Township Committee OKs $403K in emergency funding

Of the $403,000 emergency appropriation, $320,000 is for legal expenses and $83,000 is for engineering expenses

By John Tredrea
   With Committeewoman Judy Niederer voting no, the Hopewell Township Committee approved a $403,000 emergency appropriation Monday night needed to pay its mounting legal and engineering bills.
   Going into Monday night’s meeting — the third since Aug. 14 that the committee has discussed the matter — the proposed emergency appropriation on the table was for $363,000. Of that, $320,000 was for anticipated legal expenses through Dec. 31; $43,000 was for anticipated engineering expenses through Sept. 30.
   It was decided Monday to add $40,000 to the engineering side — enough, officials estimate, to cover anticipated expenses in that area through the end of the year. This means that, of the $403,000 emergency appropriation, $320,000 is for legal expenses and $83,000 is for engineering expenses. Among the major items driving the emergency appropriation, township Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cruikshank-Borges said, are:
   — At least $50,000 more is expected to be needed than the currently budgeted $200,000 for the township’s defense of a lawsuit against it by a group of about 50 property owners. The lawsuit contests downzoning measures enacted by township officials several years ago. Howard Cohen, based in Lawrence, is the township’s lawyer in this case.
   — About 200 township property owners have filed tax appeals stemming from this year’s property revaluation. "That’s a lot more appeals than we expected," Ms. Cruikshank-Borges said. She estimated the township’s legal expenses involved with responding to the appeals at $36,700.
   — Another $94,700 is expected to be spent in the township’s legal wrangling with embattled developer Merrick Wilson. Mr. Wilson has not "satisfied legal requirements for developers for final street paving, landscaping and other areas" at his Presidential Hills and Oak Ridge III neighborhoods, township Deputy Mayor David Sandahl said.
   Why didn’t performance bonds cover these situations? According to Mayor Vanessa Sandom, "for Oak Ridge Park, the bonding company is in bankruptcy and can’t perform. For Presidential Hills, the bonding company has refused to pay and is part of the litigation."
   After passing the emergency appropriation, the committee voted 4-1, with Ms. Niederer casting both no votes, to increase the maximum dollar amounts in 2006 professional service contracts of Township Engineer Paul Pogorzelski and Township Attorney Steve Goodell. The increases will be covered by the emergency service appropriation, which will be taken from this year’s budget surplus. The maximum amount of Mr. Pogorzelski’s 2006 contract was increased from $130,000 to $213,400. Mr. Goodell’s was increased from $165,000 to $290,000.
   Ms. Niederer said Tuesday she voted no because "it was necessary to keep this subject open. A 5-0 vote would have sent the message that we over-spent and just were going to draw more money to make up for that. It was a very tight budget this year."
   Expected to be drafted by Committeeman Mark Iorio in time for the committee’s next regularly scheduled meeting, on Sept. 11, is a resolution detailing new spending controls and procedures designed to prevent problems of the sort that have led to the emergency appropriation passed Monday night.