Pennington boroughs and the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education to Mercer County and the State of New Jersey."
   John Murphy, who replaced former Committeewoman Arlene Kemp on the Township Committee last week, said: "In the past, we’ve not done enough to explore how we can provide our residents better services at a lower cost … A major goal will be to work together to fill gaps in services, like those for our growing senior population."
   The Democratic majority — Mr. Murphy, Vanessa Sandom and David Sandahl, who have said they intend to work closely with their Republicans colleagues Mark Iorio and Judy Abbott Niederer — hope to work with the boroughs to hire a senior services coordinator.
   We hope the committee can get other Valley officials to think and act along the same lines and results of talks, if held, could be shared with the public. The three mayors did hold what one termed an "impromptu" gathering in February last year. And, Hopewell officials did meet a few times with township leaders on the topic of police services for 2006 until they reached an impasse.
   We had hoped for better during 2005, because, exactly a year ago this week, the Township Committee, in a resolution, called on the mayors of the Valleys’ three towns to hold a summit on sharing more municipal services with an eye toward saving taxpayers’ money. Committeeman Sandahl said then that opportunities might exist to provide Valley citizens "with equal or better services at reduced cost." Then Mayor Kemp said she hoped to meet with Pennington Mayor Jim Loper and Hopewell Borough Mayor David Nettles during the weeks that followed. Topics were to have included police, public works, recreation and others.
   The January 2005 resolution designed to set this effort in motion said interlocal service agreements (see related account on Page 1A this week) "should be updated to reflect current circumstances and realistic cost-sharing." The resolution also said cooperation among the three towns would "accelerate the development of new services and facilities for seniors and the development of the Hopewell Valley Community Center YMCA" — a facility that is sorely needed in the Valley.
   Key interlocal agreements in place include the township’s provision of police services to Hopewell Borough and recreation and health and animal control services to both Hopewell and Pennington. We don’t hear complaints about health and animal services. The recreation pact needs some fine tuning and the township-Hopewell Borough police pact is up in the air.
   Hopewell Borough and Hopewell Township are at odds over the 2006 cost for police services. Hopewell sees $318,000 for the year as reasonable. The township sees a price tag closer to $500,000. The towns have agreed to hire an outside consultant to review the interlocal agreement and make recommendations. The consultant’s report is due this spring. It’s unfortunate officials saw the need to spend money for an outside consultant, but that’s how it is.
   It’s obvious that 1-square-mile Hopewell should not have it own police department and that as long as the borough maintains its own government, the place to get police services is Hopewell Township. In the future, 1-square-mile Pennington may discover, too, that it’s not feasible to maintain its own police force.
   The interlocal recreation pact, which also involves the school district, covers the Hopewell Valley Recreation Department, which provides services Valley-wide and is located in the township Municipal Building. Last year, the school district made a contribution, as did Hopewell Borough. However, to date, Pennington Borough has not put money into the program. Clearly, this pact needs to be updated so all involved pay their shares — hopefully fair shares.
   Obviously, Valley officials have some work to do. The best way to handle issues that involve them all is to get together and hash things out. We urge them to get together soon and hold a truly issues-oriented summit.